James Robert Kalsu

First Lieutenant
Army of the United States
13 April 1945 - 21 July 1970
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Panel 08W Line 038


Purple Heart, National Defense, Vietnam Service, Vietnam Campaign
Bob Kalsu

Photo used with permission from the
Buffalo Bills

The database page for James Robert Kalsu

6 Oct 2001

Bob Kalsu is the only professional football player to have died in the Vietnam War. He was the Bills' Team Rookie of the Year in 1968.

I only met him once, when he met with several high school football players. I don't remember his exact words, but I remember how good I felt after his encouraging words. It was shortly after the newspapers announced that he would be going into active duty and probably to Vietnam. Bob became my idol as I continued to play high school football. I wanted to follow in his footsteps, including the military, until the city was shocked by his death. By the time I graduated from college, the war was winding down and the draft was over, so I went on with my life without joining the military.

Bob was a great example to many young men.

May he rest in peace.

Ron Winston
E-Mail address not available

30 Apr 2004

I first met Bob at Townsend Elementary School in Del City, Oklahoma, when I was in the sixth grade when he substituted for our class. He would come out at recess and play basketball with us and we of course had to get his autograph because we all knew what a big football star he was. To us at the time it was a joyous time we got to spend with one of our own local heros who was both kind and gentle and generous with his time. It seemed all so innocent at the time. I remember when I found out about Bob's death. At the time I didn't understand why it had to happen. I know now the ultimate sacrifice he paid so that we all can enjoy the freedoms we have today. Thanks to you, Bob, for being my hero all these years.

Rob Wilkerson

27 Apr 2005

He could have joined the National Guard like Steve Owens and not gone but he did it the right way. He went to Vietnam in November 1969 the same as I, but I was only 20. We were both in artillery. He was famous, I was nothing. I came home, he didn't. He is a real hero!

From a fan,
Mike Buckley

19 Jul 2005

I never met Big Bob Kalsu, but he was DEFINITELY one of my favorite Sooners back in the late 1960's. Why? Because if you take a look back at just about every picture there is of the man, one thing is immediate: his SMILE! This big man, who could be ferocious on the football field, ALWAYS seemed happy.

He was perhaps the biggest OU player on that 1967 team that surprised us all by going 10-1 and winning the Orange Bowl. Big Bob wore #77 and I was thrilled when he was drafted by Buffalo after his senior season. I remember hearing about his death in Vietnam and, at age 13, I was VERY sad.

But thank goodness for NFL Films and Sports Illustrated. Because of incredibly moving stories on Bob Kalsu put together by Steve Sabol & Co. and William Nack with the magazine, now MANY Americans who had never heard of Bob feel like they know him and they respect him and HONOR him - as do I. Not normally a Vietnam historian, I decided to visit the traveling "Vietnam Wall Experience" just last week in Bob's hometown of Del City, OK. I went to find one name - on the west side of the Wall, panel #8, line #38... "James R. Kalsu". I scratched it off and will keep it with me for the remainder of my days - hoping to be just HALF the man this true American and Oklahoma HERO was ... and continues to be today.

From a fan during his college football days,
Robert B. Barry
Edmond, Oklahoma

14 Dec 2005

My sons and I just watched a presentation on ESPN regarding Mr. Kalsu. It was very inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time. God Bless him and his family.

From just an ordinary guy,
Mark Cotton

08 Feb 2006

First of all I would like to say Lt Kalsu was a great officer who did his job the way it should be done. When he came to C Btry, 2/11th Artillery in September of 1969 he wanted to learn and be the best he could be.

Even though Lt Kalsu was a pro football player you would not know it by the way he was just an soldier doing his job. We all learned that he was a pro football player. He was asked lots of times what he was doing in Vietnam. He said he was no different than any of us.

I have talked to his son who lives in Oklahoma City by phone - he is very nice man. I called NFL Films and asked them to send copies of him playing to the Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. They did - it was great.

I did not know of Bob Kalsu being killed until I got back to the states. I was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. When I left he was still with C Btry but then was transferred to A Btry after they lost their Commanding Officer. I sure was sorry of his loss as I have said before. God Bless his family.

From a friend and fellow member of the same unit,
Glenn C Scarborough
8079 Hwy 29 South, Hull, Ga. 30646

30 May 2006

I am proud to say that I served under Lt. James Kalsu at Firebase Arsenal in 1970. We had a ground attack by enemy sappers one night and the whole hill was lit up with everyone running pell-mell to their posts. Lt. Kalsu made his rounds during the night, seeing to everyone's security and was very much in control of the situation. He never barked out orders that I can remember, but carried a voice of authority that was matched by his character and genuineness as "one of the men." I was stunned by hearing he was killed. I dedicate a poem I wrote to his memorial and to men like him who served with the 101st Airborne, 11th Field Artillery:

