LEXINGTON, Ky. (7/4/13)— A husband, daddy, papaw, veteran and farmer, Bobby Rankin, 80, of Georgetown has seen it all.
After graduating high school in 1951, the men his age were forced to enlist in the military. A buddy of his was eager to be drafted and asked Rankin to drive him up to the recruiting office in Lexington.
“I took him up there and the recruiting officer said that we could stay together because our names were close in the alphabet. The next thing I knew I was signing up to be in the Navy,” said Rankin. “We caught a bus in Lexington and went to Cincinnati for a physical. My buddy, Prather, was the only guy that failed. They wouldn’t accept him because he was flat footed and there I was on a greyhound to California without him. It was disturbing because I was in the Navy and my friend didn’t get to do what he wanted to do.”
Rankin rode the troop train out west for three days and three nights until they reached their destination, the boot camp site.
“I was really baffled because I was an ol’ country boy,“ he said. “They took our shaving kits and everything as soon as we stepped off the bus.”
For 42 months out of the 48-month war, Rankin was overseas in Korea.
“I guess I should’ve been declared insane, I don’t know,” he said. “I volunteered to go to Korea after boot camp and then on my first leave I volunteered to go back before I had even made it home.”
During his first leave, Rankin failed to tell his parents that he was coming home for a couple of weeks. He rode a greyhound to Lexington, hitchhiked to Paris, and then had plans to hitchhike his way home.
“Who was the first person to pass me while I was standing on the side of the road was of course my daddy,” he said. “Of course he picked me up, but he was pretty upset because I didn’t tell them I was coming home.”
A whole new world opened up to Rankin when he was deployed. He had to face the very real possibility of death.
“They ordered us to assemble to go to shore one night,” he said. “It was dark, pitch black. Our captain came out last minute however and told us to disembark and that he was not going to send his crew on a suicide mission. That’s what it was going to be, we were going to be sent into enemy territory with no lights. It was kind of scary to think that they were actually considering making us go through with the mission.”
He remembers not understanding why they were still fighting in the first place because they had already blown the place away, the only thing left standing was a smoke stack. Rankin and his troops, however, were not allowed to shoot at anyone unless they were shot at first.
“It was a crazy war, “ said Rankin. “It was quite an experience for a young man.”
Rankin was a boatswain mate for the Navy during his first term. The second time around he was part of the construction battalion. He also remembers being the Master of Arms at the mess hall.
“Elvis Presley was in the Special Forces and performed at the mess hall,” Rankin said smiling.
After going aboard the first time, varicose veins popped up in his legs.
“They had to prepare me to go overseas so there wouldn’t be a chance I would bleed to death, so I had to have surgery,” he said. ”My legs are worse now than ever before, but it was a procedure I had to go through at the time. It was a horrible experience.”
Rankin recalled the horrors of a wartime military hospital.
“The Korean wounded were coming in, and there were things that I saw that I wouldn’t ever want to see again,” he said. “There were hearts and lungs laying everywhere. It was something a country boy like me didn’t want to see.”
When the fighting ended in Korea and Rankin was disappointed with the reception that veterans received.
“I was so upset because the Korean War never really had a title,” he said. ”When World War II was over they filled the streets with glitter and confetti, and when the Korean War was declared as a peace action, those that fought in it weren’t even wanted. In my opinion we didn’t get treated right.”
Years went by and Rankin’s younger brother Donnie, who was in college at the time, announced that he had been drafted into the Vietnam War.
“Donnie didn’t get to have a child and had a girl that he didn’t get to marry. He came home on his last leave and gave away all of his clothes,” Rankin said. “He knew he didn’t have a chance to come home again; it was so sad.”
He had two other brothers who served in their country. Jerry served four presidents on Air Force One and Bradley had a top-secret position in the Air Force for 27 years.
“I do grieve for Donnie because he missed it all. He was only 23 years old when he went to war,” Rankin said. “He was a mixture of things, he could preach, dance, or sing. I have letters here that he wrote to my momma everyday; you’d cry if you read them.”
After Rankin’s time serving in the Korean War, he came back to Kentucky and realized that jobs were hard to come by. However, his one true passion was farming.
“I had the desire to be a farmer, I didn’t want to do anything else.” Rankin said, “That shows you what fate can do for ya. If you have the desire to do something, those that do a job because they like to do it will do the job better than anybody else.”
Rankin has four grandsons who have inherited his love for farming.
“There isn’t one thing that I would change about my time at war,” Rankin said. “But I worry about my grandsons going off to war because I don’t want them to be exposed to what I was exposed to.”
Rankin smiled as he talked about meeting his wife, Phyllis, while he was on his first leave back home. He laughed about the times that he shared with other men that were enlisted.
“Whether [war] is all for the wrong or right reasons, this is still the greatest country in the world and I wouldn’t trade serving for our freedom or living here for nothing.“
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