World War II Navy vet Bob Kellogg met First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt when he was recovering from emergency surgery.
He pursued Japanese fighter planes while piloting a F6F Hellcat, the aircraft that established U.S. air superiority in the Pacific Theater.
And he helped complete construction of a key air base on Saipan toward the end the war.
But Kellogg, 97, a Longview resident, insists he is nothing special, noting that he was never fired upon during his year in battle zones.
“I don’t want people to think that I am better than anybody else, or a hero, or anything like that,” he said in recent interviews at Canterbury Park, a Longview independent senior living facility.
But thousands of young people like him helped win the war. And there are fewer and fewer of them left to tell their stories.
Kellogg was born on June 6, 1922, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. But the city of Longview was under development and needed construction workers and engineers, so Kellogg’s dad gave up building barns and moved his wife and 11-month-old to Kelso.
Kellogg always had a fascination with planes. So a year or two after graduating Kelso High School in 1940, he took the Navy aviation entrance exam. He failed the first time — only about four in his 50-person class passed — but passed it on a retake.
However, while he awaited documentation of his birth from Canada he was at risk of being drafted into the Army. He anxiously met the mailman every day for the forms to arrive.
After he finally was admitted to the Navy, Kellogg briefly attended Washington State University with other recruits to study flight principles. While in Pullman, he developed appendicitis.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the hospital while he was recovering from surgery. She asked how long he’d been in bed recovering.
Two days, he told her.
Roosevelt misheard him: “Two weeks? That’s an awful long time for an appendectomy.”
“I thought, maybe I should correct her, but I didn’t,” Kellogg said with a smile.
He hopped around the country learning navigation, gunnery and other piloting skills. He learned to fly the Hellcat, a carrier-based fighter.
As his deployment into the Pacific loomed, he made a brief stop in Longview to marry his girlfriend, Elaine.
“ ‘Sure, I’ll be glad to marry you,’ ” a minister said when she called. “ ‘When do you want me?’ ”
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“Tomorrow,” Kellogg replied.
That’s all the time they had before he had to arrive in San Diego.
Around 1944, he shipped off to Barbers Point in Hawaii for a month or two before going to Guam and later Saipan, about 1,400 miles from Japan.
They finished constructing an airfield at Marpi Point, which they called the “Marpi Point Country Club.” The Japanese had started to build the airfield but abandoned it to approaching U.S. forces.
While Kellogg never got in a dogfight, he and his wingman periodically chased Japanese planes that approached Marpi Point.
The Hellcats were fast and nimble and helped the Navy beat back Japanese fighter pilots. Those pilots were smart, he said, by flying right down to the water to avoid radar detection.
He had to call off one of his pursuits when his aircraft was low on fuel. As he approached his runway, though, another pilot was there who had just gotten permission to take off.
“Well, the sucker didn’t do it,” Kellogg said. “He stood there checking his needles or something. … We were going around, he’s still on the end of the runway.”
They turned around to try another landing, but his wingman, with a dead radio, cut in front of Kellogg. He forgot to put down his wheels and skidded onto the runway, scraping down on the plane’s belly.
“He thought that was the best landing he’d ever made,” Kellogg said. “He never felt the wheels touch the ground until he seen the propeller curling back in his face” when it hit the runway.
On their way back home when the war ended, the sailors didn’t know where they would be dropped off. When they finally arrived on the West Coast he was elated to see Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River. His wife, mother and grandmother met him when they finally docked in Portland.
Kellogg considered getting a commercial pilot’s license after the war. But he decided he wouldn’t enjoy it as much as “flying by the seat of his pants” in the Hellcat.
Instead, he went to work with his dad in commercial construction in Cowlitz County. He and Elaine had three children. She died in 2015.
Memories of the war still pop up, taking him back to a time and place 75 years and 5,000 miles away.
“It was part of your life,” Kellogg said of his time in the war. “Something maybe you’d like to forget. And some of it you might like to remember.”
This story has been corrected to specify that Canterbury Park is an independent living facility.