My Uncle Bob (John R. Hager) the oldest of my Dad’s four siblings, passed away last Friday. The “R” is for Robert and everyone called him “Bob.”
I have only recently learned of some of the details his full life. After high school, he helped build a naval base in the Midwest. He then enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to the Armed Guards. Uncle Bob went on to be involved in the Aleutian Island Campaign and served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of battle. Remarkably, he made a complete trip around the world during the war years.
The Armed Guards were stationed on Merchant Marine ships steaming through dangerous open seas. These ships were seen as easy targets by our enemies and the assignment as an Armed Guardsman was dreaded because of the constant danger and because the merchant ships were among the slowest to receive updated equipment. Early on in the war some ships only had a few machine guns and painted telephone poles to replicate the barrels of larger guns.
Uncle Bob and Aunt Lois were married for 65 years and had three children (David, Verlee, and Daryl) and a bevy of grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren.
They owned and operated the school buses for the small town school district of King City, Missouri and the surrounding rural area for 26 years. When I was a kid, I remember always seeing that fleet of buses in the field behind their home. They kept some of the older buses; I suppose to fill in as needed or to be used for parts. I was fascinated to see the evolution of school bus design and engineering. My cousin Daryl and I would go from bus to bus playing around.
My older cousin, David would drive around in their open field long before he was old enough to have a driver’s license. Of course I loved riding along and thought it was very cool.
Uncle Bob had a shop on the property where he would do whatever needed to be done to keep the buses running, including complete overhauls. I think that may have had a significant effect upon the boys. David went on to design, build and haul the sleds used in tractor pulls all around the county. Daryl went on to become an engineer.
I found out that he was a city bus driver in St. Joseph, Missouri long before my Dad was and he, if fact, helped get Dad the job, who went on to become dispatcher, manager of the bus garage, assistant transportation manager for the city and finally transportation manager.
Uncle Bob was a great story teller and had some pretty interesting exploits in hauling the high school sports teams to games and tournaments and in taking kids all over the country on various trips. It’s no wonder they became huge RV-ers upon retirement, spending their winter months in Florida, Arizona, or Texas.
Only a short time ago he was still tinkering the shop and wielding his chain saw and he did remarkably well with the cancer treatment.
He had a mischievous twinkle in his eye and knew the value of a well told story. My Dad nailed it in referring to his brother as witty. From what I could tell, he maintained that wittiness wherever he was, even as he fought his battle with cancer.
Last May, while back in Missouri, we sat down for a visit in their comfortable home which was just like I remembered it. He was realistic about his diagnosis of lung cancer, but still had a wonderful attitude. He talked openly about the trauma of war he experienced in WWII and how he enjoyed travel and encouraged us to travel while we were “young.”
He would never miss an opportunity to bring a little humor to the situation. He was 89 years old at that time and had been through the stress of cancer treatment, so he was bit weakened, yet he carried several tools in his the pockets of his shorts. He humorously pulled them out one-by-one, saying, “You never know when you might need a ….”
It is a sad thing to watch the leaves fall from the family tree. Patty’s parents are long gone. My parents are quite old and in failing health. Most of the aunts and uncles have passed on too. Besides missing them, I feel like it puts more pressure on me to step up and assume a bigger role as the emerging family patriarch for my branch of the family tree. So I have begun to move into this new role of passing on the memories to my children and grandchildren.