Robert Fred Amundsen Sr.
October 20, 1920 – March 6, 2014
Robert Fred Amundsen, Sr. October 20, 1920-March 6, 2014
By Paul William Amundsen His Son
Boyhood and Ball High School
Robert F. Amundsen, Sr., longtime Dallas entrepreneur and civic leader, was born on October 20, 1920 to William G. Amundsen, Sr. and his wife Henrietta Middlelegge Amundsen in Galveston. Mrs. Amundsen had been her family’s sole survivor of The Great Storm of 1900 in Galveston. Bob’s brothers were William G. Amundsen, Jr. (1914-1978); and Edgar Gustav (E.G.) Amundsen (1919-2005).
In the spring of 1928, when Bob was eight years old, he met Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the cousin to his grandfather Gus Amundsen, Sr.: “He was touring the country showing lantern slides of his exploits at the city auditorium and had stopped off in Galveston to stay at Gus, Sr.’s two-story house on Broadway. My family went to Gus’s house to eat dinner with Roald. He was friendly, good-looking, a dynamic personality. Only months later, he was lost at sea while he tried to rescue a friend.”
In his boyhood in the 1930s, Bob ran a neighborhood Triple X Root Beer stand (with outgoing best friend and neighbor Robert Coleman), and made most of his spending money delivering magazines. He even had a professional business card made up reading: “ROBERT AMUNDSEN, 3806 AVE. R, GALVESTON, TEXAS, Junior Degree Member, The League of Curtis Salesmen, The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies’ Home Journal, The Country Gentlemen.” Said Bob, “On Saturday mornings I cut grass and earned a dollar. After bathing I caught the street car and for a nickel went downtown. I ate a fish sandwich and got a drink at the Island Café, then went to the Tremont Theater to see “Red Grange in The Galloping Ghost.” Then back home on the street car, with ten cents left, that I put in the church plate. My big deal…I had one friend growing up—Robert ‘Bob’ Coleman. His family was socially and financially affluent. His mother made me feel inferior, though not interfering in our friendship. While ‘The Two Bobs’ were inseparable and comfortable, Mrs. Coleman was not wild about the less than socially affluent Amundsen family, which increased my insecurity. But Bob was a FRIEND! And was a friend for life.” Casual neighborhood acquaintances during this period included Bobby Cannon, Starr Keller and Barry Chandler.
In the fall of 1936 and spring of 1937, Bob played forward on the Ball High School basketball team; “I played football and tennis for fun.” On March 21, 1937, the Galveston Daily News article BALL HI NETTERS BEATEN BY AUSTIN noted: “…Bobby Amundsen was the only boy on the squad to win a match.” The April 2, 1937 Galveston Daily News article TOR NETTERS LOSE TO HOUSTON SQUAD noted: “Bobby Amundsen, a newcomer to the Ball Hi Tornado Netters squad and advancing by leaps and bounds, was the first to score with a [illegible] victory over Floyd Killerman of Houston. He was using a smooth chopping game and his placements were working perfectly.”
On Thursday, June 3, 1937, Bob and his friend Robert Coleman graduated from Ball High School in the Galveston City Auditorium at 8:30 p.m. (the commencement speech was entitled “Freedom”). In the summer of 1937, Bob, saving money for UT-Austin, began working as an auditor for National Hotel Company. During this summer he worked in the executive offices; the following summer he would be auditor, then temporary manager of the nearly opened Jack Tar Courts Hotel in Galveston.
Fall 1937-Spring 1938: “Bob Coleman went to the University of Texas at Austin, joined a fraternity and pushed me to join him at Texas. I began having a few dates—still feeling inferior. I saved some money—how about that—I saved some money. My mother encouraged me to go to Texas.”
The January 20, 1938 Galveston Daily News article COHEN TRIANGLES DEFEAT TIGERS IN BREEZE 24-12 noted: “Playing mostly a defensive game, marked with erratic passing and shooting, the Cohenites whipped a Tiger Thor Five, which should have remained in the city records. Bobby Amundsen, usually the man in the Cohen quintet, led both teams in goals made last night with a slight six points, garnered from three field goals of the one-man variety.” On Sunday, February 20, 1938, The Galveston Daily News noted that Bob was a guest at a dance held by the Senior Hi Y Club of the Galveston YMCA. On Wednesday, July 27, 1938, “Bobby Amundsen” signed his name on a membership card for the American Red Cross Life Saving Service, Galveston: this was probably on the request of his mother, who worked extensively for the Red Cross.
University of Texas at Austin
The August 21, 1938 Galveston Daily News noted, “Those entering UT for the first time (include) Bobby Amundsen, who will leave about September 12.” In the fall of 1938, Bob joined Bob Coleman at the University of Texas at Austin. Bob roomed with the Kellers, whose son Starr was a friend from Galveston. He played freshman basketball and had high grades. “Bob Coleman insisted taking me into his other life at the Kappa Sigma fraternity. He introduced me to his friends—boys and girls. I excelled academically. My mother sent me $5 per month.” A photograph taken at a Kappa Sigma dance shows tuxedo-clad Bob with Kay Abernathy, “a sweetheart at UT, whom Coleman dated,” and another couple. [The 1942 UT yearbook The Cactus featured a full-page photograph of “Miss Katherine Abernathy, Sweetheart of UT.”] A different shot taken at a school dance shows Bob, apparently without a date but apparently having a great time with another young couple.
On December 18, 1938, The Galveston Daily News noted that the highest number of students coming home for the holidays were from UT-Austin. “Bobby Amundsen will arrive Thursday.” The February 5, 1939 Galveston Daily News article AMUNDSEN MAKES FROSH QUINTET noted: “Bobby Amundsen, former Ball High Tor cager, finds himself on the UT freshman basketball squad this week and will be seen playing this season with other hopefuls for a chance to crack the varsity team next year. Tall and handsome, Bobby is not only fast on the maple court but also is imputed to be flashy in the hearts of campus coeds. Bobby Coleman and Johnnie Horsheck are playing the season with the strong Kappa Sigs.”
The Sunday, April 30, 1939 Galveston Daily News wrote that Bob and his mother visited The Memorial Museum at the University of Texas at Austin. Bob said, “I was a curator at that museum, which featured many classical paintings.” On Wednesday, May 31, 1939, Bob’s name was mentioned in the Galveston News article “Honor Students are Honored by Dean.” Galvestonians who had made the Dean’s Honor Roll at UT-Austin (147 out of 5477) were listed.
August 23, 1939 Galveston Daily News sports page: “In the junior division of the tourney, John Phelan, second seeded, tangles with Bobby Amundsen in the last quarter of the final match to be played.” By September, 1939, Bob had begun his second year at UT, and had a job separating plaster from clay in the sculpture department. Later that year, he went to work as the person in charge of the university art museum. “Good grades—except for Bob Coleman’s social influence, no change.” He had good relationships with Chester F. Lay, professor of accounting and management, and J. C. Dolley, professor of banking and investment, and was a member of the business fraternity Sigma Delta Pi. The August 25, 1940 Galveston Daily News noted: “Robert F. Amundsen, Jr., son of Mr. and Mrs. William G. Amundsen of Galveston, will leave for UT about September 16.” The Sunday, October 13, 1940: Galveston Daily News column STROLLING THE CAMPUS mentioned: “Bobby Amundsen was seen cutting capers at a dance over at the Union.”
The Sunday, September 21, 1941 Galveston Daily News noted, “Robert Fred Amundsen, son of Mr. and Mrs. William G. Amundsen of Galveston, leaves Wednesday for UT, where he will enroll as a senior. He is located at the Tejas house, where he is a member.” In the fall of 1941, Bob returned for his fourth year at UT-Austin. Bob was in a club at UT called the Tejas Club, whose house was located at 307 West 26th Street. Most of the members were poor or of modest income, but were known on campus for being the number one academic fraternity. Seventy percent of the club’s members ended up being president of the UT student body. John Connally, later governor of Texas, had been president of the Tejas Club in 1939. Members included: Robert G. Storey; Henry “Duck” Scarborough (“a bulwark of the Tejas Club who knew everyone”), Roy Hatfield, Jimmie McCarthy, Ray Sheffield, Bob Parham, Bill Cobb, Tom Rawley, Rudy Guaniel and Joe Terrell. “I roomed at the Tejas Club with Jackson Hinds, who played on the UT basketball team, became Phi Beta Kappa, later attended Harvard Business School and UT Law School with me, and later became president of Texas Oil and Gas Corporation. Senior year I was vice president of the Tejas Club. Jackson was my second friend. That year I worked as a committee clerk at the Texas House of Representatives and became a student assistant to Dr. Chester F. Lay, professor of accounting and management, then J. C. Dolley, professor of banking and investment who was to become president of the Federal Reserve Bank. I continued to excel academically, missing Phi Beta Kappa by one grade, and had a few dates. My brother E.G. had become my third friend. He had gone to Texas A&M and studied engineering. He graduated in 1940 and went to work in Detroit.”
World War II
Bob was at the Tejas Club at the University of Texas when he first heard about the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. “I enlisted in the Navy the following Thursday, December 11,” he said. The destroyer U.S.S. Ralph Talbot, which was in Pearl Harbor on the morning of the attack, escaped harm, sent a short way out of battleship row, and rescued sailors in the water. The Navy allowed Bob to graduate from UT-Austin on June 1, 1942. The Galveston News published photographs of Bob and other Galveston graduates of UT, including Robert Coleman.
