Remembering Gunny Sproul

Written by Bob on August 31st, 2018


Gunnery Sergeant, Robert L. Sproul, a Marine’s Marine

YUCAIPA, CA – Every so often I reach up to the top shelf of my bookcase and pull out my Marine Corps graduation book. There were 72 of us in Platoon 1061 of the First Battalion. The pages are filled with pictures of smoothed faced men – boys really, ages 18, 19, 20 some as old as 23.

The pages show pictures of us climbing ropes, jumping across water ponds suspended in midair with our M14 rifles thrust out in front of us, on the parade deck marching to the deep-throated commands of a drill instructor, standing at attention during inspection, and on Sunday afternoon’s off, writing homesick letters to our worried mothers.


Gunnery Sergeant Robert L. Sproul is seated in the middle behind the Platoon 1061 banner.

Platoon 1061 was all gung ho in boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego in the summer of 1967. We felt destined to go to “Nam” and win the war against communism.

And we wanted Gunnery Sergeant Robert L. Sproul to lead us.

Gunny was our Platoon Commander. Tall, about 6-foot-2, his military bearing and steel blue eyes could bore right through you when he made a point. With his drill instructor’s hat set squarely on the top of his crew cut head, Gunny looked, acted, and was the epitome of a “Marine’s Marine.”

When Gunny spoke we listened, we absorbed, we followed his every command.

Gunny was a born leader. When he told us we were his final boot camp platoon and that he had gotten orders to Vietnam, we all wanted to go with him in a grandiose, hero worship kind of way. With Gunny we knew he would keep us safe from the enemy – like a father protecting his young sons from danger. With gunny leading us we knew we would come home alive.

Gunny never came home safe, or alive. I had lost track of him after boot camp. I was shipped off to Beaufort, South Carolina and in December 1967 he was shipped off to Vietnam. In the summer of 1968 I heard that Gunny had been killed in combat. It was a shock at first. I thought Gunny too strong, too tough, too invincible for the enemy to kill.

I left the Marine Corps in 1971 when my enlistment was up. I was one of the lucky ones who never had to aim an M14 and fire at an enemy. Or be fired at. I was one of the lucky ones who had stateside duty. I was one of the lucky ones who came through unscathed. And with that, I’ve always carried some guilt.

As a reporter for the Hemet Valley Chronicle, I photographed the Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall during its week-long stop in San Jacinto, April of 2003. I photographed gray-haired men weeping uncontrollably when they located buddy’s name on the Wall. I photographed sad and ashen-faced mothers and fathers who came to visit their sons and daughters on the Wall. I photographed sons and daughters paying a visit to fathers they never knew.

It was a profoundly moving experience.

I put off looking for Gunny’s name until late in the night of the first day after the crowd of visitors had thinned. I didn’t know how I would react when I located and touched Gunny’s name and I didn’t want anyone seeing me.

“I’m looking for Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Robert Sproul,” I said to one of the volunteers searching through computer files to help people locate names on the Wall.

“He’s on panel 57W, line 014,” the volunteer told me as she printed out the Etched in Stone form that had all of Gunny’s information. “Do you need some help?”

“No, I can find him,” I said.

I found Gunny amongst the 58,479 men and women on the Moving Wall who paid the supreme price that all wars demand. I tried to keep my hand steady as I gripped a piece of black crayon and rubbed his name on to a sheet bearing his name. I’m not ashamed to say that my eyes filled with tears when I found Gunny again after all those years.

The information was brief. Age 34, married, home of record, Ontario, Oregon; branch Marine Corps, length of service 14 years, casualty date June 13, 1968, body recovered, ground casualty in the Quang Nam Province, South Vietnam.

On this Memorial Day, I salute you Gunny. I thank you for the lasting impression you made on this once 18-year-old some 51 years ago. And I thank you for the supreme sacrifice you made in 1968 so that Americans like myself live in freedom today.

Gunny, you truly are a “Marine’s Marine.”

