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Interview of Robert Stewart by James Scott,
October 3, 2003; 12:05 pm to 1:31 pm
SCOTT: I am with the very, very kind Robert L. Stewart. We are in his home, and his beautiful living room in Sacramento, California. It is October the 3rd. It is about noon, and I am James Scott. And, what I’m going to do right now is have Robert go ahead and sign the “Access Agreement for Oral History Materials” really quickly here…
STEWART: This is not gonna be easy for ya. You gotta…I can’t see that well.
SCOTT: You can sign basically right below my fingers right there…and just make it as clear as you can. It’s alright.
STEWART: How close? How close am I, I mean…to where you want it?
SCOTT: I’m gonna move right up here.
STEWART: Is that alright?
SCOTT: That’s alright. That’s perfect…perfect.
STEWART: More-or-less me.
SCOTT: He signs on the dotted line! Okay, thank you very much, Robert.
STEWART: You’re welcome.
SCOTT: Okay, now what we’re gonna do to start off—below we get into the meat of the interview—we’re just quickly gonna go over the survey that Robert filled out. Robert was born, it looks like, January 18th, 1919, in King City, Missouri. The “Show Me” state. Ah, before the Second World War, he was in High School, finished High School, had a couple of years of Junior College. He served as an Accountant—he’s a math guy. His last civilian address 2731 14th Street in Sacramento. During the WWII era, his service started in roughly January 1942, and his service ended in early September 1971. He served—looks like—in the Army Air Force and then Air Force to ’71. Of course nation is USA. Military training included Fort Logan, Colorado, at the clerical school, Washington, D.C. with the School of Strategic Intelligence, Lowry Air Force Base in Denver and remote control turrets for the B-29 Superfortress. Looks like active duty from ’42 to ’71 in various different posts, various different units, and he served as an Instructor and an Administrative Officer, and, of course we’ll go into more detail with that.
STEWART: That’s after World War II, Jim…they’re not necessarily interested in that period are they?
SCOTT: Well, we’ll wanna hear a little bit about that.
STEWART: Okay, I’ll answer your questions.
SCOTT: And battles, campaigns, landings, etc…none. Final World War II rank: he was a Staff Sergeant. Decorations: Good Conduct, Victory Medal, three Air Force Commendation Medals, and two Joint-Chief-of-Staff Commendations, very impressive. Highest rank: CWO-4 (Chief Warrant Office). Post-War civilian education: AA degree, B.A. degree and graduate study.
He made use of the G.I. Bill for education, not for home purchase, and he’s also benefited from the VA (Veteran’s Administration) for hospitalization and healthcare. We’ve talked about, of course, I’m here so we know his address, phone number, all those things. He is of European descent. You’re doing this interview in English. He does have certain bits of ephemera: uniforms, medals, patches, things like that. Primary cause of him entering the Second World War as a soldier was the attack of December 7, 1941. He felt good about going into the War, he felt good about serving. He did not fire a shot at any soldier. Should we have dropped the Atom Bomb on Hiroshima? Yes. Nagasaki? Yes. Had we had the bomb in June ’44 over Berlin? No.
Do you believe U.S servicemen in World War II were different than their counterparts? World War I? No. Korea? No. Vietnam? Yes. Gulf War? Yes. And the main reason for the “Yes,” being that they were unpopular wars. Troops earning his highest admiration? Combat troops during the Second World War. Underrecognized group? Rear echelon troops, the support troops.
STEWART: My gardener. Is that gonna hurt our…?
SCOTT: Absolutely not. This is a really sharp tape-recorder so it’s gonna cover over a lot of stuff.
Okay, so I think we’re all set to go here, and this is really exciting as we get into the fun part here. Now Robert, what I want you to do here is go ahead and start off telling me something about your background, prior to the Second World War. Tell me about your life, family, where you were living; just tell me what you can prior to entering the Second World War.
STEWART: Prior to the Second World War? Now, I was not married prior to the Second World War. I was not really a very good student—I had two years at then Sacramento Junior College; and I was, I was pretty lazy. The sororities and fraternities were on campus in those days—I found it a lot easier to play bridge and dance with the girls than to study [Laughs]….
STEWART: But, when December 7th came along that changed all that…
SCOTT: So, did you…looks like you were born in Missouri?
STEWART: I came here when I was ten years old, Jim. Yes, my family migrated here like some many in the twenties, and I was raised by my grandmother for the first ten years of my life, because she didn’t want me to come out here with my father. My father remarried, after the death of my mother—she died when I was eleven-months-old and I never knew her at all, but my stepmother was a very good gal and…but my grandmother, in those days, she was a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Presbyterian and you didn’t remarry…you should have been. My father was only twenty-nine-years-old when my mother died but should have never remarried, you know. So, she raised me till she passed away then my father came from California and got me. This was 1929. I was ten years old. So, of course, my life changed immediately, I mean the whole world changed because I loved Sacramento from the very beginning and when my father came to get me I had never been on a streetcar, I had never been on a train, so I was pretty well behind things, but I caught up in a heck of a hurry [Laughs]…
SCOTT: Fantastic, so you came out to Sacramento, you went to grade school here, high school…where did you go to high school?
STEWART: I went to fifth-grade in school here… I went to Sacramento High. Incidentally, just had our 67th reunion. Ya, my daughter took me and it was wonderful.
SCOTT: That’s wonderful. I’ve talked to other fellas in the area who went to Sac High…I probably wouldn’t be surprised if you knew a couple on them…real good guys.
