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WWII vet fought in Iwo Jima, came home to bartend and help people

Robert Betzold died after contracting COVID-19. He was 94.
Robert Betzold served with the Navy during World War II. He's pictured with his wife, Ann Betzold, after an Honor Flight in 2016.
Robert Betzold served with the Navy during World War II. He's pictured with his wife, Ann Betzold, after an Honor Flight in 2016. [ Courtesy Keith Betzold and Ann Betzold ]
Published Oct. 26, 2020

Robert Betzold had to get his mom’s signature before he could enlist in the Navy. He was 17 and about to learn how to cook.

Mr. Betzold came home from World War II and worked in sheet metal for a while before borrowing money from his family and his wife’s family to open a bar in Pittsburgh. He was in his early 30s and about to learn how to run his own business.

When he retired in 1981, Mr. Betzold moved to Florida. Years later, he played golf but preferred to volunteer as a bartender at men’s club functions. He spent the rest of his life helping friends and family any time they needed it.

Mr. Betzold died Sept. 5, at 94, after contracting COVID-19. He joins other World War II veterans who survived the war, built careers and families and lost their lives to a global pandemic.

Robert Betzold, right, joined the Navy at 17. He served as a cook on a ship stationed at Iwo Jima, pictured on the left.
Robert Betzold, right, joined the Navy at 17. He served as a cook on a ship stationed at Iwo Jima, pictured on the left. [ Courtesy Ann Betzold ]

After boot camp, Mr. Betzold went to the Navy’s cooking school. He was assigned a ship, Landing Craft Tank 1269, in Iwo Jima, Japan.

There, Mr. Betzold cooked for a 12-man crew, took Marines and supplies to the island and brought the wounded and dead back.

“He was responsible for three meals a day,” said Mr. Betzold’s wife, Ann Betzold. “The first time dessert came up, he asked the skipper, ‘Who makes the dessert?’ He said, ‘This is a 12-man ship, buddy. You’re it.’”

Mr. Betzold got hold of some yeast and learned how to bake.

For two years, he kept his crewmates fed.

He didn’t talk much with his family about the war, said Robert Betzold Jr., his oldest son, “other than it was a real tough time.”

But his son, who served eight years in the Army, understood. He said war changes everyone.

“It’s stuff you’ll never forget.”

Robert Betzold pictured with his two sons and two of his three stepsons. They lived in Pittsburgh until he retired and moved to Florida.
Robert Betzold pictured with his two sons and two of his three stepsons. They lived in Pittsburgh until he retired and moved to Florida. [ Courtesy Keith Betzold ]

For at least 20 years, Mr. Betzold ran his bar, the Apache Lounge, downstairs and maintained three floors of 15 apartments upstairs.

After his parents divorced, Robert would come for visits. He remembers helping his dad stack empty beer bottles in the basement, sent from a shoot in the bar.

“He never took a vacation the whole time he was in business.”

While he didn’t tell stories about the war, he loved telling stories about the bar, said his youngest son, Keith Betzold, and the welterweight fighter he hired to bartend and the heavyweight fighter who manned the door.

It wasn’t like Cheers, Keith said. But the same guys did come in, sit in the same spots and have the same drinks.

At home, at the bar and upstairs, their dad was always fixing things and making friends.

“I never heard anybody say a bad thing about him,” Keith said. “He was always willing to help anybody out.”

Mr. Betzold, right, is pictured with his second wife, Sophie, his son Keith and grandchild. His dad loved boating, Keith said, and telling stories about his dogs.
Mr. Betzold, right, is pictured with his second wife, Sophie, his son Keith and grandchild. His dad loved boating, Keith said, and telling stories about his dogs. [ Courtesy Keith Betzold ]

After retirement, Mr. Betzold’s second wife, Sophie, wanted to move to Florida. They ended up in Palm Harbor, where he mowed his lawn and the lawns of the widows on either side.

After Sophie died in 2001, Mr. Betzold started attending family functions with Ann, whom he’d known for about 30 years. One of Mr. Betzold’s stepson’s married her sister.

When Ann was diagnosed with cancer, Mr. Betzold asked to see her through her treatment, “and we’ll see what happens.”

“So what happens is we got married,” she said.

He was 77 at the time, she was 62. Mr. Betzold never nurtured many hobbies. He loved visits from his grandkids and great-grandkids, who called him Pap Pap, watching Judge Judy and bowling. He loved socializing. He made a really good drink. He worked out at the gym three times a week until he was 93.

Mr. Betzold and Ann Betzold had 17 years together, she said.

“I think we would have had more if COVID hadn’t had other ideas.”

Robert Betzold had several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They called him Pap Pap.
Robert Betzold had several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They called him Pap Pap. [ Courtesy Keith Betzold ]

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