‘Shoe-shine boy flew with the generals
By Ieva Tomsons
RETIRED Toodyay chiropractor Bob Mattin (82) grew up in Pipestone Minnesota, a small town named after the soft red jasper-like rock the Sioux Indians use to carve peace pipes from for the tourist trade.
His childhood reads like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – shooting pheasants as they flew from the surrounding cornfields, fishing on frozen lakes and shocking worms out of the ground with a handmade generator built by his father.
It was the 1940s and times were tough. Bob and his older siblings worked various jobs; he shovelled snow, raked leaves and had a paper round.
By the time he was 10 he could drive a car, shoot a gun and had started a shoe-shining business in the local barber’s shop.
He still has the shoe-shine stool he used (right).READ MORE
At 15 he worked for a mechanic and helped restore a Piper Cub which he learnt to fly. He also met a local chiropractor who encouraged Bob to enrol for chiropractic college in Minneapolis where he studied for four years.
On summer breaks from college he tried his hand as a debt collector and worked as a receptionist for a chiropractor who taught him a lot about developing x-rays.
Bob joined the Pipestone National Guard when he was 18 and recalls being summoned to open the armoury and issue weapons for a riot at Sioux Falls Prison.
“I was necking at the drive-in and said to my friend, ’duty, honour, country first’. What rot, I was scared shitless and relieved when we didn’t have to go.”
At 22 Bob started a chiropractic business which didn’t do well due to its location and inexperience, so he went to work in an established practice for the next four years.
“The war in Vietnam was hotting up so I decided to go on active duty and see the world.”
After basic and advanced infantry training, he was assigned as an aide, driver and radio operator for a southern one-star army general, Randy Dickens.
The cushy life at division headquarters ended in 1965 when he accompanied Dickens to Tan Son Nhat Airbase in Saigon Vietnam where the general had to oversee the deployment of 10,000 soldiers.
Bob flew in the general’s chopper to inspect combat troops and special forces inside the Cambodian border and across Vietnam, and came under attack from the Viet Cong when they landed during a battle at a jungle outpost.
It was a fierce fire fight and for Bob and the general it was their first experience of combat. For his courage during the engagement Bob received the first of several medals he would earn during his army career.
Working for a general had its perks; fine dining, listening in as four-star General William Westmoreland planned the war’s progress and, driving around movie stars such as Kim Novak who came to entertain the troops with comedian Bob Hope.
After six months in Vietnam, General Dickens retired but ensured that Bob’s ambition to become an officer was expedited.
At Officer Candidates’ School in Georgia, Bob was given a hard time because he had served as an enlisted man, but he kept his head down, became an officer and was despatched to Germany where he participated in Cold War games on the Czechoslovakian border.
Bob met his Australian wife Lyn in Germany and they married there in 1968. Soon after, Bob was promoted to captain.
“We were at war and promotions came fast.”
The newly married couple moved to Heidelberg where Bob was assigned to four-star General Leonidas Polk’s office where he read messages from The Pentagon in Washington and assigned appropriate staff action.
The Mattins were considering living in Australia and to achieve this Bob signed up for another tour of duty in Vietnam in 1970 where he commanded 130 men from all walks of life.
“Coming from a rural background helped me to relate to the men.”
They would spend three weeks in the jungle ambushing the Viet Cong, and one encounter where they retrieved a large cache of stolen flour from the enemy resulted in Bob receiving the Cross of Gallantry with a Bronze Star from the Vietnamese Government.
y now, Lyn was living in Perth and wrote daily letters to Bob who was finally reunited with her six months later on his first R&R trip to Sydney.
On his second R&R break, Bob visited Lyn in Perth and immediately saw the potential of establishing a chiropractic business.
Bob still had to serve five more months in the army, so he settled for a position at US Army Headquarters in Tokyo Japan.
Lyn joined him and they enjoyed Japan so much they stayed on for two and half years.
The first of their two sons was born in Tokyo in 1972. Bob was discharged from the army a year later and set about establishing a chiropractic clinic in Joondanna where he treated Perth Wild Cats players, sports broadcaster Dennis Cometti and state tennis team members at Wembley Downs.
Chiropractors were few and far between in those days and Bob worked as a locum in Kalgoorlie and Esperance as well as maintaining the Joondanna clinic.
To complete his 20-year army reserve service he trained with the Australian Army Reserves where he was told in no uncertain terms that promotions were not handed out as readily as in the US Army.
Bob shrugged it off and became a major. He enjoyed being back in uniform and participating in tactical training missions which introduced him to the Avon Valley.
In 1977 the couple bought a 40ha block in Toodyay where they intended to build a log cabin, but they ended up buying the dilapidated 1895 Newcastle Hospital where they established a home and clinic.
By the 1980s, Bob owned clinics in Joondanna, Toodyay and York, but the couple also decided to buy Ye Olde Quindinning Inne 200km south of Perth which they helped to run on weekends for four years.
Bob has also been a senior clinician at Murdoch University, has presented papers internationally and has received professional recognition for his contribution to chiropractic.
Is there any sign of Bob slowing up? If the shiny red Vespa scooter in his garage is any indication – not really. While Lyn died a couple of years ago, he still plays tennis and golf, gardens, goes dancing, travels and enjoys a drink.
“The world is your oyster – if you stay focussed.”