On June 14, 1942, Bob took the naval oath of office. By now destroyer No. 390, the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot, was underway for Australia and New Zealand. On Wednesday, July 22, 1942, the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot sailed for the Solomon Islands and the first of the island assaults which would eventually lead to victory in the Pacific. Assigned to Task Force Group 626, she screened the transport group to Guadalcanal, a remote jungle island on the southern tip of the Solomon Islands (the depleted navy used old cruise liners, turning them into transports, carried more than 10,000 untested marines).
A crucial Japanese air strip under construction needed to be annihilated: the fate of the entire Pacific War hung in the balance. What the enthusiastic young marines and sailors on their way to Guadalcanal didn’t realize was that amphibious landings against defended beaches are the most desperate and dangerous of all military operations.
On Friday, July 31, 1942, Bob reported for active duty at the U. S. Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas. On August 31, 1942, Bob reported for training to the U. S. Naval Supply Corps School, a war adjustment school, at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. The school handled the business side of the Navy but also served in battles. Friends during this period included John Bassett and his wife. On Friday, December 4, 1942, he graduated from the Naval Supply Corps School at Harvard. The December 13, 1942 Galveston Daily News wrote: “Ensign Robert Fred Amundsen, a Navy supply corps officer whose parents reside at 3806 Avenue R, graduated December 4 from the Navy Supply Corps School at Harvard University. He has received his general service consultation and will be assigned to duty in the corps of the Navy’s newest ships as disbursing officer.”
From Friday, December 18 through Wednesday, December 23, 1942, Bob attended the Navy’s anti-aircraft school in San Francisco. On Christmas Day of 1942, he departed San Francisco aboard the converted luxury liner U. S. S. Lurline with college coeds returning home in Hawaii for the first time since the war had begun. Bandleader Artie Shaw, who had enlisted in the Navy along with the members of his band, played for the passengers nightly. Bob said, “So the four day trip to Honolulu was a blast. One of the girls onboard the Lurlene, Jean Lukens, a student at the University of Southern California, was the daughter of the president of the Honolulu Light and Power Company.”
From December 28, 1942 through February 24, 1943, Bob stayed at naval station quarters in Pearl Harbor (in Navy slang Hawaii was known as “Hulaland”) waiting for The U.S.S. Ralph Talbot, which had just been hit in battle. Photographs show Bob and his brother E. G. hanging out on the beach outside the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Outrigger Club and the Monoa Hotel. “I remained in Honolulu for about a month while all of the others shipped out to their ships. It turned out that my ship, the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot, had been vertically blown out of the water in one of the first major sea battles at Savo Island that divided Guadalcanal. Jean Lukens and I were together all the time. Artie Shaw was playing nightly at the naval base. The Lukens were members of ‘the’ club on the beach. Mr. Lukens asked me to look up a friend of his when I got to Australia.”
Photographs taken at this time show Bob, Jean and three other young ladies sunning at a public pool. While at Pearl Harbor Bob sent a postcard to his parents: “Dear Folks, I would think of many places I would less rather be than here. The beach is not quite as pretty as this but is very nice. The water is very cold but invigorating. So far have had one big time but expect this to change. Have no idea why I sent this card, do you? Bob.” On Thursday, December 31, 1942, Bob signed his membership card for the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard Officers’ Club.
On Saturday, January 2, 1943, The U.S.S. Ralph Talbot arrived in Brisbane, Australia and stayed through May 10, conducting training exercises and escorting convoys along the north and east coasts of the continent. Bob said, “I left Pearl Harbor on a large ship, crossing the equator landing in Brisbane, Australia and then transferred to Sydney. I remained in Sydney for four months working for the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot. Being a ‘nice’ guy I went to see Mr. Lukens’ friend in Sydney. I went to this hole in the wall store and after a phone call was escorted to the tenth floor of a block-size building and met the owner of the largest name publishing company in Australia, Sir Abbott was the owner and greeted me with warmth and we visited all afternoon. He invited me to his home that evening for dinner. I arrived at Abbot’s home and as I approached the guarded gate, a limousine drove up. It had a license plate with five stars. The lady walked down and said, ‘You must be Ensign Amundsen. I am Lady Irvin McKye.’ Her husband was the commander of the Australian armed forces. We had dinner with the Abbots, celebrating his birthday. The Abbots and Lady McKye introduced me to Shirley Jorgensen, who became my constant companion for the four weeks until the Ralph Talbot came in and the thirty days it took to repair the ship. Mr. Abbot offered me a job as his personal assistant.”
On February 28, 1943, Bob traveled aboard the U.S.S. Helena (later sunk in battle) for Brisbane. On Sunday, March 7, 1943, Bob arrived in Brisbane, Australia. There he was on leave awaiting arrival of The U.S.S. Ralph Talbot, Destroyer No. 390, returning from the Battle of Savo Island off of Guadacanal. He remained in Brisbane until March 25, 1943.
Friday, March 19, 1943: [Letter from R. L. Lukens, president of The Hawaiian Electric Company, Ltd. “For Progressive Hawaii We Light the Way”]: “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Amundsen: My wife and myself and several of our intimate friends here in Honolulu have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting your son Bob. He was traveling with Mrs. Lukens’ cousin who is in the same branch of the service as Bob. We have just received a letter from him and he seems to be in cheerful spirits. As I am quite sure that you do not know where he is and as I cannot tell you either I can mention the fact that he has a good assignment, and although has a lot to do he is fairly remote from actual danger. During his stay at our station here he was able to be in our company on several occasions and his outstanding manners and politeness made a great impression on all of us, and we could not help but think that you would be glad and proud to receive a letter from us telling you so. Hoping that Bob and your other boys return home safely to you. Sincerely, R. L. Lukens.”
Thursday, March 25, 1943 through Sunday, August 8, 1944: On March 25, 1943, Ensign Robert F. Amundsen reported for duty on the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot, often casually referred to as “The Tin Can,” in Sydney, Australia. Onboard the destroyer, Bob performed business administrative duties and served as a Naval Supply Officer and Anti-Aircraft Gunnery Officer. “Everything changed. The war began in earnest. The Battle of Midway Island and Savo Island left the U.S. Navy with two cruisers plus one Australian cruiser and ten destroyers. We went to Tulage air base. And so began the battle, island by island, on the ground, mighty battles at sea. Every other afternoon we left for battle, arriving at nightfall with the objective of preventing the Japs from reinforcing and supplying their troops. Officers were treated very, very well. We ate excellent meals, served by waiters, in a separate dining area with a table with white tablecloth and fine china. The 3 a.m. Battle Breakfast, prepared by cooks in the middle of the night during nighttime battle, was a great breakfast with steak and eggs.”
The crew referred to the officers, or “ossifers,” as “The Glamour Boys,” “Brass” or “Brass Hats.” Bob remembers frequently being referred to as a “Johnny-Come Lately”; “Ninety-Day Wonder” (an officer who received a commission after a three-month course at an officers’ candidate school); “Half-Lieut” or “Two-Striper” (second lieutenant); “R.H.I.P.” (Rank Has Its Privileges); or “Scrambled Eggs” (gold braid on caps of naval officers, or officers themselves). During this time, the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot once again led a convoy of converted cruise ships packed with marines to Guadalcanal during the final weeks of that battle.
The U.S. National Archives’ recently declassified film “Solomon Islands,” filmed by the Marine Corps Photographic Section, features a stunning 25-second, heart-in-the-throat pan shot of the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot, “No. 390,” plowing through perilously choppy waters of the Pacific. A lonely-looking man is seen onboard a ship looking out to sea. Because the film was produced for military brass, no narration was included but only eerie, foreboding classical music, suggesting “the ocean” and “an approaching storm,” somewhat reminiscent of John Williams’ moody score for “Jaws.” The man continues to look out to sea: the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot appears in the far distance. Cut to a shot of the sea, dangerously, savagely choppy. Cut to a long shot of the Talbot: a searchlight (in Navy parlance a Paul Pry) blinks in the left-hand corner of the ship. Suddenly the spectacular 25-second panning shot of the Talbot is seen, apparently filmed from the crow’s nest of a ship moving alongside it. The mountainous waves are so perilous that the Talbot rocks back and forth at an almost 45-degree tilt. Fourteen guys stand along the railing at mid-deck. One guy stands on the deck of the bow, reeling in a rope which has been tossed over the right side of the ship. Another guy, apparently working with the first guy, walks to the other side of the bow. The bow rocks 45 degrees to the right; the tip of a wave nearly crashes over the deck. A sailor is seen on the top deck flipping on a light. Individual men are clearly seen walking up and down the front deck, “taking a dekko” (going on deck for a look at the outside world), followed by close-ups of men standing on deck talking and looking out to the water. When Bob recently saw this footage, he said to his son Paul, “There’s Ernie.” “What do you mean, ‘There’s Ernie’?” Paul enquired. “Ernie who?” “I dunno,” Dad said. “I just know that’s Ernie.”
