456 Bomb Squadron, 323 Bomb Group
|Robert Ozburn, 50-year auto salesman, WWII veteran
By PIERRE RUHE
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Late in life, Robert Ozburn discovered how to walk. A Roswell car salesman who put in long hours, he'd always been outgoing and personable - eager to strike up a conversation. He was the sort of man who could make a durable friend after chatting a few minutes and finding a common bond. But long slow walks in the park, a sense of repose and leisure - that wasn't his thing.
In the years after he retired from the auto business, though, he found a devoted walking partner, Lucky, a shepherd-mix dog that also was a new means to meet people. "Bob and Lucky would go out every afternoon," remembers his wife of 58 years, Mrs. Vonceil Ozburn, "and he'd make a new friend almost every time. He liked people, and they liked him." William Robert Ozburn III, 85, died Dec. 26 at Hospice of complications associated with an undiagnosed lung ailment. The funeral is Thursday at Georgia National Cemetery, in Canton. Roswell Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. In his final months, after doctors found a mass in his lungs, he told his wife, "I don't want to know what this thing is." "That was Bob's character," recalls Mrs. Ozburn. "He just wanted to live life as he went, as best he could, while he could." His life also seemed to track the nation's trajectory across the 20th century - from struggle in the 1930s, to the coming of age that was World War II to the rise of the automobile as the central agent in American society and development. He was born in Savannah, although the family didn't stay long after his birth. At the nadir of the Depression, Mr. Ozburn's father eventually found a job in Chicago, working for a chemical company. But the Great Lakes climate led to breathing problems for the boy. His grandfather in Atlanta came to the rescue, raising the child, who wasn't yet 10. When one of Mr. Ozburn's aunts died of scarlet fever, the grandparents raised her boy, too. They made a disparate but tight family unit, the cousins calling each other "brother" and addressing their grandparents as "Mama" and "Papa." It gave Mr. Ozburn a sense of family unity regardless of circumstances and helped reinforce his outgoing personality, says his daughter Jan Ozburn Johnson. He never finished high school, instead enlisting in the Army months ahead of the Pearl Harbor attacks. After training in Mississippi and North Carolina, Mr. Ozburn was stationed in England and France with the 456th Squadron, flying B-26 sorties over Germany. In later years, he'd regale his family with tales of a young soldier's off-hours antics. One of the most dramatic involved "borrowing" a motorcycle with a couple of buddies to visit a café in a nearby Belgian town. They partied too long, missed curfew and had to sneak back onto the heavily guarded base - a moment of comic hijinks amid the horrors of wartime. He remained close to his squadron mates the rest of his life, anticipating their reunions even as fewer and fewer of the old bombardiers were around to reminisce. He'd point to his military service as the most meaningful time in his life. Back in Atlanta after the war, he worked as a car salesman - a 50-year career selling Fords and Pontiacs. In 1947, he was living in a rooming house on 14th Street in Midtown and often eating supper at a tavern that overlooked Piedmont Park. There he flirted with Vonceil Day, a secretary at Prudential Insurance Co. They dated two years before he asked her to marry him. "I always felt a little sad for my father, imagining him as a little child without his own parents," says his daughter. "But he never pitied himself, never allowed that side to get the better of him. He just kept moving." Survivors other than his wife and daughter include two sons, William Marc Ozburn and Robert Craig Ozburn; and two grandchildren.