By Bob Robb
When I first met Bud, I was a small town little leaguer dreaming of becoming the future shortstop for the Dodgers. He was a friend of my dad’s, an unobtrusive middle-aged man who often dressed in tattered bib overalls to hide a little paunch, his bald head covered with a 1950s ball cap, and a twinkle in his eyes. He smoked unfiltered Old Golds and drank Budweiser from cans that required a church key to get them open. At first blush, you would never have known that he ran one of the largest citrus growing operations in America and was worth a fair amount of money. Back in the late 1950s, that’s how real men were. They let their actions and accomplishments speak for themselves.
Like my dad, Bud loved to fish, and often spent his days off fishing for bass and trout on the local lakes, or traveling up US 395 to the eastern Sierra Nevada to trout fish the Owens River. One weekend when I was maybe 15 years old my dad was off fighting fire, so Bud asked me if I wanted to go trout fishing with him at the lake. I couldn’t get my stuff in his old beater pickup fast enough. We were going to anchor up on a spot my dad had found and bait fish for what we called “holdover” rainbows, planter trout that survived a year or two and grew fat on freshwater shrimp, their sweet meat a deep red color that mom canned. It was a glorious day, we anchored up, cast our lines, then sat back and waited for that first bite.
That’s when a boatload of three punks decided they’d have fun by racing around and around us, their wakes bouncing our boat like a cork. On their third pass, Bud stood up and hollered, rather politely I thought at the time, “Hey, can’t you guys find another place to play, please?”
“Fuck you, old man!” one of them yelled, with the others giving us the finger and chiming in.
That’s when I saw the change. Bud got this look on his face I’ll never forget, kind of a cross between rage and a coming storm, his face still calm but the veins on his neck pulsing. “Son, why don’t you pull that piece of shit you’re driving over to the bank, and I’ll eat your lunch for you,” he said. “Bring it on, you old bastard!” the driver yelled as he gunned his boat for the near shore.
Now, at 15 years old I’d been in maybe two fights in my life, both of them schoolyard slapfests that amounted to nothing. I felt totally unprepared. As he pulled the anchor Bud said, calmly, “Bob, when we get out you take a paddle, stay behind me, and keep them off my back. I don’t think this will be much of a problem.”
So, we beached the boat, got out, and Bud calmly approached the three dudes, all of them in their early 20s and as cocky as bandy roosters. He never said a word as he walked up to them. In a flash, before any words were spoken, he kicked the biggest of the three squarely in the balls, then swiveled around and broke the second largest boy’s nose with a right cross that would have made Ali proud. It was Chuck Norris shit. The first guy was puking his guts out, the second out cold. The third dude was frozen. “Punk,” Bud said, calmly, “take your cooler and put it in my boat, right now. Then get these two pansies the fuck out of here. Don’t ever let me see any of you again.”
When we’d anchored up and started fishing again, I worked up the courage to ask Bud what had just happened. “Bob,” he said, “I spent the better part of a year in France and Germany, fighting the Germans. I landed at Normandy a few days after the initial invasion, and ended up crossing the Rhine. I saw and experienced things no one should ever have to see—things I remember but wish I didn’t. What the hell did those punk asses think they were going to do to me that I haven’t already survived? Now, let’s see what they brought us for lunch.”
Later, I asked my dad, a Navy WWII vet, about Bud. “Bud is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet,” dad said. “He’s involved in all the local charity groups, his business is the high school athletic program’s largest supporter, he’s a solid family man. But during the war, he was in combat for months. He fought the Germans through the bocage in France, he was at the Battle of the Bulge, he met General Patton and General McAuliffe, and he was decorated for heroism. He saw friends killed and maimed, and he killed men up close and personal. He doesn’t talk about it, because he’d like to forget it, but he can’t. Those three punks have no idea how lucky they are that Bud is such a good man. He could have really hurt them, had he wanted to.”
Back then, Tom Brokaw had not yet christened them the “Greatest Generation.” But Bud was one of them, one of millions who came home in the late 1940s after saving the world and jump-started America’s economy and created the prosperity and foundational societal values some of us are now fighting hard to preserve. He passed away a few years ago but I’ll never forget the impact he had.
I miss you, sir, And so does my country.