Back then, Tallapoosa native Sammy Robinson had his mind on shooting baskets for Coach Roop Caswell’s Tigers and his eye on Brenda Osmer of Polk County. His basketball career ended with his 1966 graduation, but his 1966 marriage to Brenda is now going on 47 years.
“My draft notice was in the mail when I got home from our senior class trip to Washington, D.C.,” Robinson said. “It was the largest Haralson County induction since Korea – 19 of us. My friend and classmate Barry League was in that group.”
League and Jerome Lowe were both killed in Vietnam. League-Lowe Memorial Park, built by the Haralson County Veterans Association (HCVA), now honors both heroes. Robinson is the HCVA president.
“I took basic training at Ft. Benning, and then went to Ft. Lee, Va., and Ft. Lewis, Wash. Since I had no cooking experience, naturally the Army made me a cook. I was in the 1st Air Calvary Division, 18th Signal Battalion.
“I served in Vietnam one year, feeding soldiers on the front lines. I was one of the lucky ones never wounded, but I saw lots of horrible sights,” said Robinson, who was there during the infamous Tet Offensive of 1968 as Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces attacked more than 100 South Vietnam cities. “Our convoy just escaped a big battle in Hue; after we passed through, the Tet Offensive broke loose.”
In Robinson’s massive, neatly arranged archives are photos and books that show happy times, but also bring into painful focus the horror of war. The cover of one such book, Dennis Chang’s “The Girl in the Picture,” features the famous photograph of Kim Phuc, the badly burned 9-year-old girl running naked after a napalm bomb hit her South Vietnam village. Kim Phuc survived, and Robinson envisions inviting her to a veterans’ event in Haralson County.
The book was a recent gift from Don Whitney of the World Children’s Center, who also pledged $6,000 to pay off the “9/11 Tribute,” the latest addition to League-Lowe Memorial Park.
Besides maintaining League-Lowe and Helton-Howland Parks, the HCVA helps vets with other needs, said the 65-year-old Robinson.
“We assist veterans with medical claims, and we conduct military ceremonies for three funeral homes.”
The HCVA is also concerned about too few VA physicians in our area because their pay is far less than those in private practice, he said.
“The government needs to take money from ‘pork barrel’ projects to help veterans,” Robinson insisted.
What’s in the future for the veterans association?
“Before the Lord cuts me out, I want to build a military museum in Tallapoosa,” said Robinson. In addition to thousands of memorabilia items at his home, Robinson said, “We have in storage about this much or more than what you see displayed here.”
Robinson said two recently acquired F-105 Thunderchief fighter-bombers will soon be added to the Helton-Howland Park display, and the HCVA Auxiliary plans to establish a foundation to maintain the veterans’ memorials with funds from the annual Freedom Rides (motorcycle rides the group hosts each year).
“We have $15,000 to start.”
Auxiliary President Deborah Mote said, “I agree with Sammy that a museum should be the next phase.”
Mote also said Robinson hasn’t really change that much in the years she’s known him.
“In high school, we saw Sammy mainly as a great athlete. As we look back, he’s still the same person – a goal-oriented achiever. I think he and Brenda complement each other.”
Despite his time-consuming dedication to veterans, Robinson’s family is priority No. 1.
Still suffering from a non-combat accident which forced his medical retirement from the Army, his son Brendon, 38, said, “Dad was always there for me while going from hospital to hospital in New York, Texas and Florida.”
With admiration for her husband, Mrs. Robinson joked, “When you’re young, you want to eat ‘em up; and later you wished you had!”
And what does she have to say about his culinary skills after all these years?
“He’s a good cook. His best dish is German chocolate cake!”