WWII veteran shares war stories with young history buff
WORTHINGTON — Bob Roos, 96, always enjoys telling a good story.
A World War II veteran, Roos entered the service in July 1942 and served 40 months in a whirlwind campaign that took him all over the world.
Roos’s audience on a quiet Friday afternoon in Worthington was 9-year-old Dylan Schuett. Schuett has a passion for war history, and wants to open a war history museum one day, so hearing the veteran’s story firsthand was an experience he couldn’t pass up.
As a young man, Roos couldn’t swim, but he had to learn quickly because he was headed for the Navy.
“The initial of your last name had a lot to do with your destination,” Roos said. “When I graduated from aerial gunnery school, they went down the list and took eight or nine guys to be radio men for bombers.”
And as his last name started with an R, Roos was destined to be a radio man. After a stint on a torpedo bomber squadron, he was sent to Naval Air Station Alameda, where he worked with radios on dive bombers, jet fighters and torpedo bombers.
Roos worked his way up to Petty Officer, Second Class, and with his retail experience at Silverberg’s in Worthington, he was given a parts shop for radio and radar equipment, running a crew of three men.
“When planes were in, if they had radio problems, the pilot would leave a note, and I would take the three guys there and assign them planes to work on,” Roos said. “Usually it was to change a receiver or homing device, maybe an antenna.”
After working with radio equipment for awhile, the communications officer asked Roos if he wanted to move on to something else. He said yes.
“So I traded my whites and blues for jungle green,” Roos said.
And just like that, Roos was off to Hawaii to train with the Marines in the jungle.
However, this didn’t last very long. During his training, he walked into a temporary restroom and felt something large crawling along his nose.
“I walked in there and felt something bite me and I had great pain all night,” Roos said. “I went to the doctor, but this was the Marines.”
“Oh, that’s just an insect bite, it’ll go away,” the doctor told him.
It didn’t go away, and the next morning, intense pain combined with 102-degree heat had made things intolerable, so Roos was sent to the hospital.
After being unconscious for a few days, Roos woke up in an 80-bed hospital ward. He asked the nurse if he could get up and take a shower.
“I took a shower and shave and I felt much better,” Roos said.
The doctor gave him three options. Go back to Alameda and have surgery, get a medical discharge, or return to his outfit in the Navy.
“My outfit was like my family, so I said ‘I want to join my outfit,’” Roos said.
“I probably wouldn’t do the same thing, but do what you want to do,” replied the doctor.
When Roos regrouped with his outfit, he got a warm welcome from his communications officer.
“I’m sure glad you’re back — you and I are the only ones that have A and B blood,” the officer said. “And with where we’re going … we’re gonna need each other.”
They were going to Iwo Jima to assist the Marines in what would be one of the bloodiest battles fought by U.S. forces in the Pacific.
Their ship departed for the Japanese island in the center of a convoy that included a destroyer escort on each of its four sides.
The ship had safes in the lower deck full of money, for what purpose Roos wasn’t sure. The commanding officer decided first and second class petty officers should spend two hours a day watching the safe if they weren’t doing anything else.
Eventually it was Roos’s turn, so a seaman opened the curtain to welcome him into the deck below.
“Good evening, sir,” he said, giving Roos a salute.
Roos held back a grin and walked down and to the lower deck. He sat there for awhile before he heard the Seaman call down. At this point, the Seaman realized he had saluted a non-commissioned officer.
“Was that you I saluted?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes it was,” Roos replied, after which he was met with a series of bad words.
“That was one of my memories, being saluted as a second class petty officer, probably the only second class petty officer that got saluted during the war,” Roos said.
Shortly after, Roos went to the top deck as the convoy had encountered Japanese submarines and was releasing depth charges.
The ship reached the island and anchored off of Mount Suribachi. Roos and the other men got into the landing craft and made their way toward the beach. The men were to dig in on the beach for the night.
Some of the men were cursing when they were digging because their shovels were running into obstacles. When the sun came up, they found out what it was. Hands and feet were sticking out of the ground, and it was clear their shovels were hitting dead Japanese soldiers.
Roos set up shop further along the island. He and a young electrician made a foxhole in a bomb crater. Right behind them, the Marines operated a massive Howitzer gun.
The Howitzer’s giant missiles came in large wooden boxes, and Roos figured they could be useful. So he asked if he could have the wooden boxes, and with them he constructed two walls. The makeshift shelter made do for six or seven nights, before the men were finally given tents.
Roos worked on a couple of planes during that time — a four-engine Navy bomber and a torpedo bomber. He said things were going pretty well, until enemy planes started to attack their location.
“When they dropped the bombs, and all of the anti-aircraft guns opened fire, I thought the whole island blew apart,” Roos said.
Japanese planes were gunned down in a series of loud, fiery explosions that lit up the night sky. One plane survived the onslaught, and Roos watched anxiously as it circled around his location before it was shot down by a Navy night fighter.
The U.S. victory at Iwo Jima meant the war was nearly over for Roos. Outside of a nasty bug bite, he had made it out unscathed. He was honorably discharged Nov. 5, 1945.
After the war, Roos returned to Worthington, and worked at the Daily Globe for 39 years, working his way up from press operator to advertising manager.
He and his wife, Marian, have been happily married for 69 years.