Robert Flavin is a proud World War II veteran, radar technician, and former educator, but his greatest accomplishment was raising his grandson, beloved history teacher Michael Dobyns.
On Feb. 25, the juniors in Dobyns’ American History class had the pleasure of hearing Flavin speak about his experience as a member of the United States Air Force in World War II. Throughout the presentation, Flavin put a modern twist on learning history when he shared the stories of his childhood, allowing students to compare their 21st century childhood to that of one during the war.
Flavin was born in Delaware, Ohio in January of 1926, making him 90 years old. He moved to Los Angeles in the seventh grade and attended Loyola High School.
Throughout his childhood, Flavin and his family were forced to ration and reuse their supplies.
“I briefly worked at Safeway to earn some extra money for my family,” Flavin said. “It was my job to mark all the products with the amount of rationing stamps needed for purchase.”
There were blackouts every night for energy conservation and protection, especially after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
On that tragic day, Dec. 7, 1941, Flavin remembers sitting peacefully at the kitchen table, working on homework while his mother prepared dinner and listened to the radio. The broadcast erupted into a panic as word of the bombing spread across the nation. Flavin was just 15 years old at the time.
Since his high school years were during the height of World War II, it was mandatory that all students enrolled in the Army ROTC program. Flavin and his classmates had to wear their Army uniforms four days a week.
“It was a pain, but after school, my friends and I liked to wear our uniforms to the movie theater and try to convince the cashier to give us the military service discount,” Flavin said.
When they graduated in 1943, however, Flavin and his classmates learned to take military service much more seriously.
“Every member of my graduating class joined the military. It was sad to see everyone go off to different areas of the world, not knowing if or when they would return, but we were all proud to serve our country,” Flavin said.
After spending a year at Whittier College, Flavin enlisted in the Air Force. He was inducted into service in August of 1944 and was sent to basic training camp in Amarillo, Texas. Flavin decided to learn how to operate radar technology, so he attended radio school for another year and a half.
He was then transferred to New Jersey where he learned to operate a Navy vessel and was later sent to Brooklyn, N.Y. to become the radar technician on the United States Victory troopship.
Those aboard the ship were in charge of transporting German prisoners of war to France and returning American troops stationed in Germany back to the United States.
“We weren’t allowed to go down to the lower decks of the ship because we were prohibited from interacting with the prisoners,” Flavin recalls.
He worked on the ship in the radar operating room for the remainder of the war and was honorably discharged on Aug. 11, 1946, receiving the American Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal.
After the war, Flavin returned to finish his education at Whittier College on a full scholarship. He did not have any clothing to wear to school and lacked the money to buy additional apparel, so he dyed his Air Force uniform black and blue and wore it to class.
Flavin was one of six players on the basketball team at Whittier College, but he joked that they really only had five and a half players, since one man was an amputee.
In his time at the university, he earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and teacher and school administrator credentials.
After graduation, Flavin and his wife started a family. They have 10 children and 25 grandchildren, a family that he jokingly described as “too small.”
Dobyns, one of Flavin’s 25 grandchildren, spent much of his time as a child at his grandparents’ house while his parents finished medical school. Flavin picked him up from school every day and watched him until his parents returned home for dinner.
His friends knew Flavin well, calling him “Grandpa” as if he were their own.
Flavin was the coach of all Dobyns’ basketball teams as a kid, making him the champion middle school basketball coach he is today.
“He taught me everything I know,” Dobyns said, “and he has always been my biggest fan. He never missed a game when I was a player, and he never misses a game that I coach.”
Dobyns credits his grandfather as his biggest inspiration, but not just on the basketball court.
“My grandpa is the reason I became a teacher,” Dobyns said. “He had such a positive impact on me as a kid, and I always wanted to do the same for someone.”
Even with such a large family, Flavin always made time to pursue his passion for teaching. He began his teaching career at Montebello Junior High School in 1949, teaching English, mathematics, social studies, and physical education before accepting the administrative position of District Coordinator of Physical Education.
Despite possessing a lifetime teaching credential for any subject, Flavin retired in 2000 when he suffered a heart attack and required quadruple bypass surgery. He is now fully recovered and enjoys spending his time attending veterans conferences in Washington D.C., cheering on the Corona del Mar basketball team, and sharing his story with others.
“We are so lucky to have heard Mr. Flavin speak to our class,” junior Emily Ronnenberg said. “He was the kindest man you’ll ever meet, and you could tell that he really cared about using his experience to teach us in the younger generation what we can’t learn from just reading a textbook. I especially loved how he stressed the importance of living life with good character.”
Flavin’s story is one of generosity, dedication, and kindness, all traits he passed down to his grandson.
“He has raised an incredible family and passed down his love for life and teaching to his grandson who is kind enough to share that love with his students every day,” junior John Holland said.
Flavin gave students a glimpse into what daily life was like during World War II, allowing them to gain new perspective from a first hand source. His sincerity served as inspiration to the students and gave them a newfound respect for learning about the past.