War Bonds

70 Years of Adventure

20708109_1498992003472755_632359020316113008_n[1]John and Amy Roberson

Amy and John Roberson grew up in the same small community of Woodland, Washington, on farms about 2 miles apart. They attended the same school grades K-12, yet it took a world war to bring the couple together.

That’s not to say Amy went unnoticed by John.

“I had my eye on her,” he said. “She was very attractive.”

In their Greenacres home, Amy shushed him.

“Now, now,” she said, smiling.

But neither of them can recall a single conversation between them until they met again in 1945 in Washington, D.C., where both were serving in the Navy.

John had been accepted to the V-12 Navy College Training Program in 1943. The program was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the Navy during World War II.

He thought the Navy would be a great fit for him.

“I loved the water,” he said. “I built my own boat on the Columbia River.”

It came as quite a surprise when the first place the Navy sent him was to the University of Kansas.

He shrugged.

“I studied engineering at the University of Kansas.”

Amy had to wait until she was 20 to enlist.

“My uncle was in the Navy in World War I,” she said. “I wanted to join the Navy, too.”

After basic training, she was sent to the U.S. capital to study decoding. Meanwhile, John was stationed nearby, in Norfolk, Virginia.

A mail carrier in Woodland kept track of the local youths in the service. He discovered there were eight Woodland youths in the Washington, D.C., area where his daughter was stationed, and he connected them.

They all got together and had a great time talking about home, and that’s when Amy truly noticed John.

“John asked me for a date,” she recalled. “We were supposed to meet at the movie theater. It was pouring rain, and I showed up with drippy hair.”

Wet hair didn’t deter him from asking for another date.

Soon John left for what would be the only cruise of his Navy stint.

“My sea duty consisted of taking a ship from San Diego to Charleston (South Carolina),” he said.

They stayed in touch and both returned to Woodland when they were discharged in 1946.

“We both qualified for the GI Bill, and I told him I was going to WSU,” Amy recalled. “John said, ‘I think I will, too.’ ”

They got engaged in April 1947 and returned home in August for their wedding.

Amy made her wedding gown and bridesmaid dresses from parachute silk.

“I got a whole bolt for $10, so we all wore white,” she said.

On Aug. 17, 1947, they were married at the Presbyterian church in Woodland. They honeymooned in British Columbia and then returned to WSU where John received a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering in 1948.

Amy, too, would eventually earn a degree in home economics, but first busy years ensued.

Son, Roger, arrived in 1950, followed by twins David and Janice in 1951.

The young family moved numerous times as John pursued a master’s degree, followed by a doctorate.

“It was hectic,” Amy said.

She recalled many late nights and early mornings when John would place Janice across his knees and jiggle her to sleep while he studied.

He taught at WSU, and their children were active in Camp Fire and Boy Scouts.

In 1963, they moved to Thailand when John accepted a teaching position with the SEATO Graduate School of Engineering.

Two years later the family set out to visit the famous Bridge over the River Kwai and the POW Memorial. As they crossed the bridge used by pedestrians, carts and bicycles, a train approached.

Roger and David took refuge on a pedestrian platform on one side of the bridge while Amy, Janice and John perched on the other side. As the train drew near, John reached out to help a Thai man on bicycle with a large metal ice cream box balanced on the back. As the train passed it hit the metal box which knocked the bicycle into the three of them. Amy, Janice and John were thrown against the bridge railing which broke, sending them plunging into the dry riverbed beneath.

“We hit hard,” John recalled.

Their sons scrambled to help.

“The first aid training they received in Scouts really paid off,” Amy said.

The boys cautioned the locals not to move them, checked for bleeding and signs of concussion and summoned an ambulance.

“I do think they saved our lives or at least made our injuries less severe,” said Amy.

As it was their injuries were substantial. All three suffered numerous broken bones. Janice recovered first, but her parents were in for a long hospital stay.

“We shared a tiny hospital room for 90 days and 90 nights,” Amy recalled. Then she grinned. “And we came out as friends.”

The severity of John’s injuries curtailed their stay in Thailand and the family returned to Pullman, where more surgery awaited. He was bedridden for months as his battered body healed. Amy took care of him and their three teenagers while her own broken bones mended.