Okay, so, the attack on Pearl Harbor took place. Where were you when you heard the news?
STEWART: Gosh, I guess I was in the living room at home. Well, sure, they say you never forget that and when Kennedy was shot, and so I was in the living room.
Ahhh, let’s see, I had a friend—actually the father of a girl I went with for a while—who was an old retired Master Sergeant who was working at McClellan Air Force Base, and he was quite an influence in saying that if I volunteered, I’d get what I wanted so I took him at his word, and what I did, I went down to the old Federal building here was the recruiting office where I talked to an awnry, old Master Sergeant…well he was a pro, he was old army and I told him that I wanted to go into the Army Air Force, and that I wanted to have Christmas and New Year’s at home, so he arranged for me to report in on the 3rd of January of 1942. And that was a great deal, and, of course, I had already been registered for the draft, Jim, and had preliminary physical and all that kind of thing and so I reported on January 3rd and I was enlisted in the Army Air Corps, or Air Force it was by then, and sent off to San Francisco where I was given another physical, spent overnight, then onto Monterrey where I got the introduction to the service, and mailed my clothes home…[Laughs]…
SCOTT: The cordial introduction…now real quick, were you involved in any, like any boys groups like Boy Scouts or anything like that?
STEWART: Absolutely. I had been…my father was real good about these things and one of the first things he did was get me into the YMCA, get me into Cub Scouts, and then Boy Scouts, and since he was a Mason at sixteen—that was the entrance age in those days—I entered the Sacramento Chapter of the Order of Demo lay, and I went through the chairs, I became a Pass master Counselor in the Sacramento Chapter…
SCOTT: And then you were in the Boy Scouts? Did you feel that this sort of maybe seasoned you a little bit for the military life, that is gave you a little bit of an advantage?
STEWART: Oh, I think all those things did. Yes, I think the Cubs, and the regular Scouts, and the Order of Demo lay all prepared me for cooperating with other people, for you know…
SCOTT: The good of the group…
STEWART: Ya, that’s right…right…
SCOTT: So, you have your second physical, you’re in Monterrey….
STEWART: From there I went to Monterrey, then I went to Sheppard Field, Texas, for basic training.
SCOTT: Tell me about that. Tell me about boot camp.
STEWART: Oh boy, well, no…it was crowded, it was terrible, but by the time I had gotten off the train—as often people do when they first leave home—I had a heck of a cold, I remember that. And, there, I took all these aptitude tests…and this is this is what set my whole military career. I seemed to have a heck of an IQ, even though I hadn’t used it much, and definite leanings toward working with people as an instructor for instance. And so, when I, it was very fast in those days…I don’t know how long I was at Sheppard…at Wichita Falls…but it wasn’t overly long and due to the test results, I was sent to Fort Logan in Denver, Colorado, which was then, of course, the Air Force Clerical School.
Am I doin’ alright?
SCOTT: You’re doin’ just fine! So you went ahead and took these aptitude tests and you scored very, very well, and were sent from here to there, to there, and ended up at the clerical school. Can you remember…you know when a lot of people think of the post-initiation process in the military, they think of the running, the calisthenics…the drilling and stuff like that…
STEWART: We had all that too…ya…we had all that too, even though I ended up on the staff there as an instructor.
SCOTT: Now, was that at Fort Logan?
STEWART: Yes, Fort Logan was…incidentally very interesting…well, this is where I learned how to be a student to be truthful with you. There was no outside influence, lived in barracks and marched to school everyday…
SCOTT: Did you find a drill or an exercise particularly challenging in your group? Or was it like “you’re all a bunch of young guys, and you know it’s the way, you’re all in shape, and it’s just the way the Army goes, and you made it through all of them okay.”
STEWART: Except…my biggest downfall was on the rifle range. I’m left handed and there was no such thing. The instructor would have me reach over and work the bolt on the…holy cow, and after that I couldn’t hit the side on a barn. And, I remembered they introduced us too to the Thompson sub-machine gun, and you know, and boy the first time I took that and aimed it at the target I wasn’t, I didn’t know what it was gonna do, and of course it was powerful and I was [mimics sounds of recoil and discharge] right upstairs. Oh well, anyway…
SCOTT: Very jumpy weapon…
Okay, do you remember, outside of that, any unusual experiences through boot camp? Any people that maybe couldn’t make it, or were removed…anything unusual, or was it routine, pretty smooth process for everybody going through?
STEWART: Going through the school? Ya, it was very smooth, because, as I say, we lived in barracks, we were marched to school, we spent out time there, and marched back to the barracks again. We were marched to meals, and so uh…
SCOTT: How’s the food? Did you like the food? Was the food pretty good?
STEWART: Oh ya. I never saw anything like it. You know, I did not realize that there were boys in America who’d never eaten a decent meal before, and I’ll tell you, they could pile their trays with more food than I could have eaten in a week, you know, because I had lived a pretty, well even though it was through the Depression, my step-mother and my father both worked right on through it and we didn’t suffer for anything.
As I say, so here I learned how to concentrate and I realized that my brain would work. I remember sitting in class and filing my nails in the backs of the class and listen to the instructor who was a Staff Sergeant at that time, of course, I was a Private…and uh, he knew what I was doing and I graduated from the school, Jim, with a 94-point-something average, which is why I was kept as an instructor…then Fort Logan was one of a chain of forts that was built during the Indian wars…Fort George Ride, Fort Logan, and there was, oh there was a whole string of them you know across the, oh that part of the West, you might say. It was a fascinating place. The old barracks I remember when I became an instructor, of course I was moved in with the rest of them, and they looked down that porch of the old brick barracks, they had a big veranda, see uh, what is it? Mount uh…oh, down by Colorado Springs, what’s?
