Take Five: The influence of the American G.I.

There is no question that the date 11/11/11 is of great significance in numerology. While we all celebrated in our own way last Friday, there is another poignant significance to the date of November 11th. This day marks Veterans Day, in which Americans honor all war veterans.

If we can take this national holiday and bring it down to one family, it humanizes this occasion.

Bob and Karen Hopper, La Cañadans for 30 years, are prime examples of what makes American great. I had a chance to talk to Bob recently and found his family story to be dramatic. He celebrates his birthday on Nov. 11. Bob also has another distinction: He served in three branches of the British armed services: Army, Navy and the Royal Air Force.

He was born in England, and carries with him grim memories of the London Blitz, the terror air raids inflicted on the city by the Germans during World War II. Early family stories include a tale of a 1000-pound bomb which, in the ultimate horror, fell, unexploded, on his family’s doorstep. After determining that it would not detonate at that moment, the call was made to those courageous Englishmen who defused these potential killers and it was disarmed.

Soon after this event, this wide-eyed little boy and his brother, along with thousands of other children, were dispatched to the countryside for safety’s sake for the remainder of the war. Some children went to farms to harvest, some were taken in by other families, and some were sent as far away as New Zealand for work programs. So many of these children were separated from their families and their home life that when (and if) they were finally reunited, the upheaval left permanent emotional scars on parents and children.

Bob mentioned that the first chocolate he ever tasted was given to him by a WWII G.I. He was duly impressed by anything American. He tasted his first banana, which had been sealed in a can of C-rations. He distinctly remembers watching American troops practicing beach landings in southern England.

“I graduated school at 16,” Bob said, “and when I was denied a scholarship to university, I went to work in a bank.” But America was embedded in his mind, and one day he determined he would live and work in the United States. He hated the banking business and found his way into the textile industry.

Sir Christopher Hattan is the name of his successful company, a niche in the golf world in which Bob developed this exclusive-named golf towel, as well as other luxurious textile products such as scarves and neckties.

Bob tells wonderful family stories about his ancestors, particularly Sir Christopher, who became a close and trusted advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. He arranged the financing for the British Fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada in 1589.

Another piece of family history: The striker in Big Ben, the bell of the famous London clock, was made by the Hopper Foundry, circa 19th century.

And of course, there is Uncle Harry, who served as a guard in the Tower of London who claimed to have seen the ghost of Lady Jane Grey, one of Henry VIII’s wives who was beheaded while imprisoned in the Tower, floating along the Tower’s corridors carrying her head under her right arm.

The stories and historic exploits of his fascinating relatives have erased Bob’s early war memories, except for the powerful influence of the GIs.

His determination to come to America is impressive and his story could be echoed by many immigrants who were influenced by our fighting forces and chose America.

It was a great decision for him — and for the USA.

GENE PEPPER is a published author and writer. Contact him by email at gpep@aol.com or phone (818) 790-1990.

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