Zaruba recalls service as a paratrooper
Editor’s note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of articles profiling those who have ever served in the U.S. military, be it overseas or stateside. Every Thursday, a new profile will be published in the T-R.
In 1954, Oxford Junction native Bob Zaruba said he was so fed up with things at home and working for Clinton Engines that he decided to join the Army. But he had no idea that he would end up in an airborne division and make 47 parachute jumps during his time in the service to his country.
“We loaded up in a panel truck and they took us to Delmar, Iowa, then onto Illinois and south to Fort Benning, Ga,” Zaruba said. “I really had no idea what area of service I was going to be assigned to.
“When we arrived at the base there was a paratrooper training tower and a recruit that was with us asked me what it was. When I told him what it was and that they would have him up there jumping off it, he said he was not going up there and we never saw him again,” Zaruba laughed.
For eight weeks, Zaruba participated in airborne basics and jump school. Then the unit was taken to Japan and then off to Korea where they bailed out and stayed for 6-7 months.
“There was a peace treaty that had been signed that was supposed to be in effect, but the Koreans had not heard about that yet and the fighting continued,” Zaruba said.
While there, he and others learned about a demonstration jump team and he decided to join it. He said that they were told that the jumpers never knew where they were going to demonstrate.
“It got me out of Korea, but guess where we landed — right near the equator in Sumatra. One of the hottest places we could go,” Zaruba said. “But we did travel to other places such as Thailand and Germany, so it wasn’t that bad.”
In 1955, Zaruba was assigned to the 505th Artillery Unit that had just switched to mortars and they went back to Germany. For a short time when Hungary revolted in 1956, his unit was located on the 5 Meter Zone (plowed strip), before relocating to Germany where Zaruba was a mechanic in a motor pool.
Zaruba was injured on one of his 47 jumps when his main chute caught on the airplane door. He was free falling but did not realize it before he was at tree level where he yanked his reserve chute, yet hit the ground hard.
“I broke a piece out of my hip bone and the doctor told me it would someday work itself out. Sure enough several years later it did,” Zaruba said. “The doctor also said arthritis would set in and he was certainly right about that too.”
“I came up just three jumps short of receiving a star and wreath for 50 jumps,” he said. “But in all of those jumps I was never shot at.”
He was one of 12 paratroopers (Rangers) that made it safely in a jump to Mt. Baldy in Korea, and there are only two survivors of those 12 remaining. Up until this year, Zaruba said the two would get together each summer, but has not heard anything from his friend this year.
As a member of the 89th Field Artillery Unit; the 675th Airborne Field Artillery Unit and the 505th Mortar Outfit, Zaruba said he saw many things that he prefers not to talk about. He is currently a partner in a lawn mower/small engine service business in Marshalltown.
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