Photo by Frank Prager
Bob Mortland with photo albums of his Army service and the 150 letters he received on his Honor Flight.
“Freedom is not free. Thank a veteran.”
The slogan is emblazoned on T-shirts and bumper stickers and is never more accurate than when it refers to people like Bob Mortland. The Godfrey resident served in the Army during the Korean War and typifies the service and dedication so many have given to keep the freedoms we enjoy in this country.
Born in Batchtown and raised in Calhoun County, Mortland worked on his family’s farm growing up. He was drafted into the Army in 1953 and trained in the artillery. After completing training at Camp Chaffee in Arkansas, he was deployed to Boston, then for a year in Keflavik, Iceland.
“It was pretty barren over there,” he remarks.
Mortland says he never left the base the entire time he was in Iceland. The group he was in was charged with monitoring aircraft passing over the area to ensure enemy planes were not allowed through.
“The aircraft were given a certain amount of time to respond once we spotted them on radar,” Mortland says.“We had the artillery locked onto them until we verified they were friendly.”
Mortland served as a gunner on the 90-millimeter artillery gun at the base.
He says the base mainly served as a mid-air refueling station for military aircraft flying around the world.
“Long-range planes could not hold enough fuel to fly their entire route, so they would have to be refueled in mid-air,” he explains.
After being discharged in 1955, Mortland returned home, eventually hiring on at the Glassworks in Alton. He worked there for 38 1/2 years, retiring in 1993. He and his wife, Lila May, were married for 23 years before she passed away. He has a son who lives in Highland and a daughter who lives in Alton. He also has five grandchildren and says his family is a big part of his life.
Mortland is 81, but you would never know it by looking at him. Fit and active, he works out four days a week at Senior Services in Alton with his close friend Pete Kochersperger. He exercises on the treadmill and cycling machine in addition to lifting weights. He is a member of the United Church of Christ, the Masons and the Order of the Eastern Star. He is active in charity and volunteer work within the community.
In March, Mortland participated in the Veterans Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. The flight allows veterans to visit the monuments honoring military veterans in that city as well as seeing sites such as the White House, the Air and Space Museum and the Pentagon. On the mail call conducted during the return flight home that evening, Mortland received 115 letters from schoolchildren thanking him for his service to the country.
The role played by millions of veterans who gave a portion of their lives to serve and defend our country cannot be overstated. Those who served in the military and returned home to start families and build careers in business are the foundation on which our freedom is based. Bob Mortland has led a life of service to friends, family and country to which we should always be thankful.