SCOTT: Pike’s Peak?
STEWART: Pike’s Peak right there, ya, right off the end of the porch like on a clear day and there were a lot of those…
SCOTT: So when you were…you went to Fort Logan, and you had this exceptional IQ and you scored very high on your exams. What were you slated to instruct. What was your thing?
STEWART: Oh, I taught engineering and operations and actually, well it was the paper work concerned with both of them, and what it resulted in for the students, was being a, either being an engineering clerk and keeping records or an air operations specialist which covered a lot of ground: everything from dispatching aircraft, to also keeping records on fliers and so on…that was my thing.
And actually, I remained there as an instructor from, well I got there in February of ’42 to go to school and uh, I didn’t leave until April of ’44 and the reason I did was because they closed the school. What had happened was they had trained all that was need at that time, you see it was ‘44, and things were already…
SCOTT: …winding down a bit?
STEWART: …perhaps yes, I didn’t know it at the time, but they were.
SCOTT: So, did you like what you did? Did you enjoy being…
STEWART: I loved it! I loved it!
SCOTT: Would you call yourself kind of a natural teacher, instructor? Did you find that it was really something that you really liked and became comfortable with?
STEWART: Yes, and you could see it. It stood me in good in stead all the rest of my military career. I taught five years in the Defense Intelligence School in Washington, D.C. as a Chief Warrant Officer. Ya, I should say I enjoyed it…
SCOTT: Did you feel like the training you had when you went through Logan, did you feel the training you had was adequate and thorough and gave you everything you need to be a good teacher?
STEWART: I did. I really did. And as I say, without outside influences, I became pretty good, I admit it, and uh, you want me to go on?
STEWART: Okay, when the school closed then, I was uh sent to uh Keefer Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. And there I was an Air Operations Specialist, and I was a Dispatcher in base operations. And my principle job there, was therefore, talking to pilots, handling aircraft clearances, and in those days, what now has become the FAA I guess, um, for instance, I would clear a flight and call it into Jackson, Mississippi, where they, the little gals were doing that same kind of work that now is done by FAA; in other words, tracking the aircraft.
SCOTT: You know I’m kind of curious. We’ve talked about a lot of you know a lot of activity and tasks geared to flight. Is that why you wanted to be in the Army Air Corps/Army Air Force? I mean, why the Army Air Force as opposed to the Navy, or the Marines, or you know, something like that?
STEWART: I don’t know. Maybe it was cowardice!
SCOTT: I doubt that.
STEWART: I just wanted to, I don’t know, I felt a relationship with the Army Air Force that I did my, my stepmother, bless her heart would have had me enlist in the Marines, but…
SCOTT: Had you ever flown before?
STEWART: Hey, I gotta tell ya about that one. Let’s see. While at Fort Logan, they tried to give their instructors as much real experience as they could, so we were sent—at least the ones who were in Air Operations as instructors there—were sent on DDY to Salt Lake City, and the reason was that there was a B-24 group there training for overseas, and I had never flown as there I was in the operations doing my little thing—paperwork and so on—and this pilot came through and said “anyone here like to take a ride?”
“Oh ya, sure!” [Laughs].
So, we gotta a parachute and went with him out to this big B-24. Boy, in those days, the waste gunners, for instance, just fired out open windows, and, so he put us back there, and I don’t know, I guess a couple of other guys went with me, I know at least one did. Anyway, the son-of-a-gun was shooting take offs and landings. 24 times—my first time in an airplane. Up around, there was the capitol of Utah, back down there, wheels touch down, gun it up again…
SCOTT: And right back up you go…you never knew what you were getting into.
STEWART: I’ll tell you, that was some introduction to air flight. I’ll never forget it.
SCOTT: But you love flying. Do you enjoy flying?
STEWART: Oh ya, I…I did a, this is much later now, I did a tour, a short tour of the, um, the Armed Forces Career Service, carrying secrets from point A to point B and all the secrets weren’t little because all of our communications gear went that way too. And, so I logged an awful lot of miles. By then, of course, I was married—drove my wife crazy—I was always away, but I enjoyed it very much, until I got a letter from Washington selecting me for training for the Air Attaché System in our embassies overseas, you know. Then I was damn sure that—I wanted that assignment so bad—I was dog gone sure I was gonna be killed before I could get to it…every flight I took!
Anyway, that’s a long story. That’s a lot after World War II.
SCOTT: And we will spend a lot of time with that. I’m wondering…you know, you’ve already told us a lot about the experiences you’ve had, you know between California, Colorado, Mississippi, did you make any friends? Got any buddies along the way?
