A member of the 1959 Schenectady team that reached the Little League World Series and a basketball player for Mont Pleasant High School in the mid-1960s, Bob Romph joined the Army’s 504th Military Police Battalion in 1965.
After arriving at a base outside Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), he spent time at Pleiku and on detached duty in the highlands in Ban Me Thuot. Now 68, Romph took a few minutes to reflect on his time in Vietnam, how sports provided a brief escape during down time, and how the war changed his life.
Q: How did sports figure into your down time in Vietnam?
A: There wasn’t really a lot of that, but a buddy of mine and I got it in our heads if we could play on the Pleiku post basketball team, we wouldn’t have to be in combat. So we went over and tried out, and it was rather embarrassing. These guys belonged in the NBA. They could run, they could jump, they could dunk, oh, my God! It was like we’d never seen a basketball before. Other than that, all we had was volleyball [in Ban Me Thuot].
Q: Was it a comfort, having a small taste of home, those sports, at your disposal?
A: It was something to do. You know, if you played any kind of sport, I think you like the notion of competition. It would give you something to look forward to.
The volleyball, it was in the middle of the afternoon, it was like a timeout. It was like the war stopped and we played volleyball at lunchtime. There was a ball that got kicked far away from where the guys were playing. The colonel, who was our commander of this base, said to this captain who was watching, “Captain, toss me the ball,” or something to that effect. The captain said something like, “Look, I’m a little busy right now, get your own volleyball.” The colonel says to him, “Hey captain, I’m a colonel.” The captain replies something to the effect of, “Hey colonel, I’m a doctor, get your own damn volleyball.” Things were kind of laid back, is my point.
Q: Did your trip to the Little League World Series ever come up?
A: Yeah, because that’s all you can do is talk. I really mean it when I use the word “fortunate,” that I was fortunate enough to have played in that Little League World Series. I’m going to get that in every conversation I have when sports gets brought up. As my memory has it, where they play that competition now, [Howard J.] Lamade Stadium, I think we played in the first game ever played in that ballpark. And I’m pretty sure I made the first ever putout in that game — I caught a fly ball to left field. Despite how many years ago that was, I ain’t forgetting that one.
Q: Did you keep in touch with your teammates from Little League and high school, or guys you served with?
A: No, no and no. I don’t have a lot of pals. I don’t know if that’s something left over from my experience in Vietnam, but I’ve never had a lot of pals. I have folks whose company I enjoy, and I go out and play golf with people, but do I bring people home to have a beer or play cards or watch a game on TV? That’s just not something I’ve ever done. I think my life changed because of that experience in the military.
Q: How so?
A: I had some buddies in Vietnam, and they didn’t come home. You just stopped having as many buddies as you used to have, you know?
Q: What will you be doing today for Memorial Day?
A: I’ll try to play golf if I can get a shot at getting out there. There’s a link here. On Memorial Day, I’m going to be mindful of my dad, who passed away 22 or 23 years ago. He served in World War II. Both of Lois’ [Romph’s domestic partner Lois Colson] parents passed away in the last three or four years, and they both served in the military. I don’t know if we’re inclined to take a ride, but if we do, we might go to Saratoga. Her folks are in Saratoga National. My parents are in Hoosick Falls. So it’s more of thinking of family and those that are closest.
I don’t know where this goes, and I don’t want to make it a crazy kind of interview or conversation, but when we came back from Vietnam, from a combat zone, it wasn’t the same way as it is now. We were vilified. It was terrible, Bill, the way returning soldiers were treated. You got to the point after a while where you almost didn’t want to say you were involved. I’m so thrilled now that things are different, where these young men and women who go out and serve this nation and come back from these horror shows in the Middle East are revered. I think that’s the way it should be.
Q: Seeing how the modern vets are treated, does that soften those hard memories?
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