January 10, 2007 Edition

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Friends, classmates remember
Major General Bobby Porter

John Bland

Bobby Porter's friends from his youth knew that he would grow up to have a career in the military and be successful. "All Bob's life he wanted to be a soldier," said Jack Allison of Walnut Ridge, who graduated a year ahead of Porter from Walnut Ridge High School.

"There was no question in my mind what he was going to do," said Robert H. "Bob" Rainwater, Porter's friend and classmate in the WRHS Class of 1952.

Rainwater and Lucia Allen, another friend and classmate, both recalled a foretelling incident from their youth regarding Porter. The friends were playing next door to Rainwater's parent's home. On top of a shed or garage, Porter jumped off the roof and yelled, "Shazam.!" from Captain Marvel. He sustained a bad break to his arm. As an adult, he would make a career of jumping out of airplanes.

In fact, Porter became a major general and commander of the prestigious 82nd Airborne Division. As such, he is one of the highest-ranking military officers to be born and raised in Lawrence County.

"The 82nd Airborne is the 'All-American' division. The division commanders are the absolute elite. Only top-notch people command that division," said David Doyle of Jonesboro and formerly of Clover Bend, a longtime friend and military comrade of Porter's.

"While most high-ranking military leaders came out of West Point or had high political connections, Bob grew up in a working class family, working at the service station," Allison said.

Bobby was the son of Walnut Ridge residents Walter and Thelma Porter, recalled Johnny Shields, member of the WRHS Class of 1953. Bobby's father was the owner of Porter's Super Service Station located next to the Salad Bowl Restaurant. "Mr. Porter was before his time in naming his business Porter's SUPER Service Station it would be a few years before Wal-Mart Super Center or K-Mart Super Stores would come along.

"Bobby's wife, Sue (Dinkins) preceded him in death about one and a half years ago," Shields said. Sue's father, Bert, was with Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. in Walnut Ridge before the family moved to Jonesboro.

"We were just so fortunate to grow up in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, back then," Allison said. "Bob never forgot where he came from."

Laddie Logan met Bobby in the third grade at Walnut Ridge Elementary, and although Logan's family moved, he would return every summer and kept up his friendships with Porter and others.

"Bobby and I carpooled and commuted back and forth to Arkansas State College all during college," Logan said. Both young men were also in the same ROTC class in college, and at the same time, both joined the National Guard, Company K in Walnut Ridge, where they made sergeant first class. Both also served in the infantry in Fort Benning, Ga.

After 20 years in the service, Logan retired as a lieutenant colonel, and he and his wife, the former Mona Clark, returned to Walnut Ridge. The Logans later moved to Jonesboro, where he taught classes at ASU.

While Porter was in the airborne infantry, parachuting from airplanes, Logan was in the mechanized infantry, traveling on ground in tanks and other military vehicles. The two men only saw one another a couple of times during those years.

Logan renewed his friendship with Porter when the Porters moved to Jonesboro in 1991. Porter and Logan, along with David Doyle, began meeting for breakfast at least once a month. In recent years and with Porter's encouragement, a wider circle of friends and former classmates joined them for the monthly breakfasts. Logan believes Porter would want that gathering to continue.

Logan noted six men from Lawrence County who all participated in ROTC and went into the military service at about the same time. They were: Billy Hallmark and David Doyle from Clover Bend, Billy Mack Cooper and Tommy Green from Hoxie and Logan and Porter from Walnut Ridge.

"All of us made lieutenant colonel, except Porter, and he made major general. All of us knew that he would probably make general," Logan said.

"You would not believe how he bled infantry. He was calculated and dedicated to being the very best military officer he could be."

"Being good wasn't an option, he had to excel," said Logan. "We're going to miss him."

Lucia Allen was a classmate of Porter's from the second grade through 12th. "Bobby was always very conscientious, honest, hard-working really a true-blue friend," Allen said.

However, Porter was not all seriousness and work. "Bob had a good sense of humor. He could laugh at you, with you or at himself. He enjoyed having a good time," Allen added.

Porter played football and basketball at WRHS. "He worked in the service station as soon as he was big enough to wipe a windshield," said Allen, adding that he never complained.

Allen recalled that Bobby Porter and Sue Dinkins, along with another Walnut Ridge native, Bobby Allison, and his wife, Peggy of Newport, were married in a double wedding.

In recent years, Allen moved to the Walnut Ridge home on Southwest Third Street, where Sue grew up. Lucia invited the Porters to come over and see Sue's former home.

Allen recalls hearing that Porter used the military-style expression with his children, "shape up or ship out."

David Doyle grew up in Clover Bend, where he attended school. However, he worked at Sloan's Department Store in Walnut Ridge and knew Porter and all the Walnut Ridge youth.

He got to know Porter better when both were in the National Guard and ROTC. After both Doyle and Porter were in the Army, Doyle and his wife visited Porter and his wife while both were stationed in Germany. Doyle was stationed in the Frankfort area, and Porter was in the Berlin brigade. The Doyles visited the Porters by traveling across the Berlin Wall into Soviet-occupied East Germany.

"Bobby was always ahead of his contemporaries because he did such a superb job," Doyle said, regarding Porter's military promotions.

"I hate it so badly that he got hurt in that jump," Doyle said, referring to Porter's training accident in the 1980's, when he was seriously injured. Porter would then spend a year at Walter Reed Army Hospital for treatment and rehabilitation. Afterwards, Porter was assigned to the Pentagon in Army personnel.

"Bobby Porter was one of the finest people and officers I ever knew," Doyle said. "He was really a good representative of Arkansas, ASU, Walnut Ridge and Lawrence County.

"As he was promoted, he never, ever forgot where he came from," he said. "I would call him to congratulate him on his promotions, and I never failed to get through in the Pentagon, overseas or wherever he was."

Doyle saw Porter twice in Vietnam, where they once enjoyed a dinner together. Doyle had one tour of duty in Vietnam, while Porter had two tours.

Bob Rainwater went through school with Porter in Walnut Ridge, and the two remained friends.

Rainwater recalled, "Bobby always said, 'My daddy taught me the values of life honesty and hard work.'"

Rainwater grew up just a block or so from the boarding house run by Porter's grandmother that was located where First Baptist Church is now. Porter and his parents lived there for a time, and Rainwater often enjoyed meals with Porter at the boarding house. "I have many memories of eating many good meals with Bobby at the boarding house. Bobby also liked coming to my house to eat my mother's spaghetti."

Both Porter and Rainwater were sergeants in ROTC, and Rainwater recalls Porter correcting him when an emblem on his collar was something like an eighth of an inch out of place. "He was a 22-5 man," said Rainwater, referring to the manual of a soldier.

In later years, Rainwater and his wife, Patty, would host a reception for Porter and his wife, when

Porter was the commencement speaker for a WRHS graduating class.

"He had a good life and a good career," Rainwater added.

A visitation for Porter was held last evening, and a service for him was scheduled for today at 11 a.m. at Emerson Funeral Home. He is to be buried with full military honors, including a firing squad and color guard, in Jonesboro Memorial Park.

The traditional "taps," the last military bugle call at night, will be played as the flag is lowered. However, at Porter's request, the buglers will then play the wake-up song, "reveille."

David Doyle said this is Bobby Porter's way of saying, "I did my thing; you honored me. Now, let's get on with it."

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