During his time with the U.S. Navy Bob Sanders saw the world.
His time with the Navy was memorable, but Sanders, 80, of Pacific, said it was only the catalyst for the best job he ever had. After finishing his career in the Navy, Sanders said he spent the best 13 years of his life as an associate instructor of the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training program in Slidell, La.
Sanders grew up in Pacific before enlisting in the Navy in 1951. With the Korean War ongoing and the possibility of being drafted, 18-year-old Sanders decided to leave his job at Frisco Railroad in St. Louis and enlist in December 1951, just seven months after graduating high school.
“I figured I was going to be drafted the first of the year in ’52 so I just went ahead and enlisted in the Navy,” Sanders said.
He served as an aviation engine mechanic onboard the USS Oriskany. It was on that ship he began his tour of the world.
He’s been to Europe, Asia, Africa and North and South America.
In June 1954, Sanders left active duty and returned to St. Louis and the Frisco Railroad.
Although he was no longer active in the Navy, he stayed in the Naval reserve program. In 1967 he decided to reactivate and rejoin the Navy full time.
During his second round with the Navy, Sanders changed roles. No longer an aviation mechanic, he became a personnel man.
“I often referred to it as a personnel mechanic,” he said. “I went through personnel records of enlisted people.”
He worked in Jacksonville, Memphis, Ohio, Louisiana and Maryland. In Memphis, Sanders worked helping troops get through boot camp.
“The Naval Reserve had boot camp in Memphis, Tenn., at the naval air station and I took 11 companies through boot camp,” said.
In September 1983, the chief petty officer retired from the Navy and took a job as a teacher.
“I retired to take the best job I ever had,” he said. “... I retired off active duty just to take that job.”
Teaching had long interested Sanders and he said the interest only grew while working with recruits.
“I got a taste of (teaching) in boot camp,” he said. “When I was first on active duty, I thought I wanted to go to college to teach.”
Sanders spent 15 years as an assistant naval science instructor in Slidell.
Sanders said his favorite part of teaching is the kids. Thanks to the power of the Internet, he still keeps in touch with several former students.
“I often talk about my ROTC kids and people ask how old are these kids,” Sanders said. “I stop and think and they’re middle-to-late 30s, early 40s. I mentioned that to them the other day on Facebook and several of them wrote back saying, ‘Chief, it doesn’t matter how old we are, we’re still your ROTC kids.’ ”
Sanders said he’s excited to hear about the new NJROTC program starting in Washington next fall.
Sanders retired from teaching in 1998 and decided to come home. He moved back to his hometown of Pacific.
Bob Sanders said he doesn’t have any hobbies, but he does stay active. He’s heavily involved with the Masons and belongs to several related groups.
“That is something that I really got interested in,” Sanders said. “I think it keeps me a little younger.”
He said his favorite thing about the Masons is simply “everything.”
“I don’t have anything that I dislike about it,” Sanders said. “It’s a lot of fellowship and, in my travels around the state, I know people all around the state of Missouri. We have something in common.”
Sanders lives with his wife, Mary Elizabeth, known to everyone as Puddy. The two have been married for 56 years and grew up across the street from each other — they first met when they were 3 years old.
Together the couple has two daughters, Beth and Susan, and two grand kids.
“I’ve had a blessed life,” Sanders said.