Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Exclusive: Cancer Patient and Veteran of "The Forgotten War" Gets His Wish 60 Years Later

Robert Mountz in his Navy days during Korean War
Robert "Bob" Mountz, 85, a hardy, resilient and compassionate veteran of the Korean War, which many have rightly called "The Forgotten War," is battling stage IV lung cancer and has one simple wish: to revisit the ship at the center of his wartime memories.

Mountz, who served on the USS Midway as a corpsman caring for sick and wounded sailors from 1952 to 1954, has not seen the mighty aircraft carrier since he was honorably discharged 60 years ago. But thanks to two worthy charities, Mountz will get his wish and set foot on the legendary ship in San Diego next week.

Mountz, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic lung cancer last summer and started chemotherapy in July, was selected as a deserving wish recipient by Home Care Assistance, a Palo Alto-based home care company, and Wish of a Lifetime. Both companies are dedicated to celebrating the lives of older adults, including cancer patients and veterans, and giving voices and faces to an often-undervalued population.

Mountz, who's still going through chemo and lives in Hamilton, Ind., maintains an infectiously positive attitude and often talks fondly about his time on the Midway. Mountz can tell you that the ship served for an unprecedented 47 years and saw action in the Vietnam War and was the Persian Gulf flagship in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The Midway is now resting majestically in the San Diego Harbor, where it's been transformed into a popular military museum

The USS Midway on the open sea -
According to Mountz's daughter Laura Miller, visiting the longest-serving Navy aircraft carrier of the 20th century would highlight a part of his life that is very important to him. When I asked him what it will be like to see the Navy ship again, Mountz said he expects to feel “some kind of euphoria.”

Mountz, his childhood friend Wilma Underwood and his daughters Deborah Mountz and Laura Miller will be received by a special welcoming party of museum staffers on board the Midway and get a private tour of the ship, including the sick bay where as a corpsman Mountz spent most of his time. The tour will be led appropriately by a fellow former corpsman.

Mountz, who worked on his grandfather's farm tending to cattle and crops from ages 15 through 21, joined the Navy in 1950 and was sent to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station at Waukegan, Ill., just before Christmas for boot camp.

"We didn't get any uniforms right away so we had to stand in line outside in our civilian clothes and it was 17 below zero," he recalled. "There were only two of us in a barracks that housed 240 people, as most waited to join after Christmas. So it was quite a cultural shock being home with mom and dad one day and the next sitting in a 240-man barracks with one other person that you did not know."

Robert Mountz recently on an Indiana farm
Mountz first saw the mighty Midway in September 1952 when he was assigned to the ship, which was in dry dock at Portsmouth, VA.

"At the time she was getting some refitting done and her bottom was being sand blasted and repainted," he said. "Imagine my amazement to see this huge ship out of the water. She stood 13 stories high, six decks below the water line and seven decks above. She is more than three football fields long and housed 3,000 plus personnel. She weighs 65 thousand tons and could maintain approximately 30 knots [37 mph]."

Mountz said the passageways were so intricate that the first few days he learned where he worked, slept and ate. "It was a week before I ventured topside and learned how to get from here to there," he says

At the end of his second cruise he was relieved by the F.D.R. (same-class carrier) and returned to Norfolk, VA, where he was discharged in October 1954 as a HM-3. He was honorably discharged with a Good Conduct Medal, a European Theatre Medal, and another that he has forgotten.

After discharge from the Navy he returned home to Indiana to begin civilian life. "For most of my working years I was a self-employed general contractor remodeling homes, adding room additions, and building new homes for sale," he said. "I completed my last project in September 2014 at age 85."

Mountz says he is "really excited" about boarding the Midway again after all these decades. "I look forward to getting down in the sickbay and seeing where my desk was. I’ve never been to San Diego before. I think I’ll really enjoy the area.”

As for his stage IV lung cancer, which he is still bravely fighting, Mountz takes it in stride. "I must have smoked too many Pall Mall’s on the ship," he says.

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