Captain Robert W. Poolaw, Sr. was born 17 July 1938 in Lawton, Oklahoma, and is a citizen of the Kiowa Nation. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1956 and served four years in Communications and Electronics. After earning a college degree in 1964, Poolaw re-entered the USMC as an officer.
Poolaw completed two combat tours in Vietnam. In April 1967, while leading his Marines in battle on Hill 881 South, First Lieutenant Poolaw commanded Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. With enemy gunfire inches over his head, Poolaw was wounded as he crawled through heavy brush to rescue his severely wounded Squadron Leader and drag him to safety.
During his command of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division in May 1969, Poolaw's company mission was to establish a blocking position to trap North Vietnamese Army forces from escaping into Laos. Involved in a firefight in the "Arizona Territory" three miles east of the Laotian border, they could not establish the blocking position. Poolaw's Company evacuated their position during which two Marines could not be accounted for. Once found, as they headed back to rejoin the Company, one of the two rescued Marines was fatally shot, and Poolaw was wounded by AK-47 assault rifle fire. Despite his wounds, Poolaw threw the body over his shoulder, and they made it to safety with their fallen comrade. For his service in Vietnam, Poolaw was awarded two Bronze Star Medals with Valor, two Purple Heart Medals, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor.
Poolaw's impressive personal fitness prowess led to his selection to the All-Marine Track & Field Team where he excelled in the 800 meter run. With 27 years of service, Poolaw retired in 1987. In 1996, Poolaw and two fellow Marines organized the Native American Marine Veterans' Association.