ANSONIA — Robert E. “Bob” Lee of Ansonia, who turned 93 on Tuesday, is a man of many words. He’s been there and done it all — most all of it, anyway, especially when he was serving his country.
Born June 11, 1926, at Bakers Store, near Greenville, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1943, which led to his 23 years of military service.
Here is where “done it all” comes in.
“I got in D-Day in the (U.S. Navy) Armed Guard,” he said. “We knew about the invasion, and that is where they put a gun on every merchant ship. I was one of the few first ones to go into the Armed Guard out of Brooklyn, N.Y.”
Lee said he trained at the Naval Training Station at the Great Lakes, and went right into the Armed Guard.
He continued to serve in the Armed Guard for almost four years, going from ship to ship, whether it be Navy, crew, or cargo ship.
His wish was to serve on a submarine, but was told, ‘No, you’re going to the Armed Guard.”
He’s glad he did.
“I got to see more of the world whereas I might not have,” he said. “We went to a lot of places — to Burma with the Fighting Tigers, protecting America from the Chinese. We took supplies to the troops on D-Day in the heart of France behind the line to unload. We supplied the line but not to the front.”
After they returned to the United States, they got sent to Uruguay where a battleship got stuck in the harbor.
“All you could see were all kinds of ships for D-Day, you name it,” Lee said. “You didn’t have time to think about where you were going to go. Every place I went it was ‘hit, hit, go.’ After Uruguay, we went to New York and packed up a ship and went to such places as Liverpool, England, and India….this was all up through 1946.”
His military career also seen him going from the Panama Canal to California to load up supplies and wondering where they were going next. Then, they found out when someone got on the P.A. system and announced, “All leaves are canceled. We are pulling out tomorrow morning. Now hear this, you’re headed for the South Pole.”
According to Lee, they took enough provisions for three years, but only stayed for three months.
Lee, who was a BSN 2 in charge of a crew, said he had it made because he was in cahoots with the captain.
“I was his right-hand man,” he said. “If he had a pass, I got a pass, and so on.”
Temperatures were 60 below zero there.
“There was no moisture; it was a dry snow,” Lee described it. “It was dangerous in areas. “When we unloaded, we had a crew out on ice.”
One time, the spring on one of their gasoline barrels got caught on something and it struck Lee in the forehead area, knocking him over. But, after the wound was attended to, he went back to work in five hours.
“When we started to come out of the ice we had a north wind for a breaker,” he recalled. “A small iceberg broke off the rudder and laid there. There was a big hole in the side of the ship and we patched it up. Two-thirds of the iceberg was below the water. The north wind took us to New Zealand.”
Lee said when the war was over, the U.S. Navy did away with the Armed Guard. He came back in 1947, and subsequently became activated with the Ohio National Guard in Greenville.
“They were going to send me to Korea, but I didn’t have to go, because I had already served enough time overseas,” he said. “I stayed in the U.S., training people for overseas duty. Training (cadre) was worse than fighting. How do you train five men with two left feet? One time, though, I had four out of five who were the best crew.”
Lee, who came out of the military a master sergeant, said he trained all around the United States.
“I’ve been there, done that,” he said. “I took all the learning I could get as well.”
The highlight of his time in the service, he said, was when he worked with Admiral Richard Byrd’s son on ice.
“He was a nice guy. He had a goatee clear to his waist with icicles in it,” the Ansonia man remembered. “I slept out on the ice in a five-man pup tent with a pot-bellied stove inside to keep warm.”
Lee said he has coming a Golden Eagle Award, guessing that it’s for when he crossed the Antarctic equator.
“Very few people have been there,” he said.
Lee said he before he was discharged in 1947, he had to serve additional months to get a job done.
He said today, he’s still on call, pulling a card out of his wallet, which indicates the expiration date is “Indefinite.”
“Everything that Buck Rogers had in the paper is taking place today,” he said. “Everything that happened to me, the Lord was directing me on what to do.”
After he returned home, he worked in a body shop and was in a couple of supervisory positions in local factories, including Cadillac-Gage and New Idea in Coldwater. He said he also helped start the plant in New Madison.
He and his wife, the former Pat Long, were married New Year’s Eve in 1948, after having met through mutual friends.
They are the parents of three sons, Nick of Ansonia, Rick who is the Ansonia mayor and Rob, who lives in Toledo.
Rob served in the Air Force and Lee has three grandsons who have served: Justin, Rick’s son, who is making it a career; and Andrew and Jared, Nick’s sons.
“My brother Charles got shot twice in the war,” Lee recalled. “He’s gone now but was living in Louisiana when he died.”
Lee, the son of the late Herbert and Cecil Lee and the only one of his siblings left, is a member of the Ansonia American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Rossburg United Methodist Church.
His hobby was fishing when he had the time. He even fished while serving on the ships.
He answered “No” when asked if he feels like he’s 93.
“The only thing I’m concerned with is what is going to happen to this country,” he said. “It’s what I live for and what I fought for. It isn’t going to last much longer the way it’s going. There is too much mud-slinging and nobody working.”
He said he doesn’t go to the doctor much, but does take herbs.
Lee repeated that he has no regrets serving his country.
“I couldn’t have paid for where I’ve been or what I’ve been,” he said. “Time flies when you’re doing all that.”