It was March 24, 1970. He agreed to lead a seven-man patrol near the Ho Chi Minh Trail after concluding earlier in the day that he would die in South Vietnam.
“I decided that I wasn’t going home and I wasn’t scared anymore so I took the patrol,” Burns recalled.
About 4 ½ miles from base camp, “everything went wrong,” Burns said. “We walked into a horseshoe ambush, meaning we were surrounded on three sides. We had machine guns but quickly ran out of ammunition.”
Hand-to-hand combat followed. Burns, having picked up shrapnel in his right leg, fell and looked up.
“I can still see his face. Normally, they would shoot the bodies. That’s what I expected. He was holding an AK-47 on his shoulder.”
Instead, the man took the butt of the gun and smashed Burns’ left cheek.
“He chose to spot me,” Burns said.
“By the grace of God,” Burns said.
Burns, a security officer at Carle Richland Memorial Hospital in Olney, is among Carle Health team members who are veterans and agreed to share his story and lessons learned in advance of Veterans Day. He is representing all Carle team members who have served our country in the military.
“I try to have time for everybody,” Burns said, when asked how his military service impacts his work for Carle. “If they ask me to do something, I’ll do it to the best of my ability.
“I’m just a nobody trying to do good for somebody,” Burns said. “I learned that in my (military) service time.”
Veterans Day is Saturday, Nov. 11. Carle Health hospitals will have flag-raising ceremonies, which are open to all team members and the public, on Friday, Nov. 10, at the following times and locations:
- 12:30 p.m. outside Carle Foundation Hospital Heart and Vascular Institute entrance, Urbana.
- 11 a.m. outside the front entrance to Carle Hoopeston Regional Health Center, Hoopeston.
- 11 a.m. outside the front entrance to Carle Richland Memorial Hospital, Olney.
- Noon outside the front entrance to Carle BroMenn Medical Center, Normal.
- Noon outside the front entrance to Carle Health Methodist Hospital, Peoria.
- 11 a.m. at Carle Eureka Hospital, Eureka.
“MVP is open to any military current members, veterans, families or even military supporters who would like to attend,” Sheese said. “We have several who have family members or a spouse who was or is in the military and they want to participate. All are welcome.”
The group’s 50 members work to build camaraderie around their shared military experience to serve veterans who work for Carle and Health Alliance and veterans who live in communities served by Carle Health.
“Veterans Day commemorations are open to all,” Sheese said. “We would like to see as many people attend as possible.”
More of Bob Burns’ story
Burns grew up in poverty in Alton and joined the Marine Corps in 1969 following graduation from high school. He arrived in South Vietnam on Jan. 3, 1970, and was a member of the 7th Marine Division. He was in a special operations group in charge of shutting down the supply of weapons and ammunition from North Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the guerrillas fighting the South Vietnamese and American forces in the south.
After the ambush, he received facial reconstruction on the left side of his face at the Clark Air Force Base. A few months later, healed and well, he gratefully met his son for the first time.
Burns later was part of the 2nd Marine Division working as a patrol officer at Camp Lejeune. He left active duty as a sergeant (E5) on July 2, 1974. Civilian life led him to various jobs over the years, including 26 years as a corrections officer with the Illinois Department of Corrections.
He joined Richland as a security officer in 2016. “I came to the hospital here and fell in love with the people,” Burns said.
Burns said his service time means “honor.” Veterans Day is a time for reflection.
“If we don’t remember those who have gone before us and those who are standing in harm’s way right now, we will not have a nation,” Burns said.
On Veterans Day weekend, he and his family will decorate several graves, including that of his brother-in-law, who was killed in Vietnam in late 1970.
How should people mark Veterans Day?
“Do what my 3-year-old great-grandson does,” Burns said. “He says the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Honor the flag and what it stands for. You may not like everything that’s gone on in this country but it’s the greatest nation in the world and it can continue to be if we honor our heritage.”
Carle Health is grateful to its many team members who are veterans. In the military, they learned skills such as discipline and performing in highly stressful situations, quickly adapting to change, demonstrating leadership and placing the team’s needs above their own. At Carle Health, they apply those skills to their mission to put patients first.
For more information about Carle Inclusion Connection (CIC) Groups, including MVP (Military and Veteran Professionals), click here.
Categories: Culture of Quality