Robert Heber Van Volkenburgh III – Cadet, United States Military Academy

Courtesy of his clasmates, United States Military Academy Class of 1961

Robert H. Van Volkenburgh III
5 Nov 1938 – 13 Jun 1958


This memorial is for a classmate whose life ended a week or two after his successful completion of Plebe year. Robert Heber Van Volkenburgh III, born 5 Nov 1938 at Fort Benning, Georgia, died 13 Jun 1958 in Mannheim, Germany. Nevertheless, Bob Van Volkenburgh made a lasting impression upon his classmates during the brief, intense year he shared with them.

Bob’s birthplace, an Army post, tells you he was born into the Army. Further inquiry leads to the conclusion that a significant portion of the Long Gray Line were ancestors of his – – his maternal grandfather, Albert E. Brown ’12; his paternal grandfather, for whom both he and his father were named, graduated with the Class of ’13; and his father did the same in 1937. And that’s just for starters. The list also includes a great-great uncle (Sewell 1891), a great uncle (Weaver ’12) and an uncle (Brown ’40).

Bob’s early years were very typical for an “Army brat” of that era. He lived in or near Army posts from Ft. Benning to Tokyo, Japan. His military education may have begun listening to the stories of his father and grandfather, but it took on a grim immediacy after he broke his leg as a schoolboy skiing in the Japanese Alps during the Korean War. He was hospitalized in Tokyo in a small ward with a number of young Air Force pilots who had been injured in that conflict. He listened to them talk about their experiences with rapt attention.

Later, in addition to high school, Bob prepared for West Point with a year at the University of Maryland branch in Munich, Germany. Bob’s plebe roommates remember his extraordinary ability to make even a pedestrian story interesting and amusing. For five to ten minutes each night after “Taps,” he would relate an installment of a made-up-as-he-went “shaggy dog story.” So enthralling was his storytelling that his roommates eagerly anticipated the end of each day for their next episode, despite the silly and extemporaneous quality of the story reduced to its bare bones.

On Yearling furlough, beginning in June 1958, Bob caught an Air Force flight to Germany so he could spend time with his family stationed at Mannheim. Three days after his arrival, Bob was killed in an automobile accident just outside Mannheim. It was a traumatic, tragic end.

Bob was a young man who impressed his family and his classmates with his generosity of spirit, his good humor, and his calm perspective. (And he is remembered by this classmate with particular affection for his hilariously solemn – – and furtive – – sidelong glances during Beast Barracks shower formations, causing involuntary chortles and considerable unwanted attention upon my already well-braced head!) His mother’s reminiscences mirror Bob’s impact not only upon her, but upon his classmates in the Class of ’61, in Company A-1 – – “He was one of the most companionable persons I have ever known. I suppose this was due to his interest in almost anything that came to hand – music, horseback riding, ghost stories, people. He also had a supreme sense of the ridiculous, as well as a well-developed sense of humor, a willingness to see need and furnish help, and an ability to notice and admit his shortcomings.” Even four decades after his death, his mother reports, “I enjoy thinking of him every day.”

Bob was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Rest in peace, Cadet Robert Heber Van Volkenburgh III. We can only surmise what a fine officer, leader, husband, and father, you would have become, had fate given you your full measure.

Written by Rod Cameron with assistance from the Van Volkenburgh family, Paul Palmer and Bruce Dalgleish.


  • DATE OF BIRTH: 11/05/1938
  • DATE OF DEATH: 06/10/1958

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