Mr. Rogers and his Birds Get Around

By Josh Brokaw
The Boyertown Bulletin

Bruce Rogers doesn’t believe in caging his birds—“Cages are for criminals,” he says. “My birds think the Bug is their cage.”

Rogers’ two birds—Skittles and Bonnie, both conure parakeets—ride along with the Earl Township Navy vet when he motors around the area in his 1973 Volkswagen Beetle.

Rogers in his 1973 VW Bug“These guys are known at Wawa’s, Lowe’s, the Depot, down to Kimberton and Phoenixville—people know their name and they don’t know mine,” Rogers says. “That’s OK, though—I’m alright with being the Birdman.”

Bonnie and Skittles fight and peck sometimes—Skittles is overprotective, has a tad of the “short man disease” says Rogers—yet they’re usually happy, when inside and off the road, on their homemade perch watching Sponge Bob, Mickey Mouse, and Marlon Brando Westerns.

“These guys are great therapy for me,” Rogers says. “They helped me quit smoking—they’d be sneezing and spitting in my ear, and I said ‘I don’t need that.’”

Skittles and Bonnie don’t speak, at least in any language English-speaking humans can understand.

“People say ‘do you teach your birds to talk,’ and I say no, because then they’ll tell on me,” Rogers says. “I always ask ‘do you know what your dog’s saying?’”

The birds aren’t too picky in their choice of toys:

“Some people go out and spend hundreds of dollars on their birds; I give them a paper plate and a coffee filter and they’re happy for hours. They don’t bother the wires and cords—they just eat their perch.”

Though the parakeets do get a good bit of meandering in, they aren’t nearly as mobile as Rogers was in his Navy days, when he served in the VXE-6 squadron as a cargo handler. In less than two years of service, he spent time in Jacksonville, Memphis, Corpus Christi, Quonset (Rhode Island), and Antarctica.

Wait. Antarctica?

“We mostly sat around and played cards,” Rogers says. “I slept in a Quonset hut, but it was considered sea duty, because we were on 200 feet of ice.”

Two seasons serving at the South Pole, at McMurdo Station, in the aptly named Operation Deep Freeze, wasn’t all that eventful. The Navy time did continue a tradition in the Rogers family, though.
Bruce’s father George was a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, including time served on the U.S.S. Alabama. Bruce’s son Michael was on “tin cans for a while,” and also sailed on an aircraft carrier.

Birds also run in the family. Rogers has a newspaper clipping from a 1954 Oswego Valley (NY) newspaper that shows his great-grandfather George Gardner with his 50-year-old parrot Rocko, who, according to the clipping’s caption “keeps up a running conversation.”

Rogers’ current avian friends don’t talk his ear off; they’re happy enough to take a ride near every day, and only require that they sometimes be forgiven for tearing up an odd T-shirt when he’s taking a nap.

“When I went out on disability I threw my watch and my calendar away—I couldn’t give a (dang) what year it is,” Rogers says. “The V.A. told me I’m nuts, but I’m not; they told me to not overdo it when I first took off, so I built a stone wall in front of my house.”

Rogers was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2002; he had worked as a mechanical maintenanceman at American Inks and Coating, Valley Forge, for 33 years, and then spent some time working at a slaughterhouse, and then in the shop for Pro-Mark Landscaping, Zieglerville. This something-of-everything experience helps Rogers when he needs to make fixes to his Volkswagen.

“If you can color with a pencil, you can weld,” he says. “I’ve had (Volkswagen) dune buggies, hatchbacks, buses—Type 2’s—this Bug is one of the newer ones I’ve had. I drove a 1966 Type 2 to the 1982 Knoxville  World’s Fair, and we didn’t have the windshield cave in, but driving that was like pushing a loaf of bread through a wind tunnel.”

Rogers’ son Michael and two-year-old grandson Nicholas live in Wilmington; his daughter Rachel and one-year-old grandson Jaxon live in Boyertown. It’s his wife of nearly forty years, Tina, who keeps everyone in line.

