When he was thirteen, Bob began his life of service to others, possibly generated by his time in Cub Scouts. On Christmas Day of that year, he filled in as Santa Claus, because his granddad who had fulfilled that role all his life, had died two days before. Bobby saved Christmas at the Harris household! But after serving so flawlessly as Santa for a day, Bobby had to face his Santa’s funeral the following day. Harshly, he was informed by his dad that he’d better not cry.
A first experience with weaponry, fortunately did not occur in the Harris home. Several boys were in the brand new home of good friends, in the boy’s bedroom. Bob was handling the gun, thought to be unloaded. Whether Bob consciously pulled the trigger or not…alarm and chagrin followed when the bullet went through several walls of the new home. The startled boys suffered no ill consequences because the parents were so relieved that no one was hurt. The results might have been a little different had that bullet ripped through the brand new dress hanging and waiting for the owner to wear out dancing that evening with Bob’s parents.
The first and only time Bob went hunting, he bagged a deer. He did not hunt following his time in Vietnam.
Through a blind date, he met Kim Finch. The two married on June 19, 1968; Bootcamp began February 26, 1968, and graduation was April 22, 1968. He was 20 years old on May 2, 1968. The days between Boot and leaving for Vietnam, Bob re-roofed his house, the little house which had been his grandparents’.
Vietnam was tough on the marriage due to the lack of help the returning vets received, but the love never died. A boy, Brody was born to them. Bob adored that boy! They divorced. Each year until Brody grew up, Bob would send a dozen long-stemmed roses to Kim, on Mother’s Day. Brody and his wife had twin girls ten years ago. That delighted Bob.
Bob served in Vietnam 1968-1969 as radioman with 3rd Platoon, Hotel Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. His comrades remember him well to this day as resourceful, vigilant, untiring, totally reliable, fearless, generous, and ready with a wise-crack to break the tension.
“Troop” (Tom) Emonds, 2nd Lt of the 3rd platoon at the time, recalls that on one company operation, October 22, 1968 (50 years to the day, before Bob’s death), “We came to a stretch of open water, so I entered it in order to get on the island where the Bravo squad must have been. About halfway across the 30 meter stretch of open water I came under intense automatic weapons fire with red tracers going by my ears, and they stayed on me till I got behind the brush on the island I was trying to get to. I looked back at Harris telling him not to come for fear they would begin opening up on him. Sure enough I had to watch the tracers go by Harris's head and radio bobbing out above the water. It was maddening watching him. I was sure he could hear me, but ignored me and kept coming. I was doomed to watch Harris get shot in the head. Worse still was an empty canteen had popped out of my holster. Harris, with all the tracers going by his head, was trying to retrieve the canteen for me. ‘Forget the canteen Harris!’
“He made it to me, behind the island, where I accepted the canteen with total non gratitude, explaining to him in a low key manner. ‘Harris! How is this going to work? I'm the Lieutenant, and you are supposed to listen to me’".
Then, moments later, Troop and Bobby were working their way through the thicket back to the squads. Troop recalls, “We went maybe ten meters and something caught my eye. It was a Marine hanging upside down on the incline, suspended from vines growing through the thick brush.”
“At first I could not figure out what the hell, then I looked at the pale face with saucer-sized eyes. ‘Houston!’, I yelled, not understanding at all what we were looking at. I wondered where his rifle was, but saw he was shot through the mouth, and the total horror of his lot was clear. He saw me and tried to talk with his tongue clearly ripped and teeth dribbling out with what little blood was still left in his quite clearly drained face, He kept calling me ‘Sir’, and was trying to tell us we were all finished. ‘Stop trying to talk, Houston. We are getting you out of here and you are going home.’ I turned to Harris who was already taking his radio off his back.
“’Harris, if I boost you up there do you think you can somehow cut him down?’ So as I boosted Harris up into the brush, Houston told me, ‘Sir, there is no place to bring in a chopper.’ I pointed to the water where we had just climbed out of and said, ‘I'm bringing the chopper to hover over the water and we'll get you on it, now please stop talking.’ Bobby, says, ‘Lieutenant, could you hand me up your big knife.’ I handed up the big knife and the automatic weapons fire started up again with the rounds ticking through the twigs, with Harris saying rather nonchalantly, ‘Thanks, Lieutenant.’ - totally ignoring the close nature of somebody firing at a strange movement up on the top of the brush. I received Houston as he fell out of the vines. He was the assistant for our 3.5” rocket man, who had just fired a rocket at the source of the incoming fire and he and Houston were both hit in the head by the guy still firing tracers at Bobby up in the brush. So the rocket man was hit in the ear and killed immediately, while his ammo loader, Houston, got hit in the mouth. It freaked Houston so badly he ran for all he was worth. With so much adrenalin pumping through his system he flat ended up running up over the brush making his way atop it till he became entangled in vines and then would have been stuck there forever if not for Harris.
