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Vietnam War MOH recipient Roberts retires from the Army

Col. Gordon R. Roberts, who received the Medal of Honor as a sergeant during the Vietnam War, retired from the Army on Friday at Fort Bragg.

Roberts was the most senior soldier on active duty wearing the nation's highest military honor, said Maj. Gen. Kenneth S. Dowd, commander of Fort Bragg's 1st Theater Sustainment Command. Not a one-time hero, Roberts also has two Silver Stars, the third-highest award for valor.

"It has been a great honor and privilege that Col. Roberts has stood in our ranks," Dowd said. Roberts is "a humble man" who "sees himself no differently than any other soldier."

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The rarely seen Medal of Honor flag with 13 white stars on a blue field was at the outdoor ceremony at 1st Theater Sustainment Command headquarters.

Roberts looks boyish in a photograph of the ceremony at which President Nixon placed the blue Medal of Honor ribbon around his neck. At 61, Roberts wears glasses, and gray hair contrasts with his black beret.

In his remarks, Roberts did not talk about assaulting and destroying three enemy bunkers pinning down his 101st Airborne Division infantry company. He did not mention being under fire from North Vietnamese soldiers and pulling wounded comrades off the battlefield.

He did talk about the joy he received from soldiering and being around soldiers more than 44 years and his love of his family.

"I served with so many great soldiers over the years, and not always in war," he said.

Roberts, a Medical Service Corps officer, was deputy chief of staff in Kuwait last year as the 1st Theater Sustainment Command oversaw the removal of U.S. vehicles and equipment from Iraq before the Dec. 31 deadline. The two-star command is in charge of logistics for the Middle East, and its soldiers split their time between Fort Bragg and Kuwait.

Roberts recalled his first airplane ride to Fort Benning, Ga., for military training. He had enlisted in the Army to be an infantryman at age 17, three days out of high school.

"It was a plane ride that never stopped," he said.

Dowd calls him Gordo. In Vietnam, his company commander called him ''Bird Dog,'' and everyone else in the unit latched on to the nickname. Roberts was the "point man" walking at the front of patrols remote, rugged mountain area near the Laotian border. It was a primary supply corridor for the North Vietnamese army into the Highlands.

In a 1996 interview with The Fayetteville Observer, Roberts was asked how he managed to survive that day in the deadly A Shau Valley without being wounded. He said with wry humor that it was probably because he was thin.

''I'd turn sideways and made the shot a little more difficult, I guess,'' said Roberts, who was then 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighed 123 pounds and today remains trim.

Roberts, who was born in Lebanon, Ohio, left the Army in 1971, earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, and worked in the criminal justice system. He was in the Ohio National Guard and received a direct commission in 1989 as an officer in the Medical Service Corps. In 1991, he returned to active duty.

Over the past two decades, the Army also sent him to South Korea, Haiti and Saudi Arabia. Through the years, his family was there to meet him at Fayetteville Regional Airport and Pope Air Force Base's Green Ramp.

In Vietnam, Roberts learned to respect what medics do. As an officer, he found himself drifting toward logistics, he said.

Roberts said he is looking forward to seeing his daughter Kerri's softball games at Appalachian State University and spending time with his wife, Alissa.

"I plan to spend eternity with her," he said. "Everything else is a distraction."

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