Even at age 10, Bob Beck knew he wanted to become an Army officer. His dream was West Point, but the physical requirements – namely, his height – granted only “provisional” acceptance.
Typically, he didn’t take “no” for an answer, so Beck entered the University of Oregon’s ROTC program, which became his gateway to a 26-year military career.
Serving his country was a family tradition for Beck. Relatives had served in the American Revolution, Civil War and World War II. His father belonged to the VFW, his father-in-law to the American Legion.
“I had three heroes growing up: my dad, Audie Murphy and Dwight D. Eisenhower,” Beck said.
Assigned to Georgia’s Fort Benning for Ranger training, Beck nearly died from heatstroke on day five. He was medevacked five times in total.
“It’s something I continued to battle with,” he said.
After Ranger training, he was in combat engineers officer school, before beginning a 1970-74 tour in Germany. As Ranger Infantry – “the Army’s ‘bad boys,’” he quipped – and Combat Engineer officer, Beck became senior platoon leader for the “bridge-builders brigade” – a combat engineer battalion tracing its nickname and reputation to WWII.
Building float bridges across rivers, largely at night, the battalion participated in “bridging exercises” with Army platoons.
One night, Beck’s crew was helping assemble a new float bridge when “this walking tree (an impressively camouflaged lieutenant) comes up who’s in charge of a scout platoon for an armored division that’s due to cross that bridge in 30 minutes,” Beck said. That ratcheted up the urgency – and soldiers’ stress levels.
Over time, the demands of nighttime bridge-building took its toll. Beck said he once “fell asleep standing up and fell over in the mud.”
He married his wife of 46 years, Alma, in May 1974 while on leave between Germany and his second overseas tour, in Korea. They’d met the previous November, when Beck was assigned to help the young program director plan a Christmas party.
In Korea, Beck hoped to be attached to a battalion that allowed families to accompany them. But no: “I landed in the one battalion stationed in the DMZ (demilitarized zone),” he said.
After five years in the Army and 21 in the Reserves, Beck retired as lieutenant colonel. He said he loved serving while working a variety of civilian jobs, and his connection with fellow soldiers remained strong.
“My bosses noticed that whenever a veteran came into the store, we were immediately friends,” Beck said. “When you’ve gone through the same kind of experiences, you’re brothers: brothers-in-arms.”
His last six years before retiring, Beck taught at the Army’s Command and General Staff College, ultimately returning to active duty. But two years before his planned retirement, military force reductions cut anyone with 25-plus years of service and two-plus years in the same job. “So I was out,” he said.
Later, Beck learned he was eligible to join the VFW – and for a combat medal – after his DMZ assignment was reclassified as a combat zone. “We would lose several people a month, and an American every other month or so,” he said.
A Dexter resident, Beck has researched area VFW posts and chose Creswell’s because he was impressed with how active members were.
“I joined just as one of the ‘worker bees,’” he said. But his experience, energy and public speaking ability soon propelled him into leadership – first as junior commander, then commander.
Now, as Creswell’s public information officer, past post commander, All-American 2018-19, former state delegate advocating veterans’ issues to Congress and new District 13 commander, Beck has seen his small-but-mighty post rack up district and national accolades.
But to its members, those awards simply signify progress: “A lot of veterans are struggling out there, and we want to do something for them,” Beck said. “I see the VFW as a way to continue serving our country.”
And his community. Beck works with students, mentors at-risk youth, was a Scout leader, was involved with orphanages in Germany and Korea, and more.
“It’s rewarding working with kids,” Beck said. “Any time I can get out in front of young people and help guide them and continue to develop the patriotism we need in this country, that’s important.”
Creswell’s Veterans Memorial will be silent this year.