Nearly 45 years after surviving harrowing missions during the war in Vietnam, Cabot resident Calvin Rollins has been inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame. How harrowing? "We had teams that after they were dropped off we never heard from them again," he recalled in a recent interview.
Rollins joined the Army in 1965; his citation notes that by June 1966 he was an Airborne Ranger and Team Leader in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. In 1968 he was assigned to the Special Forces Military Assistance Command Vietnam Studies and Observation group where he headed Special Projects. After being wounded in action, he was medically retired in 1969.
The ceremony was held July 16 at Ft. Benning, Ga.; the induction citation notes that Rollins is the lowest-ranking inductee with the shortest span of service, but that he has made "impressive accomplishments" furthering the mission of Army Rangers. Scanning the rolls of fellow inductees gives an idea of the ranks which Rollins served with — Sergeant Major, Command Sergeant Major, Colonel, Brigadier General, Lieutenant General, with Staff Sergeant Calvin Rollins.
Rollins is fiercely proud of his service and of being a Ranger. He will quickly tell you he remains a Ranger.
But he and his family have paid a dear price or the privilege.
Daughter Amy Rollins told of living with a parent suffering from Post Traumatic Stress, which "to a large degree" was the cause of her parents’ divorce.
"It was kind of like walking on eggshells," Rollins said. " not being sure how he would react. All my friends were scared of him. They knew he was a Green Beret and a police officer."
"But he was really a teddy bear," she laughed. "He would do anything for any of us."
"We finally took him to the [Veterans Administration facilities], dropped him off and said ‘You broke him, you fix him,’" Rollins recalled. That was 13 years ago, she said.
"When we got him back, he was a different man," she said. Still, it has been only relatively recently that her father has begun speaking very much about his experiences.
What about the nearly 30 years from his medical discharge in 1969, due to wounds, and turning to the VA?
"They learned not to startle me when I was sleeping," Rollins said.
Rollins recalled joining the Army in 1965 as a "kid full of piss and vinegar." He had grown up watching World War II movies about Army Rangers and knew that was what he wanted to do.
His entry point in-country was the base at Cam Rahn Bay, where he joined up with the 101st "Recondos" at Phan Rang, under the Military Assistance Command-Vietnam (MAC-V). One of the commanders who knew him recruited him into MAC-V Special Forces South where he was thrown deep into operations and training.
His expertise was Long Range Patrol, four- to six-man teams that remained in the field for weeks, Rollins said. "You have line units that perform seek-and-destroy, but the long-range patrols avoided contact."
"If we made contact, our total mission was compromised," he explained. "We were to watch, record, take photos … prisoner snatches," he said, pausing for a few moments.
A scar on his cheek is witness of at least one hand-to-hand battle.
"If we had to, call in air support, artillery, whatever." His was one of the few field units that could call in an "Arc Light" strike, B-52’s carrying up to 2,000 lb. bombs, Rollins recalled. "Did it more than once. When you are six people caught in the middle of a brigade you need all the help you can get."
Rollins said the 2,000 lb. bombs had a burst radius of about 1,500 meters, "you don’t want to be close to them," he said. He recalled being lifted off the ground by the blasts that "blew holes the size of Olympic swimming pools."
His total time in-theatre was about 21 months, little of which was actually in Vietnam, he said. "After I went to [Special Operations Group] I never saw Vietnam except for line-of-sight… Cambodia, Laos, other places."
His units had "an immense problem" caused by the requirement that their operations had to be shared with their South Vietnamese counterparts, Rollins said. "We started losing team after team after team. I mean, some of them just vanished," he said, his voice almost a whisper. After being inserted, "They might check in on the radio and then you never heard from them again."
Rollins said he was hit by a mortar round while in Laos, near Tchepone [now Xepon]. "I got hit in the leg, right square in the kneecap, several other places. I thank heaven for a T-shirt and duct tape."
He had to be carried to a landing zone, where a helicopter could land, and was evacuated. He said the injuries were such that he was offered a "desk job" at Ft. Bragg, "I said, ’I can’t do that; sit behind a desk,’" so he chose to medically retire.
On coping with PTSD, Rollins said, "The system just does not learn from its mistakes."
"I have got a huge respect for our guys and what they are going through now," but "the system" has not learned how to help them," Rollins said. Individuals remain scared to ask for help, fearing reprisals such as being passed over for promotion and other effects, he said.
"They have got to be able to ask for help, and get it soon. Not wait until after they’ve been out for however long," he said. "They have got to know that it is not weak to ask for help, and that they won’t be punished."
Rollins praises the Veterans Administration for the help he has gotten. "I don’t know about the other places, but what we have here in Little Rock and North Little Rock have got to be some of the best. They care about their veterans," he remarked.
The citation also notes Rollins’ decorations and awards include, but are not limited to, the Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts, one with oak leaf cluster; two Air Medals; Army Commendation with Valor; Vietnam Service Medal with Device 60-; Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm; Republic of Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation; Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation, "to name a few."
Rollins is low-key about his accomplishments in MAC-V, MAC-V-SF south, SOG, instead pointing to others he believes contributed more. "I was so fortunate, because I got to walk among giants," Rollins said.