The following is a list of known crew members of the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot in 1943 and 1944: • Berry, H. E.: lieutenant • Callahan, lieutenant commander (when Bob first arrived, Callahan took the place of Lt. Commander Shepard) • Costa, Victor • Cronenberg, Al: chief gunnery officer (Bob knew him from Harvard) • Ellis, Joe: gunnery officer • “Ernie” • Hansen, Loyd: Bob’s “bunkie,” shared triple bunk with Bob (Bob was on bottom bunk, Hansen in middle bunk). “Hit the hay,” “sack time,” “cork down” and “cork off” were expressions meaning, “Time to go to sleep.” • Kalish, Ralph: lieutenant j.g. • Kelly, Gene: chief engineering officer • Kelly, Louis E.: lieutenant • Kolens: first lieutenant, head engineer • Levan, Bob: shared triple bunk with Bob (top bunk) • McLean, Gregory: ensign • Mench, Dr. Robert • Mills, Robert (Bob): lieutenant j.g., gunnery officer and friend • Nelson, Dick: ensign, officer and friend • Owens: fire control man and preacher • Sample, Melvin • Shepard, R. D.: lieutenant commander, in slang referred to as “Dad” • Stahl, Ray: gunnery officer and friend. Ray was the son of Academy Award-winning, Twentieth Century Fox motion picture director John Stahl (“Imitation of Life”/1933, “Leave Her to Heaven”/1945). • Swan, Robert: ensign • Turner, Thomas E.: lieutenant, nickname “30-Knot” • Walton, Russell E.: executive officer
For his 450 days onboard the Ralph Talbot in the Pacific theater of operations, from March 1943 until June 1944, the ship was either going to or coming from a battle. By night the ship fought the Japanese Navy, by day the Japanese Air Force. The Talbot was to engage in approximately 65 sea and land battles. Bob says, “This was my first experience under enemy gun fire. Strange that while waiting, fear of the uncertain was present; however, once the battle began, fear seemed to disappear with the intensity of the moment. After the battle, there was a certain calm and feeling of satisfaction at having met a test under stress, and a feeling with comradeship with those who had shared the experience and performed with valor. My country took on new meaning. Freedom became a life-long obsession. I entered the war as a young, unworldly young man. I survived to become a different person. Upon reflection, I believe one seeks to determine whether his country is worth fighting for and dying for. When I joined the Navy, I was moved by feelings of patriotism. I came out with a profound respect for the U.S., including freedom and country and all that that encompasses.”
On Monday, April 5, 1943, Bob sent a photograph of himself and Officer Dick Nelson aboard the Talbot to his parents; it was signed: “To Mom & Pop, Lots of love, Bob.”
Wednesday, June 30 through Thursday, July 1, 1943: “On June 30, 1943, the troop and war fighting ships began heading north, picking up other troop ships, and a few additional destroyers, on the way to the invasion of Rendova-Munda (northern part of the Solomons). As we approached the Japanese-held islands, we encountered attacking Japanese aircraft, some of which were death-defying kamikazes, intent on crashing onto U.S. ships. [A total of 1,228 Japanese kamikaze corps pilots, “riding the Divine Wind,” plunged to their deaths in suicide missions: this unprecedented planned program of human sacrifice was Japan’s final act of desperation to halt the overwhelming U.S. naval force which was pounding its way toward the Japanese islands.] Heavy anti-aircraft fire from the twelve destroyers prevented this from happening. This was my first experience under enemy gunfire. Strange that while awaiting, fear of the future was present; however, once the battle began, fear seemed to disappear with the intensity of the moment. After the battle, there was a certain calm and feeling of satisfaction at having met a test under stress, and a feeling of comradeship with those who had shared the experience and performed with valor. And so the small armada moved toward the recovery of Munda and Rendova.”
“During the night and morning heavy ship bombardment of Munda began to neutralize the landing areas. Around 4 a.m., the shores of Munda became visible. Around dawn the marines began unloading from the transports. Our group of destroyers was stationed to protect the landing. The Marine Air Force, a fiercely proud and brave group of pilots, was led by Major Joe Foss, later to become a congressman and senator. The Air Force flew air cover and kept the Japanese from attacking our landing. We continued bombardment in support of the landing forces, initially receiving enemy shore gunfire. The unloading of the marines and supply ships continued well into July 1. About four o’clock in the afternoon, about 70 Japanese fighters, bombers and torpedo bombers arrived from Rabasa resulting in a major confrontation with our ships’ anti-aircraft guns and marine air fighters turning them back with heavy losses. The landings of marines, supplies and guns continued.”
“The Japanese began and continued heavy reinforcements at night on the north shores of Munda. Some sixteen destroyers and two U.S. cruisers and one New Zealand cruiser constituted the entire U. S. naval force in this area. Captain ’30-Knot’ Thomas Burke was in charge of this force—the name ’30-Knot’ was because that was the only speed he cared to travel, which was very fast in those days. Each afternoon, eight of the destroyers headed north to the ‘slot’ to slow or stop the reinforcements, always encountering heavy enemy fire from the land at night and aircraft by day; however, the reinforcements were successfully slowed down, which helped the marines moving forward. During one of the battles, I was thrown down three levels landing on my knee. The injury remains a problem to this day.”
“On July 13, 1943, U. S. reconnaissance planes reported that a large Japanese fleet of approximately 30 war ships and 100 troop and supply barges were heading to the north of Munda to reinforce their troops and bring in supplies. Eight destroyers, including the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot, two U.S. cruisers, the USS Helena and USS Libra, one cruiser from New Zealand and the U.S.S. Leander, headed for the ‘slot’ about four in the afternoon to engage the enemy. Shortly after midnight, the battle began. The destroyers first sought out the barges, sinking about eighty. The three cruisers engaged the Japanese fleet, scoring many hits; however, the U. S. cruiser Helena and the New Zealand cruiser Leander were badly damaged. As the remainder of the Japanese ships began retreating, the damaged cruisers were escorted back to Guadacanal by the remaining cruiser and four destroyers. The U.S. destroyer McCauley had been badly damaged and was on fire. Admiral Burke transferred to the Ralph Talbot and ordered all but the Ralph Talbot and destroyer McCauley, Libra and one AK boat to return to Guadalcanal. The Ralph Talbot came alongside the McCauley, which was on fire, and began evacuating all of their 300 men. Reports of Japanese submarines in the area were a threat as we were dead in the water.”
Wednesday, July 14, 1943: “As dawn approached, a squadron of Japanese airplanes arrived and began attacking the Talbot, dead in the water and tied to the McCauley, Admiral Burke ordered the few remaining McCauley personnel onto the Talbot, and never have you seen the young, the old, the doctor, and anyone with an ax or knife cutting the ropes that had tied the Talbot to the McCauley.”
“And then began the race to escape. Admiral Burke would hide under a cloud or maneuver like in the movies to escape about ten Japanese aircraft. And the anti-aircraft guns were firing so fast, that everyone was burned from the heat of the guns—but no one noticed until later. Our ship shot down six of the Japanese aircraft, the Japanese planes strafed our ship, with the survivors of the McCauley huddled around the deck. The Talbot was riddled with holes from the strafing and gaping holes from the bombs. One Japanese dive bomber was within one hundred feet of hitting our ship when the anti-aircraft guns hit him out of the sky.”
“But the Talbot would have been a dead duck if it had not been for the arrival of Major Joe Foss and a half-dozen marine fighters. Foss radioed to Admiral Burke to secure from general quarters, and leave the Japanese planes to him. We didn’t retire from general quarters; however, Foss did shoot or chase the Japanese back to where they came from. We arrived back at Guadalcanal/Tulagi about noon, and after caring for the McCauley survivors, we collapsed and slept for 24 hours. Admiral Burke went out again that night, but he gave the Ralph Talbot crew a 24-hour retrieve before going back up the slot again.”
From August through December 1943 the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot continued to carry out patrols and escorted duties in the Solomon Islands. During this period of time Bob took a photograph of “Owens,” the Talbot’s fire control man “and preacher.” “Owens” appears to be an extremely happy-go-lucky, zesty sailor, shirt half-unbuttoned and shirttail out, “Popeye” sailor hat at a sloppy slant, hamming it up for Dad’s camera: “Owens was one of the few survivors off of Gun 4,” said Bob. The combined forces of the Marines, Air Force and Navy continued their assault on other islands that had been captured by the Japanese, including Rabasa, which was one of the main Japanese strongholds. During the fall of 1943, Gloucester was retaken, and the U.S. forces were to move more rapidly northward.
“As 1943 neared an end, more U.S. warships arrived in the Pacific. As the Islands were recaptured, the larger U.S. carriers, battleships and cruisers were able to operate. The tide had turned and movement toward Japan itself continued. But at one time, there were sixteen destroyers constituting the U.S. fleet, challenging the Japanese navy. Few remember places like Munda, Rendova, Rabasa (north of Guadacanal), Tulagi, and even Guadalcanal, except those who were there. The casualties were high. The Japanese were cruel to those they captured. Today there are those who say that the U.S. should not have used the atomic bomb; however, to those who fought, suffered and died, and the projection of losing one million men in an invasion of Japan, it was the right thing to do. Even after dropping the first bomb, Japan refused to surrender, and only after the second bomb did it all end. Freedom and liberty had once again prevailed against Hitler and Japan.”
