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Christmas gift traces military journey of a beloved uncle

Gorden Roberts was a very important person in the life of his nephew Shane Walton and niece Melissa who wrote this tribute about him and her northern Metcalfe County, KY family members.

By Dr. Melissa Katherine Walton-Shirley
Reprinted with permission

I've waited until after Christmas to post what I put together for Shane's present. It was a labor of love.

When Uncle Gorden and Aunt Gordie Roberts' estate auctioned, I purchased his "Seabees trunk". It contained a lot of his special mementos from his time in the Navy served during World War II. The wooden box had "Seabees" and his name emblazoned on the top of it.

The box sat in our laundry room collecting dust with Tony's golf gloves etc. on top of it for over a decade . I had only taken a cursory look inside the day I bought it. During the pandemic I was cleaning out closets and thought I would sit down with it. I was amazed. It contained his naval uniform of two navy blue hats, a green cap, a navy blue sweater and a white sailor's shirt. I had no idea there were over 100 letters inside. From those letters I gleaned that he could get no mail back for up to six months at a stretch. I had no idea he had stayed so long in a small Japanese town. One of the pictures is of the market there.

I always knew that Uncle Gorden loved aunt Gordie but the passion that came through in those letters for their relationship was beautiful. If you enlarge the picture above you can see there is a piece of paper that is torn that says "I would give a million dollars to just", And you can fill in the blank. Often it would be finished with "to have a kiss", or "to have a hug", or "to hold you".

From what I can glean, Uncle Gorden and Aunt Gordie had been married about eight years when he was called up. In the center you see a map that traces his journey from around Louisville to Rhode Island into the Great Lakes region and then to California. He wrote the dates that he departed California for Hawaii and when he departed for Japan. It seems he spent about four years in the military.

When Shane and I were growing up we would often ask Uncle Gorden why they didn't take a vacation. He would smile and reply,"Why on earth would I want to go on vacation? I'm on vacation here every day of my life".

It was his habit to get up around 3:30 in the morning to start his work day. There is never a man in this world that dripped more sweat than Gordon Roberts and he relished in it as a symbol of his labors. He wore the same type of "uniform" to farm everyday. It was a Kelly green work pant and white short sleeve shirt with his gold watch. He wiped his sweat with a pristine white cotton hanky folded in a perfect square as he mopped his forehead. He wore glasses with lenses as thick as Coke bottle bottoms because he had cataract surgery when he was in his 20s.

Uncle Gordon's workday was over between 4 and 5 PM. It was then that he would put on his slippers and matching pajamas. He would have supper, put his feet up, watch the world news, read the newspaper, relax and then go to bed. That was his routine and I imagine it was this same routine that he longed to get back to every day that he served in the military. I had no idea he had been away from it for so long and had seen so much of the world. I now have a better understanding of why he never wanted to leave the world he loved so much again.

Uncle Gorden's was a life with Aunt Gordie that was meant to be. They shared the same initials, "RGR", Ray Gorden and Ruby Gorden Roberts. He embraced her 100 cats and dogs like they were his idea. He made sure she had beautiful flower beds. He built her a log cabin. They had no children so Shane and I along with Carl Nunn Jr. were their kids.

Mom always told the story that when I was born, Uncle Gordon arrived at the door with two safety pins. Knowing that mom and dad's first child had died shortly after birth he wanted to make sure that I was going to be OK. He asked mom to pin the blanket down on either side of my head so I would not "smother". Little did he know that if mom had done that, it might've upped my chances of departing. But his heart was in it. And his heart was in every 5$ bill he slipped into our hands for no good reason other than he loved us. It was in every check he wrote to us always keeping up with the hours we worked on the farm. Because of him (and our dad) Shane and I had a bank account from the time we were 6 and 9 years old.

Together dad and uncle Gordon farmed around 600 acres. We were thrilled every time he appeared at our back door to collect us and take us with him for the day. We learned about hard work, perseverance, teamwork, and honesty in business from both dad and Uncle Gorden. Our chores varied. Shane and I would ride behind Uncle Gorden on the corn planter to make sure the canisters were filled. We drove tractors and wagons on slanted hills with tires far too close to a pond's edge. I would never allow my children to do that, but we survived and learned a lot. We worked in the long rows of tobacco in the Kentucky summer heat and we walked along freshly plowed ground that was cool, dark and soft, squishing between our toes as we went along barefoot.

It's interesting that I could learn so much from a wooden box about a man that I thought I knew nearly everything about. I am so grateful that I opened it and was able to put this memory board together for Shane. He loved his uncle Gordon so much. I'm proud he wears his ring to this day.

Im grateful I still have so many letters yet unread. I will hopefully get to them in my lifetime and learn even more about the Uncle Gorden Roberts that we cherish to this day. I appreciate even more the man that loved his country enough to leave his wife, parents, sister and his farmland to serve mankind and that when he returned home to his world, he loved it enough to stay.

This story was posted on 2021-01-02 07:57:46
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Christmas gift traces military journey of a beloved uncle

2021-01-02 - Glasgow, KY - Photo by Melissa Katherine Walton-Shirley.
As a Christmas gift, Melissa Katherine Walton-Shirley put together this shadow box with mementos from the military career of her uncle Gorden Roberts, who served in Japan during World War II. She says, "It's interesting that I could learn so much from a wooden box about a man that I thought I knew nearly everything about. I am so grateful that I opened it and was able to put this memory board together"

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