Memorial Day in the United States is a national holiday in May honoring America’s veterans who have died for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
One of those who served our great country was my grandfather, Robert Lee Boyle, Sr. (1915-2005), a World War II veteran who passed away from cancer a few years ago after celebrating his 62nd wedding anniversary with my lovely grandmother, Stella Marie. On the remarkable occasion of their anniversary the entire family gathered in Monterrey, California for a weekend celebration. It was here that my grandfather gave his address to the entire family as he always did on such occasions. Sadly it would be his last. In his honor and memory I am posting it (along with a photo of his Eisenhower Jacket and caps he gave me) for all to read.
I left the speech exactly as he wrote it (grammar, punctuation, etc.) over six years ago. It is a beautiful piece of history and look into the life, challenges and priorities of his generation. I will note that my father is the “Robert Jr.” in his speech. The two did not meet until my father was over two years old due to grandpa’s wartime obligations. He was a wonderful man, grandfather and friend and someone I truly miss.
I hope you enjoy this post, share it with others and take time to thank our veterans and pause to remember and pray for those lost. They are amazing and wonderful people and our freedoms to do such things as blog and be social would not exist without their ultimate sacrifices.
On the occasion of one’s 90th birthday, it seems that there should be something in the history to talk about. Well there is, there’s really a huge inventory to chatter about. Then there is the theory that, perhaps, most things should be un-said. I do not subscribe to that theory. So, here goes!
Childhood was much different some 85 years ago, in that we had no radio, and certainly no TV. We had diseases such as diphtheria, typhoid, and flu – all of which came with virtually no medication. And there was no modern refrigeration only the ice box that needed to be “fed” and emptied of the melted ice. There were no super markets, no malls – and above all, very little money. Cars were just beginning to find their way into the economy. Public transport, via street car, was somewhat available. However, things were cheap by present standards. A quart of milk was no more than ten cents. The cheapest item in the meat department was liver, and we had lots of that. Also chipped beef on toast was often on the table, as well as corned beef hash. But, we had lots of eggs and chicken – we raised chickens as almost everyone did. And, my Mom would make the greatest custard pudding.
So, my beloved sister and I began growing up when we moved to a place called Santa Ana. Seems that was about 1924. We lived in a small place across from a church. We liked going to the church because they had picnics at the Orange County Park where one could be on their little lake in a rental boat, and there were hot dogs. There was one occasion that was clouded with our stealing a couple of bucks that were on the mantle that our Dad put there to help pay the rent. We got caught, but with a bunch of discipline, weeping, and wailing we were permitted to go to the picnic. That was a good early lesson! During the time at this first home in Santa Ana was when my sister and I received our first bikes.
Some short period of time later, our parents bought a home on South Main Street. It was an adequate home with a nice garden where we had two orange trees, a grapefruit and fig tree along with a vegetable garden. This was about the time that radio was being discovered as a household item, and Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic. My Dad said, “Robert, some day they will fly across that ocean every day.”
My sister and I went through high school in Santa Ana, she went on to Berkeley. I was not a very good student. I played football on the High School championship teams and one in Junior College, thus three gold footballs. So much for my formal education. The South Main home was the one that I left when I went to work in San Francisco at the age of 19. That was the same year, 1934, that I worked on a Stanley Dollar steamship, the President Coolidge on a 60 day cruise to Japan, China and the Philippines. I had seen so much unrest and poverty during this 60 day travel that I strongly felt the urge to become gainfully employed. That began my 30 year career with Hills Bros Coffee.
After four years working in the factory at Hills, and experiencing most operations, I decided to return to Southern California to pursue and education. However, I was intercepted by Grey Hills who offered me the opportunity to go to Chicago for training as a salesman. I was then sent to Detroit to sell our coffee to stores that never had it before – a real struggle. During this period, the Lord and Grey Hills had much to do about getting me to Michigan in 1938, where I met the “Star” of my life, Stella Marie.
