The Power of One

Bob Tribe serves as a conduit to the past
By James Scott
May 31, 2019
Staff from the Sacramento Room began conducting interviews with local Vietnam veterans back in 2012. The program, called Valley to Vietnam (V2V) is an award-winning effort that has captured the stories of nearly 60 Americans whose experiences span from running the baseball fields of 1950s Carmichael to patrolling the misty crags of Mutter’s Ridge (overlooking the perilous demilitarized zone separating North and South Vietnam) to politicking through the contentious halls of the California State Capitol. The ultimate mission of V2V isn’t to simply tell war stories, its true purpose is to trace the full arc of the life experiences of its participants.

Vietnam veterans came back and were spit on and treated like garbage and that’s just not right. You hope that V2V is doing the veterans some good and people who watch some good.

Although librarians initiated V2V, the program has been sustained by the heart and soul of our volunteer, Bob Tribe. As a longtime resident of Sacramento — growing up in Carmichael’s Garden of the Gods neighborhood and serving as executive director of California’s Fair Political Practices Commission — Tribe has retired into a life of leading hikes, teaching wilderness safety, backpacking, mountain climbing and historical research. That final pursuit led him to the Sacramento Room and a position as an oral historian and primary interviewer with V2V. Even as his path has helped touch the lives of many individuals, Tribe’s connection to V2V is more than just a private citizen committing themselves to the public good.
As a child of the 50s and 60s, Tribe experienced the same post-World War II America as those who went to Vietnam; which included its optimism, rise of popular culture, political shockwaves and Cold War tensions. Like so many young Americans whose fathers had served in World War II, Tribe volunteered to serve in the military, eventually becoming the intelligence officer for U.S. Army’s Sixth Special Forces group from 1966 to 1969. “As a youngster I was fascinated with my father’s service in World War II, who was an engineering officer with the 82nd Airborne. He was in North Africa, Italy, he went into Normandy, Holland, Germany, across France and was wounded three times,” Tribe said about his early life. “We grew up in an era where kids were reading Sgt. Rock comic books, playing with G.I. Joes, blowing things up with firecrackers, plus there were all the dads of the 1950s, most of whom were in the war, so we heard a lot of stories. We figured we’d never be involved with something like that and then Vietnam came along.”
Tribe expected to go to Vietnam, but didn’t. Instead others, many of whom he trained and trained with, went. Most returned, but some didn’t. “We have three guys on the memorial here at Capitol Park,” Tribe states. “I stop by at least once a month and I run my hand over their names and I vividly remember each one of them — they ranged in age from 20 to 25. Additionally, there are young men from my high school and others I have adopted who I never met.”
This is where Tribe’s drive and commitment to V2V comes from — he’s a conduit to the past, a master communicator and a comforting peer to his guests. Overall, it’s his quest to first give a voice to those Americans who were denied a voice when they returned from Vietnam; and second, educate future generations on the meaning of sacrifice and the added importance of holding one’s government accountable. “It’s important for people to know. Those World War II guys came back and had parades and were treated like heroes,” Tribe said. “Vietnam veterans came back and were spit on and treated like garbage and that’s just not right. You hope that V2V is doing the veterans some good and people who watch some good.”
V2V can be watched on Sacramento Public Library’s YouTube channel. The Sacramento Room will also be transcribing all of its V2V interviews and archives for every story in its climate control vault. For more information about V2V you can contact Archivist & Librarian James Scott.   
This article featured in the June 2019 issue of History in the Making. Subscribe.

James Scott has been a reference librarian with the Sacramento Public Library since 2000. For most of that period, he has worked in the Sacramento Room, where he has co-authored four books  on Sacramento history.