Robert Andrew McGee

1948 - 2017

Vietnam War

Their Story

Robert Andrew McGee was born on September 17th, 1948, to William and Rebie Fleming McGee in Rock Island, Illinois. He was raised alongside five sisters and two brothers. He graduated from Rock Island High School in 1965. Sometime after his graduation from high school, McGee would serve in the United States Army as a sergeant during the Vietnam War.[1]

Unfortunately for McGee, it is quite likely that being an African-American affected his experience within the Army. Whereas the American military in previous wars held the notion that African-Americans were unfit for combat, this opinion shifted during the Vietnam War:

The Vietnam War saw the highest proportion of African-Americans ever to serve in an American war. There was a marked turnaround from the attitude in previous wars that black men were not fit for combat – during the Vietnam War African-Americans faced a much greater chance of being on the front-line, and consequently a much higher casualty rate. In 1965 alone African-Americans represented almost 25 percent of those killed in action.[2]

It is thus likely that McGee was faced with an inordinate amount of combat engagements during his time in Vietnam, compared to the average white soldier. The discriminatory treatment of African-American soldiers was not limited to the battlefield, however. In military bases throughout the branches of service, black soldiers were separated from African-American culture, whereas white soldiers got to benefit from White-American cultural norms in their daily life and recreation on base:

Black culture and norms were also not initially acknowledged on-base locations. Black troops did not have access to Black hair care products, Black music tapes, books, or magazines about Black culture and history… Military barbers frequently had no experience cutting Black hair and received no formal training on how to do so.  The Armed Forces took some action to make Black troops feel more included, including adding more diverse music to club jukeboxes, hiring Black bands and dancers for events, and bringing over Black entertainers to perform, such as James Brown… Ultimately, many of these changes were made towards the end of the war when personnel had been greatly reduced, meaning that a majority of Black troops who served during the Vietnam War did not benefit from these reforms.[3]

While being deployed to war is an uncomfortable situation no matter one’s identity, it is likely that McGee faced additional discomforts on account of his race.

Despite this discrimination in the armed forces at the time of the Vietnam War, McGee was later proud of his service during the war.[4] He earned the Army Commendation Medal and Meritorious Service Medal for his actions during the war, indicating that McGee showed valor and dedication in his service. McGee’s rise to the rank of sergeant showed his capacity to accelerate at his role based upon merit and take a leadership role amongst his fellow enlisted men. While there was discrimination between white and black Americans in the armed forces, war correspondent Frank McGee of NBC “observed black and white soldiers in the 101st Airborne sharing supplies, telling stories and jokes, and generally empathizing with one another, whatever their race. Asked about race relations in his unit, Sergeant Larry stated emphatically, ‘There’s no racial barrier of any sort here,’ an assessment echoed by the men in his command.”[5] Given McGee’s pride in his service, it is not unreasonable to assume that he may have shared a similar experience. If this is true, he may have encountered a more egalitarian society within the Army than at home in America, at least in some respects.

After his service with the Army ended, Robert McGee returned home to Rock Island. He married his wife Rosemary Smith on April 23rd, 1977. He worked at Readmore Book World, Osha Chemical, and then Oscar Meyers throughout the remainder of his life. He was famous for his banana pudding, and enjoyed spending time with his nieces, nephews, and cats. His wife preceded him in death by seven years, and he passed away on March 15th, 2017.[6] His epitaph reads: “A GENTLE MAN AND A GENTLEMAN.”[7]


[1] “Robert McGee,” The Rock Island Argus, March 19, 2017, p. 4,

[2] “African-Americans in Combat,” History Detectives (Public Broadcasting Service, 2014),

[3] “Black History and the Vietnam War, a Story,” African American Registry (NADA GLOBAL, 2022),

[4] “Robert McGee,” The Rock Island Argus, March 19, 2017, p. 4,

[5] Gerald F. Goodwin, “Black and White in Vietnam,” The New York Times (The New York Times, July 18, 2017),

[6] “Robert McGee,” The Rock Island Argus, March 19, 2017, p. 4,

[7] “Robert Andrew McGee,” Veterans Legacy Memorial, accessed June 3, 2022,