“She keeps a pretty good eye on me, she harps on me,” Rogers says. “It’s been almost 40 years; we both have guns: I taught her to shoot: and we haven’t killed each other yet.”

Rogers’ travels don’t cover quite the wide range of his Navy days: “We’d get five people in the Bug (in Rhode Island), put some ice in the back, and by the time you get to New York City you’re ready to drive through there,” he says.

With Skittles and Bonnie, in his ’73 Bug, the Birdman still gets around in this town.

Know a veteran you’d like to see profiled here? Contact editor@boyertown.biz.

Military Highlight: Bun Gladieux

Bun Gladieux in uniformBy Lynn A. Gladieux

It was the height of the Cold War, and Bernard “Bun” Gladieux and his fellow midshipmen were trolling for Russian submarines off of the Atlantic coast.  The Communists had been using fishing boats as decoys for their spying activities, and it was the young lieutenant’s job to find them and spy on them in return.

Living on a destroyer in the cold North Atlantic was a far cry from comfortable Scarsdale, New York, where Gladieux had grown up.  Bun, the eldest of four brothers and the son of career federal official Bernard (also “Bun”) Gladieux Sr. and his wife, Persis, Gladieux had lived a life of relative privilege in the posh suburb of New York City.

Gladieux was like any other teenager living a stone’s-throw away from the city that never sleeps, and spent much of his free time hopping the train into Manhattan with his friends.  Only when he turned 17 did he get serious about going to college, and when the time had come to make a decision, he had only two schools in mind:  Oberlin, his father’s alma mater; the prestigious Harvard.

Oberlin, Gladieux said, was a shoo-in but Harvard proved a little more daunting.  “I knew it would be expensive and my folks would have quite a debt load with four boys to put through college,” he said.  When Gladieux discovered that the Navy ROTC would avail him of a full financial ride through the school’s four years, he jumped at the opportunity.

Entry into Harvard and the ROTC program proved successful and, with his path now laid, Gladieux spent much of his post-high school summer traveling and visiting with his family, who were preparing to spend two years in the Philippines where Bun, Sr. would take his latest post.  It wasn’t long before fall arrived, and, after Gladieux’s family had departed for Manila, he made his way to Boston and settled into college life.

The long winter and a lonely first year at school eventually yielded to the summer months and Gladieux’s commitment to ROTC.  So it was in mid-1956 when Gladieux found himself on a destroyer headed out across the Atlantic.  There, he met men from across the nation, including a congenial fellow by the name of Roger Chaffee.  Chaffee, the senior midshipman, and Gladieux became fast friends and eventually Chaffee asked Gladieux to be his executive officer.  “It meant I carried out his orders—I was number two man,” Gladieux said.

(Years later, Gladieux would deeply lament the loss of his good friend, who perished along with fellow astronauts Gus Grissom and Ed White during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission.)

While at sea, the men were trained in shooting torpedoes and other aspects of life in the Navy, including making ports of call throughout the world.  “It was a great experience to be at sea,” Gladieux said.  Only when he was forced to get up in the middle of the night for watch duty did Gladieux say his resolve was tested.  “You got extremely fatigued getting bounced around in the ocean all day.”

Throughout his summers at Harvard, Gladieux would board a naval destroyer and head out to sea.  It was on these destroyers—or “black shoes” as they were known—that most career military officers worked toward becoming admirals.  Gladieux was climbing the military ladder, and, by the time of his graduation from Harvard in 1959, Gladieux—now “real” navy—was a first lieutenant and in charge of a division of about 35 men, including some senior petty officers.

It was also during this time that Gladieux sought leave to marry his girlfriend, Sally Francis, whom he had met while a midshipman. After marrying, the couple set up house in a small but adequate apartment near the naval base in Jacksonville, Florida.  In short order, daughter Renee and son “Bunky” were born.  By this time, Gladieux had been ordered into shipyard duty, where he was glad to be stateside and near his growing family.