As a man
I tried to bury the haunts of the past,
Along with the specter of sizzling skies
And guns so fierce.
Tin cans and empty bottles were no longer the enemy.
Nor could the mirror-walled memorial of the slain
Replace the youth that was shattered.
A nation cannot grieve forever,
But diplomats and politicians cannot forge another illusive truce
To bring back our fallen.
You are still missed.
Dr. Larry Taylor
(former SP4 Taylor, Asst Gunner, 155mm Vietnam 1969-1971)

Larry Taylor

06 Jun 2006

I served with Lt Kalsu from approximately Jan 1970 until his transfer to Ripcord around May of that year ... as best I can recall. We served first at FSB Arsenal, a 10 day raid to FSB pistol, and then FSB Tomahawk. I was an FDC section chief and he was then the battery XO of C, 2/11th arty. I was only an E-4 but he treated me as well as others as friends and equals. We played cards, wrestled, laughed and in general made the best of a bad situation in our spare time. He was a first class officer who knew his business especially during combat fire missions and kept everyone on their toes. He was in many ways a mentor to me and a great example of a leader to men.

In 2002 my son and I went to the Fort Campbell dedication of the building to him. It was awe inspiring with the Army band and big brass and all. I met his wife and children and showed off the one picture I had of him and they seemed geniunely glad to have met someone from one of his old units.

I have often regretted not going to Ripcord with him when I had the chance and he offered. It was a very sad day when we got the news ... and for quite some time afterwards.

Yours Truly,
Harold E. Gaither
8959 Brunswick Farms Drive
Arlington, Tn. 38002
E-Mail will be forwarded by the

28 Jun 2006

I have just returned from Iraq and ran convoys in and out of Forward Operating Base KALSU. I am privileged to read about the hero that the FOB was named after.

I have several pictures of the sign that was placed there in memory of Lt Kalsu if anyone would care for a copy, please feel free to contact me.

Gunny Davis 5/14

GySgt Davis, USMC

Kalsu's story touching and tragic.
Buddy Thomas
Senior sports editor/columnist
The Standard Times
New Bedford, Massachusetts
used with permission

Bob Kalsu never reached All-Pro status in the National Football League.

Probably because he didn't play long enough.

But the big lineman from the University of Oklahoma was voted the team's top rookie in his first and only season with the Buffalo Bills.

That was back in 1968 when the American Football League was on the threshold of a merger with the rival NFL, and the 1-12-1 Bills were hoping to re-discover the glory days of mid-decade.

I was two years removed from Vietnam at the time and still trying to re-adjust to civilian life. Part of that re-adjustment centered around watching professional football, trying to convince myself that the AFL was not just a cheap imitation of the real thing (NFL).

A year later I finally became convinced when the Jets beat my beloved Colts in Super Bowl III.

But I had never even heard of Bob Kalsu until sometime last week, when I saw his story on television.

I can't remember the exact night it was shown. It was mid- to late-week, I think. But I do know it was on the early version of ESPN's Sportscenter.

It probably was meant to be a filler piece. You know, one of those five-minute mini-features that help fill the hour-long time slot when off-nights, Mother Nature or a combination of both leave the scoreboard virtually empty.

What it became was, quite simply, the most heart-rendering piece I've ever seen.

It was a story of life, love and devotion interrupted by an untimely death.

Bob Kalsu played the lead role.

On July 21, 1970, the Bills' lineman became the only professional football player to be killed in Vietnam. Details of his death came from the lips of a teary-eyed former soldier who saw Lieutenant Kalsu fall while helping defend something called Ripcord Base on an isolated jungle mountaintop near the Ashau Valley.

All through his high school and college days, football was a big part of Kalsu's life. So was the ROTC -- Reserve Officers Training Corps. But the biggest part of Kalsu's life was his sweetheart, Jan, who he married the day after his final college game in the Orange Bowl.

The Bills selected him in the eighth round of the '68 college draft - after such not-so-notables as Pete Richardson, a defensive back from Dayton, running back Max Anderson of Arizona State and Mike McBath, a defensive end from Penn State. With the exception of first-round selection Haven Moses of San Diego State, the Buffalo draft list read like a roll call from the Society of Unknown Nobodies.

But Kalsu quickly became somebody in his first AFL season by earning the team's Rookie of the Year award with his stellar play at guard.

Sadly it would be his final season of football.

His wife had recently given birth to a daughter, Jill, and the future appeared bright. But following the '68 season, Kalsu began fulfilling his ROTC obligation with the United States Army and in November 1969, he received his orders to go to Vietnam.

He probably could have used politics to remain at home, but Kalsu said no.

After six months in Vietnam, 1st Lieutenant Bob Kalsu left his 11th Artillery unit of the 101st Airborne Division for a week of R&R in Hawaii.

There he was reunited with Jan, who was now pregnant with their second child.

Most of this information was recorded in newspaper articles - articles I never knew existed before watching last week's riveting television piece.

But while the written words put a lump in my throat, the spoken words induced tears that flowed freely from my eyes.

