East sac veteran makes the most of memories
By Jessica Laskey
Bob Tribe talks about something that happened in 1965 like it was yesterday. His photographic memory is helpful in volunteer work for the Sacramento Library, where he interviews veterans for the “Valley to Vietnam” archive project.
“I’ve always been fascinated by history,” says Tribe, who passed up graduate school at San Francisco State to join the U.S. Army in 1966 at age 22.
After surviving basic and advanced infantry training, infantry officers candidate school and jump school—despite his fear of heights—Tribe was assigned to the 6th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, for which he eventually became an intelligence officer responsible for planning field training exercises across the country.
Tribe never served in Vietnam, but he knew many who did. In 1986, he decided to track down fellow officers school alumni and see what they were up to. He spent hours at the library poring over phonebooks and managed to locate nearly 100 classmates. He invited them to a reunion in Las Vegas—the first of 14 reunions thus far.
“No one brags about their service,” says Tribe, an East Sacramento resident since 1982. “Everyone talks about how scared they were and how much we miss those that were killed in action. We gather donations for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in each of the states the deceased represented.”
The ability to bring people together comes naturally to Tribe. After leaving the Army, he worked for the Office of Criminal Justice Planning. He organized correctional task forces and a program to help young delinquents find a better path. He moved to the Fair Political Practices Commission, where he retired as executive director in 2000 after 25 years.
“It was amazing being there at the beginning and having input about what it would look like going forward,” says Tribe, who helped the commission grow from 35 employees to more than 100. “It’s an impressive agency. You have to be immune to politics and I really found that to be true.”
Once retired, Tribe returned to his passion—research. He befriended James Scott, an archivist who oversees the library’s Sacramento Room. Scott was starting a project called “Valley to Vietnam,” where Vietnam veterans from the area are interviewed on camera for 20 to 60 minutes. The interviews are committed to DVDs to serve as historical reference material.
Tribe himself was interviewed, but because of his “naturally loquacious” personality, he says, it wasn’t long before he agreed to conduct the interviews and track down potential interviewees.
“If I see someone wearing a veteran’s hat in Costco, I’ll chase them down,” Tribe says with a laugh.
Though the project is time-consuming—Tribe and Scott have completed 55 interviews so far, with more in the works—Tribe still finds time for his other hobbies. He leads hikes and teaches classes on backpacking and survival for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Tribe also serves on the boards of the nonprofit Yosemite National Institutes and Headlands Institute (now called NatureBridge). He volunteers with his wife, Jeanne Pritchard, for the Catholic cathedral, Volunteers of America and St. John’s Program for Real Change.
That is, when he’s not climbing mountains.
“I try to climb a new peak every year,” says the 75-year-old, who has conquered 154 mountains for various birthdays and special occasions—often with friends—since his first climb in 1978. “I plan to do as many more as I can before I’m no longer able.”
Once at the top, Tribe records in the summit register the name of someone who has died or is suffering from a serious illness. It’s a way to honor and remember friends and family. Even at 14,000 feet, Tribe finds a way to put his stellar memory to good use.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.