Sometimes a man’s life unfolds in different ways. One chapter leads to another, growing and changing perhaps taking into account what was gleaned from the pages before. Such was the life of Bob Dill who grew up on a one-mule cotton farm in northern Greenville County, South Carolina, and spent the first 25 and 1/2 years in the Army in various capacities all around the world. Then in 1994 he took a turn, and he founded and became editor and publisher of a conservative newspaper, The Times Examiner, in his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina. For him, this latest chapter is a labor of love.
Chapter One – The Military
Dill graduated in animal husbandry from Clemson in 1955, which was then a military school. In February he was discharged from the United States Army Reserve with the grade of Corporal. Sixteen days after graduation he reported for active duty with the United States Army.
But Dill certainly didn’t expect to have a career in the Army. Certainly not after hearing what one of his “bosses” at Ft. Jackson had to say, “Bob, you aren’t going to make it in the Army.” There were two problems. “You go home every weekend, and I’ve always said you can’t soldier in your own backyard. But your main problem is you don’t drink, and I don’t trust a man who doesn’t drink.” And after that announcement, he was shipped as a commissioned reserve officer to Germany, where he ran the commissary store.
Training and duty over the years included a number of moves–to Fort Lee in Virginia, then Fort Jackson in South Carolina and later to Fort Benning, Ga. to become a part of the 7th Cavalry, the unit which traces its history to the battle of Little Big Horn and General Custer’s last stand. Following a school assignment in Virginia, Dill headed overseas to Korea and the First Cavalry Division .
As his tour in Korea was about to end in 1961, Dill had every intention of getting out of the Army, but to his utter amazement a letter came from Oklahoma State University saying, “Welcome, you have been admitted for a post graduate degree in food science.” The Army had decided to send him to school for two years. It was an offer he could not refuse, but it came with an obligation of four more years of military service. The “heart stopper” came when Dill was set to graduate in the spring of 1964 and move to Kansas to attend the Army Command and Staff College.
“My faculty adviser called me in and said he had made a terrible mistake. He had failed to schedule 15 hours of American History, including a class in Oklahoma History, into my class schedule. It is required by law in order to get a degree in Oklahoma. I could not extend my school time and had to report to the other school. As a career soldier you sometimes become a victim of the system. When that happens, you find a solution or live with it. I studied all summer, passed an open book exam on the second try and got my diploma in the mail,” Dill explained.
In 1965 orders came that he and his family, which had now grown to four – his wife, LaVerle, and two sons, Tim and Glenn – would be heading to Heidelberg, Germany. So everyone ran out to get prepared with warm winter clothes. Suddenly, no, they were going to Hawaii. With the Vietnam War going on, the United States was afraid that the Russians might attack Hawaii. No one bothered to tell Dill what he would be doing. Finally LaVerle, who was standing at the airport near a Major, had the courage to ask. He replied, “Bob will be flying.” Nothing more. It was all pretty secretive. As it turned out, Dill was flying eight hours a day, five days a week for three years as part of CINCPAC Airborne Command Post. The job was pretty intense. This was a serious military operation, which was part of a joint command in the Pacific.
In 1968 Dill was flown to Vietnam to supervise the feeding of the troops–what a huge cultural shock after Hawaii! Dill explained: “The war was expanding in Vietnam, there were riots in the streets back home. No one was thinking about a Russian nuclear threat except the people responsible for defending the country. They knew we were vulnerable. Before satellites, Hawaii was the communications hub for the Pacific. One nuclear weapon on the CINCPAC Command Center in Hawaii would disrupt communications and logistics between Washington and Saigon. To prepare for that contingency, an airborne command post was established in the sky over the Pacific. It would operate aboard an aircraft 24 hours a day and have the same capability of responding to a nuclear attack as the command center in Hawaii. We would maintain telephone contact with the White House and counterparts in Europe and elsewhere. I was the Logistics officer on the battle staff and custodian of one of the two keys to the steel box that held the capability for responding to a nuclear attack. It was an honor to be selected for such a position of trust. I was airborne more than 8 hours per day on rotating shifts for three years. Then came Vietnam.
