Robert Wengert was a Petty Officer 2nd Class in the U.S. Navy. He joined the reserves in 1953 and left in 1961. During that time he spent 4 years in active duty (1956 – 1959).
He was based at Imperial Beach, CA; Washington, DC; Fort Devon’s Massachusetts and Bremerhaven, Germany. However, when asked about which of these stations he’d regard as his favorite, he cited Bremerhaven because after all Europe was a new exciting experience for him and he was enjoying the respect and benefits of having attained a higher rank.
Robert’s expertise included flying dirigibles and special intelligence. He attended communication school in California and then went on to learn the language of our cold war adversary, Russian, while in Washington, D.C. When asked what he enjoyed most about the Navy, he said flying dirigibles. “You were up in the air but close to the ground, it was just very pleasant and a lot of fun. Imagine going over the ocean, making a dye marker, calling the jets in to shoot missiles at it or bomb it…and that was fun. Being a communications technician, that was actually, fairly boring,” he said.
Family and Life Outside the Navy
Outside of his role within the Navy, Robert was a dedicated family man. He married his high school sweetheart – Dianne. He met Dianne whilst he was in the Navy Reserve in 1954 and they’ve been married for 60
years. After Robert left high school he went immediately into the Navy, and communicated through letters with Dianne, only ever able to speak to each other via phone on special occasions (back then phone calls were costly). They finally got married on June 20th, 1957. Robert and Dianne have 2 children – Bonnie Jean and Jim and 4 grandchildren – Daniel (27), Elizabeth (25), John (23) and Andrew (26).
Favorite Experiences while in the Navy
For Robert, the most exhilarating thing about being in the Navy was flying dirigibles. He recounted his favorite story from that experience – “…we had two airships, squadrons if you will, and we were in Georgia near the Okefenokee Swamp. We were up in the air doing a training exercise, and when it was time to land, the other one landed first and misjudged how much heat was rising and tore the landing gear off and smashed both propellers into the ground… After putting new propellers on it and new landing gear, that did not have shock absorbers or a hydraulic system, the pilot insisted he fly it back to New Jersey, where they came from, and the same thing happened! He misjudged the landing and smashed both propellers into the ground and tore the landing gear right off. Unfortunately he lost his ‘wings’ (license to fly, essentially). They did not have accident forgiveness back then. Although it is unfortunate, everyone was safe but it sticks with me – because most of military life was boring and flying was a pleasantry. It was always so exciting to be up in the air like that.”
When asked why he joined the Navy, he responded “truth be told, it was because the draft was still going on, for the Korean War, and everyone that was getting drafted was going into the Army and Marine Corps, and once you get drafted they told you where you were going and you did not have a choice, and I wanted to have a choice and preferred the Navy.”
Life after the Navy
After leaving the Navy in 1961, Robert worked for a Caterpillar tractor company, then went on to work with a finance company, until he finally found his passion and he decide to open his own business, a toy store. The toy store had bicycles, trains, and sporting goods. He ran this store until he joined IBM in 1968. Twenty six years later he retired on December 1st, 1993. To stay busy, he drove buses for about 9 years before fully retiring in Montague, NJ around 2003.
In 2010, he and his wife moved from Montague, NJ to New Bern, NC where they currently reside. He lives in a scenic golf course community and loves to play Bridge. He has been playing Bridge for about 25 years and is a Life Master (someone that has accumulated 500 master points, which can be acquired at National Tournaments or Sectional Tournaments). To this day, he still plays every Wednesday and Thursday.
One of Robert and Dianne’s four grandchildren, Elizabeth or Liz as she is known works with her father Ken Ravaioli who is the co-founder and owner of NewGen Restores.