WAXAHACHIE — “Accelerate your life” is a motto lived out by one of Waxahachie’s best-kept secrets. Found on the corner of West Main Street in The Shop, stands a man who has seen it all.
Meet Bob Osborne: a biker, a universal handyman, and a 92-year-old World War II Navy veteran.
“I just turned 18 in February of ’43, took the oath of office, and on March the 12th - I was gone. Yes, they took me right out of high school. I didn’t even get to finish my senior year. They needed people,” said Osborne about his start in the Navy.
After being recruited, the Navy issued Osborne his uniform, a buzz-cut, and six weeks of boot camp training, setting sail shortly after that. Touring on the USS Chester CA-27, Osborne served as a Gunner’s Mate.
“My main battle station was on the eighteenth gun mount. Number one gun mount, eighteenth gunner. But my standby was on a five-inch anti-aircraft gun, which we maintained all of the time,” he recalled.
FREEDOM AT WORK
Loaded with intimidating artily and enough room to escort highly-ranked passengers, the USS Chester was a fearsome cruiser to behold. Despite the fact the ship survived more than one torpedo attack since its launch in 1929, Osborne proudly remembers a moment he saved the Chester another disaster.
“I was fortunate enough to report one of the torpedoes. I was on lookout and the torpedo broached when it fired, hit the surface and went back down. And I happened to be looking at that particular part of the ocean and reported it. Ol’ Captain called me up and congratulated me on being a good lookout,” he said with a grin.
Although Osborne watched history unravel throughout the Pacific in battles such as Saipan, Tinian, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and many more — his introduction to war was in Tarawa. According to U-S-History.com, The Battle of Tarawa was a battle in which Marines waded endlessly to shore — at low tide — over razor-sharp coral under withering firepower.
“Tarawa, that was my initiation. It was bad because that was one of the first landings that the Marines used landing crafts to be carried to shore,” explained Osborne, “they had checked all the tides around, they were supposed to come in on high tides, because of the reefs. Well, on D-day they came in and hit all those reefs and nobody knew why.”
U.S. battleships, cruisers and destroyers, which included the USS Chester, strategized a “pre-invasion” artillery assault in efforts for the marines to land and gain ground.
“Most of our job was to soften up the islands for the Marines. We had to have our bases, and also to get the Jap’s around and behind us. We bypassed a lot of that,” Osborne said.
Although the first wave of attacks reached the beach, the shallow tide added to the complications as most Marines were forced to relinquish the larger landing crafts and swim to shore. The massacre only expanded through drownings and heavy firepower as more soldiers waved in to create a “beachhead,” later compromised by planted Japanese pitfalls and hidden snares.
“Marines went in there that day, and by noon it was all over with, and they lost more boys to booby-traps than they did fighting,” claimed Osborne.
As luck would have it, the tide soon rose as the US reclaimed the upper hand, securing the island in the end. As stated by History.com, the 76-hour Battle of Tarawa took as many U.S. casualties as U.S. troops in the six-month campaign at Guadalcanal Island. More than 1,000 U.S. troops were killed in action and some 2,000 were wounded in only three days of fighting at Tarawa.
“I was just 18 years old. We weren’t worried about nothing way back then. Then after I think about it, yeah,” admitted Osborne on the aftermath of Tarawa.
THE ONLY EASY DAY WAS YESTERDAY
Although Osborne faithfully and courageously served his country, he transitioned out of the service and into a revolving door of change where a world of opportunities opened up.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything. I was with a Civil Defense and Rescue team in San Antonio, [as a rescue] SCUBA diver.” He said, adding to the list, “I retired from Otis Elevators, putting in escalators and elevators. I spent 29 years with them. […] I worked with heavy equipment with my brother — working on draglines, bulldozers, you name it. Worked [in Waxahachie] at Dutch Aquarium Systems on their trucks and trailers for 12 years.”
In addition to his accomplished resume, Osborne has done everything from building a veterinarian clinic to currently owning Bob’s Machine and Welding shop off I-35, and working part-time at The Shop fixing motorcycles.
“I come down here and help Paul back there on the bikes. I do all of my own work,” Osborne stated. “I put tires on and do oil changes for three or four bikes at a time.”
Though Osborne smiled at each achievement, he grinned ear to ear reminiscing marrying the love of his life, LouDale “Dale” Vinson, which began their shared love for motorcycles.
“I got married in 1947,” said Osborne, looking at a picture of he and his wife straddling a motorcycle together, “I was on a ’47 Indian Chief motorcycle,” he added, switching focus to his wife, “I kept her for 62 years.”
Unfortunately, Dale passed away from cancer six years ago. In spite of losing his wife, Osborne has had his own physical challenges along the way.
“I got two steel knees, a steel shoulder, and steel clips in my chest.” he said.
Out of all the surgeries, nothing beat his open-heart operation for a blocked coronary artery.
“I never had a stroke or a heart attack. I had a blockage, so they went in there and put one bypass in. DeBakey was the one that started all of this business,” said Osborne.
According to an article in the New York Times, Doctor Michel E. DeBakey was commonly known as the “rebuilder of hearts,” whose innovative heart and blood vessel operations made him one of the most influential doctors in the United States.
“Anyway, when he released me, he said ‘Mr. Osborne, you’ve got a good ten years in you, so take care of yourself.’ That was ’74,” laughed Osborne.
ANYTIME – ANYWHERE – ANY WEATHER
Since then, Osborne has kept himself healthy and active, working on motorcycles and remaining close with his daughter and brothers. And every year, Osborne attends a Navy reunion where remaining crewmembers of the USS Chester are honored for their time in the Navy.
“We have a ship reunion every year. We had it in Dallas this year. What was bad — I was the lone sailor,” said Osborne.
Being the last known crewmember of the Chester has brought a sense of sadness, yet a determination for Osborne to surpass 92 and hit the triple digit marker in age.
“I’m going to see if I can make it to 100. I don’t have too many years to go,” joked Osborne, adding, “Everybody wants to know how you do it and I don’t know. I think it’s just the way we were raised up when we were kids way back then. […] I take my medicine, try to eat right, and get up and do everything I want to do.”
To meet and shake hands with Bob Osborne, Waxahachie’s best-kept secret, visit The Shop in just off the historic downtown square.
— Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer