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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Few, the Proud: Wyoming’s Bob Wettengale

Departing for the Honor Flight was Bob (right) and his guardian David Ziegler.
Every school day morning for the last 17 years, Wyoming Middle School students have been greeted by the infectious smile and warm hello of Crossing Guard, Bob Wettengale. Every day that is, except April 18, 2017. Bob had different plans that spring day. 
By 5:30 a.m. on April 18, Bob, his wife Penny, and his daughter Stephanie Revis, were all at the Cincinnati International Airport sending Bob off for a new adventure as he was chosen to take part in an Honor Flight for veterans. Seventeen hours later, this Marine would return with a lifetime of memories to share. 
Bob Wettengale joined the Marines in 1958 and served until 1964.

The Early Years
Bob grew up in the Bond Hill neighborhood of Cincinnati, but when his grandparents moved to Lake Mary, Florida in 1947, Bob’s summers became a child’s dream. “My grandfather invited me down that first summer – and I then went every summer.” His boyhood love of water from those early summers would later give his life a new direction. As would his years working for his uncle’s remodeling company in the small community of Wyoming, Ohio.
Bob’s grandfather came to Cincinnati from South Carolina, and he was the chauffer for Mr. Ault (of Ault Park familiarity) who owned an ink company in Cincinnati. After some years of listening and learning about the production of ink from behind the driver’s seat, his grandfather made a few suggestions to Mr. Ault, who liked the ideas so much he promoted his chauffer to manager. Bob’s grandfather went on to invent a new ink production machine that was widely used in the 1930’s.   
During his teen years, Bob worked for his uncle Ralph Brasington, a builder and remodeler, who happened to do a lot of work in Wyoming. Bob spent many hours assisting his uncle in homes around Wyoming before graduating from Woodward High School in 1956. The next fall Bob went to Ohio University on a football scholarship, but a year into the college experience he decided “it just wasn’t for me.” So Bob enlisted in the Marines Corps in 1958. Bob recalled that while his parents weren’t thrilled with the new plan, “my mother and father were so supportive of all the things I’ve done.”     
“I got to do so many things you only see in the movies”
Bob enjoyed his years in the Marines – a lot! He enlisted in LaGrange, Kentucky, but he was then stationed at the Marine Air Base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii between the years of 1958-1964 and trained as a Recon Marine. While Bob’s timing in the Marines was after the Korean War and before Vietnam, he trained for reconnaissance missions with the intent to clear beaches before a submarine attack. He modestly described the training similar to the special operations teams for the Navy Seals. Living on submarines, training to escape a submarine in an Escape Training Tank, rubber boat training on the waves, and even walking over active volcanoes on the island of Hawaii, were just a part of the “movie” experience. 
Bob was stationed in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and here he posed with his full pack and oxygen tank.
Those early years in Florida immensely assisted Bob with his water training for the Marines, and the years in Hawaii only intensified his love of the water. For years after his service, Bob made a hobby out of scuba and skin diving. Bob and his young wife, Penny, even honeymooned in Florida so they could dive, and then soon after moved to Miami, Florida to be able to dive daily.

Bob trained for reconnaissance missions on submarines. On the left Bob and friend Bob Adams stand atop their submarine, and on the right, Bob Adams visits Bob Wettengale in Wyoming over 50 years later.

Making Wyoming Home
After three years in Miami, followed by several years in Louisville, Bob, Penny, and a toddler Stephanie moved to Wyoming in 1980. They lived on East Mills for over 20 years before Bob and Penny moved to a Wyoming condo, then four family on Ritchie Avenue where they still reside. While Bob did return to Cincinnati to take over his uncle’s building and remodeling business in 1980, they “moved to Wyoming for the schools – like so many people do.” Stephanie went all the way through Wyoming schools, and she was a member of the 1996 State Champions’ Girls’ Basketball Team. It is a family affair as Stephanie’s son, Dylan Revis, is now a proud member of the most recent group of Wyoming Alumni – Wyoming Class of 2017. 

Even as a teenager Bob always had his camera with him, and he captured tons of great photos from his years in the service. Bob shot this photo of rubber boat training off the coast of Oahu – “if you’re not careful, you’ll get swamped.”
As a builder and remodeler, Bob has seen more than his fair share of Wyoming home interiors. Bob admitted that he liked to add his personal touch to the jobs by signing and dating a two by four during the construction process. As Bob built some of the first houses on Abilene Trail, he shared, “my name stands behind the drywall of many of those homes.” One such home owner found Bob at his corner Crossing Guard perch one recent morning to let Bob know they found his young signature during a recent remodel.
One of the perks of being stationed in Hawaii was fresh lobster.
The Move to Crossing Guard
“I retired and was looking for something to do…” was how Bob remembered the start of his tenure as Crossing Guard. His friend, Bill Mercer, a long time Crossing Guard at Hilltop Primary School, suggested that Bob also become a Crossing Guard. However, when Bob applied, was accepted, and chose to be at the intersection of Springfield Pike and Wyoming Avenue, Bill said “why do you want to be there??? The primary kids are so sweet – those eighth grade boys are doing to give you a hard time!” But according to Bob, Bill couldn’t have been more wrong.  

