Veteran volunteered his time for other Vets
by Laura Camper
Nov 06, 2013 | 1088 views |  0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When he talks about his homecoming after being injured in the Vietnam War, Heflin resident Donnie Robinson is overcome with the emotion.

“I didn’t have one,” Robinson, 65, said. “They put more emphasis on boys playing football than they did people going to war and coming back.”

His wife, Linda, said Ranburne had a parade for a football hero around the time her husband returned injured from Vietnam.

“It would have really helped the Vietnam vets to be recognized,” Robinson said.

Things have changed and veterans are treated with more respect than they were when he first returned home. Robinson does his part by volunteering with the Disabled American Veterans driving his military brothers to and from the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Hospital.

Robinson was drafted into the U.S. Army in March 1968. He was just 19. Everybody in Vietnam was a kid, Robinson said. He was sent first to Germany and then in June 1969, his unit was shipped to Vietnam. It didn’t take long before he was injured.

On Aug. 6, 1969, his unit was in a fight about 5 p.m. An explosion sent shrapnel everywhere. His buddy pushed him into a foxhole and saved his life, his wife said. Still he was hit with five pieces of shrapnel.

“There was three killed; one of them was my buddy,” Robinson said. “I was one of 15 wounded.”

The injured soldiers were flown out by helicopter to a clinic where the bleeding was stopped and they were stabilized, he said. Then they flew to a hospital for treatment. At the hospital, staff lined them up and each soldier waited to be treated.

Robinson’s turn came about 2 a.m., he said. One of the pieces of shrapnel had collapsed his lung.

He lost about 30 percent of that lung’s function, Robinson said. Three pieces of shrapnel hit him in the shoulder causing nerve damage in that arm. He lost about 50 percent of the function in his hand, he said. Another piece of shrapnel hit him in the head. Four of those pieces of shrapnel are still in his body, Robinson said.

He spent two weeks in Vietnamese hospitals and two weeks in a Japanese hospital before he was flown back to the United States, Robinson said. He spent more than a month on U.S. bases receiving treatment before coming home to Cleburne County. He still hadn’t celebrated his 21st birthday. For about two years after he came home, Robinson dealt with survivor’s guilt. The guilt has faded over the years, but talking about the battle still brings him to tears.

In 1970, shortly after he was discharged from the Army, Robinson reported to the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center for further treatment on his wounds. The hospital “was nasty,” Robinson said. The staff was disrespectful and the hospital needed a good sweeping.

“It was a filthy place,” he said. “It was like, they wasn’t there for your best benefit.”

He didn’t go back to the hospital until 2000, Robinson said. But things are different now.

The Birmingham VA Hospital has cleaned up and is now ranked in the top 10 of VA hospitals, Robinson said. “It’s really a first class set up now,” Robinson said.

Since 2006, Robinson has spent his Thursdays driving a 12-passenger van from the Oxford VA Clinic to the Birmingham VA Medical Center and back again – a veteran helping veterans, he said. “Driving that van helps him,” his wife said. “He felt like it helped him being around them.”

Robinson is as loyal a driver as the program could find, said Paul Brouillette, coordinator of the program. Robinson has received four awards for his volunteer service one in 2010, 2011, 2012 and this year. His 2013 award was for 2,964 volunteer hours. Robinson’s recently taken some time off from the program, but hopes to return, he said.

Robinson said he will be spending his Veteran’s Day attending the service in Anniston at Centennial Park.

The van he drives will be in the parade afterwards.

Staff writer Laura Camper 256-463-2872. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.
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