VETERANS DAY SPECIAL FEATURE
by A.C. Hall
Society is obsessed with heroes. Super hero movies dominate the box office year after year. Sports stars are hailed as heroes as they try to lead their teams to championship victories. Players take on the role of heroes in video games and fight to vanquish evil. On this Veterans Day, it’s important to remember that heroes exist beyond the confines of movie and television screens. Real heroes live among us. They are our parents, our grandparents, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and friends, all those who have had the bravery to serve as a member of the Armed Forces to preserve our freedom as Americans.
One such hero is Robert Joseph Narowitz, a 93-year-old Fort Worth resident who served three years with the United States Navy during World War 2. Bob, as his friends call him, was a member of a small specialized unit filled with machinists, carpenters, and painters. Stationed on the small Japanese island of Ie Shima just off the northwest coast of Okinawa, Bob and his unit were tasked with maintaining and repairing Higgins boats. These iconic landing boats were used for amphibious landings as soldiers would ride them up to the beach, then charge out as the boats ramp was opened. When one needed to be repaired in the area, Bob’s unit would either travel to fix it, or it would be brought to his team.
“Our unit had enough knowledge to actually build one of those Higgins boats,” Bob said. Bob has a fondness for the Higgins boats, speaking highly of the craft and its durability as it was used in countless amphibious landings throughout World War 2. “I wish I would’ve had the money when they released those things, I would’ve bought one of them,” Bob said.
The island of Ie Shima was very close to Okinawa, making it a dangerous place. Bob recalled Japanese soldiers swimming to the island in the middle of the night then lying in wait to attack in the mornings.
One of Bob’s most memorable experiences during his six months on Ie Shima came when his past as a toolmaker was needed. Some Army members working to disarm unexploded Japanese bombs met a tragic end when a bomb they were working on exploded. With only bits and pieces of their disarming kit left, Bob was tasked with creating new tools that could be used in bomb dismantling work. He was given what was left of the disposal kit to work from, but said he had to make several tools from scratch.
“But I needed something to test them on,” Bob said.
It was a request that was granted, as Bob was provided with two massive unexploded Japanese bombs. They were placed just feet away from where he was working on the beach. Any time he was ready to test his new tools on the bombs, a flag waver would alert everyone in the area, forcing them to clear the beach in case the bombs went off.
Testing the tools was a challenge, as Bob stressed the importance of the tools not having any slippage.
“That’s probably what happened to the Army guys. Their tools got worn down or bent and they slipped a little bit and that’s all it took,” Bob said.
To test his newly created tools, Bob needed to get in the perfect position to make sure they didn’t slip.
“I straddled the bombs,” Bob said.
He describes this process matter-of-factly, saying he was too short to reach the parts on the bomb he needed to reach so straddling them was the best course of action. When asked if he was ever afraid while sitting on these deadly bombs, Bob answered quickly.
“A lot of people don’t understand this, but it didn’t bother me,” he said.
The tools Bob created were then used by other bomb disposal crews in the area. However, this wouldn’t be Bob’s last close brush with a bomb, as a week later a Japanese bombing run on the island would see him badly injured.
“They had eight waves of bombers come over. It was really something bad,” Bob recalled. “The bomb that hit us was right in our living area.”
Bob said the bomb hit about twenty-five feet away from where he was. He was severely injured in the blast, sustaining serious injuries to his hand, leg, and back, as well as internal injuries.
“If it hadn’t been for the Lord, I wouldn’t be here,” Bob said. “You can’t get damaged that bad and live through it otherwise.”
It took six months recovering in multiple hospitals before Bob was released. Too injured to return to duty, he was dismissed from the service. Due to his injuries, he was unable to return to his beloved profession of toolmaking. Bob instead attended photography school in his home state of Michigan before moving to Fort Worth to enjoy the warmer weather. In Fort Worth he met his wife and became the manager of a theater in the downtown area. They had three children together.
Now 93, Bob maintains a good outlook on his experiences during World War 2.
“All in all it was a real education. For me it was like working at a job; it’s what I knew,” Bob said. “It was really a fine time but I wouldn’t want to do it again.”
Three things are evident after conversing with Bob. First, he has a deep appreciation for the Higgins boats he worked on during the war. Second, he’s fiercely proud of his Purple Heart. His story of being presented with the Purple Heart is told with many details, a day of pride that remains a vibrant memory for Bob.
Lastly, Bob’s reaction to seeing an American flag is the expression of a true American hero. He beamed with pride as he looked upon a small American flag that he held in his hand.
“There’s nothing in the world I’d trade for that,” Bob said of the flag.
We at the Grizzly Detail encourage everyone to reach out to the honored veterans in your life this week. These brave men and women have given much for us. Not all veterans wish to speak about their service, but for those that do, the greatest gift you can give them is hearing their story.