“Serving in the Navy during the Vietnam-era made me grow up to be a man.”
Those are the words of Bobby Berger, who served in the United States Navy on the aircraft carrier USS Bennington from 1968 to 1972. Bobby’s service includes one year of active combat duty on the USS Bennington off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea. This is his story.
Bobby was born in Gonzales on March 21, 1948. The son of Ruby and William Berger, Bobby was the oldest son in a family of boys, including younger brothers Ricky and Randy.
Bobby said growing up in the late 50s and early 60s was a lot different then — where most of the kids played outside all day long. As he got older, he worked at Boyson’s Food Market, replacing stock, bagging groceries and working the cash register. In high school, he tried out for the football team.
“I started playing football but they told me I was too little, so I decided to become the manager of the team.”
Around 1964, Berger purchased a 1955 Ford for $500.
“I had it painted Candy Apple Red,” Berger said with a smile. “It was an eye catcher.”
In those days, cruising around Gonzales was a way to pass the time and meet girls.
“We would go from the Dairy Treat to the Dairy Queen to the Dairy Mart to see what was happening, and then repeat the tour over and over again,” Berger said.
He also stated that there were always dances to go to on the weekend. Whether it was in Gonzales Moulton, Weed Hall, Turner Hall or wherever—dances were the place to go for the boys of his generation.
“We listened to the Velvets, the O’Neill Brothers, the Moods,” Berger said. “It was definitely a different period of time but I had a lot of fun growing up back then.”
Berger graduated from Gonzales High School in 1966, then attended Durham’s business school in Austin for two years. He had a draft deferment because he was attending college, but then was notified his deferment would not be renewed after his second year.
In the spring of 1968, Berger enlisted in the United States Navy.
“I thought about the Army,” Bobby said. “When the Army recruiter told me the only thing he could guarantee me was a rifle, bayonet and Vietnam, I decided to join the Navy.”
He did his basic training in San Diego, Calif. then was shuffled up to San Francisco where he was supposed to meet the USS Bennington. Unfortunately, the aircraft carrier had already left port for Japan. He had to fly to Japan where he joined the aircraft carrier. He was immediately put into administration because of his college business experience. Shortly after that, his ship was ordered to deploy to Vietnam.
“The Bennington was the biggest boat I’d ever seen, let alone be on,” Berger said. “It wasn’t one of the biggest carriers, but it sure did look huge to me.”
“Our carrier did a lot of reconnaissance and scouting missions. While I was there, we constantly monitored activities in Vietnam and were there for a full year.”
Berger did his duty but took advantage of time on leave to visit such exotic locations as Hong Kong and Japan.
“I had a lot of interesting and entertaining experiences in Hong Kong and Japan,” Bobby grinned. “Let’s just say I couldn’t have done any of that if I had not joined the Navy. I really grew up during that time.”
After a year of sea duty, the Bennington returned to the United States to Bremerton, Wash. Berger was preparing for his second year-long tour of Vietnam when the aircraft carrier was suddenly decommissioned. Berger then spent his last two years in the Navy at Miramar, the home of the Navy’s Top Gun school. Berger had good duty at Miramar, as his main duty was to administer tests for Navy personnel stationed there.
After leaving the Navy in early 1972, Berger returned to Texas and began his professional career. When he first got back he worked in Austin for a few years at Austin Pump and Supply. Then he got a tip from his brother Ricky that there was an opening in Gonzales with the city for a position that suited his talents.
Bobby came home to work for the city. His position was with the city sewer department, where he set up the testing lab and worked on sewer projects. He worked his way up to become the Finance Director. After 28 years with the city, he retired. Sort of.
Berger applied for and then was chosen as the City Manager in Moulton, which he did for two years. He then left that position to become the City Manager of Luling, a position he held for eight years.
“It’s been a good life, and I’m proud to say I have two sons named Wayne and Keith,” Berger said. “I have three grandkids through Wayne named Aaron, Jillian, and Landon. Plus, my girlfriend of 14 years, JoAnne Meyer, has given me three more grandkids named Morgan, Kylie and Madison.
“It’s been a good run, and it’s still not over!”