Robert Fortin 

WO – W1 – United States Army
100B - Rotary Wing Aviator
1st Cavalry Division

1st Cav Patch

Tour began on April 18, 1971
21 Years Old
Turton, South Dakota
He has family members in Clifton, KS
November 20, 1949 to September 13, 1971

 

George Bryant remembers his friend...

Bob was my roommate at Fort Wolters, Class 70-47.  There is not a
day goes by that I don't think of him.  We honor his memory with
flowers at church on special occasions.  He was a great guy who
provided me with humor and perseverance to get through flight
school.  The last time I saw Bob was at the PX at Fort Rucker.  I
had to salute him because he graduated two weeks before me.

 

THE FACES BEHIND THE NAMES
Written by Jim Fortin, brother of Robert Fortin

Robert Fortin, whom I will call Bob as he was known to all, was born and raised on a
family farm.  He was the eighth child of thirteen born to Vic and Lorene Fortin.  He
attended rural and town schools in the Turton and Doland areas of Spink County
in South Dakota.  His graduation from high school was highlighted by receiving his
diploma in 1968 from Hubert Humphrey, at Doland, (Hubert's hometown).

Bob spent the the next two years completing a course in Drafting at the Vo-Tech
School in Watertown, South Dakota.  Bob was very active in high school football and
his competitive spirit carried over as he competed in Golden Glove Boxing through
his Vo-Tech years.  As Bob had a very low Draft Number, he knew military service
was right around the corner.  Shortly after enlisting for the Marine Corp he learned
about the Army Warrant Officer program, which he applied for, was tested and accepted
by the Army.  During his boot camp he requested Flight aptitude testing, which he was
given and passed.  As a result of his volunteerism and competitive spirit, he was enrolled
in the Army's Warrant Officer Helicopter Pilot program.  After completion and graduation
from Basic Training, Bob received his Warrant Officer promotion and designation as an
Army Aviator upon completion of flight training at Ft. Rucker, Alabama.

Bob enjoyed a leave prior to his deployment to Vietnam.  This leave was enhanced by a
brother who was on convalescent leave from Vietnam.  The family has many very fond
memories of good times had together during that final leave.  As it turned out, Bob and his
brother left together for Vietnam and they were able to visit each other's unit during
their time in country.

There was no Medal of Valor for Lorene Fortin and her late husband Victor, but there
should have been.  Their love, courage and strength laid the foundation for a special kind
of heroism.

The Fortins raised crops and livestock, along with ten sons and three daughters on a farm
near Turton, South Dakota.  A somewhat typical farm family, the children learned from
their parents' example to appreciate the value of hard work and to understand duty and
responsibility.

Victor and Lorene taught their family to honor their country, respect their flag and above all,
love one another.  Those values eventually led seven of their sons to volunteer in the
military, five in Vietnam.  Duty took them to Vietnam, love for each other kept them there.

NOT WITHOUT MY BROTHER

The oldest son Jim went to Vietnam as a radar intercept officer on a Marine F4 Phantom
in March 1966.  Less than three months later, his brother Kenny, a Marine infantry
corporal arrived in Vietnam.  By presidential proclamation at the time, no two brothers
would be required to serve in the same military zone and if that should happen, the
brother who had been in the zone longer should request a transfer in writing.

Jim instead requested that his younger brother be transferred.  "I was a career
Marine.  After 11 years of training I wasn't going to go home and let my 18 year
old brother do my job," said Jim.

Kenny responded with a letter to his commanding officer requesting that his older
brother be transferred.  "I was 18 and single while Jim had a family," said Kenny.  "I
thought if anybody should go home it was Jim."

"Both of us said 'I'm not going home until you go home' and that is the way it was
with all of us," Jim said.  Roger was already there on temporary duty.

Twice Jim received word that his brother was wounded.  The second time, Jim watched
while a Marine dentist extracted a bullet from his brother's jaw.  Kenny was awarded
the Purple Heart twice before leaving Vietnam.  Jim earned the Four Aces award for
flying 410 combat missions in Vietnam.

A fourth brother, Dan, was sent to Vietnam as a Marine sergeant on a helicopter
crash crew shortly after Jim and Kenny completed their tours in 1967.  Roger served
on a Navy destroyer in the Pacific and on temporary assignment in Vietnam with an
Air Force reconnaissance unit in 1966.  In 1970, he returned to Vietnam a second time
with the Air Force security service.

Dan had completed his tour in Vietnam, but Roger was there to meet the flight when
Jim returned for a second tour in Vietnam.  A few months later Roger's hand was
badly burned in an electrical explosion.  When the burn became infected, Roger was
transferred to Fitzsimmons Military Hospital.  "Jim saw that I was medivaced out," said
Roger.  "I wanted to stay until my tour was complete.  In the long run it was the right thing
to do, but I didn't think so at the time.  I thought he should be going home because he had
a family and I thought my position was more secure than his.  Jim thought I should be at
home because I was hurt."

After he was released from the hospital, Roger spent a 30-day convalescence leave
with his family in Turton.  The flight out of Aberdeen that took Roger back to action
in April 1971 also carried his younger brother Bob to Vietnam.

Bob had enlisted in October 1969 and received his wings as an Army helicopter pilot
in February 1971 when he was promoted to the rank of Warrant Officer.  Bob had been
in Vietnam one month when he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his
attempts to save the lives of his crew when his aircraft was shot down May 14, 1971.  Enemy
ground fire wounded him in another action July 9, 1971 and received the Purple Heart.  Bob
was killed in action September 13, 1971 near the Cambodian border.  He had served five
months and 19 days in Vietnam.

