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Robert Willard Hartsock
Courtesy Vietnam Veterans
Memorial Fund

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Robert Willard Hartsock

"The willingness of American veterans to sacrifice for our country has earned them our lasting gratitude."

Jeff Miller

Robert Willard Hartsock was born in Cumberland, Allegany County, Maryland, on January 24, 1945. He was born and raised in Maryland by parents Robert Kenneth Hartsock and Dorothy Virginia Hartsock. He grew up with his older brother Ralph Frederick Hartsock. He did have a younger sister, Helen, who tragically only lived for three months. His father, Robert, served in World War II, and afterwards he worked as a spinner. Robert attended and graduated from Everett High School in 1962 in Everett, Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

From 1945 onward, the United States experienced an economic growth that lasted until 1960. While the Vietnam War started during this time, the U.S. was prepared to stop the spread of communism in Asia. This led to the start of another war, the "Cold War," that wouldn't end until 1991.

Robert W. Hartsock grew up at the end of WWII, which greatly influenced and shaped his beliefs regarding American values. During the 1960s, protests broke out across the U.S. in response to the United States involvement in Vietnam; however, one of the largest protests took place at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., which had over 100,000 participants. Robert had heard the stories about Vietnam and decided to take things into his own hands when he was drafted into the Army as a dog trainer/handler. Robert was working for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967 in Fairmont, West Virginia. His Military Occupation Skill (MOS) was 11F20 (Infantry Operations and Intelligence Specialist). He rose to the rank of staff sergeant by posthumous promotion.

He started his tour in Vietnam on May 17, 1968, with the 44th Infantry Platoon (Scout Dog), 3rd Brigade, 25th Infantry Division as a scout dog handler for the infantry. With his trusted companion Duke, they would go out on reconnaissance patrols searching for the enemy.
Robert Hartsock and Duke

Robert Hartsock and Duke. Courtesy Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

On February 23, 1969, enemy troops, striking simultaneously at Saigon and about 105 other towns and military targets throughout the country, launched what the allied command considered the long predicted general offensive. The enemy troops poured rockets and mortar shells into 17 provincial capitals, 28 towns, and about 60 military installations. In most places, the attackers confined themselves to shelling and held ground assaults to a minimum.

An exception was the base camp of the 3rd Brigade, the 25th Infantry Division at Dau Tieng in Binh Duong Province, where two enemy battalions-about 1000 men-charged the position under the covering fire of mortar rounds. The enemy troops briefly broke through the defensive perimeter, but were repulsed by the infantrymen, who were supported by Army helicopter gunships, artillery, and tactical air strikes. A high American military source said that the allied command considered the day's attacks to be the beginning of a general offensive that would last most of the week.

During a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack at the Dau Tieng Base Camp, S/Sgt. Hartsock and his platoon commander hid themselves from an enemy sapper squad that had infiltrated the camp undetected. Although outnumbered, they opened fire. S/Sgt. Hartsock, in spite of his wounds, crawled about five meters to a ditch and provided heavy suppressive fire, enabling his commander to seek shelter and also saving the lives of a number of fellow soldiers.

For his sacrifice that fateful day, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His citation reads:

The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Staff Sergeant Robert Willard Hartsock (ASN: 51907015), United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a section leader with the 44th Infantry Platoon (Scout Dog), 3d brigade, 25th Infantry Division, in action against enemy aggressor forces at Dau Tieng, Hau Nghia Province, Republic of Vietnam, on 23 February 1969. When the Dau Tieng Base Camp came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Staff Sergeant Hartsock and his platoon commander spotted an enemy sapper squad which had infiltrated the camp undetected. Realizing the enemy squad was heading for the brigade tactical operations center and nearby prisoner compound, they concealed themselves and, although heavily outnumbered, awaited the approach of the hostile soldiers. When the enemy was almost upon them, Staff Sergeant Hartsock and his platoon commander opened fire on the squad. As a wounded enemy soldier fell, he managed to detonate a satchel charge he was carrying. Staff Sergeant Hartsock, with complete disregard for his life, threw himself on the charge and was gravely wounded. In spite of his wounds, Staff Sergeant Hartsock crawled about five meters to a ditch and provided heavy suppressive fire, completely pinning down the enemy and allowing his commander to seek shelter. Staff Sergeant Hartsock continued his deadly stream of fire until he succumbed to his wounds. Staff Sergeant Hartsock's extraordinary heroism and profound concern for the lives of his fellow soldiers were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.

After his death, Staff Sergeant Robert Willard Hartsock's remains were returned to the U.S., and he was buried at the Maryland Veterans Cemetery in Flintstone, Maryland.

Staff Sergeant Hartsock was the only dog handler in the Vietnam War to be awarded the Medal of Honor. His parents and other family members attended a ceremony at the White House on August 6, 1970, where they received the medal from President Richard M. Nixon. Robert Willard Hartsock will be remembered as a hero, a son, a brother, and an honorable man for his service and sacrifce. He is memorialized on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Panel W31, Line 3. He is also honored as he is listed on the Vietnam War Memorial located at the Courthouse Square in Bedford, Pennsylvania.

Article prepared by Cade Graham, Noah Hamrick, and Noah Pickens, George Washington High School JROTC
March 2019


Robert Willard Hartsock

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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