Doing what needed to be done
“A veteran is someone who at some point in their life wrote a check to the United States of America for an amount of up to and including their life.”
Willis Roberts, who served in the U.S. Army from 1967-69, idolizes veterans, not because he is one, but because we would have no country without veterans or the military.
“If I had to do it all over again, I would do it again, serving in the Army,” he said.
Roberts was born on Oct. 28, and when he was 19, he enlisted to be in the Army.
“I went in and took my physical right on my 19th birthday, the 28th in Portland, so I passed my physical,” Roberts said. “I didn’t want to go in until after the holidays, so I went in January of 67. Took my basic at Fort Lewis. It rained almost every day there. Then, I went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and was there for my advanced individual training. I was there, I think, nine weeks. I came home on a two-week leave, went to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and was there just about a week. Then, I was sent to Germany. I enlisted for three years, but I was in right about 35 months.”
Roberts explained that he felt pretty grown up before entering the service.
“I was a country boy raised on the lower Deschutes River out in the country,” he said. “We went to school in Maupin. My dad was a foreman on the railroad there. I just think growing up like that prepared me for going in the military. I didn’t think it was a really big thing because you just do what you’re supposed to do and always be ahead of the game. Don’t wait for somebody to come and tell you what to do. Just do what needs to be done. So, to me, it was just natural.”
According to Roberts, he had multiple family members in the military before him.
“I have all kinds of uncles in the Army,” he said. “My mom had seven brothers in the military — five were in World War II. My dad had three brothers in the military in World War II. One of his brothers, his middle brother, Beryl, died in World War II. I was the first male in the family born after he died, so I got my dad’s middle name. My middle name is my Uncle Beryl’s first name, so I got named after him.”
While in Germany, Roberts was sent up north of Frankfurt at the army base ARERS Concern for 30 and a half months, where he was the driver for the S3 Operations battalion commander. He explained after a year of being over there, he was promoted to Sergeant.
“I was kind of overseer of our equipment in the motor pool,” he said. “I was in the 3rd Armored Division, but I wasn’t in the armor part. I was in the operations.”
During his leave, he traveled throughout Europe. According to Roberts, he went to every free country at the time except Portugal and Great Britain.
After leaving the service, Roberts moved to Prineville in 1970 and worked until retiring in 2009 at the age of 62 — except in 1993 when the place he worked for shut down. He went to school and earned an associate’s degree in business administration while majoring in accounting.
“I worked in the timber business all my life,” Roberts said. “I planned on this when I was 18 years old. I didn’t know what the future was. I still don’t know everything, but I planned on working and managing and spending wisely and retiring before I was 90 years old.”
Roberts shared that after retiring, he started volunteering at St. Charles in hospice for veterans. He did that until COVID-19.
After Roberts reflected on his time in the service and his life, he offered a quote he learned from his father, who learned from his father.
“Upon the plains of hesitation lie the bleaching bones of millions who, with victory within their grasps, sat down to wait and waiting died. Never give up.”