Success in 'Otto-matic' mode
For someone who admittedly had "a little trouble" with math in his first try at college, retired U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Robert K. (Bob) Otto certainly found the right formula for success in life.
"I think things turned out pretty well," Otto said with a knowing smile from his home in San Antonio, Texas. "I guess I didn't try hard enough at California (State Teachers College).
"The military made me pay more attention and assert myself when I went to the electronics schools and college. Had I done that initially, I might have become a teacher instead of a Marine. But I have no regrets."
Otto, 71, was born at the former Charleroi-Monessen Hospital in North Charleroi, a son of the late Frank Otto Sr., a longtime employee at the Allenport Plant of Pittsburgh Steel Company, and Pearl Boyer Otto.
He lived in Roscoe and went to first grade there before the family moved to Coal Center in November 1947. He graduated from California Community High School in 1958.
Two months after receiving his diploma, Otto was at the U.S. Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.
"I joined the Marines Reserve unit at Connellsville Airport during my senior year in high school," he recalled. "After boot camp at Parris Island, I went to Camp Lejeune, N.C. for infantry training.
"The active duty covered six months and when I came back home, I enrolled at California State. That lasted for only three semesters because my grades were not good; I dropped out."
Otto returned to active duty with the Marines in January 1961 and was assigned to aviation duties and sent to NATTC, NAS (National Air Training Technical Command, Naval Air Station) in Memphis, Tenn., for schooling in basic electronics.
That was followed by an assignment to the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, N.C., where he was attached to Marine All Weather Fighter Squadron 115, which deployed aboard the USS Independence in 1962 for a North Atlantic cruise and another in the Mediterranean.
"This is also the squadron with which I went to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba during the missile crisis in 1962," Otto said. "We served there for about six or seven months."
Otto re-enlisted in 1964, returned to NATTC in Memphis for intermediate avionics school and spent most of 1965 there. A return to Cherry Point evolved into an assignment with the first Marine A-6A aircraft squadron, VMA (AW)-242 and he subsequently served in Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam in 1966-67.
Following his return to the U.S. in November 1967, he trained for additional duty as a calibration/repair technician.
He served his second tour in Vietnam in 1969-70 at an Air Wing calibration facility airbase air terminal.
His first assignment in Vietnam is one Otto will never forget.
"I worked on A-6A intruder aircraft and various electronic countermeasure Doppler navigation and radio communication equipment," he said. "It was during this time that we spent one night under a really bad Viet Cong rocket attack.
"My hangar took three or more rockets and the only reason I was not one of the more than 30 injured was because I had just gotten down from the cockpit when we were hit with the first rocket.
"I was under the wing on the port side of the aircraft. The plane was nearly destroyed but being under the wing saved me. It was almost funny later when it became light and we could see what got hit. The damage was extensive."
A concrete block wall separating the hangar from adjacent shops was moved 6-inches off its foundation from the blast that struck next to it.
"One rocket also hit the snack bar across the road from the hangar but it turned out to be a dud," Otto said. "They never did replace the snack bar. Another rocket hit the hangar next to us in the area where they had just completed construction of a restroom with flushing toilets.
"The whole thing was destroyed, so we still had to use outhouses in the area and burn them every morning. That's an experience that anyone who served in Vietnam can relate to "
Otto also served overseas in Iwakuni, Japan before returning to the States in 1974 for an assignment at MCAS, Yuma, Arizona. He spent three years there as supervisor of the base test equipment repair and calibration facility before going back to Memphis in October 1977 for training at the Advanced Avionics school.
"This school was considered to be the best for aviation electronics and our courses covered all types of math - trigonometry, hyperbolic, geometry, diff/integral calculus, nuclear physics," he said. "The reason I mention this is that I didn't do well in college because of the math classes. The first six to seven weeks at the three military schools were nothing but math classes. This is where I had to learn it with no excuses."
