Memorial Day: ‘Celebrate the memory of fallen heroes’ |

Memorial Day: ‘Celebrate the memory of fallen heroes’

Summit Daily News/Caitlin RowRob Mitchell

SUMMIT COUNTY -Memorial Day, a holiday spent honoring fallen soldiers from all American wars, is particularly poignant to Vietnam veteran Rob Mitchell.

The longtime Summit County local served two tours in the Vietnam War, from 1965-1970. He spent his first tour as a platoon leader, where he fought in Vietnam’s jungle for almost nine months straight. His second assignment was to fly with the United States Air Force as a liaison officer.

As a platoon leader in an Army airborne unit, Mitchell commanded up to 40 soldiers in operations lasting 30 days. They’d come back to camp for four days of rest and to resupply, and then it was 30 more days in the jungle.

“I was always curious as to how I would perform in a situation where I was hunting or being hunted,” he said. ” … Having the opportunity to perform in that manner, I watched to see how people and how my men would perform in combat situations, even if the mission was futile. I saw heroism. I saw some cowardice responses, but in most cases I saw them perform for each other. And I had a slogan, that we would be the world’s greatest survivors regardless of the mission. And if it took courageous fighting to be a survivor, we would do it for each other.”

After living through two tours in Vietnam, Mitchell said he came to understand the importance of fighting for one another, even in a hopeless mission. And the honor of dying for someone else.

“What combat is, it recognizes that there’s supposed to be a mission,” Mitchell said. “We’re asked to follow that direction, and yet often a mission can be perceived as flawed or maybe failed. I’m talking about combat in general, not a political statement. When the Roman legions fought, they were commanded, directed, they had a mission. But the underlying motive for them to fight was for each other regardless of the political mission or other reasons that people go to war, like to further their country’s goals or aims. The ultimate is that warriors fight for each other. Of all the ways that somebody comes to the end of their life, I don’t think there’s a more noble death than the death of combat.”

“That they died in a noble cause regardless of the mission – I’ve heard people say ‘What a waste,’ but I don’t feel that it was a waste. It’s better to die for someone else, to fight for each other. Perhaps it’s a comfort to those who have lost loved ones, to know that there is justification. To know that they fought for each other.”

According to Mitchell, he sees Memorial Day as an opportunity to respect and publicly express appreciation to families who have lost loved ones, and to “celebrate the memory of fallen heroes.”

“I hope everyone will have a meaningful Memorial Day,” he added.

Mitchell now lives in Silverthorne. He’s been in the mountains since 1970.

Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at

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