Parade grand marshal Bob Turner marches with a passion

Longtime Westonite Bob Turner is this year’s Memorial Day parade grand marshal. — Bryan Haeffele photo

Longtime Westonite Bob Turner is this year’s Memorial Day parade grand marshal. — Bryan Haeffele photo

When it comes to Weston’s Memorial Day parade, most grand marshals ride along the route in a car. Not Bob Turner, this year’s parade grand marshal.

Turner is not one to just talk the talk — he is also one to walk the walk.

While his wife and family will ride the parade route in a car, Turner, 95, said he intends to walk the entire way — making the parade a reverent and personal experience.

Belying his advanced years, Turner is spirited and easy to spot around town with his white beard and signature Stetson cowboy hat.

More than 70 years ago, Turner served in the U.S. Army during World War II where he achieved the rank of first lieutenant.

Bob is fascinating and sharp,” said Lyette Segerdahl, a member of the parade committee that selected Turner as grand marshal.

Turner and his wife, Hope, have made Weston their home since 1953, back when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. The couple raised their three children here.

Turner has spent more than half a century involved in community service to Weston — as the town’s zoning and code enforcement officer, and volunteered on the Highway Study Committee, Zoning Board of Appeals, and Conservation Commission.

Turner also holds the honor of being the first elected chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission in 1967.

Childhood

Turner’s childhood was far from the norm.

Robert P. Turner was born in 1921, near Sheridan, Wyoming. He was given up for adoption by his father along with his five other siblings after his biological mother died in a series of unfortunate events.

To the best of his knowledge, Turner was left in the care of the state of Wyoming when he was two years old.

He said his father didn’t feel he had any way of taking on the responsibility of nurturing his children.

Four of Bob’s siblings stayed in Wyoming and one brother died from whooping cough.

Turner was placed in an orphanage in Laramie for one-and-a-half years before he was adopted by Helen Morris Turner, a Vassar graduate and single woman, who was visiting the area to ride horses.

In the middle of her visit, however, she ran out of money, and was forced to call the Bishop of Wyoming, a friend of her father, to get a job.

The Bishop sent her to work at the orphanage where Bob Turner, who was around four at the time, was staying.

Helen and young Bob formed a strong bond during her time at the orphanage. But when it was time for her to leave and go back east, she couldn’t. Turner recalls she said, “I’m not going back without this little boy.”

He said Helen was persistent. “She convinced the Bishop of Wyoming to make arrangements for her to adopt me. As a single woman, it was a very courageous act,” said Turner.

In the 1920s, it was rare for single women to adopt children. But Turner said he was lucky.

Helen married Harry Bates, an insurance lawyer, soon after returning to New York with Turner in tow.

Over the course of their marriage, Helen and Harry Bates had other children. But Turner said Bates was a kind man who treated him the same as his other children and didn’t care that he was adopted.

Helen decided Bob should keep the last name “Turner” because she was the last person in her family with that name and she didn’t want it to die out.

In the following years, Turner went to Hackley, a prep school, and Cornell University, majoring in mechanical engineering. He didn’t graduate, but instead enlisted in the U.S. Army around 1942, soon after the Pearl Harbor attack leading into World War II.

Military service

“Nobody today can begin to understand the tone, nature and mood of the country after Pearl Harbor. It was like being in a football stadium after a play or run. There’s an electricity that changes everybody in the stands. Most everybody wanted to enlist. It was universal. It was very pervasive and unquestionable,” Turner said.

Bob Turner

Bob Turner

Turner rose to the rank of first lieutenant in the Army air corps and learned how to become a radio operating mechanic. He was promoted after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) began developing radar for the Army.

Turner was then placed in a radar unit at Langley Field to fly B-17s around America to test new radar for bombing missions.

With new technology coming from MIT, Turner contributed to molding the United States into a bigger superpower.

In November 1942, U-boats claimed 117 Allied ships. Less than a year later, between September and October 1943, only nine Allied ships were sunk, while 25 U-boats were destroyed by aircraft equipped with ASV radars. The operations performed at Langley Field were also credited with developing special detector equipment used in anti-submarine warfare. It is frequently said that although the atomic bomb ended World War II, it was radar that won the war.

The military had a huge positive impact on Turner. “I am much more organized and disciplined than I ever would have been if I hadn’t spent those years in the military. It has nothing to do with war and killing. It has to do with a kind of lifestyle you lead and I would say that’s one of the impacts on me. For example, you learn the importance of cleaning your weapon. If you don’t clean it, you get killed. There was much about the military that was good and sensible that has rubbed off on me ever since,” Turner said.

Bob Turner achieved the rank of first lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Bob Turner achieved the rank of first lieutenant in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Post-military

In 1953, Turner started working in Stratford at Sikorsky Aircraft, the helicopter manufacturer. He remained there until his retirement in 1986.

In the 1950s, during the “Cold War era,” Turner was a volunteer with a civil defense group. Its objective was to figure out what would happen if a bomb hit and how to deal with the aftermath. Turner was civil assistant to the civil defense director and brainstormed the potential damage and salvageable opportunities.

“The state and government mandated that every town have such a function because it was necessary. All kids learned about duck and cover. After a couple years, the director and I both agreed there was nothing anyone could do if it actually came to nuclear weapons,” Turner said.

Also in the 1950s, Turner was president of the Young Republicans group, a new, up-and-coming political organization known for stirring up controversy. Turner recalled that Pat Heifitz, the editor of The Weston Forum at the time, wrote several editorials and cartoons arguing against them.

The club provided a soapbox for a young Lowell P. Weicker, which helped him attract political notice, Turner recalled.

In the 30 years since his retirement, Turner has been heavily involved in land use in Weston as a member of various boards, and as the town’s zoning and code enforcement officer from 1998 to 2009. He is currently a member of the Conservation Commission.

Turner said he has no future plans in the making. “At 95, your plans usually involve getting out of bed the next day,” he said.

Turner has participated in the Memorial Day parade for 10 years, and has finally been asked to lead it. “They had to get somebody and there aren’t many of us left. They had to pick me because I was there, I was still alive. And you better grab me while I am,” he said modestly.

“It makes me realize how old I am, that I’m of another generation and another time, but I’ve been able to successfully traverse into this generation and be accepted here. I appreciate the honor and the recognition that goes with it,” Turner said.

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  • Sean Armstrong

    Great article YOU BET !!!!

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