Eye doctor sees clearly love of USA
The flag that flies over Tiffin’s first inground swimming pool for a private residence at 345 Coe St. is owned by Robert Ross, an optometrist in Tiffin for 47 years.
Ross has lived there since 1961, where he and his wife, Shirley raised four daughters and one son.
His grandparents were some of the original members of The Junior Order United American Mechanics National Orphan’s Home, or the Junior Home. His parents met while staying there.
His father, George, enlisted in the U.S. Navy from 1927-30, and when he came back, he married Ross’ mother, Evelyn.
Ross was born in Tiffin Dec. 3, 1931, and his sister, Nancy, was born in 1934.
Growing up in the middle of the Great Depression, Ross saw first-hand the impact of education. When he was 4 years old, he noticed the people who were hurting the most had the least amount of education, and those with a formal education suffered. This was a big force for Ross to get his education, and that is what drove him to be the first in his family to go to college.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ross’ father re-enlisted in the Navy and served a year beyond V-J day, Sept. 2, 1945. He remembers how Tiffin, and much of the U.S., pulled together during World War II.
Ross’ work ethic started early. By age 12, he was washing his neighbors’ porches, delivering groceries and telegrams for Western Union. There was a bike shop at the end of the Camelback Bridge that sold a motorized attachment for a bicycle called “The Whizzer” for $99. Ross bought it with the money he saved, put it on his bike and rode over to the Western Union office to show his boss how more efficient he could be with the Whizzer.
His boss told him he couldn’t use it because Western Union did not insure employees who used motorized vehicles. So, he hid the Whizzer bike in an alley, rode his regular bike to the telegraph office, got his orders, peddled over to the alley where his Whizzer was, and delivered his telegrams using the Whizzer. Western Union never found out, but they appreciated his increase in efficiency.
His jobs allowed him to buy a suit for his high school graduation and a class ring. He graduated in 1949 at the age of 17 and decided to join the U.S. Air Force because this would be the best way for him to save money to go to college. They had discontinued the GI Bill for new enlistments after the end of World War II, but in 1950, the Korean War broke out and, to Ross’ advantage, the GI Bill was reinstituted.
He went to boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. His military test scores were high enough that he could have any specialty he wanted, so he chose an Air Force electronics school in Biloxi, Miss.
He entered as a private first class and left as a corporal. He then joined the 57th Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron at Tinkers Air Force base in Midwest City, Okla., where he worked on the electronics of the B-29s.
He was involved in two top-secret missions during his four years with the Air Force, Operation Ivy and Operation Crossroads, and they involved nuclear testing at two small islands in the South Pacific, Kwajalein and Eniwetok.
The islands had been owned by the Japanese before World War II, and when the Japanese ships unloaded their cargo, stowaway rats would escape onto the island. When the U.S. took over the islands, there was large rat problem. So, the military brought in cats to take care of the rats.
The cats took care of the rats pretty well, and then soon there was a cat problem. So, they brought in dogs to take care of the cats, and yes, you guessed it, there was now a wild dog problem.
They eventually fixed the dog problem without having to bring in horses.
Operation Ivy involved determining the impact of an atomic bomb and how various structures would hold up during an explosion. The service members were stationed on Kwajalein, and Eniwetok was used for the blasts.
Some of the B-29s Ross worked on were equipped to fly through the mushroom cloud and collect samples of the cloud via a huge storage tank and a high-powered pump in the plane. Once the plane landed with the tank full of the sample, they would ship the tank to Wright-Patterson Air Force base for analysis.
Ross said the crew had to take a two-hour shower after they were finished with the job. Showers were not refreshing, however, because most of them consisted of collected rainwater that was cold and smelled bad.
Drinking water came from the ocean, after it passed through a desalination process.
For Operation Crossroads, they prepared Eniwetok the same way they did for Operation Ivy, with similar structures, monitoring equipment, etc. The service members stayed on at Kwajalein Island, just like before, while the bomb exploded. Ross knew this bomb was different because the size of the flash was much greater than the previous one.
When they went back to the island, there were no structures, no monitoring equipment, no sand and no island. The hydrogen bomb destroyed everything; Ross thinks the military did not expect that much destruction.
Ross also was one of the few people to see a B-52 in the early 1950s.
He said he remembers it coming in to land on the island and realizing there wasn’t enough runway for it and it would end up in the ocean. Before he spoke up, a huge parachute came out of the back of the plane, and it came to a complete stop a couple of hundred feet before the ocean.
There was a lot of heat and sun in in the South Pacific, but Uncle Sam wouldn’t allow a soldier to get sunburned. It was considered “destroying government property.” As a service member, you were government property.
When Ross wasn’t in the Marshall Islands, he was taking night classes at the University of Hawaii while stationed at Hickam Air Force Base.
This satisfied Ross’s need for education, and it didn’t cost him a dime. In 1953, he transferred two years of his credits to Heidelberg College and was able to take another semester at Heidelberg while he was enlisted.
He then transferred his credits to The Ohio State University, where he got a degree in optometry.
Ross chose optometry because of the impact one of Tiffin’s early optometrist, Dr. Jennings, had on him as a child.
Ross had and still has a tremendous memory. He could remember nearly everything said to him. This was evident in the first nine years of school. But by the time he got to the 10th grade, there was a lot more reading and a lot more bookwork.
The more he read, the more his eyes hurt, and the resulting headaches after his schoolwork was completed became more intense. In the Depression, you didn’t go to a doctor because you couldn’t afford it. Ross’ first visit to a doctor was when he enlisted in the Air Force.
What Ross didn’t realize was that he was born with an astigmatism, which blurs the vision and causes eye strain. He knew he couldn’t afford glasses, let alone the eye appointment, but the discomfort was unbearable and he didn’t want his education to suffer, so he went to Dr. Jennings, who prescribed him some glasses.
Ross’ income from jobs around town allowed him to compensate Dr. Jennings in payments. This experience influenced Ross.
“Anyone who could make you feel that good immediately is something that I would like to do as well,” he said.
And so he did, over 47 years, until his retirement in 2005. During those years, and continuing to this day, the flag flies at the Ross home.
He cites three reasons:
1. His father was in the service, he was in the service and his only son was in the service.
2. He loves his country, and he understands what the flag stands for.
3. When the flag is flying, his family and neighbors know the first privately owned, inground pool in Tiffin is open for enjoyment.
John Schupp is an assistant professor of chemistry at Tiffin University. Email him at schuppjd@