“I didn’t think [the Corps] would do something like this,” said former Marine officer Robert “Bob” Sander, a volunteer for the St. Joseph Medical Center’s guest services, who just turned 90 years old on Independence Day. “If I went back and had to [serve] all over again, I would.”
With close friends, many of whom are also veterans, hospital staff and admirers surrounding and applauding him during a birthday party at the hospital, Sander humbly accepted a gift from local Marines, comprised of a picture of the Silent Drill Platoon and placard detailing Sander’s six years as a volunteer at St. Joseph’s, where he has clocked more than 2,000 volunteer hours. Of course, there was also a cake emblazoned with the Marine Corps logo.
“We’re fortunate to have Marines like you still around,” said Capt. Gary Cox, executive officer for Recruiting Station Kansas City. “Thank you for your continued service to country, Corps and community.”
Sander’s commitment to service began after college in 1941 when he received a commission in the Marine Corps via Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Va. He served at various posts up until the early 1950’s and left the active reserves as a captain.
During his tour of duty as an artillery officer with the 2nd Marine Division out of Camp Elliott, Calif., in 1942, Sander was part of the opening of Camp Pendleton, Calif. With the 9th Marine Regiment, he marched from Camp Elliott, near San Diego, for a three-day hike to Camp Pendleton’s current location.
“Back then, Camp Pendleton was nothing but the boondocks,” Sander said. “It was 20 miles from the guard house to the front gate.”
After a few more tours from New Jersey to Fort Murphy, Fla., to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Sander wanted to see what the civilian world was like. He lived with his wife and children in Florida before following his daughter and grandchildren to Overland Park, Kan., where he now resides.
Sander’s current "tour of duty" was his wife’s idea and began after she passed away six years ago. He now volunteers at the medical clinic Tuesdays and Fridays as a general transporter of patients, lab work and anything else the hospital needs moved. He is also an ambassador at the front desk, who is responsible for greeting and assisting guests on their way into and out of the hospital.
“It’s rewarding and most people really appreciate it,” Sander said. “It feels like I’m giving something back.”
His supervisor, Carolyn Stewart, said that Sander is always willing to do anything asked of him.
“He’s really reliable and a strong part of this team,” Stewart said. “He’s never complained.”
Stewart recounted when Sander had a bad fall after tripping on a rug at the hospital.
“He was covered in bruises, but when he felt better he was right back in here, right back to work,” she said.
Stewart, as well as Sander’s fellow former Marines on the transport team, attribute his work ethic of no excuses and a can-do attitude to his time in the Marine Corps.
“I tell him he’s my hero,” said Robert Moss, a fellow former Marine and volunteer at the hospital. “I want to be like him when I grow up; when I turn 90.”