Monday, September 28, 2020

Veteran and Veteran’s memorial supporters

Sweethearts since childhood. PHOTOS BY VAL SIMON

Sweethearts since childhood. PHOTOS BY VAL SIMON

By Val Simon

The Veteran’s Memorial fundraising committee has been blessed to meet so many wonderful citizens that are generous in making the memorial possible. Recently, the committee got to know one such donor a little better.

Bob and Thelma Sargeant have funded a bench as well as the Army flagpole.

Bob and Thelma have truly lived the American Dream. Bob and Thelma were childhood sweethearts.

They attended school together in Ohio. It may not have been a one room school house, but in a school with only 24 students in the top three grades, it was pretty close. They’ve known each other since first grade. “There were about ten of us in the same class. We still keep in touch with each other. I remind Thelma how lucky she is because out of all the couples, she is the only woman who isn’t a widow!”

Bob says he wanted to go into the service at 17, but his mother would not sign the papers. He graduated from high school in 1942, was drafted, and went into the Army. Bob spoke about the v-mail they would receive while in the service. “Everything was censored” he said. “They would take pictures of the letters and they would be small about two-thirds the original size. They would give them to your commanding officer and he would decide what was allowed to go through. We weren’t able to receive care packages of any type.”

Bob had an opportunity to take an evaluation test for entry into the air force which is what he really wanted to be doing. He took the test and made the grade. “I went from the swamps in Biloxi, MS to hotel accommodations in Miami. The air force cadets where shipped onto San Antonio for training. I was just one man of 76,000 in for training. For six weeks, all we did was exercise and march. They didn’t know what to do with all of us.” Bob said. “There were so many they sent 36,000 of us had to back to the ground forces where we had been stationed before.”

So now in his eighth month of service, he was given one week to get home and get back to base. During the week, he went home and he and Thelma were married. “We went to the minister’s house with another couple from school and asked him to marry us. He agreed,” Bob adds this was three days shy of his 20th birthday.

Since they weren’t married prior to Bob going into the service, the army didn’t recognize them as a married couple. He had to get on a train and depart without her. While there, Thelma claimed she was married to a soldier that she had never met before just to get home! Bob joked, “Married less than a week and she was already cavorting with another man!” The soldier went along with it, knowing it was the only way for her to get back to Ohio, and he was on his way home anyway.

In January 1944 Bob was shipped out to Europe in a convoy of 54 ships. On his boat, one of the smaller ships of the fleet, there were 208 men. Bob said, “We were in the hold, surrounded by cheese on all sides. They were still building the ship when we set sail! Workers were still welding in the bulkhead.

We spent two weeks in the North Atlantic. It was funny because when we were in the trough of a wave we would think we were all alone out there. Then you’d rise up, hit the crest and you could see all the other boats.

We went on to cross the English Channel to the border of Germany. I was with the ordinance detail so I rode with the vehicles and guns. We crossed the

Leo Sutera, Carole Roberts, Lee Rubenstein lunched with the Sargeants.

Leo Sutera, Carole Roberts, Lee Rubenstein lunched with the Sargeants.

Rhine via a pontoon bridge. That was an interesting experience.

When Roosevelt died, it was a sad time. He was like a father to the troops. I received two battle citations during my service, but I was never really in the thick of it. The Germans had prewired the Remagen bridge to blow but it only blew a piece of it. The Americans were still able to use the bridge for ten days before it fell into the river. Refugees would lay down planks of wood and anything they could find to get across. Being in ordinance I had a license to drive any vehicle. I was told to get a semi, hook up a trailer and pick up 54 displaced people. There were many refugees. I recall the Russians were very bitter.”

In August, 1945, I was in an advance group that went to Marseilles, France. Our orders were changed to go back to our original camp. We each received five days of K-Rations and that was what we lived on.

We were headed to Japan when Truman ordered the bombs to be dropped. Since we didn’t speak French, it was a while before we even knew the war was close to an end.

We were given points while in the service: one for every month of service, but it was based on different things, such as being married. Our marriage was not recognized by the military because I was single going in. In April, 1946, I was released.

When I went home I went to work for a lumber mill. From there I worked in a garage as a grease monkey and in the tool room. I loved that tool room. I started at $1.25 an hour and after six months I got a six cent raise. I went from $1.45 to $2.90. In three years time I went to work at another place and was paid $8.50 an hour. That was quite a jump in salary at the time.”

Bob and Thelma worked hard. Thelma was no stranger to hard work. She describes her childhood in Ohio, “My parents had all girls. I was the oldest. So I was expected to help around the farm just like any boy would.”

In the early ‘50’s Bob was asked to become a partner of the business in which he was working. Bob describes how they eventually started their own tool shop. Bob and Thelma took a loan on their house to pay for it. They are true examples of the American Dream. Their business grew from one small shop to owning twelve businesses. They have contracts with such names as NASA and Boeing and their once small shop grew to fill warehouse space of over 3,000,000 square feet. They do the tooling for 75% of all garage doors in the United States and made the tooling for the flip-top can. Bob said his brother-in-law has 32 patents including the flip-top can.

“I did eventually learn to fly. In 1965 I bought my own plane. It was fitting as 65-70% of our business comes from the aerospace industry.” Bob and Thelma went onto foster a little girl. They took her in when she was 12 and raised her with their own two daughters. They are known for their generosity and give 30 scholarships each year to students entering either college or trade school. “Our generation was taught to give back and share the rewards of life.”

Lee Rubenstein, committee chair and Commander of the local VFW Post #6370 thanked the Sargeant’s for their support in making the memorial a reality.  “We will hold a ground-breaking ceremony for the memorial at 11:00 am on May 2nd. We would be honored if you would join us.” The event will be held on the grounds of the memorial at Veteran’s Memorial Park. The public is invited.

 

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