Every so often, especially in times of war, extraordinary men emerge. Whether it be their personality or deeds, they become icons associated with the best and brightest in their sphere of influence. Robert Mackenzie was such a man.

A Soldier in the Making

Also known as Bob McKenna for the sake of hiding his identity at a time where the American government threatened to criminalize those who took part in wars abroad as professional soldiers, Robert “Bob” Mackenzie made his mark on several continents most notably in Africa during the war in Rhodesia. But his grit as a soldier did not begin or end there.

Born in San Diego in 1948, Robert MacKenzie had his eyes set on becoming a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. To that end, he worked hard and received an appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Despite the tremendous amount of work he had put into it, his desire to fly was overwhelmed by America’s involvement in Vietnam. Rather than hide out and ride into a commission as an aviator, his fear of missing out on an actual war, where he could experience combat, overwhelmed him. He declined the appointment and went to the local Army recruitment station and declared his desire to serve in the infantry as an enlisted man.

The Army obliged him without delay and he went to boot camp and Jump School at Fort Benning, home of the Infantry. He landed in Company B, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne, and in 1967 arrived in Vietnam.

Vietnam and the Battle for Mother’s Day Hill

The unit was dropped into a place called Happy Valley right at the foothills of the Central Highlands.

The heavy jungle covering the foothills of the Central Highlands made fighting both tactically and physically difficult. The 327th was tasked with search and destroy missions as well as area denial to prevent the Viet Cong (VC) and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) from entering the valley from which they would come down and replenish their supplies.

The men began to climb through the terrain. They had chosen a well-used trail for access. They used dogs and metal detectors to make sure the area wasn’t booby-trapped with anti-personnel mines. Soon, while making a hairpin turn, they met a Vietnamese trail watcher. The Americans got the drop and shot the VC dead. The long line moved forward to seek out the enemy.

They soon fell into a well-laid ambush where they were outnumbered and tactically at a disadvantage. All hell broke loose. The company commander quickly set up a command post in the woodline and started calling in fire support. Unfortunately, either something went awry or in the chaos, or wrong coordinates were given and the command post was blown away, killing the entire command element including the forward observer and company commander.