During World war II, Bob Hale joined a branch of the military that allowed him to satisfy his enjoyment of being on the water: the Army.
"The Army didn't have any divers and some general decided the Army should have divers," said Hale. "I loved being around the water so I volunteered."
And now, more than seven decades after the Stow resident's military service ended, Hale will be among area veterans to be honored in this year's Stow-Munroe Falls Armed Forces Banner Program.
For the third year, banners made of a durable material can be purchased to decorate utility poles along main roads in the two communities just before Memorial Day. They are typically taken down around Veterans Day and returned to the veterans and their families. (See box for additional information)
This year, Hale's daughter Mari Fox, also a Stow resident, has purchased a banner in honor of her father. Fox said she initially tried last year, but it was too late.
"I had seen the banners up before, in the past, and I just wanted to get one to honor him," said Fox. "So I went down to City Hall and it was the wrong time of year, so they said you'll have to get back to us in February, so I got back to them in February and the rest is history."
Hale, who will turn 94 in August, served in the Army from 1943 to 1946.
He was among 14 initial volunteers in the Army's diving program who went to New York City to train with Navy divers. Afterwards, he and others went to Florida to set up the Army's first diving school, which would later move to Virginia. While in Florida, he recalls, he helped clean up after planes that would periodically crash out at sea.
"We never picked up any pilots, but we picked up a lot of plane parts," said Hale.
Although he never went overseas as a part of his military service, some of his fellow divers did go to Italy after the city of Anzio's port was nearly destroyed during fighting there in the winter and spring of 1944.
"We sent some divers over there to help rebuild," said Hale.
Hale said he finished his war service as a sergeant training divers for the Army Corps of Engineers, the organization now responsible for overseeing and maintaining waterways around the country.
Hale's life went in another direction after the war. He studied watch and jewelry repair and manufacturing in Illinois. He and his wife Violet had a jewelry store in western Ohio for 14 years until the town they were in hit hard economic times and "dried up," said Hale.
They then moved to Akron, where Hale worked in a couple of jewelry stores before going to work for LeRoy's Jewelers. He continued there after LeRoy's became part of the Sterling Family of Jewelers before retiring in the 1990s.
Hale and his wife moved to Stow about 10 years ago. Besides Fox, his son David lives in Austin, Texas and there are four grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Hale now lives alone. Several years ago, Violet Hale fell on a bus, struck her head and suffered a stroke.
"Everyone called her Vi," said Hale. "We were married 66 years when she was killed."
Hale is still pretty active, going to church with his daughter and meeting with friends, although he has some difficulty getting around right now after losing a portion of one leg to an infection in December.
Of the banner his daughter is purchasing, Hale said, "It's kind of surprising, really."
"Not to many of us from World War II," said Hale. "We're getting smaller and smaller, World War II veterans."
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