Hillsboro resident and World War II veteran Bob Morrison will reach the century mark of birthdays on Saturday, June 8, and said his secret to a long life is eating right, having the occasional nip of Scotch and not smoking, something he gave up in 1947.
The world that he was born into back in 1919 ran at a pace largely dictated by the horse and buggy. Morrison told The Times-Gazette that seeing things transition from being horse-driven to cars with engines measured in horse power is the biggest change that stands out in his mind over the years.
“My first car was a 1943 Pontiac and they only made a few of them because of the war,” he said. “I happened to get one that a farmer had and it had straw and hay all over the inside so I had to clean it up.”
When he was born, television was still a gleam in the eye of electronics engineers and radio was still in its infancy. Morrison remembered that there were many who didn’t own a radio and those that did had to rely on a large dry-cell battery to make it work.
One of the first challenges faced by those like Morrison that made up what journalist Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation” was the Great Depression, and he said though his family came through it OK, he remembers never going hungry, but how poor everyone was.
“My dad was a teamster and drove horses for a living, but he had a bunch of cattle so we always had meat to eat,” he said. “We lived on a farm that we rented, but that first year I can remember living on a lot of cornbread, milk and sugar, and if we were lucky, beans and cornbread.”
The Sault Sainte Marie native lived in the county seat of Chippewa County, Michigan until he joined the Army on March 15, 1942, taking time out to marry his fiance, Rita, on Feb. 26, 1943, sharing her life for the next 56 years until her death on Nov. 12, 2009 at the age of 87.
“I was making all of $21 a month when I went in,” he said. “And after we got married, she followed me back to Camp Hood in Texas, then up to Albany, Oregon where my daughter was born, and when we got to Ft. Lewis in Washington, we knew I’d be going overseas before too long.”
With the 75th anniversary of the D-day invasion being observed Thursday, Morrison said he was “lucky that we missed it by about two weeks.”
“We landed on the beach and I drove a tank destroyer,” he recalled. “But when they dropped the ramp down to let us off, it just kept going down into the water, and the biggest bulldozer I ever saw rolled up with a load of sand and eventually we got the gate down so we could drive off.”
He said they picked up their equipment in Great Britain, then crossed the English Channel and landed at the same spot where two weeks before, the largest military naval, air and land operation in history had taken place.
“After we left the beach at Normandy, we took a right and headed south toward Brest, then we went through Germany and ended up in Austria,” he said.
Morrison spent 18 months in Europe, while back home his new wife and baby daughter went to live with her parents in Columbus, — a trip of five and a half days by train — and worked at the Curtis-Wright aircraft factory, painting the interiors of the tail section of warplanes being built there.
But, he said, his wife began to suffer a reaction to the paint being used and was re-assigned to a different job, saying that it bothered her hands for some years to come.
After the war ended in 1945, Morrison and his wife settled into stateside jobs in Columbus, welcoming a baby boy to the family two years later, and then traveling and taking in the sights and attractions of the country by way of a travel trailer pulled by an original Chevrolet Suburban.
The couple retired in 1979 and lived a quiet life in suburban Columbus.
Five years after his wife’s death from cancer, Morrison had to be hospitalized with a blood clot in his lung and since his son had moved to Hillsboro, he decided to sell his home in Columbus after his recovery and move to the Lilly Hill condominiums to be closer to his son.
He bucks the stereotype of being elderly and technically challenged, and uses his computer to regularly keep in touch with friends all over the country.
However, he said one of the shortcomings of a long life can be seen in the number of friends that have passed on over the years, since when he began using his computer he had close to 30 people he kept in touch with and now that number has dwindled to only a few.
Everyone is welcome to help Highland County’s newest centenarian have a happy 100th birthday by mailing him a card with their well-wishes. His mailing address is Bob Morrison, 700 E. Main St., Hillsboro, Ohio 45133.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.