Howland man patrolled US-Mexico border nearly 60 years ago
HOWLAND — A lot has changed since Howland native Bob Elliott worked U.S. Border Patrol in 1961. For one, he had to explain his job to family back home.
“In the 1960s, most people in the U.S. — and in states like Ohio away from the border — knew nothing about the Border Patrol,” said Elliott, now a retiree in Kennesaw, Ga., with family still in Howland. “At that time, the closest Border Patrol stations near the Canadian border to Warren were at Detroit or Niagara Falls, N.Y.
“In June 1961, the Border Patrol offered me a GS-7 patrol inspector position at Lordsburg, New Mexico. I think the salary was then $5,335 annually,” he said. “After reporting for duty, within a few weeks I was reassigned to El Paso,” Elliott said.
In 1961, only 2,200 to 2,400 patrol inspectors — now Border Patrol agents — were spread out along the 2,000-mile southern border from San Diego, Calif., to Brownsville, Texas, with a few at New Orleans and Miami, Fla. There were about 200 to 400 “PIs” spread across the 5,000-mile northern border. Today, there are over 22,000 patrol agents.
“The nature of the position has also changed,” Elliott said. “In the 1960s, there were only a few instances involving small amounts of drugs or confrontations by drug-crazed illegal aliens. Those people entering from Mexico were mostly local Mexican citizens who could be processed and ‘voluntarily returned’ to Mexico — unless they had entered illegally before.”
A “Bracero Program” enabled Mexican citizens to be processed and enter the U.S. as farm laborers for short periods of time.
“By the late 1970s, the drug problem was horrible and Border Patrol agents were losing their lives. One article I read in the early 2000s purported that more Border Patrol agents had been killed or murdered than in the other federal agencies — FBI, ATF, Customs,” he said.
By then, Elliott was long gone.
He served with the Border Patrol from June 1961 until March 1965 at posts in Lordsburg, N.M.; Port Isabel, Texas; and El Paso, Texas. He then was transferred to U.S. Immigration-Investigations in New York City, where he worked from March 1965 to April 1966.
From there, he transferred to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General-Investigations, and worked in Columbus, Washington and Atlanta before retiring from government service in December 1988.
“After I retired from the government, I worked for GLOCK Inc., the pistol company, for 21 years and then helped set up an apparel and custom-made knife company for Mr. Glock’s son. The Glocks live near Vienna, Austria.
“In December 2015, I needed a double bypass — I had not had a heart attack — and at age 76 decided I was ready to retire. I go to the apparel company about once a month,” he said.
It was a career journey that began in Trumbull County and changed courses as obstacles closed other paths.
Elliott said his mother’s family settled in Mineral Ridge and Niles, where his grandfather built homes in the 1920s and ’30s. One of his uncles founded Traichal Construction Company and bought the Warren Door Company.
On his dad’s side, the family settled in Newton Falls and Warren. He said until the Great Depression, his grandparents owned and operated the Elliott Pie Shop, while other family members owned the Goeppeinger Meat Market and Goeppinger Market.
During World War II, both of his parents worked in military production — his father on tanks at Taylor Manufacturing and his mother at Packard Electric. Elliott’s father was drafted into the Army late in 1943 and served in France and Germany.
“The war contributed to the breakup of their marriage. They tried to relocate to California, but that did not work. My mom and stepdad relocated us to Bolindale,” he said.
In the 1950s, Elliott cut grass, began doing odd jobs for his uncle who found Traichal and worked part-time sorting pop bottles for the Canada Dry Bottling Company in Warren, where he was employed until his graduation in 1955.
“I was trying to work my way through college with a job at then-Copperweld Steel. I was laid off, and without jobs more than I worked. So I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in November 1957 for three years, hoping that Congress would reauthorize the GI Bill of Rights — which was not done until some years after I was honorably discharged in September 1960,” Elliott said.
His Marine Corps experience included teaching swimming classes while assigned to Parris Island, S.C.; teaching Sunday school and setting up Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops at the U.S. Navy Base chapel while assigned to Rota, Spain; being sent on special assignments to Port Lyautey, Morocco, and to then-Yugoslavia; and being exchanged with a British Royal engineer, Fortress Engineer Regiment, at Gibraltar under President Eisenhower’s People to People Program.
Elliott said he contracted a form of dysentery in Gibraltar, which took months to clear up and caused him to lose about 40 of his 165 pounds. Elliott said that when he was discharged into the inactive reserves, and without enough money to go back to school, he applied to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, but had not regained enough weight to meet minimum physical requirements.
“While in the Corps, I read an article about the U.S. Border Patrol and later applied,” he said. He said he was among the few who survived the various tests and interviews.
“I passed all tests with good scores. In high school, I had taken two years of Latin and one year of French. While learning languages was not a natural ability for me, I was able to force myself to learn. These (Howland) High School classes enabled me to pass the language part of these tests,” he said.
“I had not been an exceptional high school student but had excellent teachers,” he said. “Our class graduated 98 kids, which included the superintendent’s daughter, Nancy Lemasters; the American lit and English lit teacher’s daughter, Pam Johnson; the daughter of an elementary teacher, Janet Wilson; and several other really good students. We all became good citizens. I learned a lot from each of my teachers.
“Life has been good,” Elliott said.