Rain or shine or any number of the snowy days that Wyoming still goes to school, Bob Wettengale can be found at Wyoming Avenue and Springfield Pike.
“They are all so nice!” Bob still declares. “There will be a group of 15-20 kids crossing the street, and almost every one of them tries to say ‘good morning’ to me. I want them to feel safe with me.” Bob recalled a recent girl who was crying after school, “I always try to say something to cheer those kids up. After that, the girl always went out of her way to say ‘hi’.” 

Bob was ready for the solar eclipse that occurred on the second week of school.
Bob has really come to appreciate the Wyoming community, “the diversity of people, the ethnic backgrounds – it is all very interesting. We do such special things – it could fill a big book.” And after 17 years on the job, Bob knows Wyoming’s youth. “I see the kids grow from fifth to eighth grade. Then I see them at high school games or on the cross country team and they will holler at me.” Middle school is a time of growing independence and many parents let their kids walk alone to school – at least after the first few weeks of fifth grade when students start “pushing their parents away. Then all of a sudden they’re in eighth grade and a mature young lady or man. I remember when I was their age. It brings back so many memories.” 

When Half Day Café opened, Bob set up his own doggie café at the crosswalk. Now dogs eagerly look for Bob in the mornings and afternoons. 
“Parents will come out to meet me,” but Bob doesn’t get to share his observations with all the parents during these tween years. “Parents need to know their children are very, very thoughtful and happy, and very friendly to me. Very polite!”

While in the service, a highlight of many days was the “mail-call” when young service members would hope for a letter from home. The Honor Flight held its own mail-call at the airport, giving every veteran a handwritten thank you letter from a Cincinnati child.

The Honor Flight
The early wake up on April 18, 2017 wasn’t hard for Bob who is accustomed to dealing with high energy middle schoolers early in the morning, but CVG was also full of energy at 5:30 a.m. with a room full of 78 people flying on the Honor Flight – 13 of which were veterans of World War II or Korea. Families were welcome to attend the sendoff and the welcome home, but the flight and day itself were reserved for veterans and guardians. Bob explained that every veteran was paired with a guardian to help during the day. But the guardians were for the “older” veterans, and while Bob is 80 years young, “I don’t consider myself old!” 
The crowds cheered for the veterans as they returned from their Honor Flight.
The first order of business was for every veteran to don a matching yellow t-shirt with a back that read “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran!” The commercial plane (American Airlines, of course) was decorated in full American flag regalia, and it delivered the passengers to Kennedy Airport in Washington D.C. They were greeted at the airport by a musical group performing World War II era songs and crowds holding signs of “thank you for your service!”  

The World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. has a column for every state, and Bob posed next to the Ohio Memorial.
Bob had been to Washington D.C. two times before the Honor Flight – once as a high school senior on a school trip and once for a business trip. Many of the memorials he visited on this special third trip had not even been created the last time he visited the nation’s capital. The itinerary was packed full:  World War II Memorial, Marines Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the National Mall, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Air Force Memorial – where he ran into his cousin!
Yet with all the new experiences, Bob shared, “it wasn’t the monuments I liked best – it was the people. The students on break, the adults, little tiny children – they all came up to you and touched your shoulder from behind and said ‘thank you’. Here are grade school kids wanting to shake hands with me!”

Penny, Stephanie, and Bob were reunited after Bob’s Honor Flight experience.
The plane returned to CVG close to 11:00 p.m., and there were a thousand people waiting to greet the 78 Honor Flight honorees. Cheering, hand-shaking, signs, Penny, and Stephanie all greeted Bob upon his return to Cincinnati. “I have had such a fortunate life, a blessed life.” His return was a full life circle experience as he realized, he was welcomed home under the famous Cincinnati glass mosaic murals by Weinold Reiss, one of which featured the very ink production machine his grandfather invented a life time ago.   

The Marines Memorial was a moving experience for this Marine.

The Honor Flight Story 
Written by Honor Flight Tri-State
When the National World War II Memorial opened in 2004, retired Air Force Captain Earl Morse – then a Physician Assistant in Springfield, Ohio – noticed that patients who served in WWII loved talking about the new Memorial. He also realized that many might never see it because of age, finances, or poor health. 
In early 2005, Mr. Morse flew several veterans in his own plane to see their Memorial in our nation’s capital. The tremendous impact that trip made for them inspired him to recruit other pilots to do the same. He took his idea to the Wright Patterson Air Force Base Club, and 11 pilots immediately signed up. Honor Flight was launched.  
Word spread quickly. In 2006, a growing waiting list of WWII veterans prompted Honor Flight to begin flying on commercial airlines to accommodate as many as possible. 
Since then, Honor Flight Tri-State has partnered with other hubs to form a nationwide Honor Flight Network. Today we are committed to celebrating ALL veterans 65 and older. World War II, Korean, and Vietnam veterans are eligible for an Honor Flight. We will leave no veteran behind. 
To learn more, schedule a speaker, make a donation, identify a veteran, or help as a guardian on an Honor Flight, please contact:

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