Editor’s Note: This is the part two of a two-part profile of Clinton County veteran Bob Caldwell, who was born in Samantha and graduated from Leesburg High School. The first part of the story was published in Friday’s Times-Gazette.
Fighting, and worse
On Okinawa, Bob Caldwell recalled being bivouaced on a hillside between the airfield and a hospital tent emblazoned with a giant red cross. One night a Japanese aircraft strafed the field and dropped a bomb in the middle of the red and white symbol, killing all 100 inside the tent.
Bob’s platoon was dispatched to the place where the wounded had been taken for triage before being transported to the Navy hospital ship awaiting them offshore. The platoon’s assignment: “Pick up and bag the body parts and pieces that littered the countryside.”
The area still smelled of the phosphorus from the bomb and the stench seemed to linger in his nostrils. Bob Caldwell said: “I couldn’t eat for days afterward.”
The Battle of Okinawa went on for three months and six days (March 25, 1945 to July 2, 1945). Code named Operation Iceberg, it was another costly campaign. The U.S. suffered approximately 49,000 casualties, including 12,520 killed in action.
An event Caldwell recalls when he could easily have become a statistic, were it not for an insistent buddy, came after the island of Okinawa was secured. In an attempt to bring a little relaxation and entertainment to the war-weary troops, a movie was being shown on a clear calm evening.
One of Bob’s pals kept encouraging him to join the rest of the platoon for the movie rather than lounging around in his bunk, as he wanted. Finally, his friend prevailed and Bob went down the hill and joined the assembled Marines. Shortly after the movie began, the calm was broken by the sound of an aircraft followed by the air raid siren.
One of the “never surrender” pilots of the Japanese Imperial Air Force strafed the tents where the men were berthed. When Bob returned with the rest of the moviegoers he found a large piece of shrapnel on what was left of his cot, exactly where he laid his head.
Caldwell’s Company pulled back to the island of Guam, where they regrouped, replenished their supplies and prepared for Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of Japan. Downfall was divided into two parts, Operation Olympic and Operation Coronet.
Bob was to be a part of Operation Olympic, the first incursion — an amphibious landing on the third-largest island of Japan’s five main islands, Kyushu. Their mission: “Secure the island for a forward air base.” Anticipated casualties for Operation Downfall: Upwards of 500,000.
As horrific as the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were and the human toll paid by the Japanese civilian population, those two bombs potentially saved a half million American lives, including a 20-year-old Bob Caldwell. Japan surrendered unconditionally in August of 1945.
The war, however, was not over for Caldwell.
On to China
Marines were needed on mainland China to try to thwart the spread of communism in the war-ravaged country.
While it was an armed conflict, the most prevalent threat to American service personnel was kidnapping. There was imminent danger for every G.I. who left the base, so when Bob was invited to dinner with the family of one of the Chinese workers on the base, his lieutenant ordered him to stay on the base, possibly averting Caldwell’s kidnapping.
Most all the cooks and food service workers were Chinese and spoke little, if any, English. If the Marines liked you, they were always willing to help. The men in Bob’s platoon took a liking to a young Chinese boy and decided they would teach him some English.
Everything was fine until the boy addressed a Marine captain with a less-than-flattering salutation. The officer called it “Marine English” and so, consequently, that was the end of the English lessons.
Finally separated from active duty, a cramped and crowded troopship to San Diego and a crowded train to Cincinnati and Caldwell was again a civilian. He reunited with his family on Mother’s Day 1946.
The Leesburg High School Class of 1944 sent 10 of its graduates to war; eight were either severely wounded or killed in action.
Back to civilian life in Samantha, it was time to find a job. Bob worked at several occupations, including driving a dump truck at a stone quarry, before going to work for Cincinnati Milacron. He spent 17 years in the shop before landing the position of security guard at the Wilmington plant.
During his 37 years with the company, Bob never called in sick until he came down with pneumonia in 1988. He retired as soon as he was well enough.
In retirement, the Caldwells enjoyed traveling, visiting Alaska twice, Hawaii eight times and making 30 trips to the Great Smoky Mountains. Also, Bob loves the Cincinnati Reds and goes to as many games as he can.
The ol’ ball game
Knowing his passion for the game, his sons invited him to go to a game and enjoy the fantastic seats they had tickets for; he jumped at it. Prior to the game, Great American Ballpark’s speakers bellowed out, over the din of the 20,000-plus fans, the name of the “Hometown Hero For The Day” as the Jumbotron was suddenly filled with the person’s image sitting in the stands.
It was a Samantha dairy farmer’s son, Leesburg class of 1944 graduate, World War II Marine, Cincinnati Milacron security guard, proud father and grandfather, six-year Clinton County Veterans Service commissioner, 58-year member of the American Legion, member of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6710, 60-year Mason, founding member of Marine Corps League, Pvt. Robert B. Crites Detachment 995, Robert W. Caldwell.
A standing ovation ensued and during the game more than 20 people sought him out to say, “Thank you for your service.”
A look around the Caldwell’s front room — adorned with Marine Corps plaques, pictures, memorabilia and USMC symbols — and you know you have entered the home of a United States Marine.
When asked about his service, the 95-year-old Caldwell stated crisp and clear: “I would rather be a Marine than president of the United States!”
Bob’s three sons are also veterans of military service: Ron, USAF; and Randy and Rob, USMC.
Caldwell’s brother Dean was killed in a construction accident in 1983. Also, all statistics in this story are from Department of Defense published records.
The writer, Paul Butler, is a Wilmington resident, U.S. Navy veteran, and a class of 2020 inductee of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame. Last September, Clinton County recognized Paul for his “dedication and commitment in military service as well as his exceptional post military advocacy and volunteerism for the veteran community.”