STEWART: Oh, God, yes. Ya, my best friend in World War II was a Jewish boy named Bernhard D. Stern, I’ll never forget him, Barney Stern, and how I met him, he was an instructor at Fort Logan too, but I did not know him. But, he was teaching somewhere else in the school you know, and uh, but uh, it was the same subject I taught, so he came to me one Saturday night and said he was getting married and would I take his class. Now, the classes there ran 24 hours a day, and so I said “sure.” Well, he and his wife and I became close friends, and when the school broke up we both went to Easler in Mississippi together and uh, we were there till…okay what happened to me, he was still there when I left…what happened to me was in late ’44, ya, later ’44 another one of my aptitudes caught up with me. I had a mechanical aptitude apparently that was very high. So oops! They came to get me, and I’m going…back to Denver…
STEWART: …for a stint to Lowery to train as a B-29G remote control turret gunner…got there and I found out my eyes weren’t capable of the job so—I don’t know…I had a stigmatism or something—anyway, so they put me in the remote control turret mechanic’s school. Seventeen weeks of school and…good Lord…I was a Staff Sergeant and I was the class leader and now I’m marching them to school. And…ya, getting em up in the morning and all in one barracks you know, so…there again, I scored like heck and…you know what it was? It was only…it was all on paper, see. I could tell you how a ampline generator worked and a turret and “o’boy, o’boy, o’boy.” Then the day came, and, they, just before graduation, I had a heck of a rating again…all in theory. They took me out to a B-29, handed me a couple of instruments, I remember one of them was just a simple—I guess it would be [one of those things] you trace current with, you know? Okay, and said “There’s something wrong with this turret. Find out what it is.” I lost the whole course right there. Theoretically I was great. Well, I graduated, but in the meantime I graduated…it was August ’45 and Japan had quit because they had dropped the bomb, and so I graduated and they lost me. I mean they lost me…here I am at the end of the War and the whole class shipped out except for one kid from Chicago and I. Eddie Richard, and I’ll never forget him either. So, there we are, sittin’ and I said “I’ll tell ya what we’ll do Eddie, you go down to the school headquarters and ask them what became of Robert L. Stewart, Staff Sergeant Stewart.” And then I said, “I’ll go and I’ll ask them what became of my friend Eddie Richard.” So, he went down and they said I had, I had been kept as an instructor, in the same school. And, I went down and they said he’d shipped out. So, we said, “what the heck!” and we went to town and had a good time!
SCOTT: …did you ever get in trouble? Did you ever like raise too much heck and the MPs come in and break stuff and say “Stewart…”
STEWART: You know, I don’t think so. I don’t so. The one place that I missed the boat for, I don’t know, there was this tough Sergeant at Fort Logan that, when I was a student, at…he marched us to class and marched us home and saw that we didn’t…got back from Saturday night if we’d had one. Well, anyway, he had the whole class lined up out there one day, and said “we’re lookin’ for some OCS candidates. Anybody that wants to go to OCS and become an officer, take one step forward.” Well, I guess some of ‘em did, I don’t remember…but, he picked on me see, because he knew that I was doing very well in the school. So he said, “Stewart, what’s the matter with you? Why don’t you step forward?” And I said “I’m sorry Sergeant, I don’t want to be an officer, I just wanna get this damn War over with. So, you miss the boat sometimes.
So, that ended my career in World War II, except that after Eddie and I had a good enough time in Denver, and livin’ on our own he went back to Chicago which was his home, and…I went down, talked to a Sergeant in personnel at Lowery and I said “I’m thinkin’ of reenlisting.” Now this was September of ’45, okay? And I said, “but only if you do me a favor.” I said, “you take…this school that I just went through completely off my record. I never went to it!” He said, “it’s done.” So, I then became a professional you might say and I reenlisted really tore my father up, Jim, I tell ya. Anyway, I reenlisted and…I’d gotten this sense of adventure, I guess, and I didn’t want to come back to Sacramento and ride a streetcar to an accounting office and…
SCOTT: And your folks were, of course, still here? Or your father was still here in Sacramento…
STEWART: …and my step-mother. And, the awful part of it was, of course, that…I know how he got that way, between the two Wars, my dad had the attitude then that only bums were in the military, if you couldn’t make a living any other way, you were a soldier, you know. So, he, I wrote to him that I was gonna reenlist and…he wrote back screamin’ “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” And, believe it or not, it caused a rift between us that lasted three years. His last letter came and I had reenlisted and they crossed: I told him, and he was tellin’ me to stop, and…lost my father for three years.
SCOTT: Tough decision to make, but that’s, that’s the way life goes sometimes: following your heart…
STEWART: In the meantime, when we cured that break-up…I had gotten married.
SCOTT: Now where did you meet your wife?
STEWART: Reno, Nevada. You know…let’s see what happened to me then…I was sent out at Hamilton Air Force Base and I was working at my trade, but it was in the paperwork. An old major who’d come up through the ranks in the Army, named Shirley Workman I was working for. And, so I’m getting along fine, and they came around with a letter saying that all the reenlisted people…who were in World War II and were still in and as a professional, or had become a regular as it were, were eligible for Lieutenancy in the reserve if you hadn’t reached your 28th birthday, and this was March as I was 28 in January.
So, I missed that opportunity and I was eager to do something, so along came a letter then that said they wanted volunteers for instructors from the regular Air Force to the Air National Guard, in this case, Air, and so, I applied for that. I almost got laughed out of the office…I’ll never forget. I mean, here I am a lousy Staff Sergeant—incidentally, I got stuck in that grade for 6-and-a-half years. Anyway, here I am and I applied for the job, and I almost got laughed out of the office, until one day they called me from…oh, the biggest headquarters on Hamilton was…the 4th Air Force. And, guy called up and said “Stewart! Get your best uniform on and shine your shoes! There’s a Colonel here that wants to talk to you about the National Guard.” So, I did, and I went down there, and sure enough, the guys in the office were right: There was a nothing but old Master Sergeants sitting around that room waiting to be interviewed. Hashmarks up to here! (Points to shoulder). And here I am. So, I’m the last guy to go in. And, believe me, this old Colonel is a power in my life for years. This Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, he was a senior air instructor to the Nevada National Guard, although there wasn’t one. That’s a story, too. So, he said, “You got anything against Reno, Nevada?” And I said, “I was raised in Sacramento—I love Reno, Nevada.” And he said “Good, because…” he said, ”These old boys think it’s city of sin, and they don’t want to take their families there.” So, he said, “I’ll tell you what you do. I’m gonna get your orders cut. You get your duffle bag and you be down at base operations at 9:00 o’clock Monday morning.” And, this is Friday afternoon! Woooo! There goes my life again. Am I boring you to death?
