Education best investment for ‘young’ World War II vet

Ken Beaton

Ken Beaton

There’s always someone bending the truth at the Selective Service Board. “I really want to serve, but I have bone spurs in my feet!” FYI, a 17-year-old can enlist in the Navy or Marines with one parent’s signature.

I’ve met a few underage males who lied or “borrowed” documents to enlist in the military during World War II. The ladies who never had a brother are thinking, “Why would he lie to risk his life?” The male attitude is, “I’m indestructible! Nothing will happen to me.” Ladies, have you ever had a guy say, “Hold my beer and watch this!” Were you in amazement as he shredded his bike, skateboard, skis, surf board, vehicle and/or body? Maybe you watched him “drink” half the lake while water skiing or wake boarding.

At 14 Robert Curtis enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard. As a punk kid, he had no use for school. “Reading, ‘riting and ‘rythmatic were overrated.” After “acquiring” his older brother’s birth certificate, Robert enlisted in the U.S. Army infantry. He transferred from the infantry to the Army Air Force. Arriving at the South Ruslit Air Base west of London in late 1944, he became a B-17 “waist gunner” assigned to the 351st Bomber Wing, 8th Air Force. FYI, during World War II the Marines lost 19,733 boys, the 8th Air Force lost 24,963 boys.

Robert flew 15 missions before the war ended. About 90 percent of each mission was boredom. Ten percent was a life/death situation, 20 mm cannon shells or flak ripping through your B-17. Our gunners fired 50-caliber rounds. They fired their tracers in front of a Luftwaffe fighter. The ME-109 would fly into the tracers, shooting it down, a “kill.” This was similar to two medieval knights with lances riding at full gallop toward each other.

With 3 million GIs passing through or stationed in England during the war, the Brits had an expression, “The American GIs are overpaid, oversexed, and over herah!” The GIs retorted, “The Brits were underpaid, undersexed and under Eisenhower!” Seventy thousand GIs married Brits, “war brides.”

Robert was discharged in 1946 first. His brother’s duty station was in Japan. Remember, Robert used his brother’s birth certificate. When his brother was being discharged from the Army, the FBI became involved. Similar to I Love Lucy, “Lucy, you got some splaining to do!” It took 10 years to correct Robert’s military records.

In 1948 Robert was drafted. He avoided being drafted by proving he served for two years. Being bored, he enlisted in the USAF. There was a required aptitude test, 160 multiple choice questions. Remember, Robert could hardly read. He had answered only 40 questions with 10 minutes remaining. So, he randomly marked 120 answers in 10 minutes. Amazingly, he scored 120 correct. He wanted to attend jet mechanic school. The Air Force in their infinite wisdom made him a clerk/typist believing he was a college graduate. His next goal: take every English grammar course available. He was a self-taught typist for four-star Pentagon Generals.

During the Korean War, Robert was assigned to the 51st fighter interceptor wing, three squadrons of F-86 fighters with rockets in the nose of the aircraft, stationed in Itkuzi, Japan.

Robert’s third war was Viet Nam as an Audio Video Specialist traveling all over Viet Nam. He was responsible for maintaining and analyzing each pilot’s combat film. The film didn’t lie about hitting or not hitting Viet Cong targets.

As a 14-year-old kid who quit school, Robert earned four college degrees, a BS from the University of Maryland, a MBA from the University of California, San Bernardino, a Master in Public Administration from Cal State Northridge and a Doctorate of Business Administration from Corllins University.

One of his great-grandfathers was a Confederate States Army Brigadier General. Robert fathered five children. At 87 years young, he’s one of the youngest World War II vets.

After serving 25 years in the USAF, he served 25 years in Civil Service. Some of his Civil Service highlights were being the trouble shooter for a $6 billioin ongoing military construction program in Europe. He received 47 letters of commendation for his timely ideas and recommendations during the 50 years of service.

Another highlight was being the Personnel Director to the United States’ United Nations mission, part of the Department of State. He worked for 10 U.S. ambassadors to the UN, five permanent and five temporary ambassadors. Robert had a direct phone line to the White House. His supervisor was head ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, appointed by President George Bush. Mr. Negroponte had a penthouse apartment at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC. Every Friday evening, he had a party for at least 30 ambassadors from around the world with the best food and drink. Robert never missed one of John’s parties.

Robert wrote the plan to close the Presidio of San Francisco while working for the Commander of the 6th Army. In his book, he described in detail the closure and proposed uses of the base. His second book, “Presidio of San Francisco,” was based on his PhD thesis cross-referencing the closure of the Presidio and other base closures. On Oct. 1, 1994, the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service.

Robert, thank you for 50 years of service, investing in your education and being a member of the Greatest Generation.

Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.


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