“I am still greatly moved by the memories of these experiences. To those who survived, their lives would never be the same. The bravery and courage of so many Navy, Marine, and Army personnel who gave so much, even their lives, that the United States of America remain free to enjoy liberty and the pursuit of happiness was paid for at a high cost. My experience in the Navy and fifteen months of combat affected my entire life, in some ways that even I cannot discern. Those that remained physically unharmed, it was a life-changing experience.”
In January, 1944, The Saidor (advancement after Guadalcanal) operation took place. The Talbot again was part of the support group protecting the marine landing against enemy shore guns and enemy aircraft, always with casualties. On Thursday, April 27, 1944, at 2:20 a.m., the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot was patrolling near Okinawa when it was closed in by two Japanese kamikaze suicide fighters of the Divine Wing School. The first fighter crashed into the starboard side, aft. The second hit the sea. In May, 1944, The U.S.S. Ralph Talbot was first ordered to return to Sydney, Australia, but then rerouted to San Francisco. Bob: “Had I returned to Australia I might have accepted Mr. Albert’s offer to become his personal assistant; however, destiny took a different turn and sent me back to the United States. I was then a lieutenant, later to be promoted to lieutenant commander, the rank that I had when discharged. My replacement, as was my predecessor, was later killed in action. The ship later departed San Francisco for Pearl Harbor.”
On June 19, 1944, an American force of fifteen carriers with 900 war planes flew to meet the Japanese head-on in the Philippine Sea near Saipan, setting the stage for the largest aircraft carrier battle in history. By 11 a.m., seventy Japanese aircraft had been shot down by American carriers. A rousing American victory: by the end of the battle, three Japanese carriers had been sunk. July 7. Utter carnage. Bob, onboard the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot, one of the 800 ships involved in the invasion, took four photographs of the battle; inscriptions read: “Planes over Tinian,” “Sunset Over Saipan” and “Saipan Being Bombarded.” Bob said, “Four thousand, four hundred and seventy U.S. servicemen—O’Connor, Levine, Schultz, Kalofatich and Olson among them--died during the relentless battle.”
After the Navy
On June 22, 1944, Bob ceased his duties aboard the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot. He received orders to proceed to Harvard graduate school of business administration for the second time in his Navy career. On Sunday, October 1, 1944, Bob was promoted to lieutenant, USNR, and was relieved to return to Harvard Naval Supply Corps School. On Wednesday, October 18, 1944, he began the Navy War Adjustment Officers course. On Friday, February 2, 1945, he graduated from the Naval Supply Corps School to report to duty in the War Readjustment and Material Distribution Administration in San Francisco as assistant to officer in charge.
“The war in Europe was ending and the government had thousands of contracts to be cancelled and billions in process wartime supplies and equipment. It was our job to do so. Our offices were in downtown San Francisco. The Stanford Courts, then a luxury apartment complex, had been converted to several apartments for naval officers, one of which was mine. It was next to the Mark Hopkins Hotel. At this period of time San Francisco was a cosmopolitan, conservative town, where the women dressed in conservative but beautiful clothing. There were relatively few naval officers and many attractive young ladies. I went out with June Schimmel; Patricia Dodd; and a radio news anchor from Montreal. San Francisco was a fantastic town for the navy, and I enjoyed all of it, particularly following eighteen months of war.”
Immediately after leaving The Navy, Bob’s officer friend Ray Stahl asked that Bob visit Ray’s parents in Beverly Hills and assure them that he was alive and well. Bob said, “Ray was part of our destroyer group. We had fought many battles together, and whenever we had a break, he and I spent the time together. He asked me when I arrived in the states to contact his family in Beverly Hills, California and tell them he was well and would be soon returning to the United States. Upon arriving in San Francisco, I immediately traveled to Los Angeles to visit with Ray’s family.”
“I checked into the Ambassador Hotel and called Ray’s home number. His father came on the phone and knew me from Ray’s letter. He said, ‘Check out of the hotel and stay with us. We will pick you up in thirty minutes.’ Well, Ray’s father was John Stahl, a well-known movie director who had directed “Magnificent Obsession” with Ronald Coleman; “Imitation of Life” with Claudette Colbert and “Leave Her to Heaven” with Gene Tierney and Cornel Wilde. When I was at the airport in Los Angeles, a seemingly ninety-foot limousine with four gold stars on the doors pulled up and a chauffeur opened the door for me. We drove up the hills of Beverly Hills. We arrived at a mansion. I was greeted with affection by Mr. and Mrs. John [Roxana] Stahl. When I walked in Mr. Stahl was in the middle of celebrating his birthday with friends. Gregory Peck, Dinah Shore and her husband George Montgomery were there. Ray’s sister Darlene was also there. Mr. Stahl was well-respected in the industry. I spent the evening there; they were very interested in my experiences throughout the war and asked me a lot of questions. Dinah Shore called me ‘Ensign Amundsen.’”
“Then they showed me up to Ray’s suite of rooms. Mr. Stahl insisted on calling the secretary of the Navy to extend my leave. The Navy had arranged for me to have a 30-day pass and I spent the month in Los Angeles. Dinah Shore and I went to lunch together. Every day was a fairy tale. Mr. Stahl was then directing “Keys of the Kingdom” with Gregory Peck: I spent most of the time on the set [Stage 9—“Leave Her to Heaven” had just completed filming on Stage 8] with Mr. Peck. The third day after visiting the “Keys of the Kingdom” set, Mr. Stahl said he thought I would enjoy a different kind of movie, and had his assistant take us to another set, where Betty Grable was making a movie musical [“Pin-Up Girl”]. She was gracious; we shared a Coke between shots. And then to lunch with Dinah Shore. Ray was later to become a director and I kept in touch with him for a number of years. What an experience for a poor boy from Galveston.”
A color photograph taken by Bob at the Stahl home shows Ray’s sister Darlene, wearing a white bathing suit and wearing a white flower in her hair, sitting at the edge of a gigantic back yard pool petting the family’s golden retriever. Another photograph shows Mr. Stahl’s blonde daughter Roxanne with Bob at the Fox commissary, at the time featuring a 1935 mural featuring Janet Gaynor, Warner Baxter and Will Rogers. “Shortly after that picture was taken, Dinah Shore came to our table and sat down and talked to us,” recalled Bob. Daryl Hickman, at the time just having completed his role as the ill-fated younger brother to Cornel Wilde’s character in Fox’s movie “Leave Her to Heaven,” directed by John Stahl, recalled in a DVD commentary, “Fox had the best commissary in town—every studio had a commissary—I mean, really, kind of fancy, and the Fox commissary was absolutely the best. People used to come from other studios to eat lunch at Fox because the food was so good. And it was a very pleasant place to work, I don’t know why exactly, but it always had that feeling for me of a home base.”
Harvard Business School
Around this period, Bob applied to Harvard graduate school of business administration and was eventually accepted. “I knew the dean quite well,” says Bob, “and a lot of people knew me from my work at the Naval Supply Corps School. On Monday, February 5, 1944, my Commander, E. Winslow, formally recommended me to Harvard Business School.” On Tuesday, February 20, 1945, Bob completed the Navy War Adjustment Officers course. In June, 1945, he was released from naval active duty, whereupon he entered Harvard Business School, where he would ultimately receive a master’s degree in business administration. Dad’s brother E.G. had also applied and was admitted. On July 20, 1945, Bob transferred from San Francisco to Boston in a similar position. On Thursday, August 30, 1945, The U.S.S. Ralph Talbot rescued 24 survivors of the sunken USS Indianapolis (its terrifying story related by Robert Shaw’s character Quint in the motion picture “Jaws”).
In September, 1945, Bob began attending Harvard’s graduate school of business administration. He stayed (with his roommate and brother E. G.) in Mellon Hall, Room D-33, Soldier’s Field, Boston 53, Massachusetts. In Bob’s class was Jack Valenti, who would later become an assistant to Lyndon Johnson and president of the Motion Picture Society of America. “While at Harvard I met Virginia Poole, whom I later started to seriously go with. Jack Holder and Bob Wolfe were friends. I was president of a discussion group which included Bob Danielson, Phil Heindrickson, Ralph O’Neale, Chuck Martinez, Ian Shaw, Hugh Hall, Wes Adams, Dave Jones, Jacques Girard, Bill Losee, Harry Parmaler, Jack Kohler and Earle Cocke.”
Marjorie Jane Toline
“In December 1945, while I was attending Harvard, I went to my home town of Galveston for the Christmas holidays and stopped in Dallas with four friends to see my brother Bill. Bill was now married to his new wife Loretta and lived in Dallas. The first night I was there, my Harvard friend Bob Storey and his wife Lib Toline Storey lived in Dallas, and Bob suggested that I meet his sister-in-law Jane Toline. Jane had been a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School and The Hockaday School, and hat completed one year at UT-Austin. At the time, Jane was a copywriter at Ted Workman’s Glenn Advertising Agency. Bob and I had been in the Tejas Club, the Navy and Harvard together. I went on a blind date with Jane to Luann’s Club on Greenville Avenue and Lovers Lane. [By 1945, the most popular song at Luann’s was “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” played via a 110-speaker RCA sound system.] Bob and Lib were with us. The next day Jane and I went to lunch. I believe we fell in love on that first date or at lunch the next day. She and I spent most of the next four days together. Jane and I were together day and night with a brief separation when I went to see my parents for the holidays.”