SCOTT: Oh, gosh no, absolutely not. This is fantastic.
STEWART: This guy. He’s got a T-6 aircraft that’s his for the duty in Nevada, you know. He’s flying back-and-forth. So…I get there and I’ve got my old duffle bag, all my possessions I guess, and…he put me in this backseat. Now this—I’ve never been in a small aircraft, see—puts me in backseat of this T-6 and they have dual controls you know. What does he pile on top of me, but a tire for his car, and a whole bunch of stuff from the commissary, I mean groceries. And then he tells me to keep my feet out of the way of the pedals, and keep away from the stick.
Okay, so he slams the canopy shut. Now this was a really wonderful guy, but you know! Anyway, I was scared, I was gonna spend the next three years—it was a three year assignment—with this one man. And we take off from Hamilton in that T-6 and we get about over Travis and—he had put a headset on me and everything—and that was another thing I’d never had on before. So he said “what does the cylinder head temperature gage back there say?” And, I had never seen a cylinder head temperature gage in my life! And he said “it’s in the upper left-hand corner…it’s the top-most gage.” I said, “Sir, there isn’t one.” There wasn’t. Anyway, this really ticked him off, and uh, I said, I thought “Oh my gosh, I gotta send three years with this guy?” He…this was just about over Travis when he pulled this on me. So, he said, “Well, we’ll land at Mather.” And, so we landed at Mather. He got out and he slammed my canopy back and he said “Now, God damn it…by gosh, there isn’t one. Come on, I’ll buy you lunch!” [Laughs].
So, I got to Reno with him, of course. And, they hadn’t any Air National Guard yet. But, the Air Force had sent him there to try to force it. And so, we had an office in the old Washoe County Library building. We had a T-6 aircraft. We had a staff car, and that was it. And, of course, he is appearing before…the legislature and everything else trying to swing an Air National Guard, you know?
And, the gal I married, I met on my second week there. Oh, he was awful good to me. He got me settled into a private home and a room and lovely family: three boys and mother who was a divorcee I guess. And, the second week there, I met my wife and she was a nurse receptionist in a doctor’s office, and fell in love right away. You know, just one of those things. I was absolutely fascinated with her, and she was no kid either. She was…my wife was, let’s see…15 months older. So, she was almost 30 and I was 28. So, anyway, that’s a long story, but the Colonel’s name was Ira F. Wintermoot. Had a beautiful wife, two kids, and uh…of course, his wife felt that with a name like Wintermoot, he should have ended up being a judge. And he probably should have, but anyway. That’s was that. And for three years I was with him in Reno, and he, again, changed my whole career. Here I am an Air Operations Specialist, see, from the old days, and here old Wintermoot, I was a Staff Sergeant, and he would just keep on recommending me for promotion. And, I didn’t get it. And so, knowing him, he flew down to Hamilton, came back, and uh…by then, we had a Sergeant Instructor for maintenance, and so, he did the flying with him. I was no longer his backseat companion, see. So, he flew down, he came back—I’ll never forget it—he walked into the office, and he said “you are now, an administrator.” And he says, “The problem was, and an Air Operations Specialist, all the pilots, and all the officer, and flying officers, who couldn’t, they didn’t anymore, they offered the chance to reenlist at the end of the War as an Air Operations Specialist, naturally. So, every time I came up for promotion, there weren’t any vacancies, see. So, now there were. I mean…so, he got my MOS, as it was, changed, you know, and then, sure enough, the next time around. No, I’m sorry, his tour was up ahead of mine, because he’d been there before I got there, naturally. So, he left, and he went back to Hamilton, in some capacity there. And, I made Tech Sergeant and that guy flew up there with stripes—I still get broke up (teariness)—you know, that guy flew up there with stripes for me, even though he was no longer there, and I was finishing my tour. In fact, my wife and I left there the day…well, the day that Harry marched into Korea, Truman and the so-called United Nations action.
SCOTT: So, basically, you’re in Reno, you’re still in the military, you’re still in the military and this is something that you did for years to come, basically. So, you went from Reno to where? Basically, take me from Reno to coming back to Sacramento, if you can?
STEWART: You wanna know all that?
SCOTT: I wanna know all that.
STEWART: So, my wife and I, then, when I finished my tour, a few months after Colonel Wintermoot had, I was assigned to Hamilton, and so, we went down there. This was, as I say, was the very…it was June of ’50. Ya, because that’s when the Korean War starts, and we’re sittin’ there, and again, fate really smiled on me: I was assigned to 4th Air Force Headquarters, and he bought a trailer when we left Reno, and…they had a trailer park, and we were on the base in the trailer park. And, I was a member of the NCO Club, and my wife was finding out it was rank conscious too, but I was a Tech Sergeant. But, there was a Colonel in 4th Air Force. He was the director of Admin. Services as it was beginning to be called then, instead the Agitantcy, and his name was James L. Tar. Well, he…I noticed that in my office, I had worked for a wonderful Major that…that the quality of the correspondence that the people were turning out—the secretaries and the military, you know, administrators was pretty damn bad—so I designed a course…and my boss encouraged me, and…said to talk to Colonel Tar about it and I did, so we put the course on. That cinched me with Tar. I mean this guy was a …
SCOTT: And you got to do what you do best and that’s teach, that’s instruct…
STEWART: Ya, right…so all our friends are going to Korea and we’re just sittin’ there, fat and happy, and…
SCOTT: At this point there’s a question I want to ask you, and that’s that your contribution to the effort in everything you did was huge, from starting off in Colorado to Mississippi, and then finally ending up in Reno, but did you ever wish, maybe at one point, that you could have been stationed in harm’s way to get closer to the action in one way or another?