KEEPING THE VIGIL

Throughout this time, the Fortin family kept the home fires burning, writing long letters
of love and support, praying for the safe return of their young men.

"Those were anxious times, a lot of heartache," recalls Lorene.  "We'd see awful
pictures in Time Magazine.  I survived it by writing letters with carbon paper.  Sometimes
they would call and say 'Mom, I got two of page three and no page two."

"The worst times were watching a military vehicle drive slowly into the farmyard,"
Lorene recalled.  "We lived a ways off the main highway on a gravel road.  When we saw a
cloud of dust coming, we watched closely, hoping it was a vehicle we recognized.  If not, it
might be a military limousine."

"I remember Mom saying one time when she saw the military car coming as she walked
out the back door, 'Tell me after they're gone," said Jim.

Three times the military car came with word that one of their boys had been wounded.  Then
in September 1971, a military car delivered the dreaded telegram.  A son and brother had
been killed in action.

A BROTHER'S LOVE

"We were all close and we still are," said Roger.  "We wouldn't have made it without the
support of our family.  Our brothers and sisters that weren't involved in Vietnam supported
us in every possible way.  Even though at times Congress and the rest of the country didn't
support us, we darn well knew our family did."

Roger credits the strength of their family relationship for shielding the Fortin brothers
from the drug-use that consumed many soldiers in Vietnam.  "We didn't need drugs for a
crutch; we had our family to hold us up.  Our path was laid out."

Closeness between individual brothers was intensified by the combat situation.  "You'd think
a lot about the ones at home," said Roger, "but it was the ones who were closest that you
confided in and depended on."

Much of the time the brothers were stationed fairly close together.  At one point, Roger
and Jim were across a fence from each other.  Jim's commanding officer made Roger an
honorary member of his Marine squadron.  Other times Roger flew with Bob.

"I flew with Bob the day before he was killed," remembers Roger.  "I was in Thailand on
assignment and found out on Thursday that Bob had been killed on the 13th of
September.  In those situations, days didn't mean much and I insisted that I had been
with Bob on Sunday so he couldn't be dead.  It didn't register until my commander said
'Sunday was the 12th.'

The brothers had left together and they returned together as Roger escorted his
brother's body home.  The night of Bob's funeral, while the family kept vigil at the church,
Roger poured his grief into a poem about his brother titled A Brother's Prayer.

Shortly after the funeral, the still grieving family said good-bye as three brothers left
once more, Roger to complete his tour in Vietnam and two younger brothers to begin
their military service.

The youngest boys, Norbert and Steve, had volunteered under a delayed enlistment program
while still in high school.  Steve served with the Marines in California and Norb at an Army
post in Germany.  Three more Fortin brothers, Dick, Terry and Delbert served their country
in law enforcement and public service.

THE REAL HEROES

In the eyes of many people, the Fortin brothers are truly heroes, yet they insist that any
recognition as heroes belongs to their parents.  "I don't think any of us considered
ourselves heroes," said Jim.  "We just did what we had to do.  If there are any heroes
in the bunch, they're Mom and Dad."

"Anything that we did, if there is any credit that should be given, it should go to our folks
for teaching us the right way to be American," said Roger.  "They taught us that right
was right and wrong was wrong and once you make a commitment, you follow through
with it."

"It's Mom and Dad that did more suffering than we did," insists Ken.  "You don't really
think about it until you get older and have your own family.  Then you see what your
parents went through."

A BROTHER'S PRAYER
Written in Memory of Robert Fortin
September 21, 1971

Dear Lord, Give me the strength to be half the man we've buried here today,
And give me what it takes to meet challenges his way.
No task seemed to difficult, no burden too great.
No barrier unpassable, no ending left to fate.
He saw people suffering and went to aid their cause.
He asked no recognition, no handshakes nor applause.
Why do men of same backgrounds take up such different roads,
When one takes on the burden, the other adds to the load.
He gave his life protecting the rights of men like these.
And we've got them at home, as well as overseas.

-Roger Fortin-

 

Rick Kane remembers Robert…
ROOT@MONFIRE.MINDEN.NV.US

I worked with his brother at Tan Son Nhut. He could have been my brother. I knew
Bob through his brother. I was in the Air Force stationed at Tan Son Nhut,
6994th Security Squadron . We flew in EC-47's. My brother Herb was in the Army
and scheduled to go to Vietnam in the late part of March 1971. I was older, and he
had just gotten married, I told him to wait until I got in country to notify the Army.
He waited, and then told them he had a brother in county, an automatic deferment.
He did not have to go. I said I would continue to extend in Vietnam until the
war was over, so he would never have to go. The sad thing about Robert, whom I met
shortly before his death, was he and his brother signed a waiver so he could go. He just
wanted to do his part. Even before his death I realized what a fine human being he was.
I often think about him, and how it could have been. My own brother got sent to
Korea, he is alive, but he crashed real bad (transmission failure in a
Chinook). He was
medically retired in 1972.

 

Melvin Sheldon remembers Robert…
redcloud19@yahoo.com
Scout pilots keep on flyin.

Bob Fortin is a friend and fellow pilot. While he may have left us for another mission, I
am still waiting for him to call me in for support. I have our picture of you, Big Al,
Little Al, and Spades Black (Herb), and myself. This was after we left Tay Ninh.
Take care and keep on flying! RedCloud

 

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