A Personal Letter to Website Visitors from Bob Harder

Dear Friends,

It occurs to me that many visitors interested in the material and books on this website might like to know more about me, particularly if they are getting ready to shell out hard-earned cash to buy any of my stuff, so I thought I would use this space to talk a bit about my background, interests, and credentials.

I grew up in an aviation/military-minded family. My Dad served in the Pacific during World War Two as a medic (he was already in his 30s, which spared him from the infantry). On March 6th, 1944, he and the rest of the 1st Medical Regiment, 2nd Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division hit the beaches on the northern side of Manus Island in the Admiralties (near New Guinea). After serving (and enduring) on Manus for several weeks (the battle was declared officially won on 18 May 1944), in the pre-cursor of what we would today call a forward operating "MASH" unit, he was invalided to Letterman Hospital in San Francisco due to a debilitating skin disease, something from which he never fully recovered. This was a particularly noteworthy event for me as well because I was conceived during his convalescence, unfortunately contracting and also suffering from the same condition for most of my life as well. I once asked my father if there wasn't some kind of an Auxiliary Disabled American Veteran organization I could join--it seemed only fair. It was only long after the war Dad and I discovered together that these relatively unknown tropical battles he participated in marked a turning point in the Southwest Pacific campaigns--with them the Americans finally went over to the offensive. In the words of the official December, 1945, U.S. Army study of the Admiralty campaign, "from the new base in the Admiralties, Allied air and naval forces could now launch surprise attacks on the Dutch New Guinea coast and threaten essential enemy sea lanes within a 1,500-mile radius, including the Marianas, the east coast of Mindanao, and the southern limits of the Celebes Sea [paving the way] for the Philippines invasion." Until we later learned together about the importance of this engagement, my father, a blue-collar and not very well educated working man, had never grasped the impact he and a few thousand American soldiers made on Manus, thinking all those many subsequent years his sacrifice had been pointless. After our joint research, however, he began to hold his head higher, finally joining the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) and openly speaking with pride of his military service.

My mother's brother, Orvis M. Nelson, was also Army-trained, first as an enlisted man in 1927, then later as an officer and pilot. His interest in aviation was spectacularly aroused in late May, 1927, when a young man named Charles Lindbergh flew the Atlantic. Amazement at this adventure had been even more accentuated by the fact he had met the young man when they were youths, though Slim Lindbergh was a stately fifteen to his boyish ten. My grandfather Nelson and Lindbergh senior were both northern Minnesota Republican politicians and the families had become acquainted. If another north woods boy like Charles Jr. could take the world by storm in an airplane, thought Orvis in that spring of 1927, than why not me too? And so it was--from that time forward, flying and all things related were all that ever really mattered to my uncle. Only twenty then, and impatient to get on with things, Orvis impulsively enlisted in the Army Air Corps, thinking he could later get an appointment to flying school. Young men sometimes leap before thinking; there was the little matter of a college degree pre-requisite before consideration for an appointment could even begin. The young enlisted man had learned a hard lesson, though the "mistake" did have its compensations. He was assigned to the Chanute Field, Illinois Aerial Photography School, where he graduated in 1928 after a very difficult nine-month course. Then he became one of a handful of American aerial photographers who were first to photo-map the Philippine Islands. Despite this fascinating and hazardous work (he learned to fly during his off-time in the Philippines), he grew increasingly restless and finally was able to buy out the balance of his Army enlistment (cost $300) in 1929. After completing college in three years, he survived an incredible battery of mental and physical tests, receiving his appointment in 1932 as a "Kelly Field Mister" (San Antonio, Texas). In 1933, he was awarded the much coveted pilot wings from the U.S. Army Air Corps' "West Point Of The Air," specializing in Bombardment. He flew bi-plane Keystones, transitional Curtiss Condors, and the sleek new Martin B-10B monoplane bomber, the precursor of all World War Two medium and heavy bombers. In late 1935, the Army furloughed him (America didn't feel the need to fund much of an Air Corps in those days), and he joined United Air Lines as a second officer on a 10-passenger Boeing 247.

Orvis flourished at United for over ten years, becoming one of their most senior captains and a First Vice President of the Airline Pilots Association. In 1946, in cooperation with William Patterson, then President of United Air Lines, Orvis Nelson formed Transocean Air Lines as a non-scheduled international freight and passenger carrier (UAL was only authorized domestic routes). Patterson's underlying motive for supporting the fledging company had been to engage in head-on competition with Juan Trippe (President of Pan American World Airways) and his monopolistic overseas routes. Orvis' own private motivation was to quickly become independent, even of United, and build the greatest air carrier in the world. He nearly succeeded; Orvis' TAL was at one time the world's largest non-scheduled carrier with a fleet of over 140 aircraft. Unfortunately, management lapses, financial difficulties, and outside forces proved too much, and Transocean passed into history in 1960. Much more on Orvis M. Nelson and Transocean can be found on the Transocean page and links on this website.