STEWART: You know, Jim, I don’t think I even ever thought about it? No. I guess I was too much of a kid. I don’t know. While at Fort Logan, even as only…an instructor, we had to do the obstacle courses and…
SCOTT: You know, it sounds to me as if, you were constantly busy…you were always doing something and you really didn’t have time maybe to think about those things. And learning new things…and the technology, of course, was not static—it was always changing—so you were learning new things. I was just curious…
STEWART: Well, to make a long story short, Colonel Tar then came and said, “You know, you’re due to go overseas. What would you like to do?” “Well,” I said, “I thought I might like to get into NATO.” And so he said, “I’ll see what I can do.” So, he wrote a letter to Washington. Sure enough, he got me to Naples, Italy, my wife and I, and three years in NATO Southern Command, CINC-South.
SCOTT: Do you speak Italian?
STEWART: No. The only time I ever had to learn a language was my last assignment, believe it or not, was the embassy in Lisbon, Portugal. And I had...I’d been in another embassy and that was Chinese…nobody learned Chinese…I didn’t have to. So anyway, but Lisbon, they sent me to the East Coast Branch of the Defense Language Institute and the instructor was a wonderful little gal from the…Portuguese Embassy in Washington. So, six months, Jim, of nothing but 8:30 to 3:30, as I remember, of no English, tapes to learn at night, to listen to at night, and be prepared for the next day. I even gave up Martinis, and I’ve been a Martini drinker since time and memorial. Anyway, this nice, little house we had in Arlington, Virginia…it was colonial style, it was small, but it had a basement. I’d go down there at night and study, and listen to these tapes, and I gave up drinken’ and finally oh, the heck with it, I started taken’ a Martini down and started listening to the tapes…and anyway, I finished the course, and we had to go take an independent examination and the little gal had nothing to do with it. And what in the devil was it? They played the tapes and you had to translate and talk back somehow. And what were they? They were Brazilian Portuguese….not the Portuguese. Of course, Brazils’ the biggest Portuguese-language-speaking country in the world, but it’s a different dialect. Anyway, so I did what I could, and then…I was stuck in Washington…
SCOTT: Now, this was Air Attaché…
STEWART: Uh uh. I was gonna be administrative officer to the Defense Attaché at our Embassy in Lisbon. So, I’d figured I’d flunked the whole dang thing, and guess what? I’m called out, oh, I’d been teaching in the Defense Intelligence School there for five years and…I don’t know, I got a call to come back to the school and the Navy Commander said “You’re Mr. Stewart? You’re going to Portugal?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Boy, you aced that course.” I said, “You’ve gotta be kiddin?” He said, “No. You aced the course.” So, I felt very good about that and I got to, and I pulled some strings, and we went to Portugal on the old Constitution and lived it up for six days, and took our dog with us.
SCOTT: What kind of a dog?
STEWART: A beagle. The awfulest kind of dog in the world, but this was a wonderful dog. You don’t walk a beagle, they drag you. So, anyway, my daughter was then 13, and we had our dog, and we went to Portugal, and you know, a wonderful Portuguese employee of the Attache Office met me aboard ship and we were rattling Portuguese together, and he said “you really got it, Mr. Stewart. You’re doing just fine. We’re gonna make out…” Well no. I went to work in that dang Embassy, Jim, and the wonderful Portuguese employees I worked with, they didn’t want me to speak Portuguese with them. They wanted to practice their English on me. I ended up speaking Portuguese to waitresses and bartenders and what have you…
After that, thirty-years and I’m a Chief Warrant Officer-4 and so what I have to do there was a Warrant Officer Act of 1954 which I paid no attention because I was a Master Sergeant at the time, and perfectly happy. But, it said that you had to retire within six-weeks of reaching 30, so, of course, when my tour end in sight came up in Lisbon, I had to apply for retirement, which I did, and I retired under crazy law, Jim, at that time. The services were allowed to give their own physical disability. I had applied for retirement from Lisbon and I had made friends at Torrey Hine Air Force Base and, of course, part of my retirement, you had to take a physical evaluation. And so, this Major who had…incidentally I had developed high blood pressure and I was under medical, I was taking all sorts of crazy medications. In those days they, you know, that technology has changed too. Anyway, this Major said “Mr. Stewart why don’t you come over and I’ll give you a real going over for your physical for your retirement.” So, I did and I remember he put me in the hospital for a week and all these tests and everything, you know.
Finally, after about four days he said “I think you need a night off. Why don’t you go to the club, have a couple of Martinis and a good dinner?” So, I did, and came back and checked back into the hospital again. And…he said “you know, Mr. Stewart you’re gonna get something out of this. I don’t know what.”
