by Paul Roberts
Bob Barnett has led a charmed life. During World War II he flew 13 bombing missions in a B-17 (Flying Fortress), enduring German anti-aircraft flak during strategic raids on such targets as submarine pens, docks, harbors, shipyards and marshalling yards in France, Germany and the Low Countries. His pilot always flew with two pistols (a la General Patton) strapped around his waist, figuring that if he were shot down he’d be able to defend himself. What he didn’t realize was that an armed soldier was more likely to be shot because he presented a threat. By the same token, crewmen were always staff or tech sergeants because the Germans respected high non-commissioned officers and treated them better as POWs. He recalled that it was mandatory to shave before going on a mission. Flying at 30,000 feet they had to wear oxygen masks and a beard would have impeded getting it on. Their plane was unheated and unpressurized so they wore heated suits. As a crewman Bob was awarded an Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, as well as a DUC, just for surviving. “The best sight in the world,” he recalled, “was returning from a bomb run over Germany and seeing those white cliffs of Dover.” Even when the plane was riddled with flak, he knew they had made it. That was in keeping with their motto: “We’re working for Uncle Sam until the bombs drop, then you’re working for yourself to get out.”
His outfit, the 305th Bombardment Group, was the first to penetrate Germany from the air and received a DUC (Distinguished Unit Citation) for their precision bombing of an industrial complex in Paris in spite of enemy fighter attacks and heavy flak. His plane took a hit from attacking fighters, but fortunately was not completely disabled. When they returned to their base in England, Bob was able to dig a piece of 88 mm shrapnel out of the fuselage near his radio transmitter, and brought it home as a souvenir. It had just missed him by inches so it had real significance. Two severely wounded pilots from his squadron, on different occasions, received the highest award, the Medal of Honor, for bringing home their shot up aircrafts, saving the wounded crews lives and safely crash landing their planes. After Germany surrendered (VE Day) the group engaged in photographic mapping missions over Europe and North Africa. Every square inch is now in Secret files at the Pentagon, just in case of another conflagration. Needless to say, these are now obsolete. In 70 years the technology has changed so that our satellites can zoom in on a field mouse and identify its location. If they only knew!
Returning home on a Liberty ship, after going through hell on all those bombing raids, Bob received his first wound, ‘mumps.’ What an irony!
Luck has run in his family. His father had been a tank commander during World War I, was in the bloodiest fighting in France, and returned home without a scratch. However, Bob wasn’t entirely free of
mishap. On a turbulent trip back to the States on a Liberty ship, he developed mumps! After all those death-defying experiences, what an irony! But it ended well. Availing himself of the benefits that the GI Bill of Rights afforded, he enrolled at George Washington University, got his BS and went on to graduate with a medical degree at the same school.
He did his residency in Oncology and was chief resident, at Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia. While there he treated Cornelius McGillicuddy, better known as Connie Mack, the fabled manager and owner of the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team, for a broken left hip. Mack told him many stories, but the one that he will always remember was how, as a catcher, he would click his teeth when a pitch came near the batter, giving the illusion that the pitch touched the bat, and was therefore called a strike by the umpire. This happened many times, and he always got away with the ploy. Another time, Bob heard the name MAYO paged and thought that was odd. The Mayo Clinic was the first thing that crossed his mind. He tracked down the call and found it belonged to Charles Mayo, a University of Pennsylvania medical student. “Aren’t you related to the Mayo Clinic family?” Yes, was the answer, and revealed that he was none too happy studying medicine, that he actually hated it. And he wound up being the administrator of the famous Clinic for many years!
As for Bob, his connection with Leisure World® came about by accident 50 years ago when the commanding general at Walter Reed Army Hospital told him they were looking for an administrator for a new medical center in a gated, senior citizen community that was newly built in Silver Spring. He was hired, and the builder, Ross Cortese welcomed him aboard. The two had a long chat at the dedicatory ceremony, discussing the merits of the Leisure World®, and how it would affect the lifestyle of seniors and retirees living in a protective and comfortable setting. One irony, Bob recalls, was “the very first patient, an elderly gentleman, collapsing during the ceremony, of possible dehydration.” At that time there were 85 residents. Today, the figure is closer to 8,500. After six years, he left this position, going into private practice as a surgical oncologist. Now, in retirement, the circle has closed and he is back where he started, this time as a happy Leisure World® resident and homeowner.
All photos courtesy of Paul Roberts – Resident of Leisure World® Maryland