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Veteran Spotlight

Robert L. Shaw August 29, 1944 Cold War U.S. Army - HQ 1st Battalion 10th Artillery, E-4

Five California guys were walking home one day from high school. It was 1962. “Hey, let’s stop at that recruiter’s office over there,” one guy suggested. So they did, and of the five, one enlisted - Bob. He was only 17 so his mom had to sign for him, and he had to make some promises to get her signature. Bob graduated on June 11 and was inducted in Oakland, California, on June 22. He went in under the “buddy system” which was part of the guarantee given by the recruiter. His buddy’s training was interrupted and Bob lost track of him.

Basic training was at Fort Ord, California, near Monterey. Bob had one week of orientation, eight weeks of training, and one week to graduate and muster out for a total of ten weeks. He learned to “grovel on the ground,” shoot a rifle, take it apart and reassemble it and become part of a cohesive unit. The men usually marched on the sand, which was supposed to get the men fit – at least that was the Army’s idea. 

After a one-week leave, Bob reported to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, for Vehicle Mechanic Training from Sept. 14 to Dec. 8, 1962. This was the skill area his recruitment contract guaranteed. He worked on track vehicles and wheel vehicles like jeeps and trucks and learned to drive tanks. The Army helped Bob learn a good trade – he figured he could make a living as a mechanic. Bob was promoted to E-2 in October.

Without any more leave time, Bob was transported to Fort Dix, New Jersey; bused to Brooklyn, New York, and shipped to Germany. It was now Dec. 18 and the troop ship hit a lot of rough winter weather making the troops sick day and night. Nearly 2,000 troops stayed in the hold in canvas hammocks stacked 5-6 high. The Navy commanded the ship but the Merchant Marine ran it. Bob got tapped by the ship’s chaplain to run the daycare for families of officers who were on board. Besides parents paying him for extra time, he got to eat with the Merchant Marines and spent his days on an upper deck instead of down in the hold with the smell and guys puking.

Bob reported to Schweinfurt Army garrison and was assigned to HQ Company (Head Quarters), 38th Brigade. He worked in a huge mechanics shop for the infantry for just three months and then switched to the 30th Brigade, spending a total of seven months with the infantry. While there, Bob was promoted to E-3.

Bob’s final assignment was with the 10th Artillery which didn’t have a mechanic at that time. One time he was standing guard but was pulled to work on a break down. That was the end of guard duty for Bob! He worked on jeeps and trucks that towed the big Howitzer guns. When the Army switched to self-propelled diesel Howitzers, Bob went to Track Vehicle School in Frankfurt to learn that skill. He preferred the artillery assignment over the infantry assignment. The cooks made sure he had good food and the company clerk made sure he got passes. Bob was living the good life. 

When asked if he was ever in battle, Bob says, “Yes, the Battle of Flip Top Hill.” Then he confesses this battle was flipping up the wire tops on German beer bottles. The only real crisis his unit faced was related to the assassination of JFK (President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.) No one knew who or what was behind the incident so the garrison was shut down and everyone moved into the woods for a time.

Bob got to travel around Europe - Italy, Austria, Switzerland, and France. He always went with somebody. They made good use of their time and saw “everything.” Bob and his friend Jack, who was of Italian descent, spent two weeks in Italy. Unfortunately the only Italian Jack knew was “Due birre,” which means “2 beers.” Bob remembers Paris well – his group of five guys climbed the Eiffel Tower, and got stiffed in a bar. When the bar bill came it was discovered the girls working there had been ordering champagne. The rest of the trip had a tight budget.

Army maneuvers were usually during winter because the Army used private land, and the owners didn’t want tanks tearing up their property when the ground was soft. Bob says Americans were treated really well by the German people. He got his final promotion to E-4 and stayed with the 10th until he got out of the service on June 3, 19 days short of his enlistment. On the trip back, the summer weather was good and guys could stay on deck in the sun. Bob thought since he’d been promoted he would have easy duty, but everyone else had been promoted, too, and Bob found himself on KP (kitchen patrol). As a short timer, when he got back to the U.S. he was just sent home – with an additional 30 days of paid leave in his pocket.

All during his service time, Bob had his mind set on owning a red Ford Mustang, and he saved diligently for reaching his goal. He pulled KP and guard duty for pay, and sometimes loaned out money at 50 percent, due the end of the month. He kept a little book recording every penny he spent! It wasn’t all work, though, and he did go to town quite a bit. He hung out with “big guys” who could carry him home after a night on the town if need be.

Bob could have earned another stripe if he had re-enlisted, and was given 90 days to go home and think about it. For 30 months Bob had never gone home, and he decided the Army wasn’t that much fun after all. He started working for Chevron and never looked back.

For young people considering the military today, Bob recommends either the Air Force or the Navy because of their educational opportunities, not just learning to kill. Of course in the other branches of service, killing is also done, but by planes and ships…

Did Bob get that red Mustang? Yes he did!

Thank you for your service, Bob.


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