Bristol Borough’s Bobbs Brothers
by Cate Murway
It’s December 7, 1941. Japan pushed the United States into warfare by attacking the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii. Just four days later, Hitler declared war on the USA. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, called on Congress for immediate and massive expansion of the armed forces, turning the USA fledgling ground and air units into viable, balanced fighting forces.
In FDR’s first days in office, which began March 4, 1933, it was a time of worldwide economic depression and total war.
The Bobbs brothers grew up in Bristol Borough, in the era that the world was buffeted and torn by a global war. They soon realized the immeasurable value to the democratic way of life and are so thankful that they were able to peacefully enjoy the privileges and freedoms of being an American.
Corporal Melvyn, BHS ’43, the seventh sibling of the twelve Bobbs children, who was drafted in Aug ‘43, and Corporal Lawrence, BHS class of ’45, the eighth sibling who opted to enlist, grew up on Bath Street in their family home with their parents, Harry and Hazel [Feaster] Bobbs. The late eldest siblings were, May Dorothy; Hazel, dubbed “Sis”; Clarence Edward; Harry; Elwood; and KIA Army veteran PFC. Leonard, who answered to “Tickles”.
Almost everyone had a nickname.
Melvyn was “Skinner” and Lawrence was “Moon”. Their sister, Gladys Willits resides in Burlington, NJ and Thelma DeSilvas lives nearby in Bristol Township. Their brother, Sanford, known as “Sonny”, makes his home in Cape May, NJ; and Wayne, called “Shadow”, resides in the Villages in Orlando, Florida.
Army veterans Melvyn and Lawrence shared their scrapbook of history, reminiscing about days gone by, pride, sacrifice, and honor.
Their parents had very little money. Mr. Bobbs worked for what Lawrence remembered as “O’Donnell’s Fuel”, hauling the coal from the barges in the canal.
The Bobbs family had no running water; they used a pump outside and their mother scrubbed their clothing on a washboard.
But even in those times of economic hardship, the family with its positive relationships cared enough about each other to hold body and soul together.
They recall going to school with worn-out shoes with holes in the soles. They wore anything that was available. Clothes were " recycled" and reused as the younger children "made do" with the “hand-me-downs”.
Mel remembers his knee length socks and cord knickers that buckled at the knee and made a “swooshing” sound when he walked. Lawrence wore wide-hipped jodhpurs.
They wore short pants until they were 13 or 14, in the ninth or tenth grade.
“Mom wasn’t much of a sew-er”.
They both wore older brother, Leonard’s “beautiful blue suit” until Lawrence slipped on the canal bridge and ripped out the knees.
Melvyn got his very first new white shirt for his HS graduation at the Grand Theatre.
Sack lunches were packed for school with bologna and cheese for a delicious sandwich and they drank water with their meal.
Feel some empathy for the earlier generation's struggle.
Charities stepped in to help ease the burden. There was a Welfare Station on Franklin Street. The farm production had created surplus food supplies without adequate markets, so the family would be given a dozen oranges, some cornmeal and “Argentina beef that wasn’t fit to eat”.
Their mom was a whiz in the kitchen. No food was wasted. A favorite was a big chuck roast with potatoes and vegetables. Bread was the main staple. They picked blackberries to make some extra money and their mom would make freshly baked bread, just out of the coal stove oven and topped with some homemade blackberry jam.
Mel bought his mother a gas range when he returned from the service and he looked sad as he shared, “that was the end of the bread”.
They headed for Strauss’ Drug Store with their earned coins to purchase Mound bars and Almond Joys. Three bars of chocolate for a dime!
The food markets had sawdust on the floor and great big butcher blocks and the Italian district had bakeries all over.
Hot Italian bread sold for $.10 a loaf. Hucksters pulled a wagon with vegetables and they even came grinding horseradish. The back of the iceman's truck was filled with 100-pound blocks of ice. “It was a good time.”
With little money to spend on entertainment growing up in that period, they found ways to have fun just doing "kid things." They still had lots of fun, just not lavishly expensive fun. Playmates were aplenty and they made do with whatever was available, playing “crazy games like ‘kick the can’.
Baseball was popular – to play and to watch at Leedom’s Field”.
Or an entire afternoon could be spent at the theatre.
“You could go in for a dime and see two shows.”
When they cleaned up after the films in the Grand Theatre along with their brothers, they were paid in the “giveaways”. These free items were dishes or glassware and they could get into the movies then for free.
Justice of Peace, Edward Lynn, whom they dubbed “the taskmaster”, managed the theatre. When Mr. Lynn wasn’t around, they would pull the pipes from the organ casing and blow them, producing their own music.
It was a challenge, but they creatively coped with tough economic times and the Borough had a significant collection of factory and mill complexes.
