Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Bob


This is what he looked like when i first met him. I was walking across the diner floor and he stood up and blocked my way. "Hi, my name is Bob Shotwell, and I think it is about time that you and I got to know one another.".


That was the beginning of a long, close friendship. Bob interviewed me and wrote a piece that ended up in the Oregonian. Afterwards, we would meet up almost weekly and just talk...about life and stuff. He was an engaging, friendly, loveable guy.


I was there the day the Oregonian let him go. They wanted fresh young perspective. I told him that he had a case for age discrimination and he just laughed. He was above such things.


He introduced me to many of his friends, and I, in turn, did the same. We had so many things in common and our ideas of life seemed to ride the same rails....all except one. He was a Democrat and I a Republican. He used to say, "Lyle, my car steers to the left and yours to the right.". Then I would say, "But together, my friend, the car will go straight down the road. We just might have to buy a few more tires.". We felt that our friendship was a classic example of what our republic should be like.


In the early 90's, I was a approached by a man named Dennis Maloney. Dennis was putting together a special day for Bob. Deschutes County was going to honor him. Dennis asked me to be on the committee and I agreed. From there I met the sheriff, Darrell Davidson and Mike Myers both of who were on the same committee. Collectively, we put the day together. The first time that Deschutes County ever set a day exclusively for a single person. The day started at Jake's and finished at Sunriver with a lunch at Bend Golf.

Ten years later, over a cup of coffee, we decided that it was time that another person should receive that same honor.  We reached out to various friends in the county administration and became the steering committee for R.L. Garrigus day.  Every week, we would get together and scheme.  I found something new in him there…an extreme organization that I did not have.  His files were perfect.   All his I’s were dotted and T’s crossed.  Mine were yet another stack on my desk and anyone that has seen my desk will understand that one. 

Bob had some health issues in the late 90’s.  He needed to do some medical appointments but his distance from town made it hard.  So, Judy and I invited him into our home.  I learned of his illness that had haunted his life….diabetes.  He even had to get up in the middle of the night, check his sugar, and eat a half of a cheese sandwich.  He did that with the same Bob Shotwell charm.  We found ourselves laughing over stories in the middle of the night. 

Bob found himself without work but that never deterred him.  He applied at a new local place called Isky.  He was placed in a room with another very close friend, Frank Patka. 

Now, I had many people who I called friends, but only a handful of ones that I felt close enough to to confide in.  At the time, I recall only 3 or 4 and these two were in the group.  And their personalities were very similar.    In fact, the had one someone might call a nitro glycerin relationship.  Apart, the two chemicals are good but workable.  Together, they are explosive…..in their case, in a good way….except for Isky.  From their jokes, stories, and antics, the work was not getting done and Isky had to separate the two men that disrupted the room from their tedious work. 

In 2004, my world around me crashed when I found out that the truck stop was to be sold and closed.  I had the information but could not pass it on to my crew and I dropped into a deep depression.  Bob was not aware but found out the morning that it was announced officially.  He drove straight to my house to inform me that the news was out.  “I am here on an official capacity to inform you that I have started a new steering committee.  It is the Let’s get Lyle started on his new path of life committee.  I am the president.  It is time for you to get going, my friend.”.  His encouragement helped get me out of my funk and was a key element in where I am today. 

When the movie, Saving Private Ryan came out, Bob and I talked of going together to watch it.  I knew much of Bob’s story by that time.  “Why don’t you go watch it first.”, he said.  So I did.  We met up afterwards and he asked me if I felt he should go.  “Do you want to relive it?”, I asked.  “No!”, he stated.  “Then I would not go to see it.”, I replied.  The beginning of the story was just exactly as he had described his experience on Omaha beach.  Bob never did see that movie.

                                                   Bob's name written in the sands of Omaha Beach

With me taking over Jake’s and him getting older and needing to stay closer to home, our relationship remained strong but because of the distance we saw each other less.  I kept trying to get him online but his hard rock and pencil organization could not wrap around the new electronic age.  We kept together with phone calls and occasional visits. 

He did have a weekly radio show with now Deschutes County commissioner Tony DeBone and they invited me and another Bob, Bob Dent, down to be on it.  Bob Dent and I had been introduced back in the nineties and Bob Shotwell and I went to his retirement party from the Oregon State Police.  It was the last time that I was interviewed by him on air.

Then came the Band of Brothers and my emergence as a veteran.  Bob knew but only a few others.  I was not vocal about it nor did I wear any attire.  I persuaded Bob to come to one of the meetings and I believe that he did join both our group and the new one formed in LaPine. 

Bob Maxwell had a stone from Omaha Beach and he asked me to join him in presenting that stone to Bob at a meeting of the LaPine group.  Bob had met Bob at our group and this cemented a closer relationship.  I remember feeling how blessed that I was for being able to call both of them friend.

After Ray came to me with the project of getting the WW2 guys stories out in a first named basis, Bob was one of the first ones that I thought of.  It would be easy…after all, Bob was a awarded journalist.  He gave me his first draft and I remember when I edited it feeling it so cool that I was actually editing a twice Pulitzer nominated writers words.  I sent back my few small changes and he agreed to them. 