Jane told The Dallas Morning News in 1984, “Bob had been in Galveston visiting his family and was coming through Dallas on his way back up to Harvard. My brother-in-law, Bob Storey Jr., had gone to school with Bob. Well, my first reaction was, ‘No blind dates for me.’ But I did it because I was so fond of my brother-in-law and my sister. We had lunch together, and we wound up talking for hours. I felt like I could talk to him about anything. He was a very empathetic, understanding, intelligent man. I remember I went home and I told my mother that I had met the man I was going to marry.”
In March, 1946, The U.S.S. Ralph Talbot was designated for use as a target for Operation Crossroads, an atomic test conducted at Bikini in July and August of 1946. Over 150 naval vessels were chosen for the tests, the first of which was called Bikini Baker, which tested the effects of a nuclear bomb being dropped onto the ocean. Documentary film footage seen in “Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie” shows naval officers spraying down the black, charred, haunted-looking, hulking, slanted remains of the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot or a similar-looking destroyer. The destroyer was contaminated with fallout and was sent to Kwajadein, where she was decommissioned.
Bob: ““Jane and I corresponded almost daily. Jane was enjoying a very successful career in advertising. In late 1945, she was invited to New York to be interviewed by J. Walter Thompson Advertising, the largest agency in the U.S. Jane diverted her trip to come to Boston and Harvard. In March, 1946, Jane went to New York to visit J. Walter Thompson relative to accepting a job with the company in New York. A big, big time for our relationship that included our going to New York together. In New York, we did everything, saw all the shows. We were not engaged yet and she was seriously thinking about moving to New York.”
Bob and Jane saw Alfred Hitchcock’s “Notorious” “on a rainy day” in Boston. In New York I stayed at the Commodore Hotel, Room 1188. We met in New York, then traveled to Boston so that she could visit the school and meet my brother and our classmates. During this same time we came back to Dallas. I was interviewing for a job there. I also attended a weekend meeting at the naval base. I met Jane’s family: her parents, B.I. and Reno Toline; her older brother Lib and younger brother John. Jane and I went to Galveston so she could meet our family. We became engaged to marry. We discussed the future, including the possibility of my going to England and securing a doctorate degree at London School of Economics. I went back to complete my MBA on June 1. E.G. got engaged to a New Yorker named Audrey Tuzar. They eventually had two daughters named Judy and Patrice.” In late December, 1946, Bob and Jane journeyed to Galveston; Bob spent time with his cousin Gaynell Watkins.
On January 17, 1947, Bob was elected president of the student body of Harvard graduate school of Business Administration. “Our suite mate was Earle Cocke from Georgia. He was a medal of honor war vet who lived and breathed politics. He picked me to become not only class representative but ran me as president of the student body. I lost, then became vice president, then president elect, and so I became president of the student body. I met regularly with Harvard president Conant and also with Dean David.”
Harvard Magazine wrote, “Bob Amundsen is a native of Galveston, Texas and a graduate of the University of Texas. During the war, he served as a supply officer of the destroyer Ralph Talbot. He later attended the War Adjustment Course at the Business School, and as the close of the year was in contract termination work. As a result of the two mentioned Navy courses, he graduated last June with advanced standing one term. He completes his MBA work this June. As Vice President of the Student Association during the fall semester, he served as chairman of the Speaker’s Committee and of the University Relations Committee. In the former capacity he was instrumental in lining up the imposing array of speakers slated to address the student body during the next term.” (Bob invited and received speaking date acceptances from James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy; Charles E. Wilson, President of General Electric; Averill Harriman, Secretary of Commerce; and John Hancock, Representative to the Atomic Energy Commission of the United Nations.) Members of the student association included Sinclair Weeks, Bob Hutchison, Ron Rhome, Dick Bittenbinder and John Fitzgerald.
In a February 22, 1947 Harvard magazine article entitled “Amundsen Offers Council 11 Point Plan of Action/Student Needs Emphasized by SA President”: “Presiding over his first meeting as president of the executive committee of the Student Association, Bob Amundsen opened with his “message to Congress” incorporating his recommendations for action during the present term. Presenting an eleven-point program which made suggestions to each of the subcommittees, he expressed his views on the functions of each group. With an eye to the future, the president asked the Campus Facilities Committee to investigate the adequacy and the cost of the facilities ‘with the thought of maintaining a level of cost that any qualified man can afford to spend.’ He also looked to the future when the athletic program might bog down for lack of competent student administration and recommend that the Athletic Committee ‘atttempt to persuade the school to take over.’ In addition, Amundsen felt that effort should be expended towards better publicity for the school and a little more school spirit….”
On Friday, April 11, 1947, Bob and Jane got engaged, according to Jane’s diary, “while Bob was here for Easter vacation. 3:00 p.m.” On Thursday, June 5, 1937, Bob graduated from Harvard Business School. On Friday, June 6, 1937, Bob and Jane were married in Wynne Chapel at Highland Park Presbyterian Church at 8:30 p.m. on June 6, 1947; officiating was Dr. James E. Detweiler. Lib Storey, Jane’s sister, was matron of honor; Helen O’Connor and Catherine Canfield were bridesmaids; E. G. was best man; Bob Storey, Jr. was groomsman; and Charles Priddy and John Toline were ushers. Bob Burke, an old buddy of Jane’s at the ad agency, was the nineteenth guest to arrive. (Mr. Burke recalled, “I remember that weekend she went on that blind date with Bob Amundsen. She came into Mr. Workman’s office Monday morning, shut the door loudly and cried, ‘Well…this is it!’…And it was.”)
A reception was held at the Toline home on McCommas Drive in East Dallas. Henrietta and William G., Bob’s parents, were in attendance, in addition to Louise Latham, a friend of Jane’s from Woodrow Wilson High School who later became a film actress and appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie” and the TV show “The Fugitive.” Bob and Jane honeymooned at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. After the honeymoon, Bob and Jane lived in a small house on Burlington Street in Oak Cliff for three months. Bob worked as a consultant for Degolyer and McNaughton, a Dallas oil consulting company. Apparently Jane used the couple’s first car—a 1947 Plymouth with no floorboard—and Bob took the bus to work.
Beginning in January 1948, Bob went to work as the financial manager for I. B. Adelman, who owned four movie theaters, including The Delman Theater on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas, as well as a Fort Worth theater, for $400 a month. In this capacity Bob learned about the popcorn vending business. Adelman hired Abe Fortes, a partner in one of Washington’s largest law firms Arnold and Fortes, in an antitrust suit against the entire Hollywood motion picture industry (Fortes would later become Lyndon Johnson’s attorney and attorney general; he was also nominated for the position of Supreme Court justice). Fortes hired Bob as a gofer as Fortes worked in a trust suit, principally suing Interstate Theaters, which was 50 percent owned and controlled by Paramount. However, Adelman instead decided to sue the entire motion picture industry as being a monopoly. This was the spark which eventually led to the crumbling of the Hollywood studio system. “We prevailed with a large settlement to Adelman, who decided to retire and move to Los Angeles,” said Bob.
Tuesday, March 8, 1948: Bob’s destroyer, the U.S.S. Ralph Talbot, contaminated with radiation due to atomic tests, was sunk in deep waters.
March 30, 1948: Dallas Morning News: “I. B. Adelman, owner of the Delman, an independent film theater, filed a $2,436,000 damage suit in Wilmington, Da., against a group of the nation’s largest movie producing theaters and operating concerns. The suit, charging antitrust law violation, says the defendant company forced Adelman to close three theaters in Houston in which he had part interest, the AP reported. Interstate Circuit, Inc., is the only company named in the suit which has its headquarters in Dallas. In a similar suit filed some time ago, Adelman asked for $750,000 damages from a group of major film companies which involved Interstate Circuit, Inc. and Texas Consolidated Theater, Inc., both with headquarters in Dallas. This earlier suit involved operation of the Delman Theater in Dallas by the Tivoli Realty Company, in which Adelman has an interest.” In January, 1949, Bob and Jane moved into one of the cute, tiny, box-shaped, cream-colored wood-frame Northway Duplexes on Matilda Avenue (a postmarked letter read 4212 Matilda, but the 1950 Coleman Directory states that the address was 4623 Matilda). This was one of a series of “postwar tract home,” dollhouse-like duplexes, each of which had its own personal driveway and box-shaped wooden garage, just southeast of the Greenville Avenue and Lovers Lane intersection, behind and east of Luann’s. Good friends Jane and Lynn Northrup occupied the other side of the duplex. The two Janes had been classmates at UT, and Lynn and Bob had attended Harvard together. While living in the duplex, Bob and Jane bought a collie puppy whom they named Lance.
In July, 1951, Bob and Jane moved to a new modest, shoe box-shaped home at 7115 Westlake Drive in the Lakewood neighborhood in the east section of Dallas. On Saturday, September 22, 1951, their daughter Adrienne Elizabeth (“the compassionate angel of the family,” according to son Paul) was born.
Summer, 1952: Bob: “The concession business in movie theaters was the most profitable part of a then-slow industry, with popcorn being King of the Hill. I became an expert on popcorn working with the supplier, Charles Darden of Darden Concession Supplies. Darden, Peavy and I formed a partnership with Popcorn Supply Company. We placed popcorn machines in variety stores, and provided the equipment and supplies. The store provided the personnel to operate the business and they shared in the profits. We developed about 30 stores before selling to the variety stores.”