“There were mills all over Bristol, plenty of places to find work.”
Their brothers, Elwood and Leonard earned $18.00 a week working at one of the principal industrial complexes, Senator Joseph R. Grundy’s Woolen Mills.
They remember historic Bristol on the Delaware as “very safe”.
As Bristol High students, they made pleasant memories and enjoyed sincere friendships in what would be their carefree days.
They, like many of the students, postponed or forfeited their education to serve their country, valiantly fighting the tyrannical forces seeking to destroy the things we cherish and value. Each student came in contact with the war in some way.
Their ability, stamina, determination and courage were contributing factors in the courageous stories that have been written into the pages of history.
It is difficult for them to describe now what they did and how they felt then.
Through days and weeks of boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror, through camaraderie and loyalty, exhaustion and fear, military service changes everyone who serves.
Each Bobbs brother veteran is emblazoned on a different ceramic panel of the laser inscribed concrete blocks at the Bristol Borough Veteran memorial.
Leonard served in the 88th Division and was killed in Italy on March 16, 1944.
Melvyn was wounded with artillery fire
in Germany in the Heritage Mountains
while serving in the 83rd Division and
he earned his Purple Heart.
Lawrence served in the 78th Division, Medical Detachment, 3rd Infantry, but with no combat service.
Lawrence claimed, “While he [Mel] was firing bullets, I was peeling potatoes.”
Melvyn was born the day before Walter Percy Chrysler, the American automobile pioneer and entrepreneur founded his own automobile company known as Chrysler.
Mel’s basic training was in Oklahoma.
He embarked for Glasgow, Scotland and then Southampton, England before being shipped to Omaha Beach, the code name for one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in Normandy in June 1944.
He remembers having stewed kidneys for breakfast on the four-funnel English ship called the Aquitania. “They didn’t smell good!” He made only one breakfast call.
His load was heavy. Most machine guns were from 75 to 100 pounds, without the ammunition and the carriage.
He earned his Bronze Star for carrying ammunition while under fire from the Germans.
Mel had several close calls in the Battle of the Bulge and his courage and fortitude were tested against great adversity.
From foxholes in the Ardennes Forest, the American soldiers prevented a full-strength, German Parachute Battalion from traveling on the road below. He was one of those who took three German prisoners who had not been thoroughly searched.
One soldier still had a pistol with himself.
He and his late wife, Lillian [Paoletti] had two sons, Stephen and late son, David.
There are two grandsons, Jonathan Bobbs and Lt. Jordan Bobbs, a graduate of Colorado Air Force University.
Money was scarce and while still in High School, Melvyn found work at the Acme.
After completing his military service, he worked at Edward T. Steel & Co., a manufacturer of men's worsted cloth. It was at the Manhattan Soap Works, running the filter press, where he met his wife.
He asked her for a date. “Lill” asked him to go to Church with her. He has been going to Church for 62 years. “No regrets”.
He retired in 1988 after being employed at the Penn Salt plant for 30 years.
Lawrence was born just days before Charles Lindbergh gunned the engine of the "Spirit of St Louis" and aimed down the dirt runway of Roosevelt Field, Long Island.
He trained as a medical technician in Berlin, Germany, serving from ’45- ’47.
He was decorated with an Army of Occupation Medal, recognition for his occupation service in Germany, and a World War II Victory Medal for his active duty between December 7, 1941 and December 31, 1946.
After his discharge, he joined the reserves and was stationed in the 9000-acre training facility in Fort Eustis, VA.
Teamwork, quality and safety were the core values engrained in Lawrence when he worked in the L.D. Davis adhesives warehouse plant in Edgely, his job before leaving for the service.
After his military stint, Lawrence worked in receiving at the 3M Company for 43 years, retiring in 1983.
Lawrence has taught himself to play the acoustic guitar and he is accompanied by his wife’s electronic keyboard.
This great generation of WWII soldiers fought not for fame and recognition but because it was the right thing to do.
There were no banners and no bands when they came back six months after the war ended.
Lawrence traveled back on a barge along with the coal.
“You know what we looked like!”
When these soldiers came back they rebuilt America into a superpower.
Mel and Lawrence both acknowledged that presently whole towns welcome back the current serviceman.
With some spare time now, they both putter in their gardens.
Melvyn eats the vegetables he sows from his patch and Lawrence claims he shares what he grows with the bugs.
Historic Bristol on the Delaware is “very safe”.
"What this country needs is dirtier fingernails and cleaner minds."
