GREENSBORO — After World War II, Bob Gobble came back for his Laura, the raven-haired beauty who had the looks to be one of those stars of the talking picture shows of that era, but there she was, on his arm on their wedding day.
And they’ve mostly been side-by-side ever since.
Last year they both got COVID-19 and his smart and witty wife was at another time hospitalized with pneumonia and then in the care wing of Friends Homes for several weeks. It was not an extended period of time, but it seemed like it to him.
“A very long time,” Gobble said.
The Gobbles — he’s 99, she’s 96 — represent a generation of people who changed the face of America, the so-named “Greatest Generation.” Their generation survived the Great Depression and fought a war, helped build iconic businesses such as Southern Bell and Southern Railway that would shape America and instilled in places like Greensboro a sense of community service and civic pride.
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When Bob got the invitation to go on the Triad Honor Flight, which takes groups of veterans to the memorials in Washington, D.C., for free, it happened to also be their 76th anniversary.
“What he plans to do is leave me on my anniversary,” Laura said in mock disappointment in the days before the daylong trip.
When he got back, there was his Laura amongst the throngs of people at Piedmont Triad International Airport, waving an American flag.
Difficulties, they had them as children of the Depression
When her father lost his job the family also lost their home and moved from her hometown of Charlotte to Columbia, S.C.
Her father died when she was 13 and her mother carried the family with her talent as a seamstress. She made dresses for the wives of governors and the other women of high society.
As a child, Laura spent summers with aunts who worked at an orphanage in Charleston, S.C.
“It was the only vacation I had,” Laura recalled of playing with the other children there.
After graduating from high school, she went to work for Southern Bell in Columbia as a “plug-pusher” or telephone operator of that day who was given a telephone number and could plug them into a circuit board to connect callers through the PBX system. A friend who worked at the PBX at Fort Jackson told her about a cute guy who came in to call Spartanburg. The military provided soldiers free private phone booths at the PBX to make calls.
“I was dating other ladies in Spartanburg,” he said with a smile.
Bob had grown up in East Spencer but the family later moved to Spartanburg, where his father worked for Southern Railway. Bob graduated high school and spent two years at Wofford College. However, he had already signed up for the draft and was called into service by 1942. He was stationed at Fort Jackson in South Carolina for basic training.
The friend introduced him to Laura.
“I thought she was pretty cute,” he said with a grin. “She had lovely brown eyes. But when she got a little bit upset those eyes were sparkling.”
He took her to a football game in Columbia on that first date and took the late-night bus back to Fort Jackson, he said as he began describing that date.
“Don’t tell everything you know,” she followed with a laugh.
He was eventually sent to the Pacific Coast in anticipation of invading Japan.
The two had thought about getting married before he was being shipped out to another camp.
“They said we would lose two million soldiers if we invaded Japan,” Bob said. “I thought I might not make it back.”
He was on a ship in the Pacific for 30 days. When he got to the Philippines he was assigned to the 333rd Quartermaster Battalion, which consisted of 21 company clerks handling sick leave and other paperwork and had a sergeant over them.
He didn’t see combat duty over his 39 months in service but supported those who did.
“It taught me you had to depend on your comrade in case you were in battle,” he said.
When their sergeant had a nervous breakdown, the commander asked him if he knew anything about “the morning report,” which he didn’t. (It was the daily report a sergeant had to give to his commander detailing personnel changes.)
“I bluffed my way around,” he said with a laugh.
The commander made him the sergeant, doubling his $66 monthly pay.
The atomic bomb was dropped while he was there.
He would go home a master sergeant.
Laura had written him often, telling him about her days and what was going on back home.
Bob had one fear as he opened letters from Laura.
“I didn’t want to get a Dear John letter,” he said.
When he got home he had one mission.
“I went straight up there,” Bob said of looking for Laura when he got back. “Being so far apart I knew it was true love.”
“We both kind of agreed this was it,” Laura said.
He got back in February 1946, and the two married the next April.
He took the skills he learned in the military to Southern Railway, which at that time used old steam engines. He retired after 43 years.
Laura worked in the offices of a couple of churches as they moved around for Bob’s job. When they moved to Greensboro they joined First Lutheran. Laura spent 21 years as an administrative assistant in the chemical division of Burlington Industries.
They never had children of their own, but their family reaches far and wide. Photos of of children from extended biological and “by love” families that include great-nieces and nephews, “church babies” — some now grown — and neighborhood children dot the walls and are tucked in nooks and crannies in their apartment at Friends Homes West.
“We always said they were in-town grandparents for our children,” said Kay Zimmerman, the wife of First Lutheran’s former pastor, the Rev. Charlie Zimmerman.
They continue to complete each other’s thoughts and sentences, gaze lovingly at each other — and sometimes in a teasing way, play Lucy to his Ricky when he’s hamming it up and she reminds him he’s hamming it up.
In their 70s they decided to travel to places they always wanted to go, like Switzerland and Jerusalem. They were able to cross the desert from Israel to Egypt. Laura, who cherished being invited back to the reunions at the orphanage, although her connections were through her aunt, has a spoon from the now-closed orphanage that is part of an extensive collection.
“It’s been sad times and good times,” said Bob, who had been the youngest of his siblings. “I’m down to cousins now. But we’ve had a great journey together.”
When he was invited to go on the veterans’ trip to Washington, Laura was thrilled. He was one of two World War II vets and was the oldest on the trip.
Besides, their family and friends had thrown them an elaborate 75th anniversary the year before, and she wanted this for him.
After joining the massive group in the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem, Bob was on his way.
The flight was about honoring the men and women who served, and the moments on the country’s frontlines at home and abroad.
Zimmerman nominated Bob. The trip was organized by Triad Honor Flight, which formed in 2020 to take military veterans living in the area to see memorials that pay tribute to the fallen. The chapter is part of a national network of Honor Flight organizations that has provided trips to thousands of veterans over the past 16 years.
Wednesday’s flight included about 200 people, including veterans and a guardian for each one, medical personnel and other support staff.
“We had people who gave of their time and service for the freedom of this country,” Gobble said of his excitement visiting the monuments and paying his respects. “To think that so many of those people never got back home, they’re not buried on American soil, and that’s a reason every day that I count my blessings and offer my respect.”
Young children awaiting the return flight understood the gravity — one veteran’s granddaughter held a sign thanking her grandfather for his service and with “I love you” in her own handwriting.
Lining the corridor from the plane’s exit were service people from the various military branches wearing hats and uniforms and T-shirts proudly proclaiming their years of service.
Bob was the first two veterans to come down the airport passageway lined with people holding signs, balloons and flags.
People cheered, waved and some shook his hand as he was wheeled by.
Not far behind Gobble was a Vietnam veteran spotted by another Vietnam veteran in the crowd wearing a similar cap, who fist-bumped him in silence.
“This has been fantastic,” Gobble gushed as the great-nieces traveling with him as his support guardians got him through the lines of well-wishers after what had been an exhausting day.
His Laura had been in a less adventurous but fulfilling thicket through the day: having a ladies’ day with a friend.
But he had lots to tell her — as they shared anniversary cake.
Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.