After two stints in the shipyard, Gladieux took a two-year assignment to the Navy Hospital in Bethesda where he acted as counsel for wounded and sick veterans who were either seeking to get back into or out of the military.  Discovering his penchant for problem-solving, and knowing he would soon be leaving the Navy, Gladieux applied for, and received, a job as a budget examiner in the Office of Management and Budget in Washington, D.C.

Those were the Kennedy years, a heady time for young people living and working in Washington, DC.  Excitement and possibility filled the air, and Gladieux thrived at OMB.  Sadly, those times were short-lived.  Gladieux was at the OMB when a mere three months later, Kennedy was assassinated.  Days later, Gladieux found himself standing on the North Portico of the White House, watching unbelievably as Kennedy’s funeral cortege passed by.

While Gladieux labels his naval career as “unremarkable,” he admits his experience in the military shaped his life. “It helps you to grow up quickly and helps you to cope with the issues of leadership… learn exactly what leadership really means.”

Although he didn’t serve during war time, something Gladieux says he’s thankful for, he remains circumspect.  “You take what’s given.  Everyone’s prepared to go to war and do it honorably, and you would hope that you would show the same courage in battle that others have shown before you.”

Today, far from the rigors of the Navy and the glitz of life in Washington, Gladieux and his children operate a small family business in Gilbertsville. He takes pleasure in working on his homestead, reveling in his grandchildren, and bike-riding through the countryside surrounding Boyertown and Oley. He and wife, Sally, recently celebrated 52 years of marriage.

Honoring Our Veterans: Dave Ellis

By Lynn A. Gladieux

With each passing year, the Vietnam War slips further into the annals of history. Many of us recognize it only through vintage footage replayed on our television screens.

But, for Boyertown native Dave Ellis, the war in Vietnam was his watershed moment—the event that most shaped his life and future.
“The military builds your character,” Ellis says. “…And it helps build your personality, too.”

Ellis enlisted in The United States Navy in 1965, immediately after graduation from Boyertown Area High School. It was a year in which the war was heating up & combat troops were hitting the ground in Vietnam, and Ellis was looking forward to the opportunity to serve his country.

Ellis was sent to the Naval Station in Great Lakes for boot camp. He had decided to be an electrician, specifically hoping to work on naval aircraft, and, after boot camp, he was sent to the Naval Air Station (NAS) in Jacksonville, Florida, for a year of electronics training. After completing his schooling, Ellis was sent to NAS Miramar, home of the Navy’s elite TOPGUN flight training school.

At Miramar, Ellis was consigned to work on state-of-the-art training aircraft, many of which were designed to simulate Russia’s MiG fleet. The planes had two identical cockpits, one for the instructor and one for the student, and Ellis’s job, as head electrician, was to calibrate the instruments in both.

The electrical shop personnel were largely responsible for keeping the planes operational, and Ellis worked alongside a team of electrical specialists. It was during this time that Ellis had elevated to an E-5 pay grade, the highest he could climb during his four-year hitch. He had also qualified to fly backseat during “test hops” of the aircraft.

1968 proved to be a pivotal year for the country, with war protests overtaking many American cities. Soldiers returning from Vietnam were greeted with hate speech and vitriol, while many others who had been “in country” weren’t returning at all. Elli, who never saw combat, struggled with the loss of friends and comrades. “I was fortunate not to be in the fighting, but I lost more than a few buddies,” he said. Ellis made the decision not to re-enlist, and, in October of 1969, his career in the military ended.

After the service, Ellis settled back into civilian life. He began working for Allegheny Airlines (later U.S. Air) and, in September 1972, married his schoolmate, Sandra Fay. He continues to work as a receiver at Redner’s Market, in Pottstown, and spends much of his spare time working with veterans’ groups.

He is particularly proud of his work with American Legion Post 471 Charles B. Yerger, of which he’s been a member since 1969. Ellis, now an honorary life member, has held every office in the Post, and he and his father, an Army veteran who served in World War II., are the only father/son combination to have held the position of Commander. Ellis has also been with Vietnam Veterans 131, Reading, for many years.