After some three years of selling coffee in Michigan, and virtually opening that market, along came the draft for the army. I was inducted in Michigan, and shipped, as a private, to Camp Wallace, Texas, located 50 miles about South of Houston. I was in Houston on week-end leave when the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Things got really serious after that, and while I was working as a Company Clerk, my Captain asked me to apply for Officers Candidates School. Thus, without any formal education I followed his suggestion. They must have been in really great need because they did accept me after the second interview. I became a “ninety-day wonder” after much struggle, and seeing so many of my classmates sent back to Corporal rating. I was assigned to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas with a 2nd Lieutenant rating – soon to be a Company Commander in and Anti-Aircraft Battalion, which was attached to the 82nd Anti-Aircraft Group. Things happened quickly as I soon moved to the Group in command for the Group Company.
Now to maneuvers, and into the Group Administration, then assigned as the advanced detachment for our Group to go to The European Theater, London. I went on to the Anti-Aircraft Command in London and “in charge” when all others went to the “Far Shore” for combat leaving me with staff only.
After Germany surrendered, my boss, General Thiele, called to say that he was assigned to establish Shrivenham American University, and that I would assist him and go the Shrivenham to get things going. Another new career was now beginning which included bringing in some of our finest professors in America to the University. Beyond that the establishment of a home for the General along with a General Mess where the entire department heads gathered for three meals per day. All of our regular maintenance service was from German P.O.W’s.
After two terms at the University, I asked the General to go home where I could see my “Stella,” and two year old son that I had never seen. Request granted, and with orders on however, and when I wished to go. I chose a friend, Andy White, to go with me. Andy had been a baritone with the then famous Fred Waring Band.
When we arrived in New York aboard the Queen Mary, December 1945, we were invited to the Lambs Club Christmas Party, a club that only famous actors are invited to join. We attended in uniform (the only dress we had), and were treated as though the two of us had won the war alone. We literally could not carry all the gifts.
I arrived, by train, in Alhambra just a day or so before Christmas, and was met by Stella, Robert Jr., and my parents – a wonderful conclusion to the years overseas. Indeed, a great thrill to see our son who only knew me as “Bud,” the name my parents often used. A great joy to see my “Star” Stella. I was discharged from the Service in April 1946.
Life had greatly changed, and so back to selling coffee when I was assigned to a sales territory in San Francisco. Eventually, we were transferred to Denver where we took our “busy” Robert and freshly born Peter to our 900 sq. foot mansion for a couple of years. When Margaret Mary was born, our Sweetheart of the Rockies, we returned to the Bay Area. Our family fortunes were enhanced by the arrival of Suzanne, and later (via a camping trip) Bill.
My career at Hills continued as Advertising Manager, but not really happily because of general management unrest along with post-war depression. However we did establish what we thought was an adequate home in Orinda which we loved, and where we lived for 26 years while raising five kids on a salary which would amount to a fifth of our living expenses today. I might add that each time a new child was born to us there was “wonderment” in the corridors of the Hills office.
After a 30 year career at Hills as a most loyal employee, the “cards” and Stella said, “lets make a move.” So, we did so, along with much speculation about what was next. Stella was teaching at that time, so along with that The Lord really took over, and we landed on our feet, so to speak. After the kids “flew the coop” we began traveling, and to more than 35 countries. Many wonderful memories!
Our greatest joy, however, has always been our family. We now have the pleasure of five lovely kids, and their eleven children, along with five beautiful “Greats.” So, with this Stella Marie (this Star of the Sea) we are husband and wife for these 62 years, and at this moment, surrounded with the result of this alliance, I can only ask, Dear Lord, how anyone could deserve such a wonderful gift – the gift of all of you, our cherished family. This day, we are truly blessed, and we thank you for your love.
Major Robert L. Boyle, US Army (Retired)
January 23, 2005
Photos Courtesy of the Robert L. Boyle, Sr. Family
Note from author: I repost this letter every Memorial Day and Veterans Day.