“Darden was also selling a soft drink manufactured by the Oregold Company, owned by Lamar Dial. I persuaded Dial to make some crude drink machines that I offered to military installations. Since we were only other one offering equipment, we were always the successful bidder of large contracts. I drove from base to base in the heat of summer soliciting this business. I then recommended to Dial that we package half gallon glass drink containers for the supermarkets. He did, and in the hot months we had it stacked to the ceiling. The Cueller family of El Chico Mexican Restaurants packed the drinks for the Dar-Sen Company.
The drinks were called Jus-Made Fruit Drinks and came in half-gallon glass decanters. “Adrienne was my constant companion every Saturday when I went on sales calls for Jus-Made.”
ATCO Food Company was organized on August 1, 1953 as an equal partnership by Robert Amundsen and Torger G. Thompson. Thompson, a church friend of Bob’s, had conceived an idea for a “Chili Cup,” an ice cream cone in shape but made from a corn chip ingredient. Two scoops of hot chili were placed in the cup. At the same time, the Cuellar family, owners of El Chico Foods, were packing Jus-Made Fruit Drinks for the Dar-Sen Company. El Chico Foods agreed to make the chili for Atco’s Chili Cup, and Gulf Cone Company produced the cones. Fred Bell, owner of Fred’s Barbecue Restaurants and who operated snack bars on military bases, agreed to buy the Chili Cup concept for testing. The product was ultimately unsuccessful.
On January 25, 1954, son Robert Fred Amundsen, Jr. (known to the family as Bobby) was born. Bobby, the “jock” of the family, passed away after having a liver operation on January 22, 2003.
In March, 1954, Fred Bell, owner of Fred’s Barbecue Restaurants and operator of snack bars at military bases, asked Bob’s company Atco to produce a chili hot dog sauce that was not overly runny. At first, the product was known as Atco Chili Sauce With Meat, then was changed to Atco Chili Hot Dog Sauce. Atco was the first company to market such a product, and sold to Bell, Theater and Amusement Distributors and retail stores. On August 1, 1954, Torgar Thompson retired from Atco Food Company. Torgar recommended to Bob that Joe Buwolski take his place. Bob agreed, and he and Joe became equal partners. Bob said, “Very soon after this, we created an additional company; Joe distributed soft drink dispensers as Dial-A-Drink Company.”
Bob and Torgar’s Chili Cup was marketed at The State Fair of Texas in October, 1954. In December, 1955, Fred’s Barbecue Restaurant owner Fred Bell suggested to Bob that Bob’s company pack a pit-cooked barbecue beef to be sold at Bell’s military installation snack bars. Bob entered into an agreement to have Leon’s Barbecue prepare the product and for El Chico Canning Company to can the product.
Beginning January 15, 1956, James Lipscomb, Bob’s friend from Harvard and Highland Park Presbyterian Church, joined Bob in several ventures, including Atco Food Company. Also at this time, Bob, Lipscomb and Buwolski joined with Earl A. Jackson to construct homes through their new company JAB Construction Company. Richardson was then booming, especially due to the recent completion of North Central Expressway, and houses were in demand. Said Bob, “The company lasted for several years, until the recession of 1958. We bought ten lots and had three model homes. We eventually sold about 25 properties, making limited profits.”
On Thursday, March 1, 1956, Big D Food Company, an equal partnership between Bob, James Lipscomb and Joe Buwolski, was formed. The company sold canned barbecue beef. On Friday, April 6, 1956, Joe Buwolski retired from Big D Food Company.
On Monday, April 9, 1956, a partnership agreement was established between Bob, John P. Thompson and James E. Gresham. By the terms, the two partnerships Atco Food Company and Big D Food Company were joined to produce food products, including Atco Chili Sauce with Meat and Big D Barbecue Beef with Barbecue Sauce. On April 16, 1956, Big D Food Company had its name changed back to Atco Food Company.
On Saturday evening, August 4, 1956 at 7:16 p.m., Jane and Bob’s youngest son, Paul William, was born. Bob’s enduring nicknames for Paul were “Paul William” and “Old Friend.” Ironically, the day after, Sunday, August 5, 1956, was Jane’s thirty-fourth birthday. Bob delivered a cake and the following note to the hospital: “Birthday greetings darling–You will please note that the attached check is good only for the purchase of a new fall outfit. Not having anticipated so early an arrival, it was made good only for the fall–this may necessitate your relying on your beauty and charm for the balance of the summer. Happy birthday sweetheart and may this be the beginning of your best year. Love, Bob.”
In March, 1957, Bob left Jackson Construction Company and began a new business venture with John Thompson, who later started Seven-Eleven. From around mid-1957 through November, 1967, Bob had his office at the $4 million, nine-story Meadows Building on Greenville Avenue, south of the Lovers Lane intersection–in 1957 one block south of Bob Berry’s Humble station. The Meadows Building, which was built in 1955 and which boasted a view of the Dallas skyline, was called “one of the most elaborate suites of executive offices in the Southwest.”
During the first two weeks of September, 1957, the Amundsen family moved to a new house at 7218 Kenny Lane, phone number EMerson 1-7609, in North Dallas. The spectacular new, space age redwood ranch home, designed by Jane and Illinois architect John A. Toline, Jane’s younger brother, was an unforgettably nostalgic phenomenon which remains permanently ingrained in the memories of everyone who visited the Amundsen home in the fifties and sixties (it was unceremoniously bulldozed and replaced with an austere, dark brick McMansion in August, 2011). On Friday, December 20, 1957, the first of what would soon become an annual Christmas party, Norwegian-style “Dip-In-The-Kettle,” was held at the new Kenny Lane home.
In 1958, James Lipscomb retired from Atco Food Company. During this same period, Bob’s attorney Joe Stephens initiated a capital source for investments with Bob, James Greshem and Torgar Thompson. New businesses acquired included Jon-Cliff Furs (in partnership with good HPPC church friend Dr. Cliff Jones); Ranch Foods, Inc.; and Royal Dutch Laundry and Cleaning. Before long, Ranch Foods would begin operating Fred’s Barbecue Restaurants.
Monday, January 5, 1959: At 7:30 p.m. on CBS on this night, the fifth season “Father Knows Best” episode “The Good Samaratin” aired: Bud (Billy Gray) tries to do good deeds for others but it seems people just resent his help. Nineteen-fifty-nine, beginning about early January 1959, was the Amundsen’s and in fact the whole country’s “Father Knows Best” Year. The members of the family had no choice but to gather in the den together and watch “Father Knows Best” as a family on Monday nights throughout 1959. Throughout 1959, “Father Knows Best” was sponsored by Scott Towels, makers of Scotties.
Recalls Paul, “Those opening credits with that haunting theme song began with, ‘Here are Robert Young! And…Jane Wyatt.’ Just as Robert Young as insurance salesman Jim Anderson walked in the door and took off his gray fedora during the opening credits, in would walk Dad through the Kenny Lane front door, taking off his fedora. Bobby and I scrambled to get that hat so we could wear it and then put it in Dad’s closet. I often wondered why ‘Father Knows Best’ meant so much to my father. I think it was because Jim Anderson, though only an insurance salesman, was kind of a wise philosopher. He once said to his daughter Betty, played by Elinor Donahue, ‘As the poet once said, Jealousy is the fume of a little heart, and I know yours is not a little heart, Princess.’ The program also had a boldly Christian bent, with blunt references to Bible verses. Also that eerie Robert and Jane business. Robert Young and Jane Wyatt, Robert Amundsen and Jane Amundsen—three kids—Anderson/Amundsen. In 1997, I interviewed Jane Wyatt. She wrote me a personal letter afterwards which read, ‘So!!...Your parents are Robert and Jane!!! Say hello to them for me!’ I remember showing Dad that letter. We were standing in his bedroom at his duplex on San Carlos Drive late in the afternoon. That look on his face when he read that note. It was priceless. It really meant something to him. A faint smile creased his face.”
Also in 1959, Bob purchased what would eventually become an endless line of Oldsmobiles from W. O. Bankston Dealership. “Whenever I think of that car,” said son Paul, “I think of those empty glass Coca-Cola bottles and Juicy Fruit Gum wrappers on the front seat. That was him: Coke, Juicy Fruit, Orange Sherbet and Tootsie Rolls. During that period he was great at snuggling up in bed with me and reading me Dr. Seuss books like ‘Green Eggs and Ham.’ He was so good and reading that clever poetry of Dr. Seuss. I remember snuggling up against that constant two-day beard and smelling Old Spice after-shave.”
Every night in 1959 Bob read his family a devotional page from a little compact gray booklet called “Prayer Time” during dinner. The introduction, “Worship in a Christian Home,” noted, “There appears to be a real revival of family worship throughout America today. Whether this interest continues will depend upon the vitality and reality of the worship experiences within the home...The atmosphere of home makes more impressions upon the child than formal teaching...It is easier for a child to understand God, the Father, if his own father is kind and loving and thoughtful...Family worship experiences begin as husband and wife discover the unifying force of worship together.” Each page had a short little story with a short prayer at the end. “God, the Creator,” on page 28, told the story of a little boy visiting his father’s air force base, with his mother saying, “Isn’t it good to know about God? You can always trust Him, son. You can know that He loves you more than Daddy and I can love you, though we love you very, very much...’ Prayer: We thank Thee, God, that thou hast made us and placed us in this world. Help us to become more like Jesus. In this way we can help to bring peace on earth. Amen.”