Eventually, he resumed his teaching career at WSU and authored two textbooks: “Engineering Fluid Mechanics,” with Clayton Crowe and “Hydraulic Engineering.” Both books are still in print and used in universities here and abroad.

“Without Amy’s typing, editing and encouraging, the books may never have been completed,” he said.

For several years Amy taught ESL classes in Pullman for wives of foreign students.

Their adventures continued when John retired in 1980. They enjoyed more than 50 Elderhostel trips and visited 45 countries and all 50 states.

As they celebrate their 70th anniversary Thursday, the Robersons, both 92, marvel at the way the years have flown.

“She’s been a tremendous partner – we’re good friends,” said John. “I could not have been luckier.”

Amy smiled at him.

“I learn new things about him every day.”


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War Bonds

Patriotism on Parade

In 2010, I accompanied a group of Pearl Harbor Survivors during an annual Armed Forces parade in my hometown. The reaction of the crowd to this small group of heros showed me just how much Americans value the men and women who served our country during WWII and solidified my desire to write War Bonds.

Here’s the column I wrote about that event. Ray, Cindy and DenisRay Daves, Cindy Hval and Denis Mikkelsen

When I received an invitation to appear in this year’s Armed Forces Torchlight Parade, I had mixed feelings. My only previous parade experience hadn’t gone well.

In seventh grade I rode on our church youth group’s float in Moses Lake. The theme? Daniel in the Lion’s Den. I had a major crush on the guy chosen to be Daniel, so I agreed to ride on the float. I pictured myself as one of the angels sent by God to shut the lions’ mouths. Instead, they made me a lion, complete with furry suit and painted-on whiskers. My mane was made of cardboard, and I kept poking my fellow feline’s eyes with every turn of my head.

Did you know Moses Lake gets very warm in the spring? I sizzled and sweated through the parade and my black whiskers ran like polluted rain down my cheeks. Then I started sneezing. The “den” was made out of hay bales, those being plentiful in Moses Lake. That’s how I found out I’m allergic to hay. By the end of the parade my eyes were swollen shut, and “Daniel” hadn’t even noticed me growling at his feet.

However, the Torchlight parade would be different. The theme was “Freedom is not Free,” and instead of a float made of hay bales I’d been ask to accompany the Pearl Harbor survivors on a military truck. I’ve written several stories about these incredible folks over the years, and they’ve kind of adopted me. I was so honored by the invitation, I would have said yes even if they wanted me to wear a lion costume.

So on parade day, I boarded the truck with five Pearl Harbor survivors ranging in age from 86 to 93. Among them: Warren and Betty Schott, who were both on Ford Island when the bombs began to fall.

Denis Mikkelsen who was sleeping aboard the USS West Virginia and woke to the sound of chaos. When the order came to abandon ship he dived into the harbor.

Sid Kennedy at the Naval Air Station Kaneohe, watched the planes swoop in. “Look at the show the Army’s putting on,” he’d said. Then he saw the red circles on the aircrafts’ wings.

And Ray Daves was on his way to breakfast when he looked up to see the first bomb hit Ford Island. He prayed, “God, don’t let it get my friend, Jim.”

The memories of Dec. 7, 1941, are seared into the minds of this small band of survivors. Each year their number dwindles, yet those who are able agree to appear in the parade, not for cheers or accolades, but to honor the thousands of Americans who did not survive the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Joining us on the truck were the survivor’s family escorts and Jean Flechel, widow of a Pearl Harbor survivor. The sun warmed us as we waited for the start of the parade and at last we began our slow trek through city streets.

Much has been said and written about the decline of patriotism in America and how younger generations don’t seem to honor the flag and our country the way our forebears did.

This may be true, but it certainly wasn’t what I observed that night. Almost without exception men, women and children leapt to their feet as our truck went by. Teenage boys took off their ball caps, men saluted or put their hands over their hearts and the applause was deafening. Amid the clapping I heard shouts of, “God bless you!” and “We love you,” but mostly what I heard were these words shouted over and over again: “Thank you! Thank you for your service.”

I heard teenage girls scream as if Justin Bieber was in town. I watched grown men weep and small children wave and clap while others stood somberly at attention as the truck passed.

Some may believe our country has lost its way and its citizens no longer value the tenets upon which our nation was built. But what I experienced in the company of American heroes that night, filled me with hope.

Maybe we haven’t forgotten what is most important, after all.