KANEOHE, Hawaii - Robert Porter
(photo left during service year) ducked behind his school
with a friend to sneak a smoke in between classes. He threw
the evidence into a nearby field — causing the hay to
ignite. He owned up to his mistake and worked an entire
summer to repay his debt to the farmer.
That was the
kind of man the retired sergeant major was - one who valued
honesty, honor and integrity.
“One thing he beat into
us was that your word is your name,'” said Porter's son
David, 59, a retired Navy commander.
away July 28 at Tripler Army Medical Center at the age of
88. His funeral ceremony was held at Hawaii State Veterans
Cemetery in Kaneohe, Hawaii, Aug. 2. Porter was the first
sergeant major of Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe, Hawaii.
Porter, born March 5, 1925, in Hornell, N.Y., joined the
Marine Corps as soon as he could. He served in World War II,
Korea and two tours to Vietnam.
Porter was a country
boy. He attended a one-room schoolhouse and woke up extra
early to light the fire for the school's heater.
time, joining the military seemed to be the only way out of
his small hometown. He use to joke with his grandchildren
about being too poor to ride a horse to school, so he rode a
Porter served more than 30 years in the Marine
Corps, witnessing armies and countries rise and fall,
nations and people shatter and rebuild before his eyes, but
he rarely spoke about it.
“He never told any war
stories. You will find that most professional soldiers don't
do that,” David said. “There was no vibrato, he never
bragged about it — professional soldier.”
he experienced in life developed his character. Although he
rarely spoke of early struggles, he shared wisdom with
anyone who cared to listen.
“Grandpa was a leader, he
set the tone as who you are supposed to be as a man. Not
necessarily military but what kind of husband and father you
should be,” said Robert Fredrick Porter II, Porter's
grandson. “I would just call to talk, from war to what it
takes to be a good husband.
“He didn't like to talk
about the wars,” he added. “There were certain things you
would want to know that only someone like him could answer.
He would always answer. They don't make soldiers like
His family says he was a man of
experience and wisdom, a member of the “greatest
generation.” He moved forward, focusing his efforts to
better those around him.
David recalls one instance
where he witnessed his father yelling at some Marines for
the first time, he remembers feeling shocked, it was so
“You watch TV and you see the sergeant
major as rough, at home he was gentle as a lamb,” David
said. “If you talk to his Marines, though, they'd probably
disagree with you. He never swore, just gentle as a lamb.”
Porter was married to his wife, Flora, for 60 years.
Their marriage was destined to be on a long and turbulent
road. Deployments kept them separated and “snail mail” kept
them frustrated but patient.
Flora made it work. She
kept her children busy and happy while they waited for their
father to come home.
This image of late Marine Corps retired Sergeant Major Robert Porter
with his wife Flora were among many at funeral service on August 2, 2013 at Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe, Hawaii. The pair was married for 60 years. Robert served 30 years in the Marine Corps, which included service in World War II, Korea,
and two tours in Vietnam. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Sarah Dietz)
In Vietnam, the Marines rarely
called the states. The most convenient way to reach their
families was by radio, only speaking a few moments at a
One day a call came over the coms announcing
that a Bob Porter had a massive heart attack. Come to find
out, there were two Bob Porters — it wasn't Flora's husband.
“She is tough. She did not complain. Our household
functioned, everything went on,” David said. “My dad knew
that my mom didn't like it, he knew that it was hard on her
but he also knew that's what he wanted, he loved the Marine
Corps. To my mom's credit, she was there every step of the
His Marines were his life. Leading Marines was
more than a job to Porter — it was his passion.
Porters moved duty stations many times. Typically, they
traveled cross country in a station wagon, bags packed and
car loaded. One time, Bob noticed a man with a sea bag slung
over his shoulder walking along the road. He slammed on the
breaks and took the Marine where he needed to go.
The example he made as a father, husband and Marine echoed
throughout the two generations of his family who survive
He was an inspiration for his son David to be
commissioned in the Navy and gave grandson Jason Bagwell his
first salute in the Air Force.
When David was
commissioned into the Navy, Porter swore him into the
service alongside the commanding officer of his Reserve
Officer's Training Corps unit. That moment in history is
seared into David's mind as one of the proudest memories of
“Here I am in a pearly white uniform with
nothing on it and this guy with campaign ribbons from WWII
on and hash marks. I said, ‘Well dad, I guess you have to
salute me now,' and he said, ‘Son, I'd be proud to,'” he
Those moments are what Bob lived for. He didn't
live to be rich in a tangible way, he lived his life in a
way that paid in love and loyalty.
retirement from 30 years of service, he worked another 35
years with Marine Corps Community Services, displaying his
loyalty to the Corps outside the uniform.
a special spot in his heart for people. He believed people
matter. He was known by his family and friends as a man who
would give the shirt off his back if he could.
86, his doctor told him to stop working because of his
declining health. Porter had worked since he was 13 years
old, it was a difficult adjustment for him.
Porter's physical condition weakened, Robert remembers
sitting around the kitchen table talking to his grandfather.
He asked his grandfather if he was going to die and Porter
replied, “Marines don't die, they go to hell and regroup.”
“And he meant it,” Robert said. “Not the hell part,
but he really meant it. The Marines back then were so proud.
A Marine like him is way too big of a badass to let a heart
problem stop him.”
One thing about Porter, which his
age could never gain a firm grasp of, was his handshake.
“His grip was an iron grip,” David said. “If you shook
his hand you better be ready because he still shook hands
like a Marine when he was 80 years old.”
before Bob passed away, he shook hands with his nurse, who
in turn had to shake his hand out because of the strength of
Porter is survived by his wife Flora, his
three children, Loyd Porter, a head golf professional from
San Diego, Debbie Bagwell, who lives in Kailua, Hawaii, and
David. He also has five grandchildren and three triplet
The small-town country boy from
N.Y. impacted generation of people by sticking to his
values. From being honest with a farmer, fighting for his
country and impacting people around him; he stuck to his
“I feel like he spent his whole life fighting
for people who couldn't fight for themselves. When he was
retired he helped people who couldn't help themselves,
that's how they bred them back then,” Robert said.
“Grandpa's gone but I would like his name to live on and
never be forgotten, his and men like him,” Robert added.
“They are something special."
By USMC Cpl. Sarah Dietz
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