Pipeline, Purdue, Petroleum and People Like Us
It was late November 1944. Bob Kiser and his buddies were in their tents at the end of the runway of the 14th Air Force near Yunnanyi, China when several Japanese bombers flew over. Bob said if they “had dropped their bombs just a few seconds sooner,” he “wouldn’t be here to tell the story.” This was the closest call that Bob would have during the war. As he put it, “wars are funny things.”
Bob Kiser was born on May 27th, 1924 in Marion, Indiana. His father had fought in France during WWI. He enlisted in the Army in December 1942 while attending Purdue University, where he hoped to get a degree in Electrical Engineering. In May 1943, after one year at school, he was called up to active duty and sent to Camp Wheeler, Georgia for basic training. He was then sent to the University of Alabama for more engineering and math classes, basically repeating his freshman year in college. Following this, he attended Petroleum Engineering School at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. After completing his training, his class was assigned to the 1382nd Engineering Petroleum Distribution Company. In August 1944 they were sent to Camp Anza, California to board the USS General George M. Randall. He arrived in Bombay, India two months later.
After a long train ride to northeast India, Bob and his company began constructing a pipeline from Chittagong, India to Kunming, China. “This was to supply aviation fuel to various locations to transport war materials and for bombing raids against the Japanese.” In December, 1944 the Japanese had been driven out of northern Burma and the pipeline could then be constructed in that region from China. It was here that pilots would “fly the hump” over the Himalayas, so they could attack Axis powers in Europe. It also became a launch site from which to attack Japanese islands.
Bob was in China when he heard the Japanese had surrendered and was glad to be going home to Indiana. He was discharged at the rank of T5 in December 1945 and was awarded numerous medals and ribbons including the Asiatic Pacific Theatre Ribbon with three battle stars, Good Conduct and WWII Victory medals. He went back to finish his degree at Purdue University and graduated in June 1949. Bob says he likes to say he “started college in 1942, took a few years off and finally graduated in 1949!”
Bob met his future wife Marna in Marion, Indiana and they married in April 1953. They had 3 children: Jane, Kurt and Carl. In the meantime, he embarked on a long and rewarding career in Petroleum Engineering which took him to Venezuela, Australia, Malaysia, Carlinville, Illinois and finally Midland, Texas where he retired after 32 years of service with Exxon. Marna passed away in March 2008 after 54 years of marriage. Bob now resides at Raider Ranch.
An important thing Bob mentioned was that he “didn’t make peace with the Japanese until 1984.” He said he “always seemed to tear up.” But one day over 30 years ago, he was “in the airport in Malaysia and noticed a pretty young Japanese woman with her baby in a stroller, and then her young husband came to join them.” He looked at this young family and thought “they are just like us” and the hatred just “fell away”.
Bob noted that “our job was not glamorous, yet I’m proud of my service.” He was able to go on the 2014 Texas South Plains Honor Flight and said “it was a great trip being with other veterans.”
Respectfully submitted by
Larry A. Williams
Veterans Liaison Co-Chair
Texas South Plains Honor Flight