OKEECHOBEE – Veteran Robert F. Glenn is a familiar face in Okeechobee, having served as postmaster for many years before he retired in 1980. After he left the military, he worked for the Railway Mail Service, the transportation branch of the U.S. Post Office. He ran the trains for 20 years before becoming supervisor of the Jacksonville post office. Later, he was moved to the Miami post office, and finally was promoted to postmaster in Okeechobee. He and his wife, Josephine, live in Okeechobee and between them have nine children, 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Born in Miami in 1926, Mr. Glenn joined the Marines before his 16th birthday. He and his mother lived in a low-income housing project, and there was no father around to keep him out of trouble, he said. When he found out he could make $37 a month to send home to his mother, he persuaded her to sign the papers so he could join. She knew it was only a matter of time before he got himself into trouble so she went ahead and signed the papers.
He went to boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. Although he was only 15 when he joined, he did not see combat until he was 17, he said. In November 1943, his division invaded Bougainville Island and then returned to Guadalcanal (one of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific) where they had been training.
In May 1944, they boarded a ship to invade Guam but had to wait 57 days aboard ship until the Army’s 57th Division could join them. They arrived on July 21, 1944, and Mr. Glenn’s best friend, Carl, was killed almost immediately. Carl had been in the military for two years and was still just a 16-year-old boy when he died, said Mr. Glenn. “A lot of people don’t understand that,” he said, “but you realize we were at war, and all you had to do to get in was have your mother sign consent.” The two boys were very close, possibly because they were both so young, just boys, really, said Mr. Glenn. They had made a pact that if anything happened to either of them, the other would go to his family after the war, and Mr. Glenn kept his end of that bargain, visiting Carl’s family before he saw his own family.
On Feb. 24, 1945, on Iwo Jima, Mr. Glenn was wounded. Their own corpsman had been wounded so he knew he wasn’t there to help him, and he took off to another Marine outfit. He was bleeding badly, he said, and he stumbled and fell. They kept hollering, “Get up, and come on. You’re OK.” None of them went to help him, though, but when he got to them, they had a corpsman, and they got a stretcher. He was lying on the stretcher, and they said, “Look up there on that mountain.” He looked, and there was the flag flying, and ever since then, he has loved the flag, he said. “I told that corpsman, that’s the first sign that I really know we might be winning. We suffered 26,000 casualties there.”
He suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for many years. They didn’t know what to call it back then, and he thought he was the only one bothered by it. He had nightmares every night — fighting the war every night over again in his dreams. He thought he was all alone until he went to one of the reunions and found out others were suffering from the same thing.
When they invaded Guam, on July 21, 1944, they liberated people who had been held in concentration camps the Japanese had set up. One of the men in his outfit, Richard Washburn, had written to his mama earlier and told her how lonely he was out in the Pacific with nothing but men around, and she sent him a rag doll. Well, said Mr. Glenn, as they liberated these people, this 4-year-old little girl came out, and he gave her the rag doll. She kept that rag doll and spread the story about the Marine giving her the doll. Years later, Mr. Washburn flew out to Guam and tried to find her, but he didn’t have anything to go by. Before he left, he told the newspaper his story. Her son saw the story in the newspaper, told her, and she flew to California to meet him. Soon after, in 2004, a group of the men from their outfit, including Mr. Glenn and Mr. Washburn, flew to Guam. They went to celebrate the 60th anniversary of their liberation. They celebrate July 21 bigger than the U.S. celebrates July 4, he said. It’s Liberation Day to them. While there, they met the rag doll lady and ate lunch at her home. Their reception on Guam was almost overwhelming, he said. In Guam, they have a wall with the name of every American and every native who was killed during WWII engraved on it, he said.
Last week, Mr. Glenn received an eight-page letter from Natty Calvo, the little girl, who is now a 79-year-old woman. In her letter she spoke of the gratitude she and her fellow country men felt and still feel toward the men who liberated them all those years ago. She sent him her phone number, and he has tried to call but has had no luck reaching her, he said. She talked of the rag doll and how much it meant to her. She told him how she always told the story to her children, and her daughter, Nicole Calvo later wrote a book “The Rag doll and the Marine” about her experience. She told him how saddened she and her family were by the death of Mr. Washburn in 2016, and she concluded the letter by saying, “To all the many soldiers who died while liberating Guam, and to all who passed away throughout the years, we pray: Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace.”