I sobbed when Jan told of the day she received word of her husband's death as she lay in her hospital bed after giving birth to her son, Bob Jr.

I sniffled when the young Bob revealed he had heard his father's voice asking him to have the first dance with his sister on her wedding day.

And I cried when Bob Jr. relayed how he saw his father sitting and smiling as he and Jill moved gracefully about the dance floor.

But when all was said and done, I probably felt worse about myself for never having known Bob Kalsu had even existed.

Buddy Thomas' column appears on Thursday in The Standard-Times.

12 Sep 2006

Though athletic halls of fame are sometimes criticized because they induct players "based on their actions on the field of play, not off it", ignoring any antisocial behavior if the player was a star, the American Football League Hall of Fame has inducted players not only because of their sports prowness but because of their off-field contributions to their nation and to humanity.

Bob Kalsu was such a man, and he is an honored member of the AFL Hall of Fame.

From an American Football League Archivist,
Angelo F. Coniglio
438 Maynard Drive, Amherst, Ny, 14226

American Football League Hall of Fame
Note: Site may not function properly with some browsers.

23 Feb 2007

I am proud to have served with LT Kalsu in Vietnam in June and July of 1970 on Firebase Ripcord. I was new to the unit and the first person I met when I got of the chopper was a lieutenant with a big smile and a strong hand shake. Even though all hell was about to break loose he made us a little bit more comfortable. He was great with all of the guys in the unit and he gave us all respect. He was one of the few officers I have met that would hump ammo and he could carry three 155 rounds at a time.

I was real sad the day he got hit as were all of us. The unit wasn't the same afterwards and even today I still think of him. All my best goes out to his family. Thinking of you still, LT.

John Beadle
A Btry, 2nd/11th Arty, 101st Abn (Ambl)
32 Laurie Avenue, Abington, Mass 02351

01 Jun 2007

I played football with Bob ... Great guy, was loved by all on the Del City "Eagle" Team. 1963 State Champs. I will always remember Bob as a kind and just great person. I am going to see the Wall on Saturday just to visit an old friend. I will always remember our youth.

From a school and team mate,
A. R. Walters
Driftwood, Texas

09 Oct 2007

I'm a 35 year old black, and British. I have always held Vietnam vets in the highest respect. It's a hidden event in the UK which nobody talks or knows about.

I always take the chance to educate people on the Vietnam war. The things you men had to go through and witness.

I stumbled upon the story of the great James Roberts Kalsu recently and like many others of the same, it blew me away.

I will take this on and tell of him to my friends and to my children. So much I want to say but I don't want to cause offence on this sensitive subject.

Just know that he will never be forgotten.

All my love to his family.

Andre Martin Luke Thomas
Great Britain
E-Mail will be forwarded by the

05 Mar 2008

Some people seem destined to be larger than life, heroic, if you will. Bob Kalsu was one of these individuals. He was admired and well loved by all of us, his classmates in Del City, Oklahoma. He always had a smile for one, no matter who you were or what your station. A hero on the football field and finally on the battlefield, Bob Kalsu is recalled with love by those of us who had the privilege to know him, and celebrated still by those who never met him.

From a classmate at Del City High School,
Sp5 Larry R. Collins
D 5/7 First Cavalry Div (Airmobile)
RVN 1968-69

Notes from The Virtual Wall

Bob Kalsu was an All-America tackle at the University of Oklahoma and an eighth-round draft pick by Buffalo in 1968. He was a starting guard in 1968 and was the Buffaloes' top rookie. Following the 1968 season he entered the Army to satisfy his ROTC obligation and arrived in Vietnam in November 1969. He was killed in action on 21 July 1970 at Ripcord Base near the A Shau Valley. Sergeant David E. Johnson of Humnoke, Arkansas, died in the same attack.

This copy of the memorial service held for 1LT Kalsu and three other men is held in the Texas Tech Vietnam Project archives (TT 14560101007.pdf). The other two men named are
    * SP4 Fredrick C. Raymond, Beaufort, NC - Died of wounds, 10 Jul 1970
    * PFC Burke H. Miller, Springfield, MO - Killed in action 18 Jul 1970

1LT Kalsu had one child, a daughter. At home in Oklahoma City, his wife Jan gave birth to their son, James Robert Kalsu Jr., on 23 July. Mrs. Kalsu was informed of her husband's death hours later.

Kalsu was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame on 13 April 2000. He is remembered on the Buffalo Bills web site, The American Legion web site, and the cover story of Sports Illustrated magazine July 23, 2001.

Photo courtesy Jan Kalsu-McLauchlin
© 2001 Sports Illustrated
Reproduced under 17 USC 107

Another former professional football player died in Vietnam - Air Force Major Donald T. Steinbrunner died when his UC-123 aircraft was shot down on 20 July 1967.

The point-of-contact for this memorial is
someone who met him - just once,
Ron Winston
E-Mail address not available

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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 6 Oct 2001
Last updated 03/26/2008