High on Love, America and Rubber Bands


Bob times croppedDSC_6114 copy

“There is no art without love. Art is always the making of the soul, the craft of man’s touch…so it has been since Neanderthal times and so it will always be.” David R. Hawkins

I knew a man who put such love into his country, his family and his craft. He was a WWII Army Air Corps vet  having flown B17s and B24s as Gunner and Radioman over the Pacific.

It was spring, 1943, when a young man put down his American History textbook to join the history of defending America. Bobby Bender left the 11th grade of Brooklyn’s, Franklin K Lane High School and Bender, Robert A. joined  12 million Americans who put a halt to their lives of school or work or family…or a halt to life itself…for America:

Robert A. Bender - Army Photo Closeup

They went to serve in fiery fields, flak-filled skies and the decks of torpedo-dodging ships. They did it so that we may go to school or work or raise families in freedom. They joined the unbroken legion of steel that served for our freedom from 1775 to today. A steel spine that threads the centuries keeping us standing tall and free. 

Far from the halls of Franklin K Lane High, on a B24 mission, Bob Bender crash landed on a remote island in the Philippines. As the bombs aboard routinely explode in such crashes, protocol demanded all aboard escape immediately. He did so but when his pilot didn’t get out he went back in and got him out safely.

Among other medals he was awarded the Asia Pacific Medal with Four Bronze Stars.

After the war, June, 1947, he married my sister, Ann. They started married life in an apartment he built with his two hands in the basement of his mom and dad’s home. Bob worked various jobs until he became a NYC police officer, then bought a house in Mineola, NY where he raised his three kids, Ann, Robert and Donna.

Bob in Police Uniform

He served 34 years in the NYPD working Manhattan and Brooklyn with an unblemished record. Every day he went home after each tour, never stopping in for a drink with the boys or anyone else. He and Ann were never apart.

Robert A. Bender - Mom and Dad edited

 He was always in good spirits and had great sense of humor. When I’d say, “How ya doin’, Bob?” he’d answer, “Couldn’t be better.” When he’d see me at a family event in a suit he’d come up to me, rub the sleeve and say, “Nice suit. When you bought it, was it for a wedding or a funeral?” And he was well known for walking around any gathering with a pocket full of the pretzels to go with the beer in his hand. “First one today,” he’d say to me with a big grin, adding, “in this hand…standing up.”

He always admired my vegetable garden, especially the bountiful harvest of tomatoes of various types. He didn’t have much luck with his tomatoes, they wouldn’t ripen due to inconsistent sun. But one day we visited Bob and Ann’s for a Barbecue. There were his tomato plants with big red tomatoes on them. “Wow, Bob!” I said and walked over to admire them more closely. Upon further examination I discovered that each tomato had been Scotch taped to its branch.

He was an incurable photo bomber. He’d join in any group at an occasion to have his mug in the shot moving from one wedding guest table to the next. I’d take photos of twelve tables and he’d be in ten with a wide grin, sometimes sitting sometimes standing as opportunities presented.

Bob was a deft cartoonist, especially in Station House Commentary:

Bob's cartoon Good ol' Days5x7DSC_6119





Bob's cartoon camera theme 5x7DSC_6122

But his real hobby was building model airplanes specializing in rubber-band powered flying machines. Many hobbyists fly gas powered planes but Bob was a purest and stuck with the rubber band machines.

Dad with plane

He flew them at Floyd Bennet Field and he was regarded as “The Pro” at Long Island’s Cradle of Aviation. He had his crafts on display there, flew them and even taught youngsters how to fly.

Bob with kids

Bob table of planes

 He had been called, “one of the world’s leading experts in flying model airplanes.”

Two articles from The New York Times:

Bob NY Times full captions 5x5DSC_6114 

NY Times, Aug 20, 2000:,{%221=%22:=%22RI:7=%22}=&pagewanted=1

 NY Times, Aug 28, 2003:

 He was meticulous in this art. He built his rice-paper-winged planes to exact scale. Sometimes he’d drill a hole up the center-length of a balsa wood part, even wheel spokes, to make them lighter still. Some were so light that the weight of five of them would be equal to one penny. The rubber band, a special rubber he referred to as, “the motor”, would be wound under the belly of the craft from an anchor aft to the propeller shaft. They couldn’t be flown outdoors as any breeze would wreak havoc on the crafts. A plane would be built, wings adjusted and rudder offset, so it would bank and circle ever so slightly as it wound its way around the inside of a hanger or huge gymnasium in aerodynamic perfection.

Bob horiz holding plane up

He built each craft with the same care as if it were meant to carry human life. And I think it did… it carried his heart, his passion, his soul. Yes, I think he was right inside his plane as it would continue for minutes, sometimes many minutes, floating peacefully…in windless, warless, air…a gliding gossamer dove.

Bob holding plane up

His planes were the expression of the same love-of-craft as Stradivarius. When I saw him fly a plane it was Antonio Stradivari playing the stringed instrument he built himself. Bob Bender caused art to fly round and round, powered by the unwinding torque-power of a string of rubber. A maestro’s orchestration of force at propeller, lift at wings, and guidance at rudder…in a silent symphony.

Bob and Ann celebrated their 50th Wedding anniversary June, 1997. Ann died on Mother’s day the following year.When she died Bob came upon an item amidst their belongings that they saved over the decades, it was the key to their honeymoon lodging. He decided then to carry it in his pocket every day.

50th Wedding Anniversary

Six years later, in 2004 Bob developed Alzheimer’s disease and lived a decade more, with a slowly unwinding mind.

In 2010 Robert A Bender received the NY State Medal of Merit from State Senator Charles Fuschillo. In 2011 Franklin K Lane High School issued him his High School Graduation Certificate.

On Oct. 2nd, 2014 Bob died, just short of his 90th birthday. As he lay in his casket I saw pretzels protruding from his jacket’s breast pocket. Six NYC Police Officers served as honor guard. Two members of the U.S. Air Force performed the crisp folding and presentation of the flag for which he served.

Bob was buried in the same grave as his wife, Ann, “Together Forever” carved into their stone. And as he requested… a honeymoon hotel key nestled in his pocket.

Bob Bender, they don’t make them like that anymore…nor the feather-crafts he built.


Robert A. Bender - Army Photo in Long edited CoatBob, Oct 10, 2008. His birthday celebration with our Sibling Birthday Gang:

Bob w bday gang 2008 5x7

You view this computer or iPad screen today without fear of a knock on the door for reading what is on it. You do so because of Bob Bender and all the men and women who served before and after him. Remember him, remember all who serve for all of us.

The 12,209,238 men and women of WWII:

God bless America.

Be well,


See my Sister Blog:

3 replies »

  1. This man’s life reads like a novel. He certainly was a very specal human being, may he have rest beside the love of his life.


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