Green Bay Packers vs. New Orleans Saints
By Greg Bates
Special for Operation Fan Mail
When it’s game day for the Green Bay Packers, it’s a given that Bob Washkuhn is going to have his television on to watch his favorite sports team.
Usually viewing from the comfort of his room at the Maple Ridge Care Center in Spooner, Wis., Washkuhn enjoys cheering on the green and gold.
However, he’s not big at yelling at the TV.
“I’m kind of a compliant person,” Washkuhn joked. “I like to be alone when I’m watching a football game. I don’t go for this tavern business where everybody’s talking and every time they make a play everybody stands up. I like to sit by myself and watch it.”
Washkuhn, a Shell Lake, Wis., native, has logged a lot of Packers games over the years. In fact, the franchise was just in its fifth year when Washkuhn was born in 1924.
Just a couple months shy of his 98th birthday, Washkuhn is an ultimate Packers fan.
“I was raised that way, ever since I was a little kid. I think that was a long time ago,” Washkuhn said with a chuckle. “I’ve always liked the Packers. Of course, I’ve been a Wisconsin fan of everything, a local fan of our high school stuff. It just comes for me to keep liking them. I love them. I think they’re the best team in the country.”
Since Washkuhn is such a big Packer backer, his friend and Ventures Unlimited Inc. Executive Director Kristin Frane nominated him for Operation Fan Mail. He was chosen to attend the Packers’ joint practice with the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 17. However, he won’t be able to make the three-and-one-half-hour drive across the state and watch his beloved Packers.
But he’s honored to be picked for this deserving award.
“Bob is an amazing person. World War II vet and he has always loved the Packers,” Frane said. “I was at a Packers game last year and I saw that they were honoring World War II vets, and I thought, oh my gosh, this will be perfect for Bob, because he does love the Packers so much and he’s a deserving person.”
Washkuhn is the epitome of what Operation Fan Mail embodies, recognizing some of the most deserving active and veteran military service members who love the Packers.
Washkuhn hasn’t been to a Packers game in at least 20-30 years, but he used to attend some contests when he lived in Milwaukee decades ago.
It was always special for Washkuhn to stop by Lambeau Field whenever he got a chance to while journeying up from the southeastern part of the state.
“When I lived in Milwaukee, I used to go fishing north of there and I stopped at the ball field every time that I went just to look around,” Washkuhn said. “There wasn’t a lot to see, but it was the Packer field.”
Washkuhn was a big fan of Vince Lombardi when he coached the Packers to five world championships in his final seven seasons in Green Bay.
“Lombardi is my favorite person to remember,” Washkuhn said. “I thought that he was a terrific coach and he did good for the Packers. In my opinion, he was kind of ornery once in a while, but it takes that to run a team like that.”
Frane wrote the Packers a letter last year about Washkuhn and his fandom for the team. He received a nice package from 1265 Lombardi Ave.
“The Packers sent him a signed football and a mug and it’s displayed in his room like prominently,” Frane said. “You walk in, that’s the first thing he shows everybody. He’s a huge Packers fan, so this means the world to him. He loves the Packers, so he’s very honored to be recognized by the Packers. He’s told me that many, many times.”
Serving his country
As a 19-year-old, Washkuhn found himself in the heat of conflict of World War II.
He served in the United States Army’s 9th Armored Division, also known as the “Phantom Division.”
“We operated what they used to call half-tracks,” Washkuhn said.
Just being a teenager at the time, Washkuhn didn’t have a care in the world.
“I was kind of a tough kid when I was pretty young — tough guy,” Washkuhn said. “As soon as I started in the war, I started shooting everything that was possible. I didn’t care much about what I was doing, I guess. Now that I think about it, I get scared.”
Washkuhn was stationed all over Europe, spending a year and a half overseas.
“I landed in Scotland, then went to France, Belgium, Germany and I ended up in Czechoslovakia,” he said.
Washkuhn was back in the United States when Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945.
While talking about himself, Washkuhn is reluctant to bring up the fact that he earned a bronze star for bravery during the war. An extremely humble man, he won’t elaborate on what he did to earn the high military honor.
“I don’t brag about that,” Washkuhn said. “My family never knew why I got that bronze star. I’ll take it to my grave.”
Keeping busy these days
After getting out of the Army, Washkuhn was a United States postal worker for 20 years.
“The funny thing about that, I was the only postmaster in Wisconsin that didn’t have a high school education,” Washkuhn said. “But I worked hard at everything I did.”
He retired as a postmaster in 1987.
“I’ve been retired for a long time,” joked Washkuhn. “It’s even hard to remember what I did.”
Washkuhn served as president of the Shell Lake Chamber of Commerce and was a member of both the Washburn County Board and Shell Lake United Methodist Church. He also volunteered on the Ventures Unlimited Board of Directors for about 15 years, and that’s where Frane got to know him.
“He’s just an all-around great, loving person,” Frane said. “He’s still sharp as a tack. He’s amazing and he’s so smart.”
These days, Washkuhn tries to stay busy away from the assisted living facility he calls home.
Despite having his days of being able to drive behind him, Washkuhn has a friend pick him up and he attends as many Shell Lake High School sports events as possible.
“I go to their football games, I go to their softball games,” Washkuhn said. “I’m in favor of girls’ softball, that’s my favorite sport.”
Watching the high schoolers play sports really helps Washkuhn feel young at heart.
It’s special for the Shell Lake community members that Washkuhn is so interested in watching the young athletes compete.
“He’s got pictures in his room I see of him with the softball team,” Frane said. “The teams, they take a picture with him and they print it and send it to him, and I know that means a lot to him. He’s like a celebrity.”
Life is pretty low key for Washkuhn in his later years. But that’s good, because he’s lived such a fulfilling life up to this point.
He fondly talks about his Packers, but also his time serving his country in World War II. It sparks a little extra emphasis in Washkuhn’s voice recalling those days nearly 80 years ago.
“I’m real proud of my country,” Washkuhn said. “Just like we talk about liking the Packers, I like the United States as well as anybody could ever do it. I think this is the best country in the world and I just hope everybody else would feel the same way.”
The appearance of U.S. military visual information does not imply or constitute endorsement by the U.S. military.