War came to Bob Fernandez when he was 11 years old. Born and raised on Oahu, and living near Hickam Air Force Base, he witnessed the Japanese air attack his own neighborhood on December 7th, 1941. The war would change Hawaii and young Bob forever. As servicemen flooded onto his island, he got to know some of them, shining their shoes, and later shooting /hustling pool (few realized that shooting pool is in the blood of many Filipinos). But something else happened to this immigrant’s son while associating with the soldiers: He found his calling. Patriotic fervor and the prospect of service and adventure made a career in the military an appealing goal. He joined the Territorial (National) Guard and Junior ROTC. He was valedictorian of his high school class at Saint Louis College in Honolulu, a baseball and football star, active in the Catholic Church, and prominent in the Filipino-Hawaiian community. He applied for a nomination to West Point and while waiting to be selected completed a year at the University of Hawaii where he earned a spot on the varsity baseball team while only a freshman.
Upon winning an appointment to the US Military Academy, Bob journeyed to New York on his own by plane and transcontinental railway. Not yet 19, having never before left the Hawaiian Islands, he was enthralled by his first sights and experiences of mainland United States. With youthful wonder he embarked on his new life, no longer just an island boy, but now and evermore a man of the world. He thrilled at the beauty, the scale of the cities and vast country side, the new colors and vibrancy, the music, the history, SNOW, and the gracious and generous people that he met at every turn. It would be the start of an adventure that spanned the rest of his life.
He graduated as a member of the West Point the Class of 1953 with a commission as a Second Lieutenant, a Bachelor of Science Degree, and a gorgeous red-headed wife – Sue Peters. A non-stop career ensued, including duty in Georgia, Germany, Colorado, California, Saudi Arabia, Kansas, the Pentagon, and of course, repeated assignments back home to Hawaii. He became fluent in German and Arabic. Bob was also a veteran of two combat tours in Vietnam. Among numerous awards and decorations, he earned the Silver Star for gallantry, the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Bronze Stars, several Air Medals and Army Commendation Medals for valor, and the Combat Infantryman Badge. He would occasionally write of his “grim situation,” but the true horrors remained unspoken for decades. Combat and the stresses of command take their toll in all warriors, but unfazed by Post Traumatic Stress, Bob seemed to embrace Post Traumatic Success instead, showing renewed vigor for life, love, and family.
But wait…there’s more. True, Bob was dedicated to the Army, but his first love was undeniably the theater. Bob was the ultimate soldier/artist and excelled at both. He was a unique military man: scarcely any signs of his combat tours, his valor, or his military accomplishments were to be found in his home. No trace of a war trophy or medal, little talk of operations or fire fights. Instead, his home was perpetually full of music from his hi-fi and his own prolific ukulele, or lyrics and lines to rehearse for the next production.
He was a tremendously talented vocalist and actor, a consummate showman. Confidence, good looks, and a strong tenor voice allowed him to play a variety of roles. He polished his skills in community theaters wherever he was stationed. If there was no theater, he created one. His list of stage credits is almost endless…acting, directing, producing. His family recalls most fondly his roles as romantic Lancelot in Camelot, distinguished Emile De Becque in South Pacific, and his triumph as Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof, to name just a few. Bob became a familiar face on TV in Hawaii; watch carefully and you will still spot Bob’s unmistakable character in Karate Kid II. And the parties! The parties, especially cast parties, were epic. Singing and dancing spilled into the yard and nearly every room. Bongos, ukes and song outlasted the whiskey and wine late into the night. No one wanted to miss a Bob and Sue party.
In his heart, Bob loved nothing more than to entertain an audience with stories and jokes, and of course his ubiquitous ukulele as he sang party favorites and Hawaiian songs in countless Kani Ka Pila (impromptu musical jam sessions). “Good fun,” he would say. Yes, fun, sometimes hilarious, but always touching, and from his soul, because this was how Bob shared the best of himself and invited others to share with him.
Retiring from the Army in 1978, Bob studied for a Masters of Fine Arts degree at Catholic University in Washington, DC, then returned once more to his beloved Hawaii to pursue a second career, this time with the Air Force, in which he oversaw construction and appropriations for Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs throughout the Pacific. He continued acting and honed his racquetball game, as well as his pool shots, to near professional level. Ever the adventurer, Bob continued travelling the globe with Sue, and moved from Hawaii to Colorado Springs before settling in Las Vegas, Hawaii’s “Ninth Island.”
Heartbreak would follow as Sue, cherished wife of over 50 years, passed away in 2004. Saddened and now alone, Bob nevertheless did what he had always done – he soldiered on, supported by new and old friends around the world.
Bob continued his travels and music continued to fill his house, albeit now with strains of melancholy. Little could stop him. He was, after all, a skinny shoeshine boy who had completed an arduous march to become a West Pointer, combat commander, Colonel, father, grandfather, and hero. Memories of war and warriors were never forgotten, but tucked away carefully in their place. With a bon vivant spirit, he never lost his passion for music and the theater, never stopped being thrilled and appreciative of life’s beauty, art, and spectacle. Forever that 18 year-old kid on his first train ride beyond a new horizon, he never stopped giving himself freely to wonderment, never stopped being grateful for the blessings bestowed on him, never stopped allowing himself to be amazed, to marvel at the richness of life, and in so doing enriched everyone around him.
He is survived by children Suzie, Tommy and wife Patricia, Princie Ann and husband Scott Davenport, and Robbie and wife Amy; 7 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.