COLUMBIA — About 10 years ago, when I was still Parade Boss for the Salute to Veterans Memorial Day Parade and watching my parade captains supervise the staging, I heard a voice behind me asking, "Colonel, do you have a spot for me to ride in the parade?"
I turned around and met the owner of that voice, a small in stature but bigger than life World War II Marine veteran immaculately attired in his Summer Service "A" uniform that miraculously still fit. That encounter with fellow Marine and professor of statistics, 1st Lt. and Dr. Ralph Dobbs cemented a common bond between us, one that exists between all Marines, this one a veteran of Iwo Jima and the other a Vietnam veteran.
From that day forward, he was guaranteed an open convertible ride in the Memorial Day Parade. As a matter of interest, after he confided to me that he had been selected to the rank of captain but was discharged before the paperwork caught up, I promoted Dr. Dobbs to his present rank with a set of my old captain's bars.
As a 20-year old graduate of MU with a bachelor of science in agriculture in 1942, Ralph answered his country's call to arms and enlisted in the Marine Corps in September of that year. He spent the next 16 weeks in boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., participating along with the sand fleas in the rigorous recruit training for which the USMC is known. Marine drill instructors are tough and demanding — they prepare recruits for combat.
The ancient Chinese proverb, later made famous by Gen. George Patton — "The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war" — was and remains the hallmark of Marine recruit training as is one of the Marine's own: "Pain is good for you — pain is weakness leaving the body."
After graduating from Parris Island, then Marine Pvt. Dobbs, by virtue of having a college degree, was accepted to Officer Candidate School at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Va. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he was ordered to Camp LeJeune, N.C., for infantry training and subsequent assignment overseas.
Assigned an infantry platoon, Lt. Dobbs expected to be in one of the assault waves in the battle for Iwo Jima. Instead, he and a corporal were subsequently assigned to the Landing Force G-2 (Intelligence) as Aerial Photograph Interpreters. This assignment required a top secret clearance. Still bound for Iwo Jima, Dobbs was tasked with interpreting aerial maps and photo reconnaissance for air support missions of ground forces.
Following the Iwo Jima campaign, Lt Dobbs was assigned to a Joint Planning section for the expected assault against Japan. The Aug. 6, 1945, dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the subsequent second one on Nagasaki rendered the invasion of Japan unnecessary.
The Fifth Amphibious Corps and the Second Marine Division were ordered to Nagasaki and Sasebo, Japan, to assist in the cleanup of the devastated area and atomic waste. As a member of the Second Marine Division, Lt. Dobbs was among the first Americans on site at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He participated in that hazardous duty assignment for seven months before rotating stateside for discharge.
Among his many anecdotes, one stands out in his memory. He was placed in charge of six marines and sailors in a U.S. Navy launch to transport important documents to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's headquarters north of the island of Kyushu. He did not have the slightest notion of the identity of the documents nor any experience in small boats, but, nevertheless, he moved out smartly to accomplish the mission.
While en route, they encountered a storm and nearly capsized in the heavy seas. The mission was accomplished with no one the wiser as to the reason nor the documents involved; however, Ralph still has the original orders that assigned him the detail.
Mustered out of the Marine Corps, he married Edna Mae "Sherry" Sherwood in 1946 and resumed his education at MU and the University of Indiana. Ralph and Sherry raised five daughters: Marilyn, Jeanie, Sherry, Sue and Carol. His wife died in June 2009.
Now a retired professor emeritus of statistics and a cattleman, Dobbs is also famous in his own right, having been inducted into the Hereford Hall of Fame. He is currently the head of the Columbia Honor Flight and can almost always be seen greeting the returning flights in his uniform.
Ralph Dobbs is indeed a face of Memorial Day — he answered the call to duty in 1942 and served honorably through the remainder of World War II. A proud veteran, he has many accomplishments to his credit, not the least of which being active in local politics and community affairs.
Educator, veteran, husband, father, volunteer and patriot, Capt./Dr. Ralph C. Dobbs is the personification of the United States Marine in his faithful service to God, country and corps.
"Once a Marine, always a Marine" is the description that comes to mind.