ROBERT WAYNE GARDNER
Chief Warrant Officer, Aviator
281st Assault Helicopter Company
From: Wheaton, Maryland
Born: June 2, 1947
Tour began on February 18, 1969
Killed in action on April 27, 1970
in Pleiku, South Vietnam when
his helicopter was shot down.
Robert Wayne (Bob) Gardner was born in Washington, DC and grew
up in Wheaton Maryland, graduating from Wheaton High School in
1965. He was a varsity football player and a hot rod
enthusiast, once racing in the Hot Rod International in Pomona,
California. Prior to joining the Army Bob attended
Montgomery College and The University of Maryland where he was
Gary Fields and
WO1 Taggart majoring in education when he decided to enter the army Warrant Officer Aviator program.
Bob began his Army training like all future Warrant Officer Aviators at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and was a member of WOC Class 68-39, Flight A3 in the 5th WOC Company at Fort Wolters. Bob's Flight Class Photo [click to enlarge - he's far right, second row]. Assigned to the 281st AHC upon his arrival at the 10th CAB in Cam Ranh Bay, Bob wasted no time in establishing himself as a cut above the average pilot. Flying with the Rat Pack platoon he progressed quickly into an Aircraft Commander position and attained an Instructor Pilot’s rating in the H and C Model Hueys. He moved between the lift and the gun platoons, flying with distinction with Wolf Pack whenever he could.
Bob was a regular in the Intruder’s runway football games, especially the ones in An Hoa as the runway there afforded the most room for the most spirited games. You did not want to get hit by one of Bob’s blocks.
For some reason Bob had it in his mind that he was going to go home on a thirty day leave and return to the 281st on a six month extension. That did not appeal to a lot of us and his friends tried to avail him of other options, but Bob was set in his ways. He was a bit more mature than most of us, a comment that may surprise his parents. I remember Bob as an unassuming pilot, one who knew exactly what to do and who was instilled with the task of imparting that knowledge to his peers and recording their ability to assimilate the policies and procedures required of an Army Aviator in a combat zone. If there was a more comfortable Instructor Pilot to fly with I haven’t met him, and I am a retired Master Army Aviator with three assignments as an Instructor Pilot. He not only knew what to do, he knew how to do it, and how to get others to do it the correct way.
3 Wolf Pack Aircraft Commanders, L - R,
Steve Watson, Walt Strobe and Bob Gardner It was just 9 days after he returned from his leave in Maryland that Bob’s aircraft was shot down and he was Killed In Action, (KIA). Monday, April 27, 1970 was part of a bad five month stretch for the 281st, a period that saw the demise of 18 Intruders. On that particular day Bob was flying C&C on a mission for the 4th Infantry Division in the An Khe Pass, with 3 passengers on board. SP4 Gary Fields was his gunner and considering all he went through and the passing of time, has a real concise recollection of that time. He remembers flying up the pass when the aircraft became targeted by .50 caliber fire from both sides. Bob took the brunt of the fire and slumped over the controls as the aircraft lost control, just prior to nosing over. When Gary Fields realized that the aircraft was going to crash he jumped from the out of control ship and
SP4 William Tom fell approximately 200 feet, landing in a rice pady. Gary suffered multiple injuries as a result of the fall and to this date is disabled. Gary was the only survivor and was recovered from the rice paddy by the crew of a 1st Cavalry Division observation helicopter. Gary remained in a coma for the first four months of his treatment. In the crash he lost his best friend, SP4 William Tom, and two pilots he respected, WO1 Stan Miller and Bob. We still have Gary to talk to today and I, for one, will be grateful for that for as long as I am able to be grateful for anything.
The following is a personal recollection of Bob submitted by
George Dossett to whom Bob was a mentor and friend in the 281st
“I served with Bob in the 281st. I was a really young W-1 (is that a cliché or what?) right out of flight school, and immediately I was put in Maintenance as a Test Pilot. I could barely fly straight and level, much less perform sophisticated maneuvers such as hover checks and the like. My first check test flight check ride was with Albin Szulc, which resulted in a suspected N1 overspeed. My next flight was with Bob. His easy nature, friendly attitude, and overall air of competence actually rubbed off on me. I had a great check ride and knew that I wanted to be able to strap an aircraft onto my back and actually make it a part of me as Bob did. He was an excellent IP and he instilled a lot of confidence in me as-well-as the other newbie's. As a result, many of us went on to be IP’s and SIP’s, passing on that legacy from Bob to hundreds of other pilots.”
July 25, 2002
Bob was a highly respected member of the 281st, and his closest friend was Bob George. Bob Gardner’s mother still talks about Bob George today, in some of the most arresting recollections I have ever listened to. Bob passed away on February 17, 1999, from complications that developed as a result of his Vietnam tour. Bob's widow continues to stay in contact with the Gardner family.
Bob and his friend Bob George in the BOQ and preparing rockets in Mai Loc in 1969.
Bob was survived by his parents. Donald M. and Lillian Gardner, (Mr. Gardner died in 2010 and Mrs. Gardner now resides in an assisted living facility in Montgomery County) (pictured here with Linda George) and three brothers, Ronald, Steven, and Paul. Bob is interred in the Arlington National Cemetery and if you ever have the occasion to visit The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in the cemetery, take the time to visit Bob’s grave. He is located right directly behind the buildings of the Tomb in the vicinity of the Special Operations Memorial. His grave is simple to find and easy to walk to. Bob was a soldier’s soldier, a pilot’s pilot, and he would appreciate the time we would take to acknowledge a fellow Intruder.
Bob's Neighbor, Elaine Haydon, who knew him for most of his life,
wrote the following poem in his memory on the day of his death;
it was read at his funeral:
His was a free spirit
Wanting to soar far and wide.
His was a warm spirit
Touching humanity on every side.
His was a deep spirit
Answering his country’s plea.
His is our enduring hope
Resounding through ages of history.
April 27, 1970
CWO Robert Wayne Gardner and his crew were
highly respected members of the 281st Assault Helicopter Company
and shall always be remembered by the 281st Flight.
Bob was adopted by his friend and fellow pilot, Jeff Murray
of the 281st AHC Association who served with him and developed
this "Book of Remembrance" for the 281st AHC Association Web Site.
Please email Jeff at
A MAN IS NOT DEAD UNTIL HE IS FORGOTTEN
ONCE AN INTRUDER ... ALWAYS AN INTRUDER