The loss of two friends in Vietnam brings a deeper meaning to Memorial Day for Williamson County resident Bill Robinson.
When Robinson was a youngster living in Syracuse, New York, one of the boys he attended Christian Brothers Academy with was Edward “Eddie” Krukowski, a neighbor friend. Although Eddie was two grades ahead, the boys were still friends. A few years later, Krukowski would be Syracuse’s first casualty in the Vietnam War.
“We used to wait on his porch for the bus to take us to school,” Robinson recalled. “When it was cold, his mother would make us hot chocolate while we waited. Eddie was smart and a good athlete.”
Krukowski attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and graduated in 1962. After attending Airborne and Ranger schools, in September 1964, Krukowski volunteered to go to Vietnam as a combat adviser to the South Vietnamese. On June 10, 1965, Krukowski and the unit he was advising were among other units traveling in helicopters when they came under heavy enemy fire at Dong Xoai.
Krukowski was killed in the battle.
“I remember he married his high school sweetheart and they had a young son,” Robinson said.
In August 1965, Robinson enlisted in the Navy and was sent to the Mobile Construction Battalion, known as Seabees, attached to MCB-1. In March 1966, he was deployed to Vietnam and stationed near Da Nang.
It was there where he would become friends with Blair Starkey.
“He wasn’t a big guy but he was tough,” Robinson said.
After a rough readjustment that included a lot of alcohol and a stint under a latrine, Starkey turned his life around and found a home with MCB-1.
The two met up again in 1967, on their second tour of duty in Vietnam. By August, Robinson was nearing the end of his deployment.
On Aug. 10, he headed to Long Beach Naval Base in California to complete the paperwork for his discharge. He received his discharge papers on Aug. 20 and headed home. Two weeks later, he received a letter from Bob Miller, a Seabee friend who was still in Vietnam, with news about Starkey.
Starkey had been shot and in the back by a Viet Cong sniper on Aug. 28 and died on the scene. According to Miller’s letter, Starkey was working on the same bridge in Hai Van Pass and in the same location where Bill had been working just weeks earlier.
“I wondered then, why him?” Robinson said. “It could’ve been me. I still do (wonder).”
Route 1 through Hai Van Pass was a main north-south corridor with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the dense jungle on the other. It made bridges along the route common targets. Snipers in the jungle made rebuilding the bridges a challenge that Seabees faced every day. That August and September four Seabees were killed on Hai Van Pass.
“I always thought, if someone was killed instead of you, you had the responsibility, the obligation to carry on with life,” Robinson said. “Be a better person and live life as an opportunity you were given — show you earned it.”