Their eighth-round draft pick in 1968 started nine games at right guard and was named Buffalo’s rookie of the year before being called up for active duty to serve in Vietnam in late March of 1969. From the Bills’ team website:
Unlike many professional athletes of the time that were draft eligible or with ROTC military commitments, Kalsu did not seek the help of the Bills organization to arrange for an assignment in the reserves. . . .
“I did not know that he was called up until we got back to training camp in 1969,” said [former teammate, Hall of Fame guard Billy] Shaw. “I knew that Bob had exhibited enough that he had a chance to be a major part of the team going forward. It was a loss from a team standpoint that Bob wasn’t there. As we left in ’68 after the season you never think that you would never see a teammate again.”
Kalsu was killed in action on July 21, 1970 while serving as a 1st Lieutenant atop the isolated jungle mountaintop Fire Base Ripcord where he was mortally wounded by enemy mortar fire. He is the only active professional football player to die in combat in Vietnam.
Shaw, whose name was unveiled on the Bills Wall of Fame inside Ralph Wilson Stadium in 1999, saw his former teammate, Kalsu, receive the same honor just a year later for a far different reason.
“I’m proud that Buffalo recognized the sacrifice that he made and I’m all for him being there on the Wall of Fame even though it was for much different circumstances,” he said. “The sacrifice that he made for himself and for our country is certainly something to be applauded. To be applauded in the way in which he was honored by the Bills makes me proud to be on that Wall with him.”
Kalsu was selected for the Bills Wall of Fame on what would’ve been his 55th birthday on April 13, 2000. A large plaque with a joint football and military display in memory of his service and time as a Buffalo Bill still hangs inside the lobby entrance at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The writing on that plaque ends with a quote.
“No one will ever know how great a football player Bob might have been, but we do know how great a man he was to give up his life for his country.”
And though Shaw and several of his teammates from that time readily admit they never got to know the true depth of Kalsu’s personality having spent just one football season with him, they do still remember him each year on Memorial Day.
“If you’re serious about Memorial Day and what it stands for, you think about those family members and friends and people in your community that made a life sacrifice and Bob is part of that thought process this time of year,” said Shaw. “Bob is the only person that I played with during that period of time that made that kind of sacrifice, so his name comes through my memory at this time.”