“When Harris dropped down I told him to ‘go find the rest of the guys and bring them here, where I'll have the chopper come in.’ Within a few minutes the rest of the squad got to me and Houston. The CH34 grasshopper-looking chopper came in and hovered over the water, and we loaded up our dead and wounded.
“Harris put his radio back on and the survivors of Bravo Squad and everyone made it back to the other two Squads.” The operation continued on for the entire long day and well into the next.
In the early seventies, Bob rode his ten-speed from Corpus Christi, to Austin, and asked his sister to paint his portrait while he was there. He remained very fit throughout his life. All of his jobs were mentally and physically demanding. He worked near Port Lavaca, Texas, at the Alcoa Plant as a Union carpenter, probably building scaffolding. As he mentioned to a friend, he was working close to a high voltage power line. That if they were not careful they would lose their tools to the magnetic pull of the voltage. Later, he spent eighteen months in Saudi Arabia, at work, building living quarters. He took a much needed and deserved vacation in Bangkok, which he loved.
Later he worked in southwest Texas, outside Del Rio, for an independent oil company, doing fracking. At one time he painted the roof of his dad’s warehouse, mentioning that it required forty gallons of paint.
For years the Marine vet worked at car washes in Corpus Christi. For most of that time, it would be four units around the city. It involved day and night hours, sleep was very sketchy. He kept up all the mechanicals, repairing whatever needed it. With all that, Bob’s dad turned ninety years old and was needing a care giver. Graciously, Bob filled that role and they grew closer.
During that time Bob undertook a solo project he was rightly very proud of, erecting an enormous flagpole he created from a sailboat mast. The Stars and Stripes still sail over his house, well lighted at night.
In May of 2017, Bob suffered a stroke in one eye. That’s when Bob retired and ever so gladly! The impairment to his eye required expensive injections. A philanthropic organization provided the funds. That was a huge gift for the ultimate giver!
In the all too brief retirement experience, Bob finally had hobbies. He spent time learning more about an uncle lost in WW2, a tail gunner on a B24. He pursued ancestry. And this summer of 2018 he was intrigued by watching earthquakes and volcanic action on his computer, and shared that interest. He wanted to be fit enough to hike the mountains of west Texas, near the Mexican border. He used his fitness equipment religiously. He had a fabulous grape crop this year, and shared the wealth.
His last project of note… one of Bob’s trucks, his favorite oldie, was to him a hobby. But it could only be that with the right attitude, as, for quite a long time, the truck had no reverse gear. Characteristic of Bob, he was not all that concerned. He was just creative regarding where, when and how he parked! There were some humorous stories related to his extracting himself from parking situations gone slightly awry. It’s just been a couple of months since the truck was blessed with reverse gear.
Bob, who had been discharged from the Corps as a Corporal in September, 1969, loved all his Marine and Corpsmen buddies with a passion and wants you to know it. The first day in hospice, his nurse walked in to find him doing push-ups on the floor of his room! A Harris's Hawk visited Bob’s home on two occasions, just before he passed. The rusty red hawk with the white stripe chest is native here; but not often seen in town. He hasn’t been seen there since.
Bob was diagnosed September 21, 2018, and passed away October 23. He willed his body to science. There will be a service with full military honors at the veterans’ cemetery in Corpus Christi, when ashes are received.
Bob leaves his son Brody and Brody’s wife Stacy, twin granddaughters Sophie and Lauren; sisters Brenda and Darby, and brother-in-law John Kachmar. Also, nieces, nephews, cousins, a great-niece and a great-great niece; great friends and his former wife Kim Finch Cook. Also Bob’s best friend from third grade, Larry Demieville; and “Doc” John Wilkinson, former Corpsman also from 2/1 but whom Bob only met and became fast friends with in Corpus Christi in the last decade.