March 19, 1985
Dear Robert Lake,
My wife Gloria and I wanted you to know that we are grateful to you for your kind and thoughtful letter. We are so grateful to you for telling us about our son, who died in Vietnam. To tell you the truth, you are the only Marine who served directly with our son that we have heard from….
War stories, as the adage goes, are all true and all false. The survivors of one patrol had been telling a mostly false version of this story for 31 years—not deliberately, but because each man’s personal survival strategy had repressed large parts of the traumatic memory. One thing that helped unlock those memories was a celebrity’s published account of the loss of his stepson, who had been one of their teammates (see end of story for a letter written by Jimmy Stewart about the loss of his son).
On June 8, 1969, those Marines were trapped in an ambush that claimed the life of actor Jimmy Stewart’s stepson, Marine 1st Lt. Ron McLean. The remaining five were pinned down for 24 hours by a dug-in NVA platoon. The resulting onslaught of automatic-weapons fire, grenades and 12 hours of close air support should have killed the team many times over.
“We all expected to die on the hill,” said Bob Lake of Aitkin, Minn., who at 19 had been the assistant patrol leader. “We were in no man’s land, unknowingly dropped into a [1,200-member] enemy battalion, and [helicopter extraction from] the hilltop was the only way out.”