Vietnam vet helps history come alive for Adelante students

Bob Golling served as a body escort during conflict
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Vietnam War veteran Bob Golling asked the U.S. history students if they’ve considered joining the military. Six of the eleven students in the class at Adelante High School put their hands in the air. “Be aware of what you’re doing,” he told them. But Golling didn’t attempt to persuade them one way or the other. He was here to tell the teenagers about his personal experience in war and as a body escort. “It was something I had never expected to do,” Golling said. “When you join the military, you have no idea what you’re going to be involved in.” Adelante High School teacher Heather McQueen met the veteran when he visited her school as part of the Placer County Elections Office High School Voter Outreach Program to register young people to vote. When McQueen heard his story, she realized he could help history come alive for her students. “I’m like, ‘This is perfect,’” McQueen said. Golling, a Loomis resident, grew up in San Leandro in the 1950s. He lived on a street with several other families with fathers who were heroes in World War II. This created a generation of boys wanting to be like their dads, he said. “Forty-six years ago, I was your age, sitting in class, thinking what am I going to,” Golling said. “I always wanted to be a sailor so I joined the Navy.” This was in 1965. Soon, he received a temporary assignment to be a body escort for a solider who died in Vietnam. He traveled to the East Coast to receive the body at the airport and deliver it to the soldier’s hometown. Golling was 19 years old. “Being a body escort, was it overwhelming?” asked student Patrick Millus. “Could you handle the emotions?” “I don’t know,” Golling said. “I just tried to get through it.” He was warned not to lose the body — “How could that happen?” he thought. Then he visited the airport’s baggage area and saw a stack of coffins containing dead soldiers. “I was never so happy as when the (local) mortician opened the casket and confirmed that was him,” Golling said. After that assignment, he was sent to Vietnam. “It was a whole different perspective,” he said. “It wasn’t just some fun lark I was on. It was serious business.” Golling served five months in Vietnam and got out of the U.S. Navy in 1969. Trained as an electronics technician in the military, he went on to have a career with a phone company. But the body escort experience stayed with him. “I knew it was an experience I had to share with other people,” Golling said. “It took me a long time to face the emotional impact that experience had on me and to grow up and face the things I had participated in, and write it.” In 1993, he joined the Veterans Writing Group. Essays from members of that group fill the book, “Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace,” edited by Maxine Hong Kingston and published in 2007. “What are you most proud of from everything you did in the war?” student Drew McCafferty asked. Golling said he was proud of escorting the soldier’s body home and being there for the family during that tragic time — and he was proud of writing the essay for the book. The book was featured on “Bill Moyers Journal,” for which Golling was interviewed. Producers asked him to bring photographs, so he went searching through his personal archives, when a small envelope dated 1966 with a 5-cent stamp fell out of the stack. “I still get choked up thinking about it,” he said to the Adelante students. The envelope contained a thank you note from the mother of the deceased solider. The woman thanked Golling for bringing her son home. “I hadn’t seen it in 40 years,” he told the students. He thought maybe finding the card was a sign — another thank you for continuing to tell his story four decades later. Sena Christian can be reached at