As we approach another Memorial Day weekend, any uncertainty that could possibly still loom about the inner fiber and fortitude of members of the Greatest Generation—those sent to the front lines of battle during World War II—should be immediately put to rest with the life of Dr. Robert A. (Bob) Bottenberg.
Bob recently passed away at age 98 in San Antonio, Texas, where he lived for more than 70 years.
Without Bob Bottenberg, life may have been different for thousands of veterans and the organization founded to represent their interests and needs.
Bob left junior college to join the Army in 1944 at age 19. In April 1945, while serving as a squad leader with the K Company of the 253rd Infantry Regiment, 63rd Division, less than a year later, German mortar fire consisting of metal fragments from an artillery shell penetrated his skull and blinded him permanently. It was an event that altered the course of his life forever but never overtook or defined that life.
“Well, Andy, it looks like I will have to start over,” he told Andy Richnafsky, the soldier who guided a wounded Bob from the battlefield. The comment came only one day after the two entered the Army field hospital where Richnafsky was also being treated for wounds suffered in the same rounds of enemy artillery fire. Bob’s long recovery period included treatment at Dibble Army General Hospital, Valley Forge Army Hospital, and Avon Old Arms Army Convalescent Hospital.
It didn’t take long for Bob to start over. Once discharged from the Army, he never stopped, nor did he look back throughout his 78 years of life without sight.
“By always looking forward, coupled with the rehabilitation programs and other services that helped him adapt to his blindness, Bob married his hometown sweetheart, Gene, fathered three daughters, earned Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate degrees, and continually knocked down the barriers to countless activities in his life,” his friend Bob Kozel wrote in his obituary.
Among Bob Bottenberg’s additional accomplishments was his career. After completing his Ph.D. in 1953, Bob went to work for the Personnel Research Laboratory at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Rising through the ranks, he became the lab’s director. He was a pioneer in the use of computers and data analytics to formulate Air Force human resources policies. In 1963, he co-authored “Applied Multiple Linear Regression,” a classic in applied statistical techniques. He was awarded the President’s Trophy for Handicapped American of the Year in 1972 and Handicapped Employee of the Year in the Air Force in 1982.
Still totally sightless, of course, he was an avid swimmer and learned to snow ski in 1973, an activity he continued for 26 years until age 76. He also taught Gene and his three daughters how to shift gears and drive a car with a manual transmission. He devised a system of stakes and ropes as guides for mowing his lawn, built his daughters a playhouse, and erected a wooden deck and a staircase in his deep backyard by sawing every step riser and deck board by hand.
Shortly after being wounded, Bob learned about and joined the recently initiated Blinded Veterans Association (BVA). Thus begins the legacy of Bob’s impact on his fellow veterans with sight loss—those who had already experienced the loss or who would do so in the future. In 1947, he organized and served as the Chairman of BVA’s Missouri Regional Group. While earning his Ph.D. at Stanford University, he was active in a regional group in the San Francisco Bay Area and later helped organize the South Texas Regional Group. He held a Board of Directors position from 1953-56 prior to his election as National Vice President.
On July 19, 1958, Bob Bottenberg was elected as BVA National President at age 34. On August 27 of that same year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law an Act of the 85th Congress formally incorporating the Blinded Veterans Association and granting the organization the congressional charter it retains today with exclusive privileges to testify before Congress and represent veterans with sight loss nationally before the legislative branch of government, advocating for hundreds of legislative actions that would bring happy, successful, and productive lives to America’s veterans with sight loss.
Bob had participated in what BVA’s bimonthly publication (BVA Bulletin) described at the time as an intense effort to secure the charter while he was serving as National Vice President. At one of the last national conventions Bob attended in the early 2000s, he described the awarding of the charter as one of the most memorable, meaningful, and satisfying memories of his life.
Because of the productive and eventful life of Bob Bottenberg, his statement means everything to BVA.
“He was an amazing man, overcoming each obstacle in his path,” his daughter Ann Bottenberg Schindler recounted.
BVA is honored to have played a small role in the life of Robert A. Bottenberg, a true hero of the Greatest Generation, and to recognize and remember with gratitude this Memorial Day all he and his inspirational life have contributed to his fellow veterans.
In Light of Memorial Day, Donate to Help Blinded Veterans
Please consider a donation this Memorial Day to BVA, the organization so beloved by Bob Bottenberg and to which he gave so much of himself—his time, his talents, and his resources.