Serving those who served
After returning from the Vietnam War and getting out of the Marines, it took Bob Davis almost a decade to join the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
“I was a typical Vietnam vet,” he said. “I came back, went to school and didn’t need to tell anybody where I was.”
Fast forward to Feb. 28, Davis, Goodhue County’s veterans service officer, will retire after nearly 30 years of helping veterans receive benefits and make the transition home.
“I’ve had the pleasure of processing over 14,000 troops,” Davis said. “I refer to them as my kids, so I’ve got kids all over Minnesota.”
His legacy includes a key role in the creation of the state’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program for veteran reintegration — something Davis said he wanted to do so current soldiers wouldn’t face the same hardships experienced in the Vietnam era.
Although his own homecoming was smooth, several of his friends had trouble adjusting after the war, including one who killed himself, Davis said. “And I said OK, it’s time to do something.”
His journey to the county’s Veterans Service Office started in the 1980s. After leaving jobs with Marriot International and New Holland, Davis joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and volunteered locally with veteran coworkers.
His interest in veterans’ issues led him to the Dakota County Veterans Service Office in 1984. Davis worked as a senior assistant there until 1991 before making the move to Goodhue County where he succeeded Bernie Melter.
He also served on the VFW and American Legion legislative committees, prompting former Goodhue County Administrator Dave Hamilton to ask Davis to use his experience as the county’s legislative liaison.
Among his accomplishments was working with state lawmakers to secure funding for road projects such as Highway 61 lane widening near Frontenac and recent interchange plans on Highway 52.
“It’s been great,” Davis said. “I know more about transportation than I ever thought I would in my life.”
Warm weather ahead
After his last day Friday, Davis said he will be moving to his native Arizona with wife Joyce. They will leave behind two adult children — Robin, a Department of Veteran’s Affairs nurse, and Jeff, a supervisor at the regional VA office — and seven grandchildren still living in Minnesota.
The Cannon Falls resident added that his new home already has been designated as a winter vacation spot for the family.
Starting this fall, Davis and his wife said they will begin touring national parks. “This is normally a six-day-a-week job, so this is our time to travel and enjoy each other.”
But the longtime veterans’ advocate said he is not ready to stop helping people quite yet, and plans to do volunteer counseling work for the VA in Arizona.