And uh, so I went back to Lisbon, of course, to wait for my time to come up, and uh, this had been in February of ’71. And, so the hospital Administrative Officer and another Warrant Officer called me one day and said “Mr. Stewart your records just came back from San Antonio. You’re gonna get 40% disability. Here I served thirty years and I’m gonna get 40% disability. So, I said, “Well, I don’t want to be that sick, but I’ll take it.” And he said “if you feel that that isn’t fair, we’ll send you on DDY to San Antonio and you can plead your case before the medical board.” And I said “No. I’m happy heck.” So, the law that I retired under…I had 30 years in, see, which was 75% of my base, you know your pay, and my pay was that of a Major, as a CWO-4, and uh, so what they did was 40% of my retirement was tax-free. So, that was quite satisfying…so, I get out and I’m drawing…75% and 40% of it is tax free so up comes Curtis Le May…so, he, the Air Force, and I don’t know about the other services, but the Air Force was getting real reckless with this kind of thing. Le May flew a jet aircraft on the day he retired and the Air Force gave him 100% disability when he retired. Congress, said “Ohhhhhhh no, no, no, this can’t go on.” So, boy they passed a law in one heck of a hurry that said only the VA from then on could ever give disability and to evaluate your record. But, they grandfathered it. I’m still getting’ my 40%, tax free.
SCOTT: Well, tell me a couple of other things. You came back to Sacramento. When did you come back to Sacramento?
STEWART: When? I retired…well, you could pick the base you wanted to retire at. And, of course, I pick Mather, because it was not only close to home, but then my wife and I couldn’t think of anywhere else to retire. Of course, we had been here on leave many times over the years that we’d been married and…my father was gone then, but my step-mother was still alive. And so, I picked Mather because we could come all the way across the country on…with government pay on travel, and so, my daughter now 16 and I and my wife and the beagle in the back of car…I ordered a new car delivered at the port—it was—and u, drove cross country and then I then retired at Mather. And I’m back home and, of course, I had never thought that my family—my step-mother was old—and her sister, widowed sister here, and they would go in a little bitty while, you know.
But then, what made me was I, I thought “well, I should do something with the”...I still had my education, see, so my daughter was…well, I sat around here for two years and watched the grass grow so I could mow it, and my daughter was enrolling in Sacramento City College. Well, that’ll be fun. So, I’ll go over and take some courses too. Well, I got hold of a guy named Jim Clure—wonderful fella—I didn’t realize I was gonna have to see a counselor, see, and he was the counselor. So, he lined me up with…he said “you can have fun, but you do this, and this, and this, and you’ll get your AA, see.” So, I spent, let’s see, I spent two-and-a-half years there, I guess. And, I got my AA. “Now,” he said, “You take these units and you go to CSUS and get a BA.” So, I was really cooperating by then, and besides, I saw so many ex-GIs, retired officers, particularly, who were just burnin’ up their 10,000 bucks, see. They were just changin’ courses and, in fact, I made a very good friend—he’s dead now—but, he said “why the heck you wanna do that for, you know?” And I remember a teacher, a girl, that I…they were my peers, see, because, I’m even older than some of the instructors. But, anyway, we’d all have lunch together maybe down here at the old Neptune’s Table was a popular place. And, in those days, when…I remember she said “well maybe you’re just playing, but there’s nothing wrong with being educated too.” So, I went on and I got the BA, and…
SCOTT: What did you get it in?
STEWART: In art. I was pretty good once when I could see. See that painting up there? That’s one of mine. And, I loved to…I did most of my painting…I was gonna say that’s when I was doing my first embassy was in Taipei. When we were still recognizing the Nationalist Chinese, you know? And, I…an inveterate photographer…my wife and I, both. And, so I painted most of the things that I painted in City and CSUS from slides I had taken, and so that’s how that got there.
SCOTT: Quite the renaissance man. So, it says here you spent some time in Graduate School doing a little bit of Graduate work here and there.
STEWART: Oh yes, I got real ticked off. There was a wonderful instructor and he’s gone now, too, named Fred Smith, when I was at City in art. In fact, in water color. And, he said “Bob, you know, when you go to CSUS, the people there are gonna want you to throw away the kind of paintings I’ve admired you for painting.” Boy, he was right. I got out there, and with few exceptions, they didn’t care for my painting at all, although, they were selling very good by then. And, the student union would have art shows and the art department would have shows and every time I was able to sell some things. So…in fact that had started at City with Gregory Condos…he had student art shows at City and I—although I had never taken any courses from…
SCOTT: Did you ever run into Wayne Thieboux along the way?
STEWART: No. No, I, I never did because he had already left CSUS when I got there. But, one terrific instructor named William Allen appreciated my work in water color. And he, he’s quite famous himself. I imagine he’s fully retired now. But, when they built the new County Jail down here and decorated the outside, Allen got $100,000 for that little job. Anyway, I got real disgusted with the painting instructors out there, except with a couple of exceptions like him, so I switched to art history. In fact, my next-door neighbor here is a retired PhD in art history and I took a lot of course from him out there. And, uh, then, so I actually got my BA in art history and then I went on and I, I was still playin and feelin’ good and got 30 more units and all I had to do was write my thesis which half-written and I ran out of gas. Well, I ran out of gas, because, let’s see, my step-mother died and my half-sister and I—we were very close—had to settle her estate. Then her sister…got Alzheimer’s and this was about ’82, ya about ’83 she got Alzheimer’s. My mother died in ’81. Well okay. So, went through that with her, and my wife and I, we were just tied up all the time with it. So, I just said, you know “I quit.” And so, then Eddie and I just started traveling, thank goodness, so we got in a little of that until in ‘89 I started losin’ my eyesight, and I haven’t been able to—no it was ’88 pardon me—I haven’t been able to drive or anything since then. Of course, my wife then, mothered me through nine years of that before she passed away. Often wondered how much I shortened her life, but anyway…
SCOTT: Well, you’ve told quite an amazing story…
STEWART: Quite a fortunate story!
