Bob Burns remembers the day he wasn’t killed.
That was March 24, 1970. After concluding earlier in the day that he would die in South Vietnam, he agreed to lead a seven-man patrol near the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
“I decided I wasn’t going to go home, I wasn’t scared anymore, so I joined the patrol,” Burns recalled.
About 4.5 miles from base camp, Burns said, “everything went wrong.” “We were caught in a horseshoe-shaped ambush, which meant we were surrounded on three sides. We had machine guns, but we ran out of ammunition very quickly.”
Next comes hand-to-hand combat. Burns picked up the shrapnel in his right leg and looked up after falling.
“I can still see his face. Usually, they shoot the body. That’s what I expected. He had an AK-47 on his shoulder.”
Instead, the man took the butt of the gun and smashed the left side of Burns’ face.
“He chose to discover me,” Burns said.
“By the grace of God,” Burns said.
Burns, a security guard at Carr Richland Memorial Hospital in Olney, is one of the veterans on the Carr Health team who agreed to share his story and lessons learned ahead of Veterans Day. He represents all members of Carr’s team who have served their country in the military.
“I try to make time for everyone,” Burns said when asked how his military service influenced his work for Cal. “If they ask me to do something, I do it to the best of my ability.
“I was just a nobody trying to do good things for other people,” Burns said. “I learned that while serving (in the military).”
Veterans Day is Saturday, November 11th. Carle Health hospitals will host a flag-raising ceremony on Friday, November 10, at the following time and location, open to all team members and the public:
- 12:30 p.m. Outside the entrance to the Heart and Vascular Institute at Urbana Carr Foundation Hospital.
- 11 a.m. outside the main entrance of Carle Hoopeston Regional Health Center in Hoopeston.
- 11 a.m. outside the main entrance of Olny Carl Richland Memorial Hospital.
- Noon, outside the main entrance of Carl Bromen Medical Center, Normal City.
- Noon outside the main entrance of Carr Health Methodist Hospital in Peoria.
- 11 a.m., Carl Eureka Hospital, Eureka.
Helping coordinate the flag-raising ceremony were members of the Carle Health MVP (Military and Veteran Professionals), a Carle Inclusion Connection Group that serves team members who serve veterans and their allies. Co-starring Colleen Sheese and Eric Swenson.
“MVP is open to any active duty military member, veteran, family member or even military supporter who would like to participate,” Heath said. “We have several people who have family members or spouses who have served or currently serve in the military and would like to participate. Everyone is welcome.”
The organization’s 50 members are committed to building camaraderie around shared military experiences, serving veterans who work for Carle and Health Alliance and those who live in the communities Carle Health serves.
“Veterans Day observances are open to everyone,” Heath said. “We want to see as many people attend as possible.”
More Bob Burns Stories
Burns grew up in poverty in Alton and joined the Marine Corps in 1969 after graduating from high school. Arriving in South Vietnam on January 3, 1970, he was a member of Group 7.th Maritime Division. His special operations team was responsible for cutting off North Vietnamese along the Ho Chi Minh Trail from supplying weapons and ammunition to guerrillas fighting South Vietnamese and U.S. forces in the south.
After the ambush, he underwent facial reconstruction on the left side of his face at Clark Air Force Base. A few months later, he was recovering well and was grateful to see his son for the first time.
Burns later became part of 2ND Marines serve as patrol officers at Camp Lejeune. He was discharged from the Army on 2 July 1974 as a Sergeant (E5). Civilian life took him to a variety of jobs over the years, including 26 years as a correctional officer with the Illinois Department of Corrections.
He joined Richland in 2016 as a security guard. “I came to the hospital here and fell in love with the people,” Burns said.
Burns said his time served meant “honor.” Veterans Day is a time for reflection.
“We wouldn’t have a country if we didn’t remember those who have died before us and those who are at risk now,” Burns said.
Over Veterans Day weekend, he and his family will decorate several graves, including that of his brother-in-law who was killed in Vietnam in late 1970.
How should people commemorate Veterans Day?
“Just like my three-year-old great-grandson did,” Burns said. “He recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. Respect the flag and what it represents. You may not like what’s going on in this country, but it is the greatest country in the world and if we respect our heritage, it will continue to be so .”
Carle Health is grateful for its many veteran team members. In the military, they learn skills such as discipline and performing in high-pressure situations, adapting quickly to change, demonstrating leadership and putting the needs of the team before themselves. At Carle Health, they apply these skills in their mission to put patients first.
For more information about Cal Inclusive Connections (CIC) groups, including MVPs (Military and Veteran Professionals), click here.