“Arriving in Saigon just hours after bidding my family goodbye in Hawaii was the ultimate in culture shock,” said Dill who was then a Major on the promotion list to Lt. Col. and on the way to an assignment at the Long Bin Army Headquarters. It was not their first long family separation, but it was one that too many returned from in a box, and military families never discuss.
“I was instructed to report to the Replacement Bn. just outside Saigon. A couple of pilots I met on the plane offered me a ride in their helicopter. A sergeant met me and escorted me to a tent with folding cots. It was night, I was hungry and the mess hall was closed. It was July and monsoon season. Rows of wooden pallets led from tent to tent. Before the sergeant disappeared in the darkness he said there was a shower in the tent at the end of the pallets. I was carrying a suitcase with a few necessities. I got undressed, grabbed a towel, soap and my billfold and headed for the shower. I could hear the gasoline engine turning the generator and pumping the water in the distance. As soon as I was lathered good, the little engine was silent, the flickering light went out, and suddenly I was surrounded by gunfire. I recognized the sound of rifles, machine guns and mortars. Soon there were helicopter gunships firing rockets. It was pitch dark. I lay quietly on the pallet clutching a bar of soap in one hand and my billfold in the other. Suddenly I realized this was a real war, and I was in the middle of it armed with a bar of soap. This was not the way I had visualized ending my military career. Finally the flickering light came back on, the water began flowing again and I washed off the soap, walked back to my tent and went to sleep on my folding cot. I never saw anyone until the man I was to replace walked in the tent early the next morning. Major Bill Ellis never looked so good, especially when I saw he was wearing a 45 Cal. sidearm and carrying a carbine. I, too, was armed before noon.”
After the troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, Dill was asked to be a staff officer at the Pentagon. His wife volunteered occasionally with Pat Nixon. I was in charge of feeding the troops, in charge of the menu. “I was told the troops thought we did pretty well. In fact one incident happened that was quite entertaining. In May of 1973 I got a call from the White House. I thought it was some sort of joke from a friend, so I didn’t answer. Again, I was told to answer the phone. Finally I did. It was the Head Usher who oversees White House operations and functions. President Nixon had brought the POW’s home from Vietnam and wanted to have a State Dinner at the White House in their honor.
The President wanted to give the returning Prisoners of War a dinner they wouldn’t forget, a dinner at the White House with their loved ones, all their loved ones, as well as members of the House and Senate, Vice President Agnew and peace negotiator Henry Kissinger would be there.
Nixon insisted it be at the White House, nowhere else. No one could figure out how to accomplish this. So that’s why they called me. What about a huge tent on the south lawn? Engraved invitations went out to the military men and civilians who had been captives of the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong — over 650. It was quite a dinner party. Nixon even filled canoes with crushed ice to hold the champagne.The Army supplied the canoes, the refrigerator trucks and food warmers. Unfortunately the heavens opened that night, and it poured, but the tents held up, and we managed to stay dry. The event got little coverage in the liberal media, but the POW’s love Nixon to this day, and Julie Nixon Eisenhower describes the remarkable event in her book about her mother.”
Dill’s final assignment was to consolidate the Army Commissary System under central management and operate it more effectively and efficiently. He retired after operating the system of 135 stores with annual sales of $1.35 billion for 6 years. It was the first large grocery chain to install point of sales scanning. He retired in 1980 with the permanent grade of Colonel after 26.5 years of combined active and reserve service. He received a number of decorations, including the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Joint Services Commendation Medal, Meritorious Service Medal and Army Commendation Medal.
