While growing up, Bob Comer was easily bored when it came to schoolwork, and didn’t take it seriously.
“I wasted a lot of time,” he said. “I didn’t grow up until quite a bit later.”
His father saw that and consequently pushed him to join the service in his senior year of high school.
Though Comer was only 17 at the time, if he were to join before the end of January 1955, he would be considered a Korean war veteran even though a ceasefire had already been declared, which would mean he’d be able to take advantage of those benefits.
When his father was just 17, he had been a mail pilot, flying from Long Beach to St. George, Utah. “He was a pretty tough guy… That’s why at 17, he thought I was big enough to go (into the military).”
Choosing to follow in his father’s footsteps, Comer joined the Air Force, just 10 days before the deadline.
Though he didn’t know it at the time, he later considered this decision a good move, and a move that would shape his future.
“I was very fortunate to fall in where I did, because I look back to a kid who hated school. I just had my mind on other things. But it all worked out,” he said, chuckling.
Comer was born in Los Angeles on June 18, 1937. “My father was a fireman, and he retired a fire captain. My mother was a housewife and, in those days, that was considered enough of a job.”
He and his younger sister were brought up in Culver City, where they remained throughout their childhood.
“It was at the end of the road,” Comer said. “There was nothing there except bean fields, so it was very remote at the time.”
As a kid, his father would take him along while he went door-to-door selling weather stripping and insulation, a side business he had, instructing Comer to work one side of a street while he worked the other. “I got over the fear of talking to strangers.”
While growing up, Comer didn’t play many sports, as he said he was a “little guy.” Instead, he enjoyed participating in drama class and plays in high school.
It was halfway through his senior year that Comer left to join the Air Force.
At 17 years old, Comer was sent up to Parks Air Force Base in Pleasanton for boot camp.
“I was somewhat prepared, but it was a jolt because … they were pretty harsh,” he said. “I think they were trying to weed out anybody that was not going to be tough enough to handle it.”
From there, Comer was sent to Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois, where he took an aptitude test that would determine his strengths. “They classified me as a classification specialist, which was a desk job… finding placement for the servicemen in something that they would be good at.”
After receiving his training, he was sent to work in a recruiting office in Brooklyn, where he was helping to train the reservists who would be working in positions like his own.
“Probably the best thing that happened to me in the service was I met my first wife,” he said.
As Comer had walked into the building after just arriving, he spotted a photo of what he calls “teeny boppers” with a group of soldiers.
“I hear this guy behind me walking over, and I didn’t even turn around, I just asked, ‘Who’s that?’” Comer said as he pointed to a specific girl in the photo. “He said, ‘I know who that is. I took the picture.’”
With the help of her mother, who answered the phone when he called, Comer scored a date with Joan that very night. Clad in his Class A uniform, Comer set out for her house later that night. “She opened the screen door and came out, and she looked down and I looked up. And I smiled, and she smiled — that was it.”
They went to see “Seven Year Itch,” and Comer said he jumped during the infamous Marilyn Monroe skirt scene.
“Now, I have to tell you, being 18 years old and she’s 16, all we did is look at each other — we didn’t get it,” he said, chuckling. “It just went right over us, which was kind of neat if you think about it — it was a good time to be a kid.”
Coming from living in California, Comer learned quickly that summers in New York were different.
“I remember being in the barracks, which in those days were not air-conditioned, and we were upstairs, which is even worse than downstairs, and I was so miserable trying to get sleep,” he said. “I went out on the lawn once, took my sleeping bag, laid down, (but) within two minutes, I was up and back inside because of the mosquitoes. Oh man, It was awful.”
After two years, Comer was sent to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska.
Soon after, Comer went back to Brooklyn on leave to marry Joan. “Over the years, I have to say, I did myself a real favor. I don’t think I would have done nearly as well in life, if she wasn’t there.”
In Alaska, he became a morning report clerk, who worked seven days a week keeping attendance records.
“I liked it because I hated KP, (or) kitchen police (duty),” Comer said, adding that because he worked seven days a week as a report clerk, he wasn’t able to participate in KP.
He spent much of his free time enjoying the Alaskan outdoors. “I loved it there. It was a real frontier still because it wasn’t a state yet.”
He remembers one time when he and his friends woke up surrounded by wild weasels while on a camping trip. “What got me was they were not at all afraid. They were sitting there like big squirrels … They were fascinated and (had) no fear.”
Though he was supposed to be stationed there for 18 months, he was able to be released after just a year due to a force reduction and was honorably discharged.
While in the service, Comer had gotten his GED diploma and taken some college credits, so once back in California, he started attending Santa Monica City College.
“I had an allotment check that came, I think it was once a month, and I had just gotten that check and put it in my locker… and somebody stole it,” he said. “I had rent to pay, so I quit (school).”
Yet, Comer said it worked out. “I was lucky. I think my father’s (influence) was a big help.”
He went to work for the Auto Club for about a year, then to a bank for another year. “I got bored with the Auto Club and I got bored with the bank.”
Finally, he went to work selling Ramblers, which he enjoyed a whole lot more.
“I liked the cars, and I was pretty good with statistics,” he said. “The Rambler at that time had more features than any other car in the market.”
Many of his customers were engineers who wanted to know all of the statistics, which worked perfectly for him.
After nearly five years selling cars, Comer made it on Rambler’s list of top-50 car salesmen in the country. “I went home and told my wife, I said, ‘I’m in the top 50, and we’re starving.’”
It didn’t take him long to find a new position at Moore Business Forms, which, at the time, was the largest printing firm in the world.
In 1967, Comer bought a home in a new development in what is now considered Canyon Country. “We were the fourth house with people in it in the new tract.”
After spending nearly 30 years in the printing industry, he and another salesman went to work for themselves, brokering printing jobs.
“I was my own boss and the traders treated me like a king because I was bringing the business in,” he said, adding that he was happy. “We were in a business that you can do until you’re 80 years old because it’s fun.”
It was there he remained for the rest of his career until retiring just last year.
A few years ago, while at the senior center, he met Elizabeth. “I just said to her one day, ‘Would you like to go to lunch?’ She looked at me and said, ‘I don’t date.’ Well, that would put off most guys — not me.”
Now, the two are married. “And I lucked out again because she’s smart, too,” Comer said, smiling. “We’re having a good time, and she’s a wonder.”
The couple still volunteers at the senior center five days a week, helping to set up for lunch each day.
“My wife and I sterilize the tables, and I’m supposed to be the bouncer because most of the dining room is supposed to be closed until 10 a.m.,” he said, adding that Elizabeth is better at it.
Then, they and their friends share a table every day for lunch. “It’s a live table — it’s fun. You never know what somebody’s going to say, and there’s chuckling going on all the time.”