In January, 1959, Bob and Jane began meeting with their twice-monthly Thursday night Great Books adult discussion group. The group discussed the paperbound boxed sets provided by The Great Books Foundation. They read complete volumes on philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. When the group completed the series, they continued meeting according to their own desires. One frequently ignored rule was that a person couldn’t participate if they hadn’t read the book. Members of the Great Books group included extremely close friends Walter and Alice Spradley, Pete and Ruth Lutken, Ginny and Don Sillers, Donald and Virginia Gay, Tom and Ann Faulkner, Frances Ware, Celia and Byron Cain and Jeanette Eppler. The group often traveled together, always with a book in hand. Mr. Lutken spoke at Jane’s funeral in November, 1989, saying: “Someone should write a ‘Great Book’ about Jane Amundsen.” Bob and surviving members of the group were meeting on Thursday nights as recently as 2012!
On Monday, February 16, 1959, M&B Food Company was organized. Stock shares were issued: Bob, 600 shares; James Gresham and Torgar Thompson, 200 shares each. M&B Distributors was engaged in the business and handling of selling canned Chili Hot Dog Sauce, Barbecue Beef and Chili under the brand name “M&B.”
Bob’s name was mentioned in a Thursday, May 14, 1959 Dallas Morning News article headlined NEW PTA OFFICERS: he and Hal Ashman had been elected secretaries of the Kramer Elementary PTA; Harold Gordon, a close family friend and later business associate, was named treasurer. At the time, Adrienne and Bobby were attending Kramer. Paul attended Kramer in first grade during the 1962-63 school year.
On Thursday, July 1, 1959, Bob purchased the Fred’s Barbecue restaurant chain from Fred Bell, soon to launch the Southwest’s Kip’s Big Boy hamburger restaurant franchise (Big Boy was named after the double-deck cheeseburger Bob Wian sold at his small restaurant in Glendale, California). Fred’s Barbecue had evolved from a chain of restaurants dating back to the late thirties called Lobello’s, which had a key location on lower Greenville Avenue. “In 1959 I knew Fred Bell,” said Bob. “In World War II, he had been in charge of buying merchandise for 50 to 100 Dairy Queen-type stores on military bases. Eventually the military decided to do it themselves. Bell bought Lobello’s Barbecue around 1952 and changed the name to Fred’s Barbecue. There were only one or two locations; then he built another one or two. I knew a fellow who was selling canned barbecue and needed someone to carry it. He sold chili using chili sauce and asked if I knew of someone with less experience producing chili sauce. EC created the first chili sauce. He was a partner. We sold chili hot dog sauce made by EC.”
“Fred Bell was a good-looking extrovert, not my particular kind of guy, but very aggressive and talented. One day I called on him at his office on Mockingbird Lane. He started talking about owning a Big Boy franchise for Texas and then said, ‘You’re already buying everything else from me, why not buy Fred’s Barbecue?’”
Bob’s vision was for Fred’s Barbecue to have a clean and more upscale atmosphere attractive to families, a kind of cross between Red Bryan’s and Kip’s Big Boy Coffee Shops, as opposed to “sawdust-on-the-floor” or “joint” atmospheres.
For Fred’s Barbecue, Bob and Ranch Foods Inc. vice president and general manager Hal Gordon collaborated with architects John R. Thompson and Associates, Tracy-Locke Advertising (led by close family friend and neighbor Morris Hite, marketing: L. T. Merrill) and a family friend and nationally known Broadway set designer Peter Wolf. Mr. Wolf, “a talent to conjure with anywhere in the country” (Dallas Morning News 1/15/57), a Long Island native who made his home with wife Susie in Dallas in 1948, was the Southwest’s foremost theatrical designer, and creator of religious environments and of themes for restaurants, clothing stores and theme parks (Six Flags Over Texas). His clients included The Dallas Summer Musicals, The Dallas Theater Center, The Dallas Opera and New York City Center. He designed sets, including stage curtains with hundreds of tinkling bells along the bottom, for Broadway’s The King and I; other Broadway credits included Show Boat, Carousel and Kiss Me, Kate. Mr. Wolf created a back yard patio motif, complete with realistic-looking artificial oak trees, for the dining rooms.
Fred’s Barbecue still stays in the hearts of those who lived in Dallas in the 1960s. The location next-door to the Highland Park Village Theater was THE hangout to be seen at following one of the theater’s latest Disney releases, such as The Parent Trap, Babes in Toyland and Son of Flubber. The Wynnewood Village location in Oak Cliff, managed by the inimitable and diminutive Guy Money and his assistants Geno Ewing and Myrtle, was a major hangout for Sunset and Adamson High School students.
During this period in August, 1959, Bob simultaneously co-owned Red Bryan’s Smokehouse at 610 West Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff. He also owned Charco’s Park’N’Eat Hamburgers drive-through restaurants (three locations, including Mockingbird and Abrams); Royal Dutch Laundry and Cleaning (22 substations at its peak); and the Fred’s Barbecue chain (eleven locations at its peak) in Dallas.
By 1959, Sundays were important days in the life of the Amundsen family. The morning would start out with the family gathering at the lake on University Boulevard just east of Highland Park Presbyterian Church and feeding Mrs. Baird’s Bread scraps to the ducks. This was followed by HPPC Sunday School and church services and lunch. Every other Sunday afternoon, the Amundsens purchased sackfuls of groceries at Tom Thumb Grocery Store in Preston Royal Shopping Center and delivered them to poor families in West Dallas, near Industrial Boulevard and the old Sportatorium. Said Bob, “I was trying to show the children that they were fortunate indeed to have the life they led.”
Alternate Sunday afternoons were spent with relatives, the Bob Storey, Jr. family (Bob, Lib and children Gerry, Johnny and Lisa), at their spectacular home on Winsted Drive in Lakewood. In 1959, the Amundsens also went to Sunday evening church, which included a supper in the Currie Hall cafeteria.
In 1959, Bob’s Charco’s Park’N’Eat Hamburgers had its flagship location on the far northwest end of Lakewood at 6375 Mockingbird at Abrams, phone TA1-5066. President Kennedy’s motorcade would pass by Charco’s 5300 Lemmon Avenue location, east and right of the Hudnall intersection and Brantley Phillips 66, on Friday morning, November 22, 1963. A third Charco’s location was at 10218 Garland Road.
In October, 1959, the Amundsens spent many exciting evenings going to Charco’s for dinner. Son Paul remembers a recurring problem with “James Dean” teenage hoodlum loiterers who carried switchblades and parked their black Packards at the “Circle-Thru” restaurant on Mockingbird. In fact, the notorious and dangerous Lakewood Rats street gang had made Charco’s their official home in 1959, much to Bob’s consternation! On New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1959, Bob took his family to a New Year’s Eve party at Dal-Cliff Skating Rink. Son Paul remembers the amazing camaraderie of the family at this moment. He remembered Robert Young’s words on “Father Knows Best,” “I don’t know what a family is. But I’m sure glad I’ve got one.”
By the early 1960s, the Amundsens had become incredibly good friends with many other families, many members of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, who lived in the Kenny Lane neighborhood. Most of these friends had children who were close friends of the Amundsen children. This “Suburban Mafia” of friends included, among others, Arthur and Cookie Wood; Morris and Caroline Hite; Hobart and Phyllis Moses; Hal and Adele Gordon; and Abbott and Jean Sparks. On Thursday morning September 28, 1961, Fred’s Barbecue Restaurants catered to the cast of the 1962 Twentieth-Century Fox CinemaScope musical “State Fair” in Kaufman, Texas. The scene being filmed that particular morning involved Margie Frake (Pamela Tiffin) talking to her motorcycle-riding boyfriend Harry (David Brandon) and then singing the mournful “It Might As Well Be Spring” beside a lake behind the family ranch house. Bob took candid photos of the cast, also including Pat Boone, Alice Faye, Tom Ewell, Ann-Margret, Bobby Darin, wife Sandra Dee and director Jose Ferrer enjoying Fred’s Barbecue. Pamela recalled to Bob’s son Paul, “Usually on the set you get these cold, miserable box lunches. That Fred’s Barbecue thing was real different and we considered it a treat.” Motion picture actress Sandra Dee, at the time accompanying husband Bobby Darin while filming “State Fair” in Dallas, recalled to Paul, “It was the best food we ever ate in our entire lives. Bobby and I went back four times and ate like gluttons.” Tom Ewell, best known as Marilyn Monroe’s downstairs neighbor in “The Seven-Year-Itch,” played the father, Abel Frake in “State Fair,” and recalled of the Fred’s Barbecue catering, “The food was excellent—excellent! Especially the ribs!”
Beginning in the early 1960s, Bob became extremely involved in social service. He once said, “A friend told me that I was constantly torn between social service and business, and that that worked against me.” From 1961 to 1965, Bob was president of West Dallas Community Centers. He also became a board member of The Salvation Army of the Greater Dallas Metroplex. Also during this period, he was chairman of Village Kitchen Foods, Inc., which sold chili, barbecue and other food products to Sears-Roebuck and other national accounts. Beginning in 1964, Bob became a member of the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies. He and Jane often traveled to Aspen for symposiums.