7 Comments so far ↓

  1. Dan D'Amelio says:

    Read with interest story about Sgt. Robert Sprout. Felt what I always feel in reading about Marines. They are a special breed of men. I wish a TV series would be done about them, focusing on World War I, II, Korea and Vietnam.
    They saved the war in Korea in the incredible fighting near the Chosin Reservoir.
    It might not be generally known, but during the peiod of fighting in the Korean “police action,” men who thought they were going to be drafted into the Army were, instead, whisked into the Marine Corp and with minimal training shiped to the frontlines in Korea. Whether or not they felt gung ho about being a Marine, they became imbued with the semper fidelis spirit and outfoughta vastly larger force of Chinese.
    The fighting took place in sup-zero weather, average temp: 20 below.
    My good friend Joe Tulley sent a post card saying heread a letter of mine while seated on the frozen body of a Chinese.
    The Chinese charged as fanatically as the Japanese in World War II. They had to. A line of officers stood behind them, shooting any man who retreated–a tactic picked up from the Rusiian army, World War II.

  2. Jim Sproul says:

    Bob@YUCAIPA: Thank you for all the kind words regarding my Father, GSGT Sproul. It truly brings tears reading how others felt about him. For the record in 2006, he was awarded the Purple Heart as it was proven that the fire he and his men fell upon was NOT FRIENDLY FIRE. It took the family from June 13, 1968 until April 2006 to finally get what was rightfully his. Pres. Bush we thank you. I will not publish the 2 Gentle mans full names that were instrumental in this accomplishment, Curtis and George, Both Marines, who did not know my father personally but you would have never known that by their words and actions.

    Semper Fi.

  3. Bob says:

    Dear Bob,
    I hope this reaches you. My husband Jim Sproul found the article you wrote about his father Gunny Robert Sproul in 2009. He was so touched and has sent this to everyone in the family.

    Jim is now in Georgia. He is a U.S. Customs Broker. Our web site is http://www.loissproulchb.com
    A couple years ago the Marines had a memorial for Gunny in West Point, Georgia. At that time the Purple Heart was presented to his wife Audrey and to Jim. Since that time sadly Audrey has passed away. She never stopped thinking or talking about her loving husband Robert Sproul.

    My husband has the shadow box which was presented with all of Gunny’s Medals along with a Purple Heart and The American Flag.

    Jim struggled with the government for the Purple Heart for his father for many years. Some Marines in Georgia came to the rescue.

    Robert Sproul’s
    sons:
    James Sproul
    Robert Sproul
    Randy Sproul
    Jeff Sproul
    daughter:
    Nancy Sproul/Smith

    Just thought you may want to know this.

  4. Bob says:

    Dear Lois and Jim,

    I am so pleased to hear from you and your family. And I am so pleased to hear that Gunny was awarded his purple heart at a memorial so well deserving of his service to his country and his Corps. I am moved by your words beyond what I can express. As a reporter, I have twice since covered the Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall.

    Each time I am in awe and humbly honored to be in the presence of such brave men and women such as your father who paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country and its citizens.

    There are many I am certain who never forgot Gunny, the man, and Gunny the Marine. In my four years of service, many leaders emerged whom I respected, but none greater than Gunny.

    My grandson has (early) enlisted in the Marine Corps and will leave for MCRD San Diego, July 23, 2012. I can only hope that he has a Gunny as great as I had as a role model.

    I wish you and your families well, and I thank you so much for writing me.

    Semper Fi,
    Bob Otto

  5. Jack Labor says:

    I too learned a great deal in my short acquaintance with ‘Gunny Sproul’. Late into our training, while he was inspecting my rifle he asked me, “So, Private Labor, who do you think is the best recruit in this platoon?” Without hesitation I replied, “Private Labor, Sir!” To which he responded, “That’s right, and don’t you ever forget it!” I never did Gunny!” I couldn’t help but feel during all of those days in Boot Camp, that he was not watching me, but rather, watching Over me. He was by far the Best Marine I ever knew. I am proud to have known him, he had a profound effect on my life.

    Jack Labor

  6. Bob says:

    Very nice tribute Jack. Gunny certainly belongs in that class of Best Marine ever. We just lost another great Marine here in So. Calif. Master Gunnery Sgt. LeRoy Huff, Jr., who died of cancer. He served five tours in Vietnam and co-founded Inland Empire Veterans Stand Down, which helps emotionally troubled and financially distressed and homeless veterans. About a year a go, he took me along on a trip to MCRD in San Diego. Great Marine, great man.

  7. Diane Rich says:

    Along with Jim and Bob Sprouls aunt Carol I babysat Audrey and Bucks boys a few times. Buck as I knew him was so handsome and was such a gentle man in his non marine life. When the traveling Vietnam Memorial used to come to our town I always went and placed a flower at the base. I could never believe he was a DI in the marines however he assured me he was. I just remember him as a handsome gentle man.

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