When Bob Skewes and Brazilian foreign exchange student Roberto Costa graduated from Bountiful High School in 1969, all they could think about was running therivers of Brazil in the adventure of a lifetime.
Costa had spent the past three years in the Skewes home, becoming more than abrother to the Bountiful teenager who already had a twin sister, three brothers and another sister.But, for now, Costa must return home and catch up with his life in Brazil, and Skewes would try to get a couple of years of college behind him before they made the big trip. But Skewes, whose birthday came up number 95 in the first year the United States reactivated the draft lottery, also faced the complication of serving in or avoiding the war in Vietnam.
Skewes enrolled at the University of Utah.
He tested out of several biology classes and was moving along in a pre-med major when he decided he had some unfinished business to take care of before continuing his education, said his mother Mary Jo Skewes. He wanted to fix up and sell an old family car and maybe work for a while.
Many of the young men who had graduated from Bountiful High School with Skewes spent their Saturday mornings standing in line at National Guard headquarters trying to seize a coveted place in a Guard unit. The Guard was less likely to beshipped off to what was becoming an increasingly unpopular and deadly war.
But Skewes had a problem with that. What about his trip to Brazil? If he went into the Guard, for years he could be refused permission to leave the country for any length of time. If he let himself get drafted, he could serve out his two years and be done with it.
Ironically, said Mrs. Skewes, many in the family, including her, were joining the ranks of middle Americans opposed to the war. A relative even offered to send Skewes the money to go to Canada to avoid being drafted. But, despite their misgivings about the war, the Skeweses and their son followed the path of most middle Americans in their situation. Their boy went off to war.
"Bob wasn't anti-war. He felt that when the time to go came, he would go," she said.
Mrs. Skewes maintained an uneasy peace in Utah, trying to take heart in the fact that no one in her son's unit had been killed in action in years. She got one letter from Skewes asking for a "bunch of stuff" to get him by. The package would be returned unopened, along with his other belongings, weeks later.
Skewes had been in Vietnam barely six weeks when his and several other units were heading back to their base for the night after scouting the hills for Viet Cong. The point man led Skewes' unit around another unit's flank into an area where it apparently wasn't supposed to be. Somebody might have coughed or stepped on a branch. A grenade from the other American unit came flying toward Skewes' group. Skewes, 20, was the only one killed.
Private 1st Class Robert J. Skewes' name would eventually find its way onto a monument in Washington D.C. along with those of 58,000 other Americans who lost their lives in Vietnam. It also graces a monument on the lawn of the Davis County Courthouse, along with 30 other local boys who died in the Vietnam War. And, it's framed in a rubbing of black construction paper and a bronze crayon made from the Washington memorial by a friend of the Skewes. The framed rubbing hangs in the Skeweses' modest living room in Bountiful.
Another rubbing on white notebook paper, which the Skeweses made in 1983 while at a college reunion in Maryland, is tucked away in a book of military paperwork and medal proclamations.
Mrs. Skewes is amazed how often people stop her while shopping or elsewhere to say they have seen Bob's name on the memorial and to offer to make her copies of their snapshots.
"I think it makes people feel in touch somehow," she said.
Mrs. Skewes said the monument is a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in Vietnam. "Every single one of them is remembered," she said.