In the summer of 1967, 20-year-old Bob Haseman was working in Yellowstone Park between his sophomore and junior years at the University of Missouri. And although action in the Vietnam War was beginning to escalate, Haseman chose to forego his education deferments and join the U.S. Armed Forces.
“I just felt I should participate in the war so I enlisted in the Marine Corps,” Haseman related. “So I hitchhiked to Butte and joined an all-Montana company headed to boot camp in San Diego. My parents were surprised when I gave them the news.”
Two years later, as an infantry platoon leader in the Republic of Vietnam, Haseman served at Fire Support Base Russell at the same time as Jimmy Jackson, although the first time he’d ever heard Jackson’s name didn’t happen until 1993.
Rassler and trackster for the Kewpies
Haseman attended David H. Hickman High in Columbia, Missouri, graduating in 1965. He was the Kewpie (that’s not a typo, folks, and yes, their mascot is the doll) wrestling team’s varsity 127-pound grappler, and ran the 880-yard and mile runs on the track team.
After two years of college, Haseman completed Advanced Infantry Training at Camp Pendleton and Scout Sniper School. Before heading to Vietnam, he was selected for Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Virginia.
Next, he finished Basic School for additional training as an officer, before his selection to Army Ranger School. By early 1969, the 21-year Missourian was well-trained and heading to Southeast Asia, where he would lead a Marine platoon “in country.”
Quang Tri Province
He served in I Corps, the northern most sector of South Vietnam, just below the DMZ in Quang Tri Province. By then, the U.S had 543, 000 troops in Vietnam.
Haseman was the platoon commander for 2nd platoon, Lima Company (under Capt. David Yorck), 3rd Batallion, 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, from early April to mid-November, at which time his regiment was withdrawn to Okinawa. His platoon usually had about 34 men ready to go and in the field.
“We spent most of our time defending firebases located on jungle-covered hills, where we manned fortified foxholes,” recounted Haseman, 71, from the man cave office at his Helena home. “Occasionally we received incoming rockets and enemy artillery and ran for our bunkers. Every day we conducted patrols and night ambushes searching for the enemy.
“It was boring duty most of the time but occasionally terrifying, especially at night when ‘anxious thoughts’ would enter our imagination. Night sounds are frightening when you can’t determine if it’s made by some small animal like a rat or monkey, or by a North Vietnamese ‘sapper’ trying to kill you.”
Haseman had arrived just five weeks after Lima Company’s biggest firefight of the year against the North Vietnamese Army. With about 100 troops in the field, 17 of Lima’s Marines were killed and about three times that many were wounded in that battle.
He was, however, involved in two other major actions during this period. One was a “sapper attack” against 3rd platoon resulting in eight KIA and many wounded, while the other loss of life has become one of the stranger stories of the Vietnam War.
When they weren’t manning firebases, they conducted battalion sized operations attempting to locate the enemy. Haseman’s platoon “rarely found them,” and he never had to lead his men in an enemy assault.
“Vietnam was hot, sometimes exceeding 115 degrees … but it could also be cold and when it rained it really came down,” he said.
Exploding Fire Support Base Russell
In early September, his company arrived at Fire Support Base Russell, 8 kilometers south of the DMZ. The oval shaped perimeter was about an acre in size and on one end of the position, a battery of 105mm howitzers (artillery) was set up to provide fire support for Marine activity in the area. Haseman recalled that Concertina wire encircled the defoliated hill below the fortifications, and the base looked similar to the other hilltop positions in western Quang Tri Province.
Lima Company was ordered to occupy and then abandon the base, due in part to President Nixon’s announced withdrawal of the 3rd Marines. Some bases were turned over to the South Vietnamese ARVN forces, but others, like Russell, were blown up.
“On Sept. 21, 1969, we watched the engineers place explosives inside each bunker in a daisy chain,” Haseman explained. “At the appropriate time, after the Marines were evacuated, the explosion would be initiated.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out exactly that way.
Haseman's platoon boarded the first CH-53 helicopter as the other two platoons waited to board the CH-53s that circled above the base. After they lifted away, he spoke with the CO’s radio operator, who told him the hill had exploded prematurely.
“Four Marines were dead and 15 others had been wounded,” he said. “Much later I would learn that there was another person who couldn’t ever be accounted for.”
Twenty-four years later, Haseman received a call from Ron Martz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, informing him of Lance Corporal Jimmy Jackson’s disappearance during the evacuation at Russell.
“Martz asked me what I knew (about it), but I couldn’t offer any information,” he said.
In July 1994, in Martz’s article titled “The Strange Disappearance of Lance Cpl. James W. Jackson Jr.,” he described the Marine Corps' official but difficult explanation of how Jackson was wounded during the explosion, then medevac’d from Russell to a Quang Tri Hospital, and vanished into thin air.
Since that day in 1969 there has been absolutely no trace of Jackson. He was later declared dead and became one of very few Marines “lost” during the Vietnam War.
Nixon soon began withdrawing troops and the 3rd Marine Division departed Vietnam in late November. By the end of 1969, around 40,000 troops had been killed in the war.
Overall, of the 58,000 Americans lost in Vietnam, 14,836 were Marines, with about 1 in 4 Lethernecks either killed or wounded.
Bell-bottoms and Fu Manchus
After leaving Okinawa in 1970, Haseman served another year in Norfolk, Virginia, before his discharge. He then returned to Missouri, to finish his degree in business administration.
“I blended in with my fellow students, wore bell-bottoms, grew my hair long and maintained a Fu Manchu mustache, until I couldn’t stand it any longer,” he quipped.
In 1973, Haseman and his new bride, Brenda, relocated to Helena, when he began his career as a trust officer at Union Bank, now Wells Fargo. Bob started the first Edward Jones office here in 1981, and was a financial adviser with them for 33 years until his retirement in 2013.
The Haseman’s have two children — Dr. Whitney Haseman and her spouse Jennifer Shepard, of Salt lake City; and Brian (also with Edward Jones) and spouse Blair — and one grandchild.
What about Jimmy Jackson?
“In 2015, after writing my book ‘The Sun Sets on Vietnam: The Firebase War,’ I contacted Martz, who told me that after considerable research, he’d changed his mind on Jackson’s disappearance,” related the Marine, who keeps busy these days writing and painting. “He concluded that Jackson was not medevac’d to the hospital in Quang Tri, but rather buried and left in a collapsed bunker on Russell.”
After 50 years, the Marine Corps released their official explanation agreeing with Martz’s opinion. “There may be an attempt to recover his body on Russell and return it to his relatives,” Haseman said.