From a local columnist in Panama City...she emailed it to me.. George Groves "Pete" Roberts At 82, Pete Roberts is still quite dashing in his pale green Oxford shirt with button-down collar and chino slacks. He sits in the wing chair in his living room, his white hair and mustache impeccably combed and Rosie, a graying poodle mix, in his lap. My friendship with Pete began more than ten years ago when I ventured forth to a writer’s critique group that met at noon at Books-A-Million on Fridays. Initially, I knew Pete as a writer/poet and very supportive of this new writer clutching a growing manuscript with no hope it would ever be published. He read every word (he loves the English language) with a kind but critical eye taking great lengths to see it was "just right". And as our friendship grew, I learned of his unusually interesting life. Pete grew up in Huntington, Long Island. A member of the New York National Guard, 7th Regiment called the "Silk Stocking Regiment" and the first National Guard unit, his father died from the result of injuries received in World War I. Pete’s mother remarried Redding Francis Perry, from an old and distinguished North Carolina family. Perry was in the Regular Army Cavalry, and the family began their military travels. From Fort Brown, TX to Fort Stotsenburg in the Philippines ("I liked the Philippines. I liked every place I have ever been for some reason. But I have a lifelong problem, which is a Celt problem: I think I always want to be someplace else. If I am here, I want to be there."): to a duty station in China, to Fort Knox where the first mechanized cavalry was started, to Fort Benning, GA, where his stepfather (known as "Speed") was a good friend of General George Patton. The General and he started the Second Armored Division. Perry also served on Patton’s staff in North Africa and Europe. You could say that Pete Roberts was an Army brat. "Sure I met Patton. I admired him. I knew his son, young George, who was my age, at Fort Benning. He was an unassuming boy who became a Lt. General at West Point." "One day a Sergeant knocked on our door. My mother answered. He said, "I am here with General Patton’s luggage. He’s staying with you!" "Patton had a high, squeaky voice. One day a group of us teenagers were standing around and he walked up and said, "Hello Boys! G--------t it’s good to see you! Want a beer?" We answered, "No, thanks." Pete reminisces with pride and patriotism about his family. "My family has always been citizen soldiers, starting with the Revolution. One ancestor "Ross", was a Captain in George Washington’s "Life Guards", what are now known as body guards. "Great Grandad William Roberts volunteered during the Civil War, 5th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. He was a printer by trade, and 28 years old when he enlisted. "My stepdad’s family were privileged professionals, and they included politicians, attorneys and physicians in North Carolina. We never had any of that ‘Yankee-Southerner’ stuff. In keeping to the traditions of his family, Pete volunteered for the Air Force shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942 and went into pilot training. He was attending The Citadel at the time, and instead of graduating with his class, his education was put on hold until he returned from the war. "I came from a family who, in time of war, chose to volunteer. If you waited to be drafted, it was a disgrace. My grandfather had been a Rough Rider and went up the hill with Teddy (Roosevelt). My own father was in the 7th Regiment. We all volunteered." Pilot Training "First I became an instructor in basic flight in Greenville, Mississippi. I wanted to go overseas. I went to the campaign in Europe in the 354th Fighter Group, which was picked as the top fighter group in the European Theater. I can’t claim anything, but I was there." Trained in P40s, he flew P51 Mustangs. His group was the first to fly them in combat. "I always liked instructing. I like to see people improve and succeed. I think I was a better instructor than a pilot. Our mission was close support to the 3rd Army. The 354th was the first group to fly long-range escort to Berlin. The reason was the range of the airplane, with the fuel tanks on the wings." Pete mentions Bruce Carr, top ace in Europe, who was in his group. "He was a wild man. He really was. "We did strafing. Low level flying is far more dangerous than combat flying. There is a 4:1 kill ratio. I flew 13 missions in Europe and I was in the Air Force for about five years." Pete returned to The Citadel where he received his BS in Civil Engineering, specializing in highways and bridges. If you travel I-10 and I-95, you will cross several bridges of his design. He also designed bridges on the New York State Thruway. Pete worked for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad as a Field Engineer. In the 1950s, he worked at Cape Canaveral in test operations, becoming Test Director. Under his direction was the first inertially guided flight, the first Polaris tactical type missile. He shows me an organization chart, pointing