Military career includes WWII, Korea and Vietnam
In addition to serving in the Marine Corps for 26 years, Bob Santee is the heart of the Jefferson High School Class of 1942, recalling, "When I came home from the wars and went to a reunion, someone said, 'We're going to stop holding reunions,' so I said, 'I'll take it on,' and it's been 30 years."
Luckily he had the time after a busy military career, plus playing baseball every chance he got and serving as the Tigard Water District administrator/engineer for 20 years after his military service.
After graduating from high school in 1942, Santee, who is 93, was accepted at the University of Oregon but had to earn money to pay for it.
"That summer I worked in the shipyards, getting top pay as a ship-fitter at $1.20 an hour," he said. "I earned enough money to go to college."
Santee and a friend hitchhiked to UO, and Santee signed up to join the Marines on Nov. 20, 1942, noting, "They would let us take one year of college, and I took 18 hours each term so in the spring I would have 36 credits and could play on the baseball team as a sophomore.
"This was the spring of 1943. I was an infielder and worked out with the freshmen. I made the 15-man traveling squad. I wanted to be a pro player. The team played around the Northwest, including Idaho University and Washington State, and I played in some games."
On July 1, 1943, Santee reported to the Marines, where he was assigned to the V-12 Navy/Marine unit.
"They sent us to the University of Southern California for a year, and I played baseball there in 1944," Santee said. "Every year they sent a detachment to boot camp to either Paris Island or Came Lejeune for advanced training. I went to Camp Lejeune and then was sent to the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., for officers' training, and on July 4, 1945, I was promoted to 2nd lieutenant.
"They pinned our gold bars on, and we thought we owned the world, but what was staring at us was the invasion of Japan. In August 1945 when the bombs were dropped, we were being assigned to ships. Japan was not going to give up, and it was rumored that the government had 100,000 body bags ready."
Santee was coming off liberty one day when he heard about the atomic bomb being dropped over Hiroshima.
"I heard that the inner part of it that caused the destruction was the size of an apple," Santee said. "We were getting ready to ship out and were going to invade Japan, but pretty soon we heard they surrendered, and I thought, 'I'm going to survive this thing' and realized how lucky I was.
"The news of the bombs dropping was unbelievable. People said, 'You mean we are going to make it?' They kept me at Camp Pendleton until April 1945. Then my friend and I enrolled at UO for the spring term. I only took 12 hours because I only wanted to play baseball.
"The coach wanted us back, particularly my friend Hal Saltzman. We won the championship in 1946."
As far as his military service, Santee was placed on "terminal leave," so "we had to go to Bremerton, Wash., to get discharged," he said. "My brother had a Model A, and we drove it up there, and that is where I had to make my big decision – to leave the service or go into the reserves and keep my commission. I was there with six other lieutenants, and they wanted to stay in, but I wanted out.
"They said, 'There won't be another war. We'll never be called up.' To get out, you needed a physical, which was a big production and took two days. I was supposed to play baseball the next day, so I said, 'Sign me up.' We hopped back in our car and went back to Oregon, and I didn't hear from (the military) until 1948. I made 1st lieutenant and went back to UO."
Santee originally majored in business at USC but at UO he took classes in chemistry, physics, science and higher mathematics. "I still had lots of credits at USC so I went back there in the fall of 1948 with my brother and graduated with a degree in engineering in January 1949," he said.
Santee had a girlfriend back in Portland named Mary Ann, who was a senior in high school, and he went back to Portland.
But with his dreams of being a professional baseball player still alive, Santee signed a contract with the New York Yankees and was sent to the farm team in Wisconsin and played in the Wisconsin State League. Then he was sent to Ventura, Calif., to play in the California State League.
Leaving baseball in 1949, Santee went to work in an engineering office designing heating and ventilation systems.
"In 1951 Korea happened," Santee said. "I got orders to report to Camp Pendleton, but those orders got changed when they became aware of my engineering degree, and my orders changed from infantry to artillery. I was to report to Fort Sill, Okla. I began to think about leaving Mary Ann, and I called her.
