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Robert J. Birrane Sr., decorated Vietnam veteran who rose to senior officer in Coast Guard Auxiliary, dies

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Robert J. Birrane Jr., a decorated Vietnam veteran who rose to become a senior Coast Guard Auxiliary officer, died May 30 from throat cancer at his daughter-in-law’s Parkville home. He was 73.

“He truly loved the Coast Guard Auxiliary and did so in a humble manner,” said retired Coast Guard Commander Stephen D. Whitehead, who was director of auxiliary for the Fifth Coast Guard District.

“He had the right personality for the job and had a good style of humor. [He] could laugh at himself,” said Cmdr. Whitehead of Virginia Beach, Va. “He was not a pretentious individual. When some people put on the stripe they become a different person, but not Bob. He stayed down-to-earth.”

Robert John Birrane Sr. was the son of Edward J. Birrane Sr., a grocery store owner, and Mary A. Kerins Birrane, a homemaker. He was born in Baltimore and raised in Hamilton.

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He was a 1962 graduate of Calvert Hall College High School and joined the Army Reserves. In 1964, with the Vietnam War heating up, his reserve unit was activated. He had been trained in counter-intelligence operations, and was sent to Vietnam serving as a special field agent in some of the fiercest combat areas.

He was sent on a series of classified missions, often behind enemy lines, that exposed him to Agent Orange in areas that had been sprayed with the toxic herbicide that the U.S. had begun to employ to defoliate forest areas that were providing cover for the Vietcong.

“In one especially heavy firefight, Bob rescued his unit and saved several lives,” said Art Pine, a former Baltimore Sun and Los Angeles Times reporter, in his eulogy at Mr. Birrane’s funeral. “Badly wounded himself, he was medevaced out of the combat zone and sent back home. He’d spent three years in the Army, than a year of that at the front.”

Mr. Birrane was discharged in 1968.

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© 2018 The Baltimore Sun

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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