I recently asked Bob Kirkwood, long time Treasurer of the Disabled American Veterans LaBelle Chapter 144, to tell me about himself and his military experience. Entering the Air Force in February 1963, he was sent off to standard basic training at Lackland AFB, TX. He reminisces about those first, early mornings at basic, “One morning we mustered out extra early, around 3:30 a.m. so the DI’s could give us the pleasure of morning calisthenics during a rare snowstorm in San Antonio.” They were clad in thin t-shirts and work trousers. He goes on to say, “The main reason I made it through basic, was because one of my boyhood friends had gone into the military a year before, and I figured if he could make it, I could do it, too.” Letting his obvious competitive nature show, He went on to Lowry AFB, Denver, CO to finish his remaining three weeks of basic, training in electronics, with the goal of, “going on to become a missile launch technician for the Air Force’s MACE missile, silo based in Okinawa, Japan and Germany.”
However, after the end of electronics school during a forceful five mile night march, he tripped into an armadillo hole tearing the cartilage in his left knee. After knee surgery, he was placed on two weeks recuperative leave back at home. Upong his return, he found his class had progressed too far for him to rejoin, so he had to wait for the next class. While waiting, he says, “I spent many lovely days and nights as CQ runner, plenty of KP duty and general area clean-up.” Tragically, just one day before the next class was to begin, his grandfather passed away, and when he went home to join his family at the funeral, he missed the re-start of the class.
A full time orderly, who seemed to have it out for Kirkwood, managed to get him transferred out of missile school and he was consequently sent to Shaw AFB in South Carolina for food service detail. “Needless to say I was terribly disappointed until I found that it was pretty good duty and lots of benefits,” he recalls. “During one shift, when we were unloading a semi, I twisted my back, slipped a disk and was hospitalized again. At this time an anomaly was discovered in my back that would preclude any more time in the service. I declined permanent light duty. I received a medical discharge in July 1964. After several factory jobs, several years as an owner operator truck driver, I went to college and earned my degree in electronics. I spent many years in consumer electronics and then started repairing personal computers in the 80’s. I went back to Edison College for computer programming and ended up building repairing and consulting in the personal computer field.”
Moving to Hendry County in 1999, he eventually received a VA disability rating at 100% and joined the local DAV. He even spent several years on the Swamp Cabbage committee representing the DAV.
“I became very interested in helping many of the real heroes of the military, those suffering many of the afflictions from combat and extended military service. I felt that perhaps my assistance to these men and women would make up for my shortened service. The DAV does and has been helping local veterans with many kinds of assistance. When a vet is in desperate need, with very few options, we try to help out,” says Kirkwood. In 2007 he was elected as the Adjutant for the Chapter, and then when Commander Steve Williams died suddenly in 2011, he was tasked with the job of Treasurer. “With the exception of one year, I have continued in that position to the present,” he reports.
“This group of veterans at our local DAV, along with support from the local American Legion, and VFW do a great deal for veterans, locally. The DAV runs a flea market every Saturday morning from 8:00AM to 1:00PM. The proceeds from this venture provide the funding for our veteran assistance programs.
My service was not exceptional, not even mediocre, but hopefully my participation in the DAV is helping in areas of need, serving those who have served!” says the humble but truly amazing Kirkwood.
Thank you for your service, and all that you do, Bob Kirkwood. We appreciate you.