"I said, 'I want to get married, but I want you to be 18 and a graduate.' She needed one more credit to graduate and was able to make arrangements to get it, thanks to the Jefferson Dean of Women Dorothy Flagel. My friend drove her to Fort Sill, and we got married March 18, 1951.
"I had four months of artillery school, and we went to Portland when I got leave on my way to Camp Pendleton. Mary Ann graduated with her class. I was sent to Camp Pendleton for six more weeks. Then I boarded a ship and was off on a new experience for me – I was going to an active war."
Santee left his pregnant wife behind and reported to the forward artillery battalion headquarters in Korea, noting, "We are the eyes and ears of the artillery on the front lines. They take direction from us."
After three months, Santee was attached to an infantry company to give it artillery support and was made a battery commander, a position that put him "in the rear with the gear."
After almost one year in Korea, Santee got orders to go to Hawaii and wrote his wife, who had given birth to a baby girl while he was away, that "she would be coming to Hawaii," he said.
Santee was stationed at the Marine Corps headquarters at Pearl Harbor, and the family stayed there for two years, with a baby boy joining the family.
"Ted Williams got recalled just like I did and on his way home stopped in Hawaii," said Santee of the baseball great who played as a left-fielder for the Boston Red Sox from 1939 to 1960 except for the time he spent serving in World War II and the Korean War.
Santee, who was playing third base on the base's baseball team, said, "Ted Williams wanted a driver to drive him around the island. I volunteered and drove him. I talked about playing baseball and said, 'I'm in a bit of a slump.' He said, 'How bad?' I told him I was zero for 21 (in hits), and I said, 'Ted, what would you do?' He said, 'Let me think. I'd quit.' I didn't quit and ended up hitting over 300."
Because there was no artillery company there, Santee worked in intelligence at Pearl Harbor before being transferred to 29 Palms, Calif., which had become an artillery base.
"My wife had our second daughter and lived at Camp Pendleton with the children, and I went there on weekends," Santee said. "After about a year, I got a call from a friend who wanted to know if I would coach a baseball team at Quantico. I ended up teaching marching, with the troops putting on marching demonstrations."
In 1957 Santee led three companies down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., as part of the second inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"Quantico was 30 miles from Washington, D.C., and we provided the three companies, two with men and one with women," Santee said. "We marched 13 across with 150 in each company. A lieutenant colonel was supposed to do it, and I was only a major. There were a lot of lieutenant colonels they could have chosen, and I asked about it. I was told, 'They can't tell, now get assembled.'
"I had a sword I had to use, and Eisenhower returned my salute. I asked later how we did, and others said we did OK."
While at Quantico, the Santees had their fourth child, another son, and Santee coached baseball at night. "We played other military teams, and sometimes I played in my off-duty hours," he said.
Santee was sent to Okinawa, Japan, for 15 months without dependents, "so my wife and family moved to Portland to be near my parents," he said.
Next Santee was ordered to Salem to train Marine Corps reservists and then got orders to go to Bremerton, Wash., "where we guarded the shipyards," he said. "After Bremerton, I was sent to the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va. From there I was ordered to Camp Lejeune where I commanded an artillery battalion. The next stop was a one-year tour fighting in Vietnam.
"By then I had 26 years active and inactive duty, and I retired from the military as a lieutenant colonel.I went to work for the Tigard Water District as administrator/engineer. They were expanding all the time and kept me busy."
After 20 years with the water district, Santee retired in 1989 at age 65, noting that was a significant year for another reason as well. The Santees' oldest daughter had been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when she was 11 years old. "and she started losing her kidney function and needed to go on dialysis," he said. "The year I retired I gave her a kidney, and she lived 16 more years before dying at age 53."
The Santees were among Summerfield's pioneers, moving to the community in the early 1970s on the first street built, which was Century Oak Drive, and Santee took up golf. Mary Ann died of a brain tumor in 2009, and Santee moved into the Summerfield Estates about three years ago.
Santee, who has eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, counts his blessings these days and said, "I've been lucky all my life."