Chapter Two – The Times Examiner
Colonel Dill returned home to Greenville County upon retirement. Building a ranch home, planting trees, and gardening in what is now called the Blue Ridge Community somehow just wasn’t fulfilling enough. And his wife, LaVerle, suffering from the empty nest with Tim and Glenn gone, wasn’t that thrilled about being stuck miles out in the country. Even after he and LaVerle planted 16,000 seedlings to replace their fallen pine trees after horrific storms, they both found they needed more direction.
Dill wanted something more engaging to do, each and every day, something more than substitute teaching or being involved in the Ruritan Club. Over the last quarter of a century he had shouldered a lot of responsibility.
From his home office Dill began writing letters to the Greenville newspaper, but they would only take one letter a month, and even then they chopped it up sometimes. A small local newspaper then accepted his commentary, and he soon had quite a following of readers. “People began asking me to start my own newspaper with one person even offering to help.” I just said, “I am retired. I am NOT going to do that!” But they were persistent.
“People kept asking me, so I decided to have a prayer meeting with my wife, LaVerle. We talked about the basic issues and decided on a path of action. This newspaper would be issue oriented, and it would have a Judeo-Christian perspective. It would be a labor of love. There would be no stock, no stockholders, no money borrowing. We would not be beholden to anyone. The newspaper would not cover sports, murders, fires or wrecks.
We would knowingly give up some business so as not to compromise our positions. It was to be issued oriented. If the Lord wants this to be, well, we would try to publish a newspaper. If not, we will just close the door. LaVerle and I wanted the newspaper to be factual, to inform people and for it to be of service to the community. “We weren’t doing this for business reasons. It’s not a paper we want to hand on to our children. Our first issue of The Times News Examiner was published on May 14, 1994, and it is still going strong.”
“We have been blessed with excellent local writers, like Dr. Al Snyder, Dr. Steven Yates, Dr. Tony Beam and our home school column writers. For syndicated columnists we have the best selection of conservative columnists in the business,” said Dill. He himself writes the editorial and other columns but does not endorse a candidate. Others who write for the paper can endorse a candidate, but Dill himself does not. My wife, LaVerle keeps the show running and handles much of the business–like paying and collecting bills, even some advertising.
“My dear friend and hero from the Vietnam War, Mike Scruggs, who has written “Lessons From the Vietnam War,” and “The UnCivil War” on the U.S. Civil War, allows us to publish his informative columns each week.
We have had amazing events take place when the chips were down. Like Julie Hershey, an ex-member of the Greenville School Board and a strong vocal proponent of teen abstinence, calling to ask if she could sell advertising on the very day we were thinking about closing the newspaper down, because the profits were looking so slim, even non existent. It was nothing short of a miracle. We have had a lot of surprises like that. Grady Miller, a local business man, offered office space when we needed it; Butch Taylor, another community minded business owner, promised advertising. We do get a lot of volunteer help too (on a weekly basis), wonderful people, some who have been with us from the beginning. The Times Examiner can be found in newsstands, country stores and gas stations all around Greenville County and is mailed to subscribers.
This business excites me now as much as it did in the beginning. It keeps my mind alert, causes me to get up in the morning, to look forward to the day, and have something worthwhile to do. The newspaper gives me access and leverage. As they say, ‘never start a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.’ I have made all kinds of good friends in all walks of life. I have met at least four or five presidents, met many of today’s Republican candidates, saw or met many of the Democratic candidates too. I am involved in the world.
I just don’t have as much energy to run as fast as I did. After all I will be 80 at my next birthday. LaVerle and I have lived several lives in one. She is the best thing that ever happened to me. She has tolerated me for 58 years. We grew up with modest means. We know what it is like to work on a farm and in a textile plant. We have worked with privates and generals. We have experienced the worst and the best of times.
I have met people whom I would never have met except for The Times Examiner. I must say that over my lifespan, there have been many times when I “missed the bullet”– literally. I have been told that I am calm under pressure and maybe that has helped, but I have a lot to be grateful for, including a wonderful family. I have survived a lot of close calls that cannot be humanly explained. The good Lord has blessed me over and over again.”