- Will Rogers
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Hi Cate. I read your article about my Uncle Melvyn. He is such a great guy. Thank you for doing such a nice story. He is my mom's sister's husband. I grew up with his son David who died too young. My heart broke when he got sick and passed. We were only a year apart. Thank you!..............Mary
Jonathan D Bobbs
I did, I posted it on my brother's wall. He was the Air Force Academy grad mentioned in the article. We're both very proud of our grandfather and his contribution to America's freedom. I remember his stories as a child, he even showed me the gun he took from one of the captured Nazi's. He was always very quiet about his experiences over seas and only shared his story when asked. My grandmother was actually a rivet girl in support of the war. Thank you for writing such a great article about a great man.
Jonathan D. Bobbs
May Dorothy Bobbs, age 93 passed away into God’s loving arms on Friday, August 10, 2007 at her home in Croydon, PA. Born in Bristol, PA on August 13, 1913, she was loved by all that knew her. She enjoyed reading and crossword puzzles. Most of her joy was received by spending time with her family.
May is preceded in death by her parents Hazel and Harry Bobbs, her four brothers Elwood, Leonard, Clarence and Harry and one sister Hazel.
She is survived by seven children, Joan Coppens of Levittown, Jack Esterline and wife Carol of Levittown, Sandra Ofman and husband Kevin of Hamlton, NJ, Victoria Fellmeth of Croydon with whom she resided, Terry Major and wife Nancy of Butler, PA, Darlene Harman and husband Keith of Coopersburg, PA and Steven Ulshafer and wife Tina of Landsdale, four brothers Melvin Bobbs and wife Lillian of Bristol, Lawrence Bobbs and wife Marge of Bristol, Sanford Bobbs of Cape May, NJ and Wayne Bobbs and wife Dorothy of Port St. Lucie, FL, two sisters Gladys Willitts of Burlington, NJ and Thelma DeSilvas of Bensalem. She is also survived by 18 grandchildren, 32 great grandchildren and one great great grandson.
Family and friends are invited to attend her viewing on Monday, Aug. 13, 2007 from 7-9pm and Tuesday, Aug. 14 from 9-10AM at the Molden Funeral Chapel Inc. 133 Otter St. Bristol, PA A service will immediately follow at 10AM with interment in Bristol Cemetery.
Hi Cate, just wanted to tell you that Uncle Melvyn Bobbs passed away tonight. He was 91. Thanks for everything. I did get to see him when we visited last time. He was a wonderful man and uncle.
Thanks for doing an article on my uncle.
Posted: Tuesday, December 1, 2015 8:01 am
Melvyn Bobbs of Bristol, Pa. entered the kingdom of Heaven on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015 at Chandler Hall in Newtown, Pa. He was 90.
Born in Bristol, he was a lifelong resident. Melvyn was a graduate of Bristol High School, Class of 1943.
He was a veteran of World War II, serving in the U.S. Army and participating in the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. He was the recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
Prior to his retirement, he was employed by Penn Walt Corp. in Cornwells Heights for over 30 years.
Melvyn was a founding member of Calvary Baptist Church in Bristol and had remained an active member. He also ministered at Calvary as a Sunday School teacher for the 2-year olds for 30 years.
Husband of the late Lillian Paoletti Bobbs, he was also preceded in death by his son, David Bobbs.
He is survived by his son, Stephen J. Bobbs of Levittown; his daughter-in-law, Dr. Trudy Bobbs-Watson of Dallas, Texas; his grandchildren, Jonathan Bobbs (Jessica) of Dallas, Jordan Bobbs of Baltimore, Md., and Jared and Jeremy Hanes of Dallas; his brothers, Larry of Bristol, Sanford of Cape May, N.J. and Wayne of Florida; his sisters, Gladys Willets of Burlington, N.J. and Thelma DiSilvas of Newportville, Pa.; and close family friend, Alicia Cromie of Drexel Hill, Pa.
Family and friends are invited to attend his memorial service at 11 a.m., Wednesday, Dec. 2, at Calvary Baptist Church, 250 Green Lane, Bristol, Pa.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the benevolent fund at Calvary Baptist Church, 250 Green La., Bristol, PA 19007.Molden Funeral Chapel, Bristol
Margaret E. Bobbs of Bristol passed away peacefully on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017.
She was born in Philadelphia, Pa. to the late Joseph and Ida (McKay) Bonfig.
Margaret previously worked as a Private Duty Nurse at Delaware Valley Hospital and as a Nursing Director at a nursing home in Richboro, Pa.
She will be remembered for her love of the Lord, the bible, life, and her family. Margaret will be deeply missed.
Margaret was preceded in death by her son, Bruce Eelman; and her siblings, Marie Slater, Joseph Bonfig, and Catherine Killian.
She is survived by her beloved husband of 45 years, Lawrence Bobbs; son, Gary Eelman of Idaho; sister, Fran Walchky of Massachusetts; and several loving grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
Services will be held privately at the request of the family.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to the charity of the donor’s choice.
Molden Funeral Chapel, Bristol