Normally, Oxford Village Council meetings are filled with debate, motions and votes.
But last week, things were a little bit different – there was cake.
Officials took a break from conducting the people’s business to celebrate a milestone in the life of longtime resident Robert L. Scott, Jr.
A special proclamation was issued in honor of Scott’s upcoming 90th birthday on Aug. 20. It paid tribute to his “kindness,” his “sense of duty to the community” and his dedication as an “avid attendee” of council meetings.
Then, everyone enjoyed a delicious chocolate cake from downtown’s Sweet and Savory Bake Shop.
“It was just unbelievable,” said Scott, who’s lived in the village since 1987. “I was really elated over it. It just surprised the hell out of me. How they kept it a secret is beyond me.”
Scott and his wife Geraldine (Jeri, for short), who will celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary in November, began attending council meetings after moving here from Clarkston. They wanted to learn more about their new hometown.
“It just became a steady thing,” said Scott, who grew up in Pontiac. “We became a fixture there. We enjoy it and we enjoy the people.”
Sometimes, with the exception of the local media, they’re the only folks populating the audience.
“Very few people come and I can’t understand why,” Scott said. “They’re not that busy that they can’t come by for an hour or even a half-hour. I believe it’s important to find out what’s going on in the village. If things happen to be going the wrong way, speak your piece and try to get it changed.”
At the meetings, Scott is often called “The Admiral,” an affectionate nickname that refers to his 21 years of service as a Boatswain’s Mate in the United States Navy.
Considered to be the leaders and backbone of a ship’s crew, Boatswain’s Mate is the oldest rating, or job, in the navy, dating back to the late 1700s. They’re considered masters of seamanship and valued for their versatility.
“Ever since I was a young lad, I had always wanted to go into the navy,” Scott said. “My grandfather used to tell me stories about sailing. He was on an old square-rigger.”
Scott enlisted during World War II. He was just 17 years old when he signed up in 1944. He fought in the Pacific Theater against Imperial Japan and served aboard a Landing Ship, Tank (LST), a vessel created by the Allies during WWII to support amphibious operations by transporting tanks, vehicles, supplies and troops, and landing them directly on shore without the assistance of docks or piers.
He participated in the amphibious invasions of two Japanese islands – Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Both assaults occurred in 1945. Codenamed Operation Iceberg, the invasion of Okinawa was the largest amphibious landing in the Pacific Theater.
During both invasions, Scott operated a 36-foot-long landing craft filled with troops. His job was to safely get them to the beaches and drop them off.
When asked what that experience was like, he replied, “Busy.”
At the time, Scott wasn’t scared or worried about dying.
“That never entered my mind,” he said. “I was worried about getting those troops out of that boat and on the beach without having to dunk them.”
Scott remained in the navy after the war. In 1947, he realized “this was the life for me” and decided to make a career out of it.
For most people, one war is enough to last a lifetime, but Scott soon found himself seeing action in another when the Korean War erupted in 1950. The next thing he knew, the light cruiser he was aboard was leaving the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal and heading for the first armed conflict of the Cold War between the democratic West and communist East.
Over the years, Scott served aboard a number of ships including the USS New Jersey (BB-62), a battleship; USS Barry (DD-933), a destroyer; USS Worcester (CL-144), a light cruiser; and three heavy cruisers – USS Columbus (CA-74), USS Helena (CA-75) and USS Albany (CA-123).
Scott retired from the navy in 1965 with the rank of Chief Petty Officer. His title was Chief Boatswain’s Mate.
Following the military, he did security work for General Motors for more than 20 years.
Scott and his wife raised two sons, Robert and Michael. Robert followed in his father’s footsteps and spent two decades in the navy.
After retiring for the second time in his life, Scott moved to Oxford Village.
Scott has never regretted coming here. He likes Oxford because it’s “neat, clean” and the people care about each other.
“It’s just a close-knit community,” he said.
As Scott reflected on his life and naval career, there was a bit of that natural melancholy that comes with aging.
“All my old buddies that I served with and sailed with and ate and drank with are gone now. I’m the last one,” he said.
But he’s definitely grateful for the new friendships he’s forged in Oxford.
After being presented the proclamation, he told council and the audience there’s an old adage in the navy – “Friends come and go, but shipmates are forever.”
“You people have become shipmates to me,” Scott said.