In honor of Veterans Day, it is appropriate to feature a local resident who proudly served our country. Robert Stanton is that serviceman.
The Stanton family has lived in Medina County for several generations, Bob’s maternal grandfather settling in the Devine and Pearsall areas in the 1870s. In 1948, Bob’s parents purchased land between Devine and Natalia and built the house that Bob and Linda – after extensive remodeling – currently live in. His parents had met in San Antonio in 1944 while both were serving in the military, his father in the U.S. Army and the Army Air Corps, and his mother, in the U.S. Navy.
Bob started school in the Natalia district until his father moved the family to San Antonio with his work with the E. J. Burke Construction Company. In 1963, the family moved back to Devine, and Bob graduated from DHS in 1965. Upon entering school in Devine, Bob met his future bride – now his wife of 49 years – Linda Wingate. They began dating in 1963 and married on May 31, 1968.
Bob is a U.S. Navy veteran, serving seven years from 1965 until 1972. He first joined the Naval Reserve and underwent basic training in California over Christmas in 1965. In 1967, he transferred to the regular U.S. Navy and was assigned to West Pack in the Pacific where he served on the USS Hanesworth DD700 (Destroyer) as an E 3 Seaman. He was then transferred to the USS Belle Grove (LSD 2), a Landing Ship Dock in the “Gator Navy,” and he decided to become a Gunners Mate Guns (GMG). In that role, Bob was assigned as a Gunnery Instructor at the Naval Reserve Arsenal in San Antonio in May, 1968, shortly before his and Linda’s wedding. Bob and Linda had their honeymoon a year later in Hawaii since his new orders for Vietnam came through in early June. By the end of June, 1968, he was training for PBR (Patrol Boat River).
Bob’s first assignment was to the Third Corps PBR Division 592, south of Saigon, South Vietnam, at NaBay on the Saigon River. Bob’s unit served in Operation Market Garden and two other major operations. The navy operation in Vietnam was called Operation Game Warden, and the PBR sailors were known as River Rats.
Bob explains in detail: “The PBR boat was 32 feet long and eight feet wide with an eighteen-inch draft, constructed of Fiberglass, powered by two six-cylinder Diesel engines that provided thrust through two Jacuzzi pumps and nozzles. When the boat was on step it only needed nine inches of water. The boat carried a four-man crew, a radar unit, two radios, and 16 automatic weapons as well as flares, hand grenades, mortars and side arms, with several thousand rounds of ammo.”
Bob elaborates on his duties: “We patrolled the area called the Rung Sat Zone that was a main base of operations for the Viet Cong. We performed ambushes, insertions of LRRPs (Army Long Range Recon Patrols) and medical evacuations. Our primary purpose was to guard large ships that used the deep Saigon River to transport supplies for the war from the sea coast to Saigon through Can Jo Bay. We had many operations in the upper river swamps north of the Saigon River.”
Recounting one harrowing experience, Bob shares: “One night our two-boat patrol with a total patrol crew of nine sailors was drifting quietly in the river that fed out of the swamps when we interrupted a large Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army camp meeting. We came under heavy fire from both sides of the river and returned fire with 50 caliber and 30 caliber machine guns, M-60 machine guns, M 79 grenades, 60 millimeter mortars and LAW rockets. During this operation, I was serving as forward gunner behind two 50 caliber machine guns. During the seven-hour engagement, we called in artillery, “Puff the Magic Dragon” gun ship, and bomber aircraft, and we made four firing runs through that area of the river. At daylight, we were able to de-board from the two PBR’s and search the area since the Viet Cong had left. We found a high body count, many blood trails, and many weapons and equipment which were loaded on the boats and returned to base.”
In January, 1969, Bob was transferred to River Division 532 on the Mekong River, based at My To, and was promoted to Boat Captain of PBR 69. He recounts, “This assignment involved many night ambushes, night patrols, insertions and extractions of Army LRRPS & Navy SEAL teams, while many times under enemy fire. During these operations, we worked as radio relay of information for artillery, aircraft bombers, Huey gun ships, and Puff gun ships. We also maintained blocking and interdiction forces on the river to attempt destruction of VC and NVA units on the ground that were being engaged by Army ground forces.”
Bob recalls the serious human losses he experienced, stating that most of them occurred when they were relocated to an Army Green Beret base camp called Tra Cu. Continuing on patrols, interdictions, and support of Army units during their 2 ½ month assignment at this location, their beginning division strength at Tra Cu was 76 sailors and officers. When they were relocated to a new base at Sa Dec, they had only seven of those original 76 crew members.
After 14 months in Vietnam, Bob had 263 documented patrols, 39 firefights, many insertions and extractions, and medical visits to many villages. During this time, he suffered illnesses and injuries, including Agent Orange exposure and a case of malaria which required a two-week hospitalization. Another injury was a lightning strike on a claymore mine that exploded right in front of a dirt berm within four feet of him, resulting in a concussion, knee and back injuries, and loss of hearing. At the time of this incident, Bob had only ten days left in the country, and he says, “I am thankful for that berm! It saved my life!”
But Bob remembers a happy experience of delivering a South Vietnamese baby boy on Jan. 1, 1969. And he proudly shares, “Although I went through some difficult times and lost many friends and shipmates who were my brothers because we always had each other’s backs, I will always be proud of my opportunity to serve my country.” And for his service, he received the Meritorious Service Combat Medal with V for valor and Navy Commendation with Combat V as the Vietnam Service medal and others.
Since his active duty service, Bob says he feels blessed with a wonderful family that includes four children – all DHS graduates. Pagette, the oldest, graduated from DHS in 1990 and attended Southwest Texas State and graduated from the Baptist Memorial School of Nursing. Most of her carrier has been working as a Pediatric Oncology nurse at the Methodist Hospital, and she now works part time at the Methodist as a Nursing Administrator. She also has a photography business. Pagette is married to Wayne Callender, who has worked for CPS in San Antonio for over 25 years. They have two sons, Hudson and Carson, both students at the International School of Americas in San Antonio. Hudson will graduate this year and is making college plans, and Carson is a freshman.
Blythe graduated from DHS in 1992 and obtained her degree from Baylor University. She lives in La Grange and works at the Bell Medical Hospital in Austin as the Director of Intern Programs. Blythe is married to Jerome Cone, a native of La Grange and a pilot for American Airlines. They have two sons: Jakob, an eighth-grader, and Elliot, who is in kindergarten.
Continuing the family tradition, Bob’s and Linda’s two sons both served in the military, specifically, the Army combat divisions of Iraq. Shane, who graduated from DHS in 1996, retired from the Army in 2017 with 20 years in combat and as an Army Recruiter. He received many commendations and decorations, including a Purple Heart, while serving in Iraq. Ronnie, who graduated from DHS 1998, joined the Army after graduation and completed seven years in the military, including a tour in Iraq. He has relocated to Idaho and will marry his fiancée, Kandace, on December 23 in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Not only is serving his country important to Bob, but also is serving his community. He coached sports teams for his children, serves as Deacon at FBC, served on the school board, and worked as a reserve Deputy Sheriff with full Commission for the Medina County Sheriff’s Office for over 11 years. Bob has also enjoyed successful careers as a general contractor and worked as the Director of Maintenance and Engineering for Rivercenter Mall and Hyatt Hotels.
Bob says that in his retirement, he still enjoys working each day at Devine Health & Rehab, is an active member of Game Wardens’ of Vietnam Association, and enjoys having his own gun shop and shooting range available after work hours. He adds, “Linda and I love to travel and are so thankful for all of our friends and family who have always been there for us.”