SCOTT: Quite an amazing story. Is there anything you want to add for the record at the very end, here?
STEWART: No, I don’t, but let me tell you something. Jim, I thought about this since you first called me. Would be interested in the story of a life-long friend of mine, but is dead?
SCOTT: You know, I don’t know…
STEWART: You know, I wonder because I, I would like to sure see him in that museum.
SCOTT: Well, what we can do is we can go ahead and we can pass that on to Bill Davies who runs this program and when we’re done talkin’ here I can take his name and any thoughts you have on…
STEWART: Well, the thing is, Kent Link who got me into this with you was always gonna take this guy, you know, have him fill out one too, but unfortunately, he…Kent’s a wonderful friend. I don’t know why he never got around to it, and the gentleman I’m speaking of, Harley R. Hooper, he died on the 28th of August, just this past August. But, his World War II career is worth talking about. He was a bombardier navigator in World War II and on a B-26 which was a twin engine, cigar-shaped…and there was a crew of 10 and on—I’m sure I got my date right, too---August 9th, 1944, they were making a bomb run in support of our landing at Normandy and they got shot up and caught fire, and the pilot said to Harley “You get me to Free French Territory.” And so, Harley did, and uh, they all bailed out except the Pilot. He didn’t get out and he crashed the airplane away from Free French village. And, he got the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously, and Harley got the Silver Star for gallantry and also a banged up knee that he never got over the rest of his life. But, he got ‘em to Free French territory and the Free French took care of him and…later in 1992 he and his wife who I’ve known all my life too, were invited back over there. This French village raised a monument in honor of the pilot and they financed their trip back over there.
SCOTT: Do you recall the pilot’s name?
STEWART: I never knew it. I never knew it. And I don’t know where he was from. He was not from here. Harley then got out in ’45 and uh, became a professional when the Korean War started …he joined the inactive reserve, and that made a regular out of a lot of them, because Harry Truman called up the inactive reserve. So, Harley spent his 30 years in then to. He retired 5 years after I did because he’d had 5 years out when the Korean War started, see. He ended up—the reason why his World War II service alone gave him the Silver Star, 8 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Air Medals. Just in one tour out of England…
Well, I lived a charmed life in the Air Force. A lot of nice people took care of me. And uh, well I had to tell ya about Wintermoot. I wanted to finish that tale because it was really something. Let’s see, I was a Master Sergeant started in 19…Anyway, the Air Force opened a very limited program for Warrant Officers and, I know, I was still in Italy as a Master Sergeant when I took the test the first time and I flunked it. I was in Oletha, Kansas, again an instructor to the reserves, and it came up again, and I took the test and didn’t pass it. Well it’s just as good I didn’t because I had a lot of Master Sergeant friends the rest of my life who passed it that time and they were made Warrants in reserve and were never called up to active duty as a Warrant Officer. Well, as a Master Sergeant then, I was eligible under a program to enlist for base of choice. So, I thought of coming home and enlisting for McClellan, but I’m sitting around the office goin’ through the roster of key personnel, well who’s commander of Everett, Paine Air Force Base in Everett, Washington, but IRF Wintermoot! So, I sit down and write him a letter and, of course, I ask about that beautiful wife of his. She’d been a homecoming queen and all kind of thing. She died of 32 of colorectal cancer. So, there he is. He’s a bachelor now, a widower, and with two kids, and commander of Paine Air Force Base. So, with typical Wintermoot way, and language, he wrote back and said “Get your ass up here. I’m saving the base Sergeant Major’s job for you.” I’m still a Master Sergeant. And, so, I’m there, and Wintermoot says “the Warrant Officer exam’s coming up in November. Get over there and take it.” I said, “Colonel. I’ve taken it twice, flunked it once, didn’t make it the second time.” He said, “That don’t matter. You get over there and take that exam.” Well, I did, and it had gotten so complicated, Jim, and I was never good at Algebra and things, and I didn’t even complete it. And, again, I’m working for a nice little major as a Director of Admin. Services…letter comes in one day and he opens it he says “appointment in the regular Air Force.” That’s Warrant Officer. And he went tearrin’ into Wintermoot, “look here, Bob’s made the regular Air Force as a Warrant Officer.” Wintermoot said, “oh well, I know that, I saw the list in Washington last week.”
…So anyway, I made Warrant Officer and I couldn’t remain there any longer because I couldn’t stay as an officer where I’d been an enlisted man…some silly rule, you know. So, I went to Geiger Air Force Base in Spokane. It’s gone now, of course, like a lot of others…Paine is too. Anyway, went on there, and from there on, just kept volunteering for things and when I got first assignment to Taipei I got this letter, as I say, to come back to Washington for three months of schooling and then we went to Taipei.
SCOTT: Well, you know what, I’m gonna wrap this up right now…
STEWART: Well, I hope so. I’ve gabbed on till, Je…I’m ashamed…we’ve been here an hour-and-a-half.
SCOTT: It has been an extreme pleasure to met…that’s pretty good, that’s pretty good. It’s been an extreme pleasure to be here with Bob Stewart and the time right now is about 1:29, it’s still October the 3rd, and this is James Scott with Bob Stewart and this interview is completed.
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Last updated November 18, 2002. Please send comments, questions, and reports of problems to email@example.com. Composed by: James Christian Scott, CSUS Reference Librarian. Copyright ©: 2001.