Saturday, October 21, 2006
Bob Squires was a Great American
Robert Allen Squires. Born March 11, 1923. Died October 20, 2006.
You see from the picture that his grandson Robert bears some resemblance to him. Oddly enough, at that age I looked much like that as well.
My father-in-law, and my friend, he is dead, a sudden and painlesss end. He was part of the greatest generation. Bob was a young man when automobiles were still rare and there was no television. He lived through the depression, his family scraping by like most. He decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps not long after the United States went to war.
It was hard to get Bob to talk about himself but sometimes he'd reminisce about the war and I took mental notes. He joined the Army Air Corps, hoping to be a pilot but instead being pegged as a gunner. He was so good at the job they kept him stateside for a few months teaching other recruits the ins-and-outs of being a bomber machine gunner, but finally assigned him to the European theater as the Allies began to push towards taking the Italian peninsula, and then having taken it, to use it as a staging site from which to bomb the European factories and oil fields of Der Fuehrer.
Bob was a waist gunner in a B-24. He told me he had 1 & 1/2 confirmed kills during his flights but when he would relate the old stories it was hard to imagine, with all the flack and all the fighters and all the bombers how anyone kept track of such things. The biggest battle he faced was the flight to bomb Ploesti, in which 178 B-24 airplanes took off and only 89 made it back to the home field. 58 of those were damaged beyond repair. Bob made it through that, although his plane was one of those 58.
He survived several more operations before his plane was shot down. Bob freed two of his fellow crewmen from the plane and got them out along with him to parachute to safety but one was dead before he even could be shoved from the plane. Bob evaded capture on the ground for awhile, but after a fight was taken by German troops and, although wounded, was marched to stalag with the occasional plunge of a bayonet into his backside for emphasis. He told me after awhile he couldn't even feel the pain. It was move and live or stop and die (the Germans shot all who fell by the wayside) and Bob would not give up and fall.
Prison camp was a bleak existence. The prison guards divided up most of the Red Cross packages for themselves and offered the prisoners thin vegetable soups and maggot-filled loaves of bread. Bob and his cohorts, those who survived, were being slowly starved to death. Then one day the prison guards began to run around and shout and they abandoned their posts. Confused, the prisoners formed up and began to march to the West and almost immediately were met by advancing allied forces, who cared for them and had them shipped to the rear for a journey home. The War was coming to an end!
Bob never showed off his medals, never obtained one of those Purple Heart license plates or any of that. He did keep in touch and meet with some of his surviving service compatriots. He told me he often thought of his friend and fellow gunner, gutshot, who he brought out of the falling plane with him and yet was dead before a chute could be opened. He saw his friend die, in the same circumstance, yet he would go on to live another sixty-some years. He wondered why he had lived and the other had died, and he appreciated that chance to carry on.
The WWII generation is dying off now. Another decade and they will be nearly gone, those men and women who defeated the Depression and the triumverate of evil Axis powers who were bent upon enslaving the world. I owed them my eternal gratitude before I had ever taken a breath! Once again, Bob, and all of you other Bob's who are still living, thank you! Your sacrifices have made my life as an American possible.
Now there are sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters and even great-grandsons who have come down from you, Bob. My first-born son was named after you and like a chip off the old block he volunteered for duty in the Army and fought overseas. Your first great-granddaughter is to be born next month. That you fought for them long before they were born was admirable. Those of us who remember you remember even more.
Humility and service
Bob loved practical jokes and had a great sense of humor. He loved playing chess with you, or risk, things like that. But he especially loved Pinochle and I cannot imagine how many hours I played that game with him and other family members - three handed, four handed, double decked, no matter to him! He loved Notre Dame football and basketball, Cubs baseball, and the Bulls. He listened to old, old country records sometimes when he was alone. But he was rarely alone, because...
I remember Bob as the most giving man I've ever known. He worked hard and lived modestly and always looked forward to sharing what was his with others. The welcome mat at his front door meant business. He was always glad you came by and he was always glad to put you up in a spare bedroom or on the couch or wherever and he'd go sleep on the porch if necessary to accomodate his guests.
Picking up strays
There was no child who had a falling out with parents and no adult temporarily without shelter who couldn't find lodging at Bob's house. Even sometimes friends and relatives of friends were taken in. Bob just couldn't say no to needy people. Did he get taken sometimes? Yes, and although he had been a diligent worker and a careful saver I bet you at the time of his will we will find there was nothing left for anyone else. He probably used it all up to the very end, providing a home to family members who had lost their way.