Robert Primeaux hosts two radio shows about veterans on Radio KKFT 99.1FM in Garnderville-Minden, Nevada: “Sit-Rep,” which deals with veteran’s issues and “The Warrior,” co-hosted with Dave Camepainen and Elmer Atlookin, which deals specifically with Native American veterans’ issues; however he is the first to admit that he didn’t know much about the Vietnam War when he first joined the army. “Vietnam was one hell of an experience,” Primeaux said.
Primeaux is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and grew up on the reservation. He graduated high school there in 1968 at the age of 17. He tried college, but he wasn’t ready for it. His mother suggested the army, but she soon regretted her suggestion.
“I knew nothing about Vietnam, literally nothing,” Primeaux said. “I was a senior in high school at 16 and 17; I watched the news at night but it was like watching a TV show; it didn’t hit me that there was an actual war going on. A lot of Braves in Standing Rock were Vietnam veterans, but they never talked about it. When I went to Vietnam in 1969, my mother locked herself in her bedroom and would not come out to say goodbye because she was scared for me. She had already lost her husband, my dad, so I knew what she was going through. My buddies came to take me to Bismarck; I hugged my little brother and sister at the door.”
Primeaux was sent to NCO (non-commissioned officer) candidate school in Fort Knox. From there he went to Vietnam as an army sergeant where he was a squad leader, so he was already responsible for the lives of 10 men at the age of 18. On top of fighting a war, he also had to deal with prejudice. “The men in my squad found it very difficult to serve under someone of my age and race,” Primeaux said. “Their image of Indian people at the time, and even today, was that I’m a drunk. I was able to beat those stereotypes because of my leadership skills.”
Primeaux was in 36 combat assaults by helicopter, and commanded many small team missions. He served with Delta Troop, 2nd/17 Cavalry, 101st Airborne Division. His military awards include the Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, Air Medal, Vietnam Service Medal W/2 Bronze Service Stars, Vietnam Campaign Medal W/60 Device, and the Army Commendation Medal.
A series of tragedies threw Primeaux’s life out of control. He came back to the U.S. in June of 1970 because his brother was killed in an automobile accident. Primeaux was stationed in Minneapolis, the nearest base to Standing Rock, due to compassionate reassignment. When he left Vietnam he was on a combat mission, and he later learned that 10 days after he left, 65 men on that mission lost their lives; many of them were from his platoon and squad. “I regret leaving because I was the most experienced officer in that platoon.”
In March 1971, Primeaux was in a car accident himself; he went through the windshield of a 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1. The other three people in the accident were killed and Primeaux was in a coma for 6 months. The doctors were baffled because aside from the head trauma that put him in the coma, his body escaped without injury. He left the army in August 1971, three weeks after coming out of the coma, but like many veterans, he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder due to his combat missions. He was eventually declared 70 percent disabled from the disorder, but it took 16 years to get his disability from the army.
“So I survived,” Primeaux said. “I was talking to my elders about it at Standing Rock and they told me that I was saved for something good in this world. So I cling to that belief.”
A lot of good did come about in Primeaux’s life. He went back to school and started acting in TV shows like “Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman’” and “Picket Fences,” and films, including “Rough Riders,” where he got a co-star credit. He eventually met country singer Lacy J. Dalton, who was doing a radio show. Dalton invited him to do a veteran’s update on the air; Primeaux did five minute pieces on her show and the producer liked what he was doing, so Primeaux soon got his own weekly show on veteran’s issues, “Sit Rep” (an army abbreviation for “Situation Report”). He soon started a second show, “The Warrior,” which recently started airing on Native Voice One.
Primeaux says that as difficult as his Vietnam experience was, he wouldn’t change a thing because of the strong friendships he developed while he was in the service, but he is still haunted by the deaths that came out of that experience.
“Learning that so many men in my unit were lost; I still have to live with that today. I’ve had a number of counselors over the years but I’ve only had one good counselor, a Vietnam veteran. He told me when I have these dreams I have to put them into perspective. I’m still living, unfortunately they’re not; I’ve got to see that everything is for a reason. So I do that, I think about that; everything has a reason so there’s a reason I’m still living, but I still have trouble finding a reason for them to have died at such a young age.”