OKEECHOBEE — Last week, we introduced identical twins, James and Robert Dean, who joined the Air Force together in 1969. “We said we would rather pick what we wanted than be drafted and no telling where we’d end up,” Bob said.
They went off to Lackland Air Force Base for basic training together and Jimmy became an aircraft corrosion control specialist, and Bob went into base supply.
Bob said they were in the same barracks. Jimmy was on the bottom floor, and Bob was on the top. Their training instructor had no idea he had twins in his barracks. The instructor had never seen them together before, and when he saw them, they looked the same, and the name tag just said “Dean.” One of Bob’s favorite memories of boot camp was of sitting in a classroom after weeks of training. He and Jimmy were sitting in the same row. Suddenly, the instructor looked from one to the other and said, “Are you twins?” They both answered simultaneously, “Yes, sir.”
He asked them if one didn’t pass would he have to flunk the other one, and they said, “No, sir. We’re both going to pass.” And, they did. This was about a week before graduation. No one was called by their first name in the Air Force, Bob said. We were mostly called, “Pig, or Stupid, or Idiot. Sometimes we were called Dean. It’s all part of it to break you down.”
“What they didn’t realize, was if you were going to fight one of us, you were going to fight both of us. It was always like that,” said Bob.
When Jimmy got orders to go to Thailand, Bob decided he was going to go with him. Jimmy went because that’s where the bombers out of Orlando were going, explained Bob. He said after the Sullivan brothers were killed during WWII, they were careful about sending brothers on the same ships and aircraft, so Jimmy went over first, and Bob was to follow. Jimmy was there about two or three weeks before Bob’s flight was scheduled to get in, but Bob missed his flight. They both shipped out of Travis Air Force Base in California. They flew on a commercial airline contracted to fly military troops. The flight Bob was supposed to be on crashed somewhere, and Jimmy had no idea where his brother was. He kept meeting every flight that came in afterward, hoping his brother would be on it, until finally, he was. “Eventually I showed up. I was always straggling somewhere,” said Bob.
When the twins left Thailand, they were sent to Minot, North Dakota. Bob was not at all happy with North Dakota. “Can you imagine coming from warm balmy temperatures of Thailand to North Dakota in January?” he asked. “We took one car up. We put a new battery in, because those things die up there. We bought a brand new battery, and it died the first night up there. With the wind chill, it was minus 105 degrees. We walked the base in the cold until we got the car running. We even had the oil changed before we got there to a lower grade where it wouldn’t freeze, but it turned out we had to get a block heater to where the engine wouldn’t freeze up. We couldn’t get the dipstick out when we tried to check it. The oil was thick as honey. I said I gotta get out of here!”
Soon after this was when they met Pam, who later married Jimmy. Pam worked in base personnel, and Bob immediately went to work trying to get a transfer out of the cold. She told him he would have to stay at least 18 months, but he said, “No, you’re in control of the computer. You tell it where I go. They’re not going to know the difference.” Despite his wheedling, he was still there for about a year before he got his transfer.
He was transferred to Greece. Jimmy and Pam both said he was, “following a skirt,” but luckily for him, he did not catch that one, because he caught another one in Greece, he said and married her. Claudette’s father was in the military over there at the time. Her family was originally from Woonsocket, Rhode Island.
He was discharged from the service while he was in Greece and spent a year running around Europe on the ticket the military gave him, he said. He was in the service for a total of 5 1/2 years.
When he got back to the United States, he went to work for the Okeechobee City Fire Department. Later, he went to work for the United States post office and put in 40 years, transferring to different areas throughout the country.
The family now lives in Rhode Island. They had three children. Their oldest daughter passed away after a battle with breast cancer earlier this year. They have a 30-year-old son and a second daughter who will be getting married soon. They also have five grandchildren.
Although he is in remission now and feeling fairly well, Bob said he has had five different primary cancers, quadruple by-pass surgery, a stroke and is missing his thyroid, a foot of his colon, his bladder and 3/4 of his left kidney. He does tire easily, he said. “People ask me what about my twin brother and I say, ‘Yeah, what about him?’ He was born first, so I got all the crap.”
The brothers do not see each other often, because they lives on opposite sides of the country but still feel the same closeness and when they last got together, realized they had on the exact same glasses, pants and shoes.