Bob Goff grew up in Placida, south of Englewood, Fla., joined the Army at 16 after he dropped out of Venice-Nokomis High School in 10th grade. He lied about his age and signed up for the service, “because I didn’t want to be a fishermen or farmer.”
After basic at Fort Jackson, S.C. he wound up taking one electronics course after another at Fort Monmouth, N.J.
“I was one of the first soldiers in the Army to take a course in microwave communications,” the 82-year-old local resident who lives on Kings Highway between Port Charlotte and Arcadia, Fla., said. This was high frequency radio communications with many channels.
“I was sent to the Pentagon after finishing the microwave course. I wasn’t there long, about three months, when the Korean War broke out. I was headed for Korea with the 581st Signal Corps,” he said.
“We sailed for Japan out of San Francisco aboard an old troop ship that was supposed to carry a maximum of 2,500 troops. We had twice that aboard the Gen. Randolph when it sailed into Yokohama.
“I arrived just in time for the Inchon Invasion in September 1950. After we went ashore at Inchon, North Korea, Gen. Mac Arthur sent his troops south by truck toward Pusan, South Korea. After reaching Pusan we took a troop ship and headed for the North Korean coast again. We were going to the Chosin Reservoir with the First Marine Division. We were 20 miles from the Yellow River when the Chinese started coming across the river,” Goff recalled.
The return trip to the coast and the waiting transport ships was an incredible frozen disaster for U.S. forces, including this small group of Army Signal Corps technicians.
“As we were coming out of North Korea one of our communications trucks slid over the side of the mountain. The guy driving stayed with it until it stopped 200 feet below the road,” he said. “Our two guys in the truck survived the incident. We had to set the communications equipment in the back of the truck on fire to keep it out of enemy hands.
“I remember we reached this little airport coming back from Chosin. There were a lot of military planes parked there. We were told to guard the equipment at the airport and were given assurance we’d be flown out. It didn’t happen,” he said.
“Next morning this guy came around and told us to set everything left at the airport on fire and clear out on foot ourselves. By then all the airplanes had flown off,” Goff explained. “The ships that would take us out of North Korea were two miles away along the beach. That was a long way to run with the North Koreans shooting at you.
“As we were retreating as fast as we could the Navy was firing over our heads with their big guns to keep the North Koreans and the Chinese for overwhelming us. We made it to the waiting ships that took us to South Korea down near Pusan,” he said.
After serving 11 months in Korea, during the war, Goff took a plane home to California.
“It took me 39 hours to reach the States. We flew from Korea to Wake Island and from there to Honolulu. The final leg was from the Hawaiian Islands to San Francisco,” he said.
“A buddy I served with in Korea made me promise to stop by D.C. and see his uncle who worked for the government. His uncle introduced me to a Mr. Ferrell who I found out later worked in the Pentagon. Because of my Army radio communications background I went to work for the White House Communications Department.
“When I first arrived, Truman was president. I never saw him personally, but I met his wife on several occasions. The first chewing out I got in the White House was by Bess Truman.
“I had my toolbox and was headed to the communications office to fix some radio equipment. I walked up to this glass door and I could see this lady walk up to the door on the other side.
“When I opened the door I realized it was Bess Truman. After I closed the door she said to me, ‘Don’t you have anything better to do than open the door for me?’
“I told her I was there to work on some electronic equipment. She said, ‘Will you please get to it! Don’t worry about opening a door for an old lady! You’re on duty!’
“‘Yes mam,’ I replied as she walked off.”
Shortly after Goff arrived at the White House Communication Office there was a changing of the guard. President Truman’s term was up and President Dwight Eisenhower took over.
“This was about the time I got sent to Shangri La (better known today as Camp David) the presidential retreat in Maryland outside Washington. I went to Camp David to set up the microwave communications between the White House and the camp,” he said.
“Shortly after President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack while in office, it was decided he needed microwave communications at his Gettysburg farm in Pennsylvania,” Goff said. “I put that in, too.”
By this time he had spent five years in the Army–four of his own doing and an extra year because President Truman extended military commitments another year. Things were going well so he re-upped for six more years. When he got out of the service he was a master sergeant.
It was 1958 and Goss and his wife, Rose, opened their own two-way communications center in Sarasota. By the time he retired in 1994 he had Goff communication shops in Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, Punta Gorda, Fort Myers and Naples.
The couple has four sons: Robert, Thomas, Kenneth, James and Shaune, their daughter.
Name: Luther Austin “Bob” Goff
D.O.B: 4 June 1931
Hometown: Placida, Fla.
Currently: Arcadia, Fla.
Entered Service: 2 April 1948
Discharged: 24 Jan. 1958
Rank: Master Sergent
Unit: 581st Signal Corps
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Korean War
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 7, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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