The bombing and her death generated front-page headlines in U.S. newspapers. Yet Robbins remains one of the CIA’s more phantom-like figures, her mystery fueled by the agency’s decades-long refusal to publicly recognize her employment, despite her family’s pleadings and books that briefly described her CIA stint. Warren Robbins, her brother and only immediate family member still alive, was elated when the CIA finally inscribed his sister’s name in the Book of Honor.
It is Warren who inherited from his dead parents the one thing that most illuminates his sister’s time in Vietnam: a trove of 30 letters she wrote home, dating from her arrival in Saigon to the week before her death.
The letters offer a glimpse into the life of a young woman supposedly working for the State Department as she launched her career and looked for love amid Vietnam’s escalating violence.
“Reading these letters,” said Warren, 65, a retired airline mechanic, who hadn’t looked at them since he was a kid, “it’s like I got to know her all over again.”
August 6 1964: Dear Mother, Dad & Warren , “I think I’m going to really enjoy working for the State Dept. Security-wise we do have to be careful — but you’d never feel that way right here in Saigon if it weren’t for the Vietnamese Police all over the city.
Before her arrival in Vietnam, Robbins had never been out of the country. She had been born in South Dakota, spent her early childhood in Iowa and California and grew up mostly in Colorado, where her father, Buford, was a butcher and Navy veteran, and her mother, Ruth, was a homemaker.
In high school, she belonged to the bowling club. On Sundays, she attended a Lutheran church all day.
In 1961, Robbins headed off to a secretary’s school at Colorado State University and, after two years, somehow got recruited by the CIA. She wanted to combat the rise of communism. When she went to Washington in 1963, Warren said the family knew she was working for the agency. But they thought her Vietnam posting was with the State Department.
Three weeks into her assignment in Saigon, Robbins made it clear to her parents that they shouldn’t fret about the headlines back home.