As Pfc. Robert G. Mueller was leaving his home, he looked back at the farm where he grew up and said he would never see the place again. It was as if he knew his fate was to never return home.
Mueller was the third child of eight children in the two-story red farmhouse with a long gravel driveway, where a tall tree stood in the front lawn in rural Washington County.
Both of his parents were farmers with German heritage. After his parent’s marriage on May 8, 1940, at Sacred Heart Church in Allenton, they settled on a dairy farm about 188 acre in Nabob where Robert, better known as Bob, and his seven siblings grew up. When the parents moved to Nabob, his father bought another farm down the road not too far from the main farm. The family lived on the main farm where the milking cows were.
Bob’s mother had a huge garden by the house, and she grew everything including beans, carrots, lettuce, cabbage, and strawberries. The family not only raised cows but pigs, and chickens to sell and to eat. It was a world apart from the conflict in Vietnam, where he would soon find himself.
Bob was born in Hartford, Wis, on Sept. 27, 1944 to Theodore J. Mueller and Marie M. Gundrum Mueller. From oldest to youngest was Theodore “Ted” Jr., Anna Mae, David, Beverly, LaVern, Bernadine, and Dorothy. His older sister, Anna Mae, recalled there was only one bathroom. “And you know we made it work,” she laughed.
Bob came from a close family. He was always surrounded by his relatives; his aunts and uncles would come over to the house to help with scalding and plucking the chickens when it was butchering time. It was more like a gathering even though there was work involved. It was more fun doing it with a group than doing it alone Anna Mae recalled.
Bob attended St. Mathias Catholic School for grade school with the rest of his siblings. The school had two classrooms, both the same size, taught by nuns. One room was refer to as the little room up to 4th grade and the other room as the big room up to 5th through 8th grade. Bob graduated from Slinger High School in 1962, and worked for Lee Jaeger Inc in West Bend, hauling gravel. He helped Ted with his milk route by driving a milk truck and transferring milk by cans to earn extra money.
Bernice is married to Ted. They married in 1962, and Bob was the god-father to their son, Daniel. Fifty years had gone by, but she still remembers those words he said before he left to Vietnam.
“When he left,” she said as her voice starts to break, “he said he would never see the place again.” He said this as his parents drove him out of the farm to the airport.
And he was right. Bob never made it back home from Vietnam alive.
But he lived his life and had fun while he can. Besides life on the farm, Bob was adventurous. His younger brother David recalled that he talked about joining the Air Force and becoming a pilot, but David was not sure if it was a dream that Bob was pursuing. But Bob was enjoying life after high school even though he may have been unsure of what he really wanted to do with his life. Anna Mae said he went out a lot when he was old enough to go out.
He played baseball with friends and went to minor bars, where beer could be served to young people at an earlier age. He was tall, handsome with light brown hair, and blue eyes. He was young, daring and he liked to have a good time Anna Mae said about him. She believed he had no intention on taking over the farm, as he had a job away from the land, but David was definitely interested when he was old enough to work on the farm.
Bob had a girlfriend, whom cared about him very much, and he worked; his life was just beginning.When he had a steady paycheck, he bought himself a car. Anna Mae could not recall what kind it was, but it was a shiny, new car. A red one.
“It was his pride and joy,” she said.
Since there were no driving schools back then, his parents taught him how to drive. But Bob already had experience because he drove tractors on the farm, so it was easy for him to pick it up.
In 1959, Ted went into the National Guard and served during the Berlin Crisis but left on honorable medical discharge.
A couple years later, a letter came in the mail, and Bob was ordered to report to military duty. He had been drafted. His parents were apprehensive about their son going off to war, into a world with so much commotion, but they could not keep him out of service and Bob did not have a choice, so he had to go. But Bob knew what he had to do. All of his life he knew what was expected of him, from the farm life living at home to milking cows to helping out his father in the farm and now war. He entered the army on June 17, 1965.
Bob underwent basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky and then had further training in Fort Hood, Texas. During his six month training, he thought of home, the comfortable rural life in Washington County he had known all his life. He wrote letters back to his parents at the farm. What was written in the letters is lost to history, as he did not write much to his siblings but his parents, who are now deceased.
Bob passed on April 25, 1966 from the result of wounds to his chest received in hostile ground action after arriving in Vietnam at the beginning of April. According to a citation from a local newspaper clipping Anna Mae kept, Bob serving with the U.S Army Infantry forces was attacked in the jungle, fatally wounded from gunshots. Anna Mae couldn’t recall which newspaper it was from anymore. The newspaper said intense shots were fired from the Viet Cong entrenchment, and his squad tried to outflank the enemy. The intense shots of the automatic weapons and small arms from the entrenchment mortally injured the squad leader. The article continues:
“Pfc. Mueller completely disregarded his own safety as he left his protective cover and slowly crawled toward the fortified Viet Cong positions. When he had come to within 10 meters of the trench, he began a running assault. As he engaged the Viet Cong in the trench, Pfc. Mueller was fatally wounded.”
He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal to honor his bravery, sacrifice, and devotion to the service in addition to the Purple Heart he received before. He was a member of the St. Mathias Holy Name Society and the Catholic order of Foresters Court 897 of Theresa.
Bob was only 21, a couple months away from his 22nd birthday. He never married and had no children. He is buried at the small St. Mathias Catholic cemetery across from the St. Mathias Catholic Church with his parents and with the letters he wrote home, letters that his parents couldn’t hold on to.
As for his shiny, new red car. No one remembers anymore. Memories are fading, but they are still vivid enough to bring the young farm boy momentarily back to life through words.
Anna Mae recalled that all the farmers knew each other because they worked together, so Bob’s tragic death shocked the whole community.
When his body was flown in from Vietnam, the casket was sealed with an American flag draped over it. Since opening the casket was not permitted, there was never closure to see his body one last time.
“It didn’t take long that he was killed in Vietnam,” said Bob’s little sister, Bernadine, who prefers to be called Bonnie. “So it was really difficult for my mom especially.” His mother wanted to make sure it was him in the casket, despite the condition of the body, but it was best to remember him as he was, the fun-loving, free-style, neighborhood farm kid, who was so kind he would never hurt anybody.
“We don’t know how long or how badly he was really hurt; you wouldn’t want that memory, ” Anna Mae said. “This way we have this memory.” She points to the piles of black-and-white pictures of Bob, one of his high school senior picture and three copies of Bob smiling in his graduation uniform when he graduated from basic training. Those pictures along with the newspaper clippings were kept over the years in an envelope with his name written on it. Anna Mae bought a slot next to her brother at St. Mathias Cemetery.
David now lives on the farm with his family after he took over when the parents retired. It is not a dairy farm anymore as he kept five acres of land, sold the rest, and kept the buildings. The farm animals, too, are long gone, and David build more room in the barn house where an abundant space is used as a rental storage for people to store their boats during winter. And the two-story house with the long driveway, where David now lives, still remains in the peaceful, rural area that Bob never came back to just like he said on that day when he left to Vietnam.