Also in the early 1960s, Bob helped Clint Murchison, Jr.—and once or twice Tom Landry—coach Bob’s son Bobby’s championship Town North YMCA football team. A member of the team was Bobby’s best lifetime friend, Whit Moses, and another team member was good friend Bobby Murchison.
On the day of the Kennedy assassination, Friday, November 22, 1963, the Wynnewood Fred’s Barbecue location in Oak Cliff remained open until midnight to accommodate reporters in the area. On a darker note, Lee Harvey Oswald, whose Beckley Avenue boarding house was located almost directly behind and east of the Wynnewood Fred’s, had been a regular Fred’s customer. “He called me Mr. Money,” said Guy Money. “He got the same thing every time: a Polish sausage sandwich. He said he liked how spicy it was. He always came in alone and read a book while eating. He came in a week before the assassination, in fact. I remember saying to him, ‘H’llo, there, Lee, how are the girls?’ Geno knew him, too.”
In September, 1967, Bob moved his corporate offices from the Meadows Building to the Expressway Tower, home of the Dallas Cowboys Football Club. Tom Landry, coach of the Dallas Cowboys, parked next to Bob’s parking space; Landry often referred to Bob as his parking partner. From 1969 to 1974, Bob served as a board member for St. Mark’s School of Texas, where his son Bobby graduated in 1972 and where son Paul attended from 1963 to 1973 before graduating at Highland Park High School in 1975.
Throughout the 1960s, the family went on numerous memorable vacations, including: Galveston (numerous times); San Antonio; Santa Fe; Colorado Rocky Mountains and Pike’s Peak; Aspen; Mexico City; San Francisco; Disneyland; and finally in the summer of 1969, shortly before Adrienne went to Stanford University, to Europe.
In 1972, Bob’s son Bobby graduated from St. Mark’s School of Texas, where he was captain of the football, basketball and tennis teams. Bobby proceeded to go to Dartmouth College.
In 1975, Bob launched the Strategic Long-Range Plan for Highland Park Presbyterian Church, where he also served as an elder for nearly forty years.
In 1976, Bob and Jane served as hosts to world renowned theologian Dr. Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith during their trip to Dallas.
In August of 1977, Bobby married Mary Spruill of Dallas. Bobby had met Mary while they both attended Dartmouth College; coincidentally, Mary had been a 1973 graduate of The Hockaday School of Dallas. Their beautiful daughters are Jennifer Lemming and Katie Amundsen, who each had a special relationship with their grandfather.
In June, 1978, Jane opened Lirio’s, the first Mexican boutique in the Southwest, in Highland Park Shopping Village. A second location would soon follow at the Loew’s Anatole Hotel. Academy Award winning motion picture actress Shelley Winters was a regular customer at Lirio’s. Lirio’s, which means “Iris” in Spanish, was an inside family joke: during her childhood, a matronly woman kept approaching Jane at a party and calling her Iris, while absurdly rolling her r’s: “Why, if it isn’t I-r-r-r-is!”
In 1980, Bob’s daughter Adrienne married Douglas Coffee at Highland Park Presbyterian Church. Longtime, beloved HPPC pastor William M. Elliott, Jr. came out of retirement to perform the ceremony in Wynne Chapel. Adrienne and Doug had two sons: Ben and Luke Coffee.
During the Lirio’s period, Bob became increasingly interested in Mexico and he and Jane befriended Irma Salinas, whose family owned Salinas Department Stores in Mexico. By 1982, Bob had formed The Amundsen Institute of U.S.-Mexico Studies, which created and implemented programs and symposiums for young leaders of the two countries. Many of these leaders, such as Juan Hernandez, have since become nationally known media pundits on U.S-Mexico relations. One of the institute’s symposiums was held at the White House in September, 1988. In March, 1984, Bob and his work with the institute were the subjects of the Dallas Morning News “High Profile” section.
The end of the eighties brought sad news. Jane Amundsen passed away on November 11, 1989. The Fred’s Barbecue chain was finally sold in January, 1990. KVIL AM Radio Ron Chapman lamented on the air: “Another landmark has bitten the dust.” The TICKET sports radio station noted, “Never will you find ribs that good again as at Fred’s.”
In the 1990s, Mr. Amundsen continued his work with Mexico. He was a consultant to public, private and academic institutions and a member of the Bi-national U. S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D. C. In addition, he was a director and advisor to the CEO of the U. S.-Mexico Educational and Cultural Foundation in Washington, D. C. He also was an executive director of family properties and estates. In 1999, Bob was nominated for Texas Volunteer of the Year, and also initiated and launched the strategic long-range plan for The Salvation Army of the Greater Dallas Metroplex, where he is a lifetime board member.
Well into the first part of 2013, Bob was still active and alert; his physician Martin True had counseled him, “Bob—don’t ever retire. I want you to stay busy with projects, to read constantly and always be around people.” The stacks of paper never left his lap—the phone calls never stopped coming—the ideas never stopped intriguing him. He refused to “retire.” Reverend Joseph Rightmyer, senior minister of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, recently said, “I spent so much time with Bob near the end of his life that I almost felt I had become a member of the Amundsen family. Those papers were always on his lap. I can still see him shuffling them. The Man of 1,000 Projects.”
In 2011, Bob was preparing a book on 21st century U.S.-Mexico relations. Paul was Bob’s caregiver and father and son lived in a gorgeous, tree-lined condominium on Bandera Avenue in Dallas. Bob enjoyed the serenity of the window views and the “companionship” of the family cat, a screwball, 19-pound tabby named Erik, as well as the neon-lit Glo-Fish aquarium, with the brand-new catfish, which Bob named Butch one week before he passed away.
In the latter part of 2013 and early part of 2014, Bob was making more and more frequent trips to hospitals. However, far from being “out of it,” he was the social hit of every floor he stayed on, with nurses scurrying to him and waiting on him, calling him “Papa” and “Grandpa.” Though he was discouraged by his fading health, he never failed to make fast friends with every person he encountered. In February, 2014, Bob was so impressed by compassionate nurse Stefani at St. Paul’s Hospital that he insisted on writing a letter of commendation for her.
Bob was at home as late as March 2, 2014. That Sunday night, he watched the Academy Awards ceremony with Adrienne, Paul, cat Erik and Vitace Hospice Care nurse Glenn. At 5 a.m. Monday morning, Glenn awoke Paul with news that Bob’s pulse was low, his fever and blood pressure was high.
Bob was sent to a hospital wing of Vitace Hospice Care in Irving. He passed away at 3:20 p.m. Thursday afternoon, March 6, 2014.
Bob’s undying quest in life was for wisdom. His favorite book was William Bennett’s Book of Wisdom (his grandchildren teased him endearingly—“Please Grandpa, not another Book of Wisdom for Christmas!”) and his favorite saying of Aristotle was the definition of the happy man, who has health, wealth, virtue and friendship. “He was a giver—boy, was he ever!” said son Paul. “He gave and gave and gave, even when he was going through hard times. He had the ability to see the big picture. His real talent was long range strategic planning. People came from far and wide, rich and poor, city and country, seeking his advice on business or personal problems. He never knew the word ‘no’ and an unkind word never came from his mouth. This was maybe the Last of the Mohicans. What a father. Brother, did he ‘Know Best.’”
Bob survived his wife Jane, who died on November 11, 1989, and son Robert F. Amundsen, Jr., who died following a liver operation on January 22, 2003. Survivors include: daughter Dr. Adrienne Elizabeth Amundsen, Sausalito, Ca.; son Paul William Amundsen, Dallas; daughter-in-law Mary Amundsen, Raleigh, N.C.; niece Jennifer Lemming and her husband Ben Lemming, Denver; niece Katie Amundsen, New York City; and nephews Ben Coffee, Santa Barbara, Ca., and Luke Coffee, Sausalito, Ca.
Other much-loved relatives include: son-in-law Gerry Storey and wife Carol Storey and their children Clint and Claire of Dallas (who spent a great deal of time with Bob during his last ten years); daughter-in-law Lisa Lincoln and husband Bill and children, Tacoma; son-in-law John Storey and children, Puget Sound; daughter-in-law Judy Morris and children, Plano; Patrice Amundsen and children, Houston. Many of the Toline family still live in the Moline or Chicago, Illinois area, including John’s widow Kera Toline and her children Collin, Mark, Anna and Alex.
Services will be held Saturday, March 15 at 1 p.m. at Highland Park Presbyterian Church, followed by a reception in the parlor. A private graveside service with U.S. Navy presence will be held at Sparkman-Hillcrest Memorial Park at 11 a.m.
- Graveside Service Saturday, March 15, 2014
- Memorial Service Saturday, March 15, 2014
Robert Fred Amundsen Sr.
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Scott K. Gordon
March 16, 2014
Dear Paul, and all of the Amundsen Family,
I was sorry to hear of your father's passing.
May each of you find peace and comfort during this difficult time.
Your father and your mother were both special people; I will never forget their kindnesses to me when I was young.
March 12, 2014
My condolences to you and your family, Paul. It was a pleasure knowing your father.
March 11, 2014
Bob Amundsen was my neighbor for the last three years. Throughout this time we became very close. His career direction and personal advice were invaluable to me. He was a kind, sweet and Godly man. It was an honor and privilege to have known him. I will NEVER forget him and what he meant to me. I will miss him. My deepest sympathy to Adrienne and Paul.