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Robert Goergon
Pearl Harbor Survivor

Robert Goergon is a funny, charming and interesting man. He was born May 11, 1920 in Buffalo New York, a fifth generation American and proud of it.

He was one of nine children, midway through a group of seven boys and two girls. Now he is the patriarch of the family, the oldest living sibling.

At only age 20, Robert enlisted in the Army. He knew he would be drafted at 21 and have no say as to where he went or what he did. So, he enlisted with his first choice being Hawaii and the medical department.

His outfit was assigned to North Africa, but wound up in Alaska instead. Months later the mix up was explained, but none-the-less there he was in Alaska.

"See? Words really are important. The wanted the Air Corps Service Company and abbreviated it to something that became Air Transport Command. Doesn't seem all that different unless you're on your way to Alaska!"

USS Arizona memorial
USS Arizona memorial

But he did finally get to Hawaii, and specifically, Pearl Harbor. And that is where he was on December 7, 1941.

He met another soldier from Buffalo who got him into the base's Church choir. He was in the choir loft that Sunday morning when he saw some flashes and heard some explosions.

He was not alone in thinking this was a maneuver or field exercise. The priest had just finished his service, which included a homily on the imminence of war how we should prepare for it both physically and spiritually.

The service ended about 8:05. He came out and saw 90 mm anti-aircraft guns. He ran to the Medical Office. He remembers the next two lines very clearly. He said "This is a very realistic maneuver" and the response was "Maneuver hell, this is the real thing!"

Casualties were already coming in. Robert, as a lab technician drew and typed their blood. He was relieved in mid-afternoon so he would be ready to come back and work the night shift.

He was escorting a civilian nurse to Headquarters when they experienced their first black out. He broke his nose on a doorway during the blackout "Medics aren't supposed to get ill or injured!"

"Everything was routine - we had trained so much. But it was all on a much larger, grander scale. And the hospital - of course the hospital was full."

They had tropical warfare training and every second day they had a 20-mile excursion. On the off days they had heavy-duty exercise in the compound. That's when he decided to apply for OCS (Officer Candidate School).

After the service he went to Niagara University where he received a degree in Natural Science. "I planned to go into pre-med. Several hundred people should be thankful I never got into Medical School. That probably saved their lives."

Robert Goergon

He got married in his Junior year. "Financially that was the worst move possible. But as far as picking the right woman there could not have been a better move." He married Mary (nee Whisell) and was married for 54 years when she died in 2001. Together they had eight children, including one who died in infancy.

His four brothers, his son, his wife and her two brothers were all in the Army. His one son enlisted during Viet Nam. During the swearing-in ceremony he smiled and they noticed his braces. He had to wait a year to join. He eventually wound up in Viet Nam, spent 21 years in the Army and then onto law school. He now practices law in Tennessee.

Another son was in the Navy at a Japanese Hospital during Viet Nam. His third son works with dialysis machines and the fourth son is an electrical engineer.

Not to be outdone by the men in the family, one daughter has a degree in Psychology and another in Computer Science, the second daughter has a master's Degree in government Administration and is now a homemaker and the third is a consultant for a large Software Company.

Then of course there are twelve grandchildren and one great-grandchild!

While living in New York Robert worked for a company that was soon bought out by a larger company that decided to liquidate. Then he managed the Whitmer-Jackson Company, but they soon closed. He began to think his mantra should be "Hire me and go out of business!"

He continued to work for several building material distributors until he went into the lumber and millwork business for himself. You guessed it - only three years later the business closed. He went to work for other wholesale lumber companies until finally, in 1982, he retired.

Since his retirement Robert has continued to work part time with Internal Revenue Service, assisting the taxpayers. His wife, who taught nursing at Jane Adams in downtown Cleveland, had retired in 1980.

Robert Goergon

Together they did a lot of traveling. In 1982 his son was stationed in Korea, but owned a home in Kiliem Texas. There was a period of about four months that the house would sit vacant, so Robert and Mary went down to housesit. They returned to Cleveland but it wasn't long before they were back on the road again - Texas, Arizona, California.

The same son who had been stationed in Korea was then transferred to Germany. Robert and Mary hopped a plane and spent 7 weeks in Europe, using their Eurail pass to see Germany, Holland, Austria and Belgium, among others. With nothing to tie them down, the two decided to go East or West depending on where the next train was going. The next train went to Paris and so did they.

Robert had studied German 40 years ago and his wife knew a little High School French. They stopped trying to use their rusty second-languages when the man at the station pleaded with Robert's wife "Please madam, I speak English!"

Mary had been stationed in Germany at the same time as Robert. She had done R&R on the French Riviera, but this time they decided to see the Italian Riviera, then went on to Assisi, Florence and finally Rome.

They missed their train back and decided once again to take the next train "anywhere". They wound up in Switzerland, near Geneva and then to Luxembourg and home.

Robert has seen all 50 states, between vacations and military time. His wife has seen 49. "We prefer the hot weather. I was stationed in Alaska, I'd rather be in Hawaii"

His love of warm weather may be what had him living in Texas for 10 years, from 1988-1998.

The last five years until his wife's death in 2001, Robert became her caregiver. "You always hear people talking about caregiver burnout or how hard it is to be a caregiver 24 hours a day. I never experienced that. There was no burn out. Even as a married couple for all those years we never became as intimate as we did then. We were so close and yet somehow became closer."

Robert Goergon

Robert is a devout Catholic, even though he calls himself "an old sinner". He attends daily Mass at St. Francis of Assisi in Gates Mills.

He thinks a major problem with today's society is "lack of proper teaching on sexuality from generation to generation. Dancing has become sexual gyrations and the words to songs are ridiculous. If parents taught their children about the sanctity of sexuality they would not behave this way."

"Some say today's youth know more than we ever did. Not true! They know nothing of the arts - I mean all of the arts - the art of history, the art of science, the art of mathematics. They only know the technical stuff. I would say every High School student should read G.K. Chesterton, in fact everybody should read his works."

Robert looks pensively aside and says " I wish I could give the experience of my years to a person much younger and let them move and grow with it."

Profiled by Debbie Hanson



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