CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- He didn't like school. He didn't like sports. All he cared about was the military. And so, on Veterans Day 74 years ago, 19-year-old Bob Wiblin signed up for the Army and went off to fight in World War II.
He ended up in Europe with the 13th Armored Division, an anti-aircraft outfit nicknamed "The Black Cats." They moved through France and Germany, vanquishing the enemy in one town after another.
But that's not the part he enjoys remembering. It's the anecdotes, little incidents of levity amid the grave and gruesome business of war. He could tell those stories all day.
After the war, he found a job he loved at Union Carbide. He took all sorts of courses in night school. He founded a Presbyterian Church in St. Albans, led a Boy Scout troop, started a puppet ministry and traveled all over in a camper.
At 93, he's happy with the life he looks back on. Just one regret still nags him. He wishes he could have stayed in the Army.
"I was born in North Charleston at Stop 1, where the streetcar used to stop. My dad then bought a house at Stop 3 on West Washington Street. I lived there until I joined the Army.
"My father was a barber on Washington Street. Lawyers and all these people in Charleston used to come there and get their hair cut.
"I wasn't interested in sports or anything. I had on my brain the military. I tried to get my dad to send me to military school and he wouldn't do it.
"I finally quit school and joined the Army when I was 19. My dad had to sign the papers. He said, 'I'll sign these, but you make the best of it.' So I did. I loved it. When they started using live ammunition, that took all the fun out of it.
"Hitler was on his rampage. They signed me in on Nov. 11, 1939. The officer told us it was the first time the Army had taken people in on a holiday. They were getting ants in their pants.
"I wanted to go to Hawaii, but so did everybody else. They said the only foreign service they had was the Panama Canal and Bataan. But they said Bataan was a 45-day boat ride. I wasn't going on a 45-day boat ride, so I took the Panama Canal.
"When they attacked Pearl Harbor, I was going to school on the Pacific side. Sunday morning they had the radio on. They said it was Pearl Harbor. Where was Pearl Harbor? It didn't register. That very day, they sent me back to my outfit on the Atlantic side.
"We thought because we were in the canal zone, they would send us to Vietnam or someplace like that in the South Pacific. Instead, they sent us to Europe.
"They stationed us at Camp Stuart in Florida temporarily and then sent me to Texas to the 13th Armored Infantry. That's who I went to Europe with.
"We were an anti-aircraft unit, 90 millimeter. We were the "Black Cat" division. Walt Disney drew a patch for us but the Army wouldn't approve it. It had a ladder and a black cat.
"We landed in Le Havre, France. They told us we were going to be in Gen. Patton's Third Army. They have a road like our interstate that comes out of Le Havre and goes into Germany. We hit that highway, and the first sign I saw was a huge sign that said: 'Keep Moving or Get the Hell Off the Road ... Gen. George S. Patton.'
"I saw him one time. He visited our outfit at the front lines. I saw him go by in the Jeep. He had a meeting with our officers. Lots of people didn't like him. I thought the world of him.
"We captured some German paratroopers. The paratroopers and the SS troops were some of the worst. This corporal with me told this paratrooper to drop his pants. They just look at you and defy you even knowing you might kill them. That corporal went over and took his knife and split that pants leg down one side and then the other and the pants fell off.
"We were all the way through France. The thing I joined the Army for really was to stay out of the infantry. They stuck me in Texas in that armored infantry, which wasn't as bad. At least you got to ride around in a half-track.
"There were 13 of us guys in this half-track. We had this one guy from New York. All of a sudden, he held up a hand grenade and said, 'Who took the pin out of my grenade?' Everybody hit the floor. It could have been the truth.