Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series. The second half publishes Friday Oct. 27.
It took a while to secure an interview session with Bob Kellar. I believe his wife Kathy and several friends influenced him to share his personal story.
I’ve known Bob for 10 years or more and it was obvious that he was deeply patriotic and proud of his military service.
Periodically, Bob indicated regret that he did not serve in Vietnam. After all, when Bob was Honorably Discharged, he had so many friends that had went to Vietnam and returned home in body bags. It’s unquestionable that Bob felt considerable discomfort discussing his service when so many gave so much more.
Work Ethic and Persistence
Bob Kellar was born May 1, 1944, at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital and during his early years he lived in North Hollywood with his Mom, Dad and brother Bill in a home built in 1800s.
At age nine, his family moved to Panorama City where he grew up graduating from James Monroe High School in January 1962.
It was in 1959, however, when Bob told his mother he wanted a job down the street at Vons market.
“Go there and ask the manager for a job,” his mother said.
Nervously, Bob did just that only to be told ‘No.’
Upon returning home, his Mom said “go back next week and ask again.” Reluctantly, Bob went back the next week and was again told ‘No.’ His Mom said again, “Go back next week,” and Bob said, “Mom give me a break.”
However, he went back a third time and the manager said, “Come back in an hour, you’re hired.”
Ultimately, Bob worked for Vons six years as a stock clerk and checker while attending Valley College and working in his Dad’s Van Nuys machine shop, Kellar’s Honing and Lapping, which is still operating with its third owner.
Incidentally, Bob’s first car was a two-door 1954 Ford for which he paid a whopping $240.
A Greeting from Uncle Sam
While attending Valley College, Bob knew that when he turned 21 Uncle Sam would likely draft him into the U.S. Army which happened to students carrying less than 12 ½ units.
Not thrilled about being drafted, Bob visited a local Army recruiting office, knowing it would be a three year commitment rather than two years if drafted. Bob did not enlist, but he scooped up a number of brochures on the Green Berets and Airborne.
Meanwhile, Uncle Sam sent his order a few days after Bob’s 21st Birthday. Greeting: “You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces June 22, 1965.”
The first thing that morning, Bob took great pride in raising his right hand and taking his oath to serve his country. After a full day of mental and health examinations, all recruits were bussed to LAX and took their very first airplane ride aboard a twin engine propeller airliner to Louisiana’s lovely Fort Polk.
“It was not a big deal but my nose was pinned to the window the entire trip,” Bob said.
When Bob stepped from the airplane at Fort Polk he was not ready for the excruciating heat and humidity, but this was to be home for nine weeks of Basic Training.
During the first week, the troops were told by a Sergeant that due to the Vietnam War, draftees could join the Airborne which was previously reserved for enlistees. Bob promptly signed up.
In the fifth week, Bob was promoted to squad leader and given his own room in the rear of their WWII barracks. Basic was followed by Advanced Infantry Training at Ford Ord, California, where Bob found the climate much more palatable.
During AIT, Bob became an 81MM mortar man and completed training as an expert.
Meanwhile, a Staff Sergeant wearing a Green Beret informed Bob’s unit that due to the Vietnam War draftees could apply for Special Forces (Green Berets) but would be limited to engineer or communications positions.
Bob wasted no time applying along with 10 others. After a full week of testing, which included decision making, aptitude, psychological and physical, Bob and only three others passed.
Green Berets (Special Forces)
On Sept. 21, 1961 President John F. Kennedy visited Fort Bragg’s Special Forces Operations as he had a keen interest in them. After his visit, JFK informed the Pentagon that he considered the Green Berets to be “symbolic of one of the highest levels of courage and achievement of the U.S. Military.”
The term Green Beret became synonymous with Special Forces and is used interchangeably. In the mid-1960’s books, songs and movies were made about the Green Berets.
Following AIT, it was off to Fort Benning, Georgia for a glorious four weeks of Airborne Training.
“This was not exactly a slice of heaven and training was basically having a daily dose of getting your butt kicked,” Bob said.
One particular tower for jump training was 250 feet high.
“When I was hoisted to the top, I thought I could see California,” Bob said.
At the top, trainees were instructed to release their safety lines. Bob thought, “Are you nuts!?”
Bob’s first landing was not exactly textbook and he managed a badly sprained ankle. He was patched up the next morning with a jelly cast and sent back to training.
The final week of Airborne training was jump week and each recruit was required to make five qualification jumps from a C-130. On the final day, Bob earned his Silver Wings.
Of the 900 recruits who began training, 600 completed the course. Almost half were sent to Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Division or the 1st Cavalry Division. Bob was one of the few that knew he would go to Smoke Bomb Hill at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The rest went to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg.
Smoke Bomb Hill
It was early December 1965 with freezing snow on the ground when Bob and 15 fellow soldiers arrived for Special Forces training. Bob was there to learn about Special Forces and to become a communications operator (Morse code).
A Major conducted their orientation and he made it perfectly clear that if a man messed up even one time, he was out. No second chances.
Training, along with communications, included jungle warfare, survival, weapons of all types, insurgency, chemical warfare, etc.
Upon completion of training in mid-1966, Bob was sent to D Company, 7th Special Forces at Fort Bragg. He found himself in an outfit made up of many who had fought in WWII, Korea, and were facing Vietnam.
Little did Bob realize that his training had only just begun. By the end of his first day in D Company, Bob was chopper-qualified by repelling from a helicopter. More repelling from towers ensued and then it was on to Mountain Climbing School in the Pisgah National Forrest.
Bob’s friend in that school, Chuck Wilcox was later killed in Vietnam as was Bob’s buddy who bunked next to him.
Under Water Operations
In late 1966, Bob seized an opportunity to take Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West, Florida.
Training was extremely difficult particularly swimming the length of an Olympic-sized pool underwater.
There was six weeks of swimming above water and then underwater for long distances.
“Underwater swims at midnight were especially fun with a compass and a depth gage,” Bob said.
Soon, they trained in “Lock-ins and Lock-outs” from a WWII submarine. Two months later, Bob was sent back to Key West as an instructor.
In The Real World
A big decision was coming for Bob as June 1967 approached. It was either re-enlist and go to Vietnam or receive his Honorable Discharge and return home.
It turns out that his mother aided in that decision with a letter to Bob that had a news clipping reporting that his high school friend, Roger Warren, who had joined the LAPD, had been shot and killed on duty in Van Nuys.
Recognizing that the LAPD was a quasi-military organization, Bob chose to become a police officer and a new chapter in his life was about to begin.
The profile of Bob Kellar will continue with Chapter II Friday, Oct. 27.