to his name. "When you get your name on the chart, you’ve made it! I loved my work; had a feel for it. I was good at it. I was in the top 10 per cent in pay at the time." The grandson of an Episcopal priest, he was instrumental in building Holy Apostles Church in Satellite Beach. He speaks of his grandfather with affection. "I asked him if he wanted to be Bishop. He was a well known and powerful man who was offered the position of Bishop of Panama. He didn’t want to be the Episcopal Bishop of Panama. He wanted to be Bishop of Brooklyn, New York!" Unfortunately, there was no such position, and he remained a priest, but was instrumental in getting Pete a scholarship to St. Paul’s Prep School in Long Island. Pete had studied Latin for four years, two of which were when he lived at Fort Knox. Arriving at St. Paul’s with a chip on his shoulder, William Stanley Tanner, a Latin scholar and his instructor, had him eating humble pie on the first day of school. But he took a shine to the brash young man and prepared him for the dreaded Regents exams, which Pete passed. When the war was over, Pete went to University of North Carolina and studied English and literature. The Editor of his Air Force group’s newspaper overseas, he became the Feature Writer for the "Daily Tarheel" in Chapel Hill, NC. "When I look back on it, I took Engineering just to see if I could do it. My first love was and is the English language." Through his travels, Pete became enamored of the "old Florida", which, he admits, is fast disappearing. He lived on a sailboat ("liveaboards are interesting people") in the St. Andrews Marina when he finally returned to Bay County after living in Amelia Island "a great place if you retire from IBM and play golf." He wanted to teach part-time locally, but felt the red tape involved was not worth his efforts. These days Pete leads a quiet life, with Rosie, a rescue dog, at his side, who is great company. "She’s a good mutt", he smiles. "I always had a dog. I like to rescue them from pounds." Pete is the father of three children, two of which are living, and is grandfather to three. He keeps up with technology through his computer and the internet and still writes poetry and short stories. Recently, he attended an evening reading event at the Gallery Above on Harrison Avenue. Pete loves Dixieland music, but enjoys most types. He attends Holy Nativity Church when he is able. He was a member of the Panhandle Writer’s Guild, and of late, an active member of the Panama City Writer’s Association and is usually at the table of our remnant critique group on Sunday afternoons. Among his archived mementoes of times past, are wonderful sepia photos of life in a remarkable era - the grinning boy in China at the Great Wall with his mother; his stepfather, strikingly military astride a horse; the handsome young pilot in Europe. Pete still has his leather aviator’s jacket, and wears it occasionally. He doesn’t realize he is a living historian, with many more stories to tell. I am always honored to be in the company of such a fine American, and delighted he is my friend. I salute you, Pete, and all the others who came before and after you, who serve our country. To our dear readers – Have a safe and happy Memorial Day. Music – by George Groves Roberts "Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast." "Wrong! Correctly it is: Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast." "Oh?" My father could read music, play the mandolin and the violin, and music was a major part of his life. I think that had he lived and had not been divorced it would have been a major factor in my life. "Have you ever noticed that classical conductors live a long time? I think it is the music." Recently I have been reading Will Durant's "Story of Civilization", (many volumes) and he writes about how important music was to early civilizations. "For me the old songs bring back memories of my life. Memories of the Big Bands at a Sunday Matinee at the Paramount in Manhattan and, especially in the studio audience during a broadcast by Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians rendering "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise". I recall listening to 78 rpm records I played on a wind-up large floor model Victrola with a picture of Nipper, the RCA dog on the machine. Playing "Tres Moutarde" -a Dixieland piece, Moran and Mack, the Two Black Crows whose humor was "clean"; my Dad's favorite "Rhapsody in Blue", by Gershwin. A memory of Wednesday concerts in the park. Concerts played by Huntington, Long Island locals, many of whom had jobs with studio and other orchestras in Manhattan. One memorable evening was when the band was conducted by the leader of The Firestone Symphony. His direction made a major difference in the performance. It was then I realized the conductor was more than window dressing. I was recently talking with my daughter and I told her that our music defines the quality of our era. While I wondered how we got from "How Much is the Doggie in the Window?" to "Kill the Cops", she replied, "We're in trouble."