Monday, May 25, 2015

My Uncle Bob

By the time many of you will read this the Memorial Day parades will be over, the speeches will have been given, the memorials at the cemeteries will have been concluded including the twenty-one gun salutes, President Obama will have visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and all that will be left is the fireworks tonight.

However, I want to write my own special tribute which will be different than all the ones people are writing about their tributes to veterans and current military personnel and tell you about one special veteran to me.

My mom is the oldest of ten children. Her seven brothers all served in the military and deserve our thanks for their service. Between the seven of them, they have served a total of eighty-three years, which I think is extraordinary for one family!

Uncle Bob has served the most with twenty-six years of Naval experience. He retired as a Lieutenant Commander from the Civil Engineering Corporation (CEC) United States Navy, which if I understood him correctly is an E8 which is one step short of an E9 and that is as high as a noncommissioned officer can get in the Navy. After he reads this, he will probably call me and correct me on that point!

I spoke with his wife, Linda, who is in their home in Gulfport, Mississippi, and a good friend and fellow Navy veteran, Joe Ruffino and Bob yesterday for over three hours to get a few stories correct about his assignments. I enjoyed our conversations and learned a lot from different perspectives from all three individuals.

I want to start off by showing you this picture of Bob painting the barn he is restoring at the family farm. He promised his father, Joe Smith, he would restore the barn one day and for the last several years he is turning the barn into a hunting lodge for the annual pilgrimage of many family members to his own private game preserve. He has turned the one hundred sixty acre quarter section of land into his own private pheasant hunting paradise. It is also home to deer, wild turkeys, and who knows what other wildlife occupies his little corner of the world? This picture was taken in 2007.

Click on the image to make it larger:

When I talked to him yesterday, he was in a store buying supplies for the project he is working on this summer. He has planted several apple trees and had taken the protective barrier fence from around the trees to keep them from the deer eating the apples and branches. He had trimmed around the bases of the trees, sprayed some Roundup to kill the thistles and was in the process of replacing the fencing with new, higher fencing.

He also told me about a wealthy, retired professor from Brookings who had been driving by his farm and was interested in buying it. He liked what Bob had done in making it a small, private game reserve. He wanted to know what Bob wanted to sell the farm.

Bob told him the farm was not for sale. The gentleman then pulled his checkbook out, laid it down on the hood of the truck and said, "Everything is for sale for the right price."

Bob said in so many words, "I told my father I would never sell this farm as long as I'm alive. So, you can put your checkbook back in your pocket and leave my property."

The farm is not for sale!

He has also rented the house, which he had my second cousin from my other side of the family do some renovations preparing for new tenants who will be moving in to the farmhouse July first. He told me Jeremy had the house looking better than it has in many years! It made me feel good to know Jeremy Patrick has learned well from his father, Dale who taught him how to do construction and remodeling work. Working with your hands to build or repair something is a skill I really miss. 

He gave me some details I only had sketchy memories of his involvement in the 6.2 earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua on December 23, 1972. At the time of the quake, he was stationed in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic working with three other men and four bulldozers. Within 24 hours of the quake, they got a call to take the bulldozers to Managua to make mass graves and move earth around to help in the massive cleanup after the complete devastation.

They did not have visas to travel to Nicaragua. The State Department rushed their visas through and later that day they made their first mass grave with roughly six thousand Nicaraguan citizens as night fell. Bob told me to a the hardest things about making the graves were keeping the grieving people out of the graves who wanted to identify their loved ones before they were covered up and dodging his own people who were spreading fifty pound bags of lime over layers of bodies to help them decompose faster and keep the stench down.

I will never forget on Christmas 1973 as my dad and I were preparing to go to Berkeley in a few days, we had Christmas dinner for my grandpa and a couple of my mom's brothers. Bob and I were talking in the kitchen and he talked about what he was doing a year ago on Christmas day. I will never forget him telling about being in Managua and the tasks they were assigned to do when he started to cry just a little bit.

I remember thinking how horrible it must have been for my big, strong uncle Bob and how that must have affected him to the point where he shed a tear over what he was doing the year before. It could not have been easy to have spent the time they did in Nicaragua.

I asked him about when he was born and where. He told me Grandma and Grandpa moved to the farm in November 1943. He was born in the hospital in Hendricks, Minnesota, which was less than twenty miles away on January 24, 1944. Although, he likes to tell the story how he was born in the farmhouse and dropped on his head before he hit the ground! He had a nice chuckle after he told that story!

Bob served two tours of duty in Vietnam. The first tour he was in country for nine months. Home for three months, and back for six more when he got a call from the State Department that his mother had died and he was able to go home for the funeral.

There is one more a story I want tell you about his experience in Vietnam. They had reports of a tiger that had attacked and dragged off into the jungle a Marine. Without thinking about their own safety and well-being, they want to look for this tiger. They found him in a cave and shot him. Inside the cave where remains of several smaller people and two larger ones complete with fatigues and boots, as well as two sets of dog tags!

I can only assume the tiger had gone mad with the effects of napalm and Agent Orange  and losing his habitat to the constant shelling of his hunting area, which drove him to seek human prey. That tiger was not only going crazy, but hungry as well!

I want to end this very long post with a picture of why I love to go to the farm when Bob is there. This was taken several years ago one summer when he was up there planting trees. My mom and I were at the annual Pioneer Days celebration in White and we went out to the farm to spend some time with Bob and listen to a few stories.

As always, click on the image to make it larger:

I know I have made this a long post. However, I believe my uncle Bob at 71 deserves for me to tell some of his story. After my conversations yesterday, I could have written a lot more. However, I will stop now and let you enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day!

God bless America and all the people who have fought and died for our rights to live in the greatest democracy the world is never known. Remember people, our country and the principles it was built on has never been tried and worked before. The United States of America is an experiment and we the people are making it work! That is exciting to think about!

I look forward to your comments.




Colleen M Patrick said...

Michael, as you can probably imagine, I of course am having a good cry--but your memorial blog to my brother Robert Michael -for whom you were named-
and my other six brothers is one of your best--in my book anyway!!! I know you could have written much much more. Thank you! I still see the map posted on the wall above our table marking the spots where we
had last heard from them; and the worry that went with watching the nightly news. Hoping and praying that they were safe. Åll seven of them did return to us in one piece.

Mike Patrick said...

Thank you mom. I thought about writing about your map on the wall. There were other stories I wanted to write but it was a very long post and I just didn't have time or the space to write all those stories in one blog post.

Anonymous said...

Would love to read more of your family stories!