I got another friend and from back in the nineties, co-Redneck of the Year with Bob, Rick Steber, in for the first presentation because I wanted to add a creative spark to it with his ‘Cowboy’ flare.  Rick adjusted a small part of the story that later became the lighter side of it.  Bob had volunteered to go over to the Pacific Theater but did not have to because of the Japanese surrender.  Rick added that the Japanese found that Bob was coming…and surrendered. 

Bob rode with me in two Veteran Day parades.  The second was his last.  He said that it was just too hard to hold his bladder that long.  I understood and it was actually part of the reason that additional out houses were placed at the beginning of the parade.  Just too many of the older guys were needing them. 

LaPine decided to formally honor Bob at an event at the High School.  I was asked to present his story there.  It was quite an honor to step up on that stage and read it in front of him.  Bob sat with Bob Maxwell on the stage as we presented him with his honors. 



Our visits now became fewer.  The LaPine group invited me down to share his story with them yet one more time and I would see Bob only when he came in for doctors visits. 

Bob got brought into the hospital in the middle of the night by ambulance and I ended up shuttling his wife Carol home in the middle of the night and then a few days later, taking Bob home.  That was to be the last time that I visited his home in LaPine. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpCjXK1e24s   (cut and paste link into your computer to see video)

When I was approached by the new TV station in town called Zolomedia to help them put together some veterans with their stories called ‘War Stories’, Bob was our first choice.  They wanted to quickly get the series off of the ground and Bob was chosen because of his background in media.  It was felt that he would understand what they needed quicker and his story was very compelling. 

That was when I met his son, Mike.  I might have met him earlier but I don’t recall.  I remember me thinking of how he reminded me of Bob when he was younger.  Mike did a tremendous job of assisting in the presentation and actually submitted a correction that I later realized must have been correct.  Bob was a combat engineer.  That meant he could not have been in the very first wave at Omaha because they needed to help secure the beach head so that the engineers could help with engineering the same.  He was still under the same severe attack however and did lose his best friend to a German 88 shell.

I was at a Welcome Home Vietnam Veteran event when I got a call from Carol, his wife.  Carol told me that Bob was in the hospital and she feared that he would not be coming home.  Mark Wirges and I went up to see him.  Although weak, Bob was still showing his ‘Bob Shotwell’ charm and humor.  The nurse needed to do a procedure for him and asked him to swing his legs out the side of the bed.  “I will do anything you ask me, honey’, he charmed. 

The next day when I visited, I found that he was transferred up to the 4th floor.  I visited him a few times up there with our mutual friend, Frank and my daughter, Trinity, who had known Bob from her child hood days and had come to love him also.  Bob shared with me how he had gotten angry with the nurse staff.  That was the first recall that I have ever had of anger from this great man.  I had been with him through many angering things in his life and he had always held his head up and corrected me when I got angry for him.  He once looked at me and said, “You know, if you cannot keep a smile on your face and find laughter in your situation, life is no longer worth living.”. 

Mike showed back up and stayed by his fathers side.  When Bob was transferred to the rehab center, Mike was there to help him with that transition and then to encourage him to work hard so that he could go home.  It was there that I saw Bob’s character in his son the most.  Mike took his spot by his fathers side and then was there for all around him also.  Mike would insure that both Bob and his room mate, Frank (A Korean special forces veteran), got to the lunch room and back to their rooms.  Mike noticed when others around him needed help and jumped in.  The nurses told him that he could get a job there anytime he wanted it. 

On the day that I went to Eugene with the WW2 veterans, Mike called me and told me that it had been decided that Bob would be allowed to go home on the following Tuesday.  I visited a very happy Bob who was told me daily that he was going home. 

Our last real encounter was on that Sunday morning.  I came in and found Bob in the lunch room.  I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat with him.  He was hunched over and chewing on his oranges that sat on the side of the plate.  I asked him why he was not eating his breakfast.  “The nurse took my teeth and she did not bring them back.  I cannot eat that without my teeth.”.  I found the nurse and found that she had brought his teeth back in a jar by his bed.  I retrieved the jar and placed it in front of Bob.  He placed his lowers in and was struggling with his uppers.  I reached over to help and he hit my hand.  He did not want the help and did not want me touching his teeth.  We both looked at each other and laughed.  It was our last laugh together. 

The next day, I was involved in a service for another friend in Lapine.  Just before that service, I got the call.  Bob was gone.  I was in a flag line at that service but remember little about it as my mind bounced between the memories of my two friends. 

I sat in silence at my desk that evening before going in to play poker.  Frank found me there and we talked a bit of our old friends passing. 

The next day, I had surgery.  In a weakened state as I came out of the affects of the drugs used to put me under and keep me pain free, a wave of memories hit me and my tears flowed as I grieved for my old friend.  I felt that I had not done enough.  I recall, however fuzzy, my daughter in law, Crystal, massaging my shoulders and telling me that I had. 

My friend was gone. 

But I will hold those memories high and fly them like a flag.  Bob was gone, but the memories of the great BS of the Northwest will live on. 

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