NEWBERRY — Packing his bags three days after high school to enlist in the U.S. Air Force, 81-year-old Robert (Bob) Pingleton did not imagine that 63 years later he would be honored for his service in such a unique fashion.
But on March 2, the American Legion Post 193 in Chapin hand delivered a Quilt of Valor to Pingleton, surrounded by his friends and family at his home in Newberry.
Pingleton’s wife, Grace, had discovered the Quilts of Valor website, which puts together quilts for veterans, honoring them for their service.
Pingleton applied to receive the quilt, but said he wasn’t expecting to hear back soon because the website said it could be six months before they were able to present him with such a gift.
“I heard back several days later and couldn’t believe it,” Pingleton said.
Richard Strobel with the American Legion Post said the group began working with the Quilts of Valor program when he saw a booth at a legacy ride they participated in.
Together, Strobel and five other members of Post 193 rode in on motorcycles to deliver the quilt to Pingleton.
“I almost cried,” Pingleton said. “It was beautiful the way they came in and I think every vet that gets a chance should be able to get one.”
The story begins
Pingleton graduated from high school in Coquille, Ore., and enlisted in the Air Force with two friends in 1951. He would be there for four years until he left in 1955.
He received his basic training in Texas before he was sent to Denver, Colo., where he took classes at a camera repair school, where the cameras were then used on guns on fighter planes and bombers, according to Pingleton.
Between 1951-1952, Pingleton was sent to Suwon, Korea, where he was in charge of F-86 fighter plane gun camera operation and repair for the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing.
While in Korea, Pingleton handled all fighter “Kills” film footage for the pilots and put together reels of combat footage for the 51st Wing Operations and for individual pilots’ personal use.
Early in 1953, Pingleton was transferred to Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash., to work on the cameras for B-36 Bombers in the 99th Armament and Electronics Maintenance Squadron in the 99th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing.
While stationed in Washington, he helped start and participated in the 99th Air Force Marching Drum and Bugle Corps, where he played the baritone bugle. The Corps participated in many military and public functions throughout the United States and Canada.
Pingleton remained stationed in Washington until he left in 1955 to attend Oregon State College, along with a buddy from the Air Force, Jake Hashburger. He graduated in 1958 with a bachelor of arts degree in forestry and business.
Life after school
After graduating from Oregon State, Pingleton went to work for Georgia Pacific Plywood as a superintendent.
Not long after, Pingleton was hired by an organization out of Los Angeles where he worked as an executive director for several years, just to return to Newberry County to continue working for GP.
Pingleton retired about 15 years ago from GP, but continued to express his love for the outdoors by hosting two hunting and fishing television shows.
The first show was a BAO Outdoor show, according to Pingleton, where he brought in fisherman to talk about their experiences. The show lasted about three years, before it was turned over to a group out of Birmingham, Ala., Pingleton said.
Dodge Everyday Sportsman was Pingleton’s second television show, which was sponsored by Dodge trucks. Tom Rogers was the host of the show. It was shown 450 to 500 times, according to Pingleton.
A simple haircut
Pingleton met Grace when he went in for a haircut and some of the women in the salon said they had a friend whose husband had died a while back. They wanted to introduce the two, and his wife having died about six years before, Pingleton agreed to meet Grace. He married her about a year later in 1976.
Together, the two enjoy traveling with the Road Runner Travel Club in Newberry. Grace puts several tours together for the group each year.
Pingleton said they also have two motorhomes, which they enjoy using for the joy of travelling. They also enjoy the company of their dog Pepper, a Jack Russell.
Pingleton has two daughters, Linda and Nancy, both of whom live in Oregon. Grace has two sons, Melvin and Carol, who live in the area.
Pingleton also was involved with the Honor Flight which took him and other Korean and World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour monuments and memorials last May.
Pingleton proudly recalled walking out of the terminal in Washington and being greeted with music from bands, and having school children shake his hand.
“It was really great,” Pingleton said. “They treated us right.”
Quilts of Valor Foundation
The Quilts of Valor Foundation began in 2003 when the son of a woman named Catherine Roberts went to war in Iraq. While he was gone, Roberts began quilting to keep her mind off her son at war. When he returned home, she presented the quilt to him.
The original goal of the Foundation was to present 100 quilts to veterans, but so far 97,337 veterans have received handmade quilts from the Foundation.
For more information on the Quilts of Valor foundation or how to register a veteran for a similar experience such as Pingleton’s, visit www.qovf.org.