Otto completed that phase of his education with a 98.9 grade point average for math and 99 in other engineering classes. He finished second in the school to a sailor with an average of 0.2 higher.
He also studied at East Carolina University and Arizona Western College while on active duty. After retiring from the Marine Corps in 1980 he attended San Antonio College in Texas and received an Associate Applied Science degree in drafting/design and Southwestern Texas University (now Texas State) in San Marcos to earn a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Science degree in human relations and management.
"With all of the classes I have taken around the country, I ended up with more than 500 semester hours of college courses," Otto said. "Given the fact that I couldn't handle math classes the first time around in college, I'm proud of those results."
Otto said he chose the U.S. Marine Corps for a career because he had already finished six months of training in the Reserve and the job market in the area in 1960 was not good.
"I chose to go in for four years," he said. "When my first tour was up, the job market was still in a slump, as it is today, and my wife and I decided to stay for another six. After that, it was just the way to go. We have never regretted living and moving around the country. Except for the few years being separated when I was overseas, it was an enjoyable time. We met and have retained friendships with people around the country."
Otto and his wife, the former Shirley Anne Curcio of Newell, eloped and were married on August 26, 1960. They then exchanged vows again in a Catholic church wedding in May 1961 while he was stationed in Memphis.
"We met at the Piggy Wiggy roller skating rink on Route 906 between Monessen and Belle Vernon," Otto recalled.
Shirley, who was born in Brownsville, is the daughter of the late Albert and Frances Walkush Curcio, who owned and operated a trucking business in Newell. She has three sisters - Frances "Tootsie" Staley, who lives in Newell; Dorothy Curcio, a retired teacher, who resides in Greensburg; Cathy Gesualdi, of Rhode Island.
Otto is one of eight siblings. His sisters, Earlene Richards and Donna Roberts, live in Vestaburg and Orland, Florida, respectively, and his brother Gerald also makes his home in Orlando. The other siblings are deceased but Otto's sisters-in-law,Sallie Young Otto and Tamara Elias Otto, a native of Monessen, live in Twilight and West Newton, respectively.
Bob and Shirley are the parents of four children - Robert K. Otto II of Monongahela, Yvette Marie Tran of Raleigh, NC, and Kirk Otto and Roberta Ytuarte, both of San Antonio. Robert II works for Brownsville Marine Products, a large barge building firm in Brownsville. They also have five grandchildren.
After retiring from the Marines with the rank of gunnery sergeant, Otto took a civilian job as a calibration technician with a subsidiary of Rockwell Aviation at Kelly Air Force Base in Texas. His work at Kelly also included duties as a nuclear weapons electronic specialist with an emphasis on design and maintenance of support equipment for various aircraft "to ensure they were ready and safe to load nuclear weapons.
Otto also worked with a contractor at Fort Sam Houston, Texas and handled computer repair and software until he "retired for good" in 2003.
He remains active as a member of The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Knights of Columbus and the Marine Corps League in San Antonio.
"As a member of the Marine Corps League, I spend several hours each week at the San Antonio Military Medical Center (formerly Brooke Army Medical Center)," Otto said. "I also serve as secretary-treasurer of the USMC League's Marines Helping Marines program and visit Marines and Navy corpsmen that are here because of combat wounds. We have been doing this since 2003 and try to provide assistance to them and their families until a more permanent solution is found. It's a pleasure and privilege to be associated with these programs."
Otto also serves an officer with the VFW and Marine Corps League in San Antonio. In November 2011 he received the LeRoy V. Greene Jr. Memorial Veterans/Community Service Award from the Bexar County Commissioners during ceremonies at the Alamo in recognition of his volunteer work.
"The award was deeply appreciated and humbling," Otto said. "I don't do it (volunteering) for recognition.
"Shirley and I learned many years ago from our parents and others we grew up with in the Mon Valley that's a responsibility we all have — an obligation to give something of yourself to the community you live in and hope that you do some good somewhere along the way.'