I met Bob Schwenk in 1995 while researching a World War II story.

Bob and Dot Schwenk, who got married in Old Orchard Beach after his discharge from the Navy, on their honeymoon in 1947. Photo courtesy of Buddy Doyle

I was living and writing in Long Beach, California, home to many retired Navy veterans. His lovely wife, Dot, welcomed and directed me to the garage out back where he sat aside a wooden barrel smoking Marlboros. I conveyed my idea. He looked me squarely in the eye: “That’s a hell of a story …”

I asked what ship he’d served on. He lit another Marlboro, exhaled and simply said, “The Missouri.” He took a framed photo off the wall behind him. A wide-angle shot of sailors sitting, legs dangling from the deck, not 20 feet above the Japanese contingency as they surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945. A day of monumental history. With a stubby finger he pointed, grinned and said, “That’s me – right there!”

Buddy Doyle treated Bob and Dot Schwenk to breakfast on their 50th wedding anniversary, in 1997, and then snapped this photo. Photo by Buddy Doyle

Once aboard “The Mighty Mo,” he’d heard that the winners of the Navy’s ship-to-ship boxing matches (called “smokers”) got a big steak dinner. “Man, that was for me! I’d never had a steak dinner growin’ up. An’ boy – those steaks sure tasted good!” Eventually, he modestly mentioned he’d been heavyweight champion of the entire Pacific Fleet.

His best story went thusly: “After the Japanese surrendered – it only took about 20 minutes – they skedaddled real quick. All we cared about was goin’ home! We folded up the tables and chairs to take them below, an’ set up lunch for a couple hundred guys. That afternoon, some officers came down, askin’ for the table that was used in the ceremony. Hell, Buddy … I had no idea which one it was. So I just went over, picked one out – and gave it to ’em. They said it was headed to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington!”

After his discharge, Bob and Dot married in Maine at Old Orchard Beach. Ironically, I’d just reconnected with my high school sweetheart, who also lived up here in Maine. The Schwenks cheered on our budding bicoastal relationship. On their 50th wedding anniversary in 1997, I treated them to breakfast. They showed me a charming honeymoon picture from 1947. Never without my camera, I shot a picture of them in a similar pose – Dot loved it.

I moved to Maine to marry said sweetheart on Oct. 2, 1999. Shortly thereafter, my (brand-new) granddaughter, Hannah, and I came upon a model of the Missouri in a North Conway toy store. We built the model together, and Fed Ex’d it out to Bob back in Long Beach for Christmas.

A week or so later, Dot sent me a note, saying that Bob had passed that year – the effects of those Marlboros. But they made it out to Hawaii when the Missouri arrived from Bremerton, Washington, to the ship’s own final resting place next to the Arizona in Honolulu. Someday I’ll make it to Hawaii, and walk the Missouri’s famed teak deck, fondly remembering Bob Schwenk. Fair seas and following winds, my old friend.

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