By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE–Robert Said was just five or six years old when he first took to the skies, in a Ford Tri-Motor that roared through his home town, Sacramento, on a barnstorming junket. It was 1936, “give or take a year,” the plane itself was billed as having carried Admiral Byrd over the South Pole, and Said’s cash-strapped parents scraped together money for a ticket to ride for their airplane-crazed son.
You might say Bob Said’s feet have not touched ground since.
“I still fly my plan whenever the weather is nice,” said Said, 84, a veteran of the Korean War and lifelong journalist who is currently completing a memoir about his astonishing life and experiences as a battlefield reporter. Said is one of 50 who will be recognized at “A Community Event to Honor Korean Veterans,” at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 at Emeritus at Sunrise Creek (1968 Sunrise Drive). The event is a cooperative effort between Sunrise Creek and Welcome Home Montrose, a non-profit that provides resources and support for veterans of all U.S. wars. The community, veterans, and veteran families’ are invited to attend, and the book, Korea Reborn: A Grateful Nation will be presented to each veteran.
Though it is referred to as the forgotten war, vivid reminders of the work done during the three-year conflict exist for those who view the earth from above, like Said.
“We called it World-War-Two-and-a-Half,” he said. “All of the major participants in WWII had forces in Korea. I have a satellite photo of Korea at night, and there is a sharp line along the 38th parallel, which was invented by Truman, Churchill and Stalin at Potsdam. South Korea is a blaze of light, an advanced civilization. There are two tiny dots of light to be seen in all of North Korea, where the people have been brainwashed for three generations to hate the rest of the world.
“I feel sorry for them,” Said said. “But I would happily go back and beat them again.”
Said’s book, tentatively entitled “How to Enjoy Four Years in the U.S. Marines,” details a life lived by few others–the life of a 1950’s era combat correspondent in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“My job was to provide news coverage of Marine Corps close air support action, and the orders I got were to provide that coverage,” he said. “I loved every instant!”
The orders Said received–“You will go to such places, at such times and by such means as you deem necessary in pursuit of these orders,”–were designed to allow maximum freedom and access and the ability to commandeer aircraft at will, something that he laughs about to this day.
“I was a Private First Class,” said Said, who worked as a high school reporter with the Salt Lake Tribune before joining the Marines in 1948 and serving in Korea from 1950-1952. “I once bumped a Colonel from a flight. It was shameful! Disgraceful! But our group produced huge amounts of news coverage for the whole United States throughout the Korean war–I wrote three or four stories a day for more than a year. We had a makeshift photo lab, where we developed photos in a tent.”
And Said always tried to show his appreciation for a flight.
“Any time we went to Japan we brought back a large supply of beverages, so when I had to demand an aircraft to go to Japan, I made sure to give whoever I got the plane from some brandy to butter the deal.”
Though he has a number of medals, ask Said what his proudest memory of his years in service is and his response is quick.
“That I didn’t get shot,” he said.
After the war, Said worked briefly building aircraft for a company in Long Beach before attending Yale University. He later spent time in the Washington Bureau of the New York Times under James Reston before returning to the Salt Lake Tribune. Eventually, Said found a way to once again combine his love for flight with his work as a writer and editor.
“I spent half of the 1960’s, and all of the 1970’s and 1980’s editing nationally-circulated aviation magazines,” he said. “I also built my own plane; it’s a KR2 that I bought partially completed and then finished.”
Today, he keeps his plane at Delta Airport and flies whenever he gets the chance.
“I like to go up and look down on all of the unfortunates below,” he said.
His soon-to-be-released book has been produced on a computer, no small feat for a writer who started out using the “HPSE,” or “Hunt, Punch Swear and Erase” method of typing on a manual Smith Corona.
He treasures the photos taken during his years as a combat correspondent, depicting such moments as a helicopter encircling a ravished hillside to bring a birthday cake to marines huddled on the battlefield,
“I once photographed a rocket strike on the bad guys’ hill,” he recalled. “The camera weighed 30 pounds, and I had to run back down the hill carrying that monster.”
Said also said that he hopes to see a crowd at the Oct. 10 event to Honor Korean Veterans.
“There was a Korean War,” he said. “And there are people around still who were in it. Because of what they did, South Korea is a flourishing, modern, sane country. It is not always bad to interfere, and sometimes it has to be through the muzzle of a gun.”
Once he finishes editing his manuscript, Said will send it to be printed and distributed. And though it is a riveting tale told by a master and bound to crack national best seller lists, the author may not always be available on beautiful days for earth-bound book signing events.
After all, “I have been cleared for flight since I was five years old,” said Said.
To learn more about the event to honor Korean Veterans, call Jacqueline Marchbanks at Emeritus at Sunrise Creek, at 970-240-0600.