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Take Five: The influence of the American G.I.

November 16, 2011|By Gene Pepper

There is no question that the date 11/11/11 is of great significance in numerology. While we all celebrated in our own way last Friday, there is another poignant significance to the date of November 11th. This day marks Veterans Day, in which Americans honor all war veterans.

If we can take this national holiday and bring it down to one family, it humanizes this occasion.

Bob and Karen Hopper, La Cañadans for 30 years, are prime examples of what makes American great. I had a chance to talk to Bob recently and found his family story to be dramatic. He celebrates his birthday on Nov. 11. Bob also has another distinction: He served in three branches of the British armed services: Army, Navy and the Royal Air Force.

He was born in England, and carries with him grim memories of the London Blitz, the terror air raids inflicted on the city by the Germans during World War II. Early family stories include a tale of a 1000-pound bomb which, in the ultimate horror, fell, unexploded, on his family’s doorstep. After determining that it would not detonate at that moment, the call was made to those courageous Englishmen who defused these potential killers and it was disarmed.

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Soon after this event, this wide-eyed little boy and his brother, along with thousands of other children, were dispatched to the countryside for safety’s sake for the remainder of the war. Some children went to farms to harvest, some were taken in by other families, and some were sent as far away as New Zealand for work programs. So many of these children were separated from their families and their home life that when (and if) they were finally reunited, the upheaval left permanent emotional scars on parents and children.

Bob mentioned that the first chocolate he ever tasted was given to him by a WWII G.I. He was duly impressed by anything American. He tasted his first banana, which had been sealed in a can of C-rations. He distinctly remembers watching American troops practicing beach landings in southern England.

“I graduated school at 16,” Bob said, “and when I was denied a scholarship to university, I went to work in a bank.” But America was embedded in his mind, and one day he determined he would live and work in the United States. He hated the banking business and found his way into the textile industry.

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