Ellis derides the government for closing military bases—facilities, he says, that could be used as housing for military families and homeless veterans, of which he says there are many. “These bases, throughout the country, are like mini-cities. You have all of these different veterans with different talents, and they [the government] could give them a job and a place to live on the base.”

Proud of his service, Ellis, now 65, would like to see his country do more for veterans and be more responsive to the needs of soldiers returning from active duty. “I don’t think this country is doing enough for veterans,” he said. “These kids go over there and are fighting for their country, willing to give the ultimate sacrifice, and when they come back they are torn apart. Our legislators have got to do a little more.”

Military Highlight: May 2012

Recognizing Our Military, Both Past and Present

By Lynn A. Gladieux

Lance Corporal Matthew McHugh’s refueling truck was loaded with 1,400 gallons of fuel as he tailed his convoy through the sandy streets of central Iraq. The weight of his truck was making driving difficult, and McHugh was falling behind.

As he crested a small hill, McHugh spied his convoy and realized he was more than 100 meters off course. It was in those next seconds that the explosion came, filling the dark cabin with dust and debris and leaving the truck in tatters.

Thankfully, McHugh escaped virtually unharmed, as did his fellow Marines, but the exploding IED had made its impact. He knew he was in dangerous territory and that he was lucky to be alive, yet he was determined to carry on with his duties as the soldier and Marine he was trained to be.

For McHugh, this was but another day at the office, dirty and dangerous as it was. War was no fun, and he was right in the middle of it, but the 2003 Boyertown grad always knew he wanted to be a Marine, and in many ways he was now living out his dream.

“I always knew I wanted to be a Marine. I wanted to set myself apart—to do something different with my life,” he said. “I just wanted to play a role.”

In preparation for entering active duty, McHugh spent his senior year at Boyertown in the NJROTC program. “Master Sergeant McClellan prepped me—he taught me so much,” McHugh says. Shortly before graduation, McHugh enlisted in the Marines and, by July of that year, was headed to boot camp in Paris Island, South Carolina.

Boot camp, McHugh soon found out, was where Marines are made. “Boot camp was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I was broken physically, mentally, and emotionally,” McHugh said. “It was an awakening.”

McHugh survived boot camp and came out a Private First Class, a rank he had earned in camp. He was then sent to motor transportation school and, shortly after his 19th birthday, McHugh found himself “boots on the ground” in Iraq, driving a refueling truck in the heart of the war zone. “I was a little nervous,” he admits. I was a new Marine driving a refill truck into a war zone. It was a little unnerving.”

McHugh found life in Iraq tough, but tough situations were what he was trained for. Getting on the ground to discover there was no running water, there were no beds, and no there was no electricity was not surprising, considering the desert environment and the conditions in Iraq at the time. But more frightening than not getting a good night’s sleep were the inherent and deadly dangers of war.

“I stayed away from thinking about all the possibilities, because if you thought about it too much, it could send you over the edge,” McHugh said. “You just did your job and kept your mind on what’s going on in front of you.”

McHugh said complacency was the real enemy. “You couldn’t get complacent and not think about the security or the job. We were always worried about IED’s and mines… there were a lot of things to worry about.”

McHugh ultimately served two tours and spent over 15 months in Iraq. And that, he decided, it was enough. “I knew my unit would be going back to Iraq over and over again,” he said. “I had pushed my luck too much in that country, and didn’t want my third tour to be my third strike.” So when the time came to re-enlist, McHugh decided to end his service to the military.

Lance Corporal Matthew McHugh’s refueling truck was loaded with 1,400 gallons of fuel as he tailed his convoy through the sandy streets of central Iraq. The weight of his truck was making driving difficult, and McHugh was falling behind.

As he crested a small hill, McHugh spied his convoy and realized he was more than 100 meters off course. It was in those next seconds that the explosion came, filling the dark cabin with dust and debris and leaving the truck in tatters.

Thankfully, McHugh escaped virtually unharmed, as did his fellow Marines, but the exploding IED had made its impact. He knew he was in dangerous territory and that he was lucky to be alive, yet he was determined to carry on with his duties as the soldier and Marine he was trained to be.

