Switzerland County veteran Robert ‘Bob’ Springer is a part of the truly “Greatest Generation” — having served his country in not one, but two wars during his time in the service.
At age 93, Bob now lives quietly in Center Square with his daughter, Michelle, but the veteran is one of a handful of World War II veterans still living.
In fact, Bob served this country in the Navy during World War II, and then served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War.
Bob was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1927, and was drafted into the U.S. Navy as a part of World War II forces in 1945, first doing basic training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
“From there, I went aboard ship,” Bob said. “I was on the USS Tarawa. It was a carrier.”
The USS Tarawa was one of 26 Essex-class aircraft carriers that was built to patrol in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. The ship was named after the Battle of Tarawa that was part of the U.S. invasion of the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific Ocean.
“I had jobs both below deck and on deck,” Bob said. “I’d work below deck loading munitions onto the planes; and then on deck we drew chalk lines and tied down the planes. Some times when planes came in and looked like they were going to crash, we had to get out of there in a hurry.”
Bob doesn’t recall just how long he was at sea (“Seemed like forever” he laughed), but his work along with the other brave members on the Tarawa helped to win the war on the Pacific front and bring peace to the world.
“We went from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” Bob said. “There were battles, but they’ve been so long ago that I can’t remember, Sometimes it’s like I was never there, but other times I remember things.”
Bob left the Navy in 1946, and then joined the Navy Reserves, serving there until he was discharged in 1950.
Then, in 1952, his country called again for his service.
“I was drafted into the Marines to serve during Korea,” Bob said. “I didn’t have to go to Korea, I was a convoy leader. I was in San Diego and Barstow, California, quite a few places. I got discharged in Jacksonville, North Carolina.”
He was discharged from active duty in the Marine Corps in 1954.
Moving to Switzerland County in 1974, Bob still serves his country through membership in veterans organizations.
“I belong to the VFW and the American Legion,” he says proudly. “I was a member of the Honor Guard until I had my stroke. We do a lot for the county. We do the military cemeteries and all of that.”
So does it seem like it’s been 75 years since he was first drafted into military service?
“Well, 75 years is a long time,” Bob chuckled. “That was a long time ago. Like I said before, sometimes it was like I was never there, and other times I remember things.”
Working as a union foreman for a roofing company following his discharge from the service, Bob said it was friends that led him to move to Switzerland County.
“I had friends down here and I had cousins who had moved down here. My brother moved down here, so I moved down here in 1974,” he said.
When he first moved to the county, he moved to Plum Creek, but now resides in Center Square.
He suffered a stroke about a year ago, but he says he’s “Still fighting it,” with the help of his family and the VA.
Bob and Alice were together for 32 years until she passed away in 2012; and he has seven children: Robert, Jr., Wayne, Diane, April, Michelle, Crystal, and Adam.
After nearly a decade of service between his time in the Navy and the Marine Corps, Bob must feel pretty proud of his service — but his humble nature doesn’t allow much time for reflection.
“I’m proud,” he said quietly, “But there’s a lot of guys who did a lot more than I did. They gave their lives.”