Meanwhile, during those high-powered, world-stage Transocean years, the rest of the family was trying to hold together its separate little subsidiary cluster of TAL's businesses on the home grounds of Big Sandy Lake and the village of Tamarack in northern Minnesota. This did not prove to be a smoothly running process, either internally or externally; the blending of the 'don't take chances" ethic of the southern Minnesota Harders with the aggressive 'go-for-broke' northern Nelsons often left both parties gasping at the other as they jointly tried (almost always vainly) to eke out any kind of profit. The Minnesota operations had all started with my grandfather, Marcus Nelson, who had cut a wide swath in the earlier frontier times--subsistence farmer, homesteader's guide to wilderness claims, store proprietor, logger (where he finally made some real money), real estate salesman, and in the 1930s, a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives--before passing prematurely in 1938. His business legacy endured, however, thanks largely to the financial backing of Transocean Air Lines. During the 1950s and beyond, the family was running a small farm, a general store, a broom factory, a movie theater, and a fishing resort/art colony, along with any number of other "start-up and fails" that came and went with some regularity. Very sadly, all of that toil, sweat, and worry ended badly for my family--Transocean was out of business by 1960 and all of the Minnesota operations had gone to Sheriff's sales by 1973. Nelsons and Harders were forced to start all over again from scratch. In the very end, with the older generations by then living relatively comfortable in retirement and the younger busily pursuing separate and largely successful independent lives, there was at least a partial reconciliation with all that had happened--Orvis himself was once asked late in life if he regretted how the Transocean experience had ultimately turned out. With his great charisma and optimism still largely intact, he responded with a smile, "No, not at all, I wouldn't have missed it for the world!"

For a young lad like yours truly caught up in the middle of all this seemingly 'much ado about nothing,' those many varied and early experiences were quite an education, most especially the lessons dispensed as to how NOT to run a conglomerate. But in fact and from a personal standpoint, by 1962 and still only 16 years old, I had already developed quite a resume: high school graduate, summer logger, store clerk, store manager & bookkeeper, sheep husbandry and small-grain farmer, motion picture projector operator, theater management and booking, fishing resort operations, broom maker, and truck driver. Nevertheless, I had already determined that, in the long run, I was going to be better off earning a living using my head rather than my hands. Besides, the siren song of flying was growing increasingly louder in my ears. And so, that fall, it was off to the University of Minnesota, Duluth and AFROTC Detachment 420. Four years later, I was a second lieutenant and reluctantly bound for navigator school instead of pilot training, despite having successfully cheated my way through three years of eye examinations at ROTC (I was exposed as a fraud in the summer of 1965 by the seen-it-all before flight surgeons at the AFROTC Field Training Unit, Lincoln AFB, Neb.). My service years are covered elsewhere on this site, so no need to cover that material again. By January, 1971, I was ready to re-enter the civilian world.

Here began marriage in 1975 to my lovely bride, Dee Dee, and several decades of chain retail store management and entrepreneurship. I was a merchandise buyer at Target Stores, merchandise manager at the Modern Merchandising catalog showroom chain--both in the Twin Cities, and merchandise manager and vice-president at Montgomery Ward & Co. in Chicago. During those years I also became heavily involved in civilian flying, eventually becoming a commercial pilot and certificated flight instructor. Subsequent to the retailing years, I was in real estate investment and management, then beginning in the mid-1990s I embarked on my apprenticeship at the word-smithing trade, having finally decided that what I really wanted to do when I grew up was to be a writer.

And so there it is, the sum of who this scribbler was and is, and what it might mean to his writing motivation and authenticity. Thanks for your attention-- I hope this little read has been worth your while!

Bob Harder

Bob Harder's family (his only sibling, sister Carol, took the photo). This picture was taken in the farm house at Tamarack, Minnesota on Aug 2, 1966, Bob's 21st birthday. Two days later, he loaded up his brand new 1966 Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe and headed for Mather AFB California and USAF navigator school. L to R, beloved Aunt Marie Harder (1902-1994), mother Myrtle Barnett Nelson Harder (1904-1990), father Robert Henry Harder (1912-1999), Robert Orvis Harder, Grandmother Mamie Barnett Nelson (1879-1976).

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