For McHugh, this was but another day at the office, dirty and dangerous as it was. War was no fun, and he was right in the middle of it, but the 2003 Boyertown grad always knew he wanted to be a Marine, and in many ways he was now living out his dream.

“I always knew I wanted to be a Marine. I wanted to set myself apart—to do something different with my life,” he said. “I just wanted to play a role.”

In preparation for entering active duty, McHugh spent his senior year at Boyertown in the NJROTC program. “Master Sergeant McClellan prepped me—he taught me so much,” McHugh says. Shortly before graduation, McHugh enlisted in the Marines and, by July of that year, was headed to boot camp in Paris Island, South Carolina.

Boot camp, McHugh soon found out, was where Marines are made. “Boot camp was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I was broken physically, mentally, and emotionally,” McHugh said. “It was an awakening.”

McHugh survived boot camp and came out a Private First Class, a rank he had earned in camp. He was then sent to motor transportation school and, shortly after his 19th birthday, McHugh found himself “boots on the ground” in Iraq, driving a refueling truck in the heart of the war zone. “I was a little nervous,” he admits. I was a new Marine driving a refill truck into a war zone. It was a little unnerving.”

McHugh found life in Iraq tough, but tough situations were what he was trained for. Getting on the ground to discover there was no running water, there were no beds, and no there was no electricity was not surprising, considering the desert environment and the conditions in Iraq at the time. But more frightening than not getting a good night’s sleep were the inherent and deadly dangers of war.

“I stayed away from thinking about all the possibilities, because if you thought about it too much, it could send you over the edge,” McHugh said. “You just did your job and kept your mind on what’s going on in front of you.”

McHugh said complacency was the real enemy. “You couldn’t get complacent and not think about the security or the job. We were always worried about IED’s and mines… there were a lot of things to worry about.”

McHugh ultimately served two tours and spent over 15 months in Iraq. And that, he decided, it was enough. “I knew my unit would be going back to Iraq over and over again,” he said. “I had pushed my luck too much in that country, and didn’t want my third tour to be my third strike.” So when the time came to re-enlist, McHugh decided to end his service to the military.

Military Highlight: April 2012

Recognizing Our Military, Both Past and Present

By Lynn A. Gladieux

Ever since he was a young boy, Matt Gant knew he wanted to be a soldier. The 2004 Boyertown alumnus had a single focus and passion that he relentlessly pursued.

“Ever since I was 12, I knew I wanted to be in the military,” he said. “I had never thought about college or what kind of job I wanted to get after high school. It had always been the military for me.”

Gant, at 26, already has a long history with the military. After serving in Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) in high school, Gant enlisted in United States Marine Corps at age 17, before his senior year.

Gant said he chose the Marines for several reasons, but in particular because of an admired family member. “My Uncle Bobby was a Marine, and I had always looked up to him,” Gant said. “Frankly, I’m not 100% sure why I picked the Marines, because I didn’t do any research on the other branches. I just went to the Marine Corps recruiting office and knew it was right for me.”

The member of a large, extended family, Gant proudly notes that many of his family members have served in the military, including his grandfather and several uncles. Additionally, his brother-in-law, Byran Barnhart, is currently serving as a Marine in Afghanistan.

Serving the rank of Sergeant, Gant has spent eight years on active duty and has been deployed to Iraq four times. As an Advanced Engineer Electrical Equipment Systems technician, he is scheduled to deploy to the 10th Marine Regiment, at Camp LeJuene, North Carolina, this month.

The son of Richard and Barbara Gant, of Boyertown, Gant has one sister, Valorie Konnick, and is married to Ashton Nichole (Barnhart). They have one daughter, 12 months old, named Hadleigh.

The recipient of 12 personal awards, including several letters of commendation and three medals for meritorious service, Gant recently reenlisted for another two years. When asked why he wants to continue to serve, his answer was quick and ready: “I love what I do in the Marine Corps. I love being a Marine.”