The Rowan County veteran is expected to turn 100 on Saturday
Posted at 12:04 a.m. on Sunday, August 28, 2022
SALISBURY — A North Carolina State Veterans Home veteran is set to celebrate his 100th birthday on Saturday.
A gathering will include close friends on her birthday, but they keep the circle small to be cautious of the ever-present threat of virus spread. The people he met along the way will join him, as well as those he grew close to during his life.
Robert Basinger joined the army at age 22 and served from 1944 to 1946, marching through France and Germany. He still remembers being on watch at night, attentive to everything he saw coming from the woods where he and his comrades were camping.
It was the only time he lit a cigarette because his lieutenant recommended smoking when he felt nervous. The enemy saw the flame as he lifted it to his lips and that was the last time he tried to smoke. Other nights he saw movement in the woods and did his duty to make sure he and his teammates took cover and hid – only to find it was cows coming from the forest.
A cautious eye kept him quickly on his feet. One story he told was when he had to dig a hole with a hand shovel for cover as a tank approached. The space was just large enough to hold his body and the tank rolled over, but he survived and spent just under a week in hospital after being crushed.
Basinger said his wife, Hildred, wanted to be there while he healed, but would have had to cross the Atlantic Ocean to do so. Beyond his military time, he remembers going to the mountains to visit his wife’s family and staying in a cabin during their visits. Across the street from their home in Rowan County, their neighbors held bluegrass music sessions every Saturday night. It’s still his favorite genre of music.
Growing up, Basinger’s earliest memory is of when he was carrying buckets of spring water to his childhood home where his father had a cotton field. He said growing and harvesting cotton taught him hard work that would prepare him for the other labor-intensive jobs he held until his retirement.
His father also brewed a cup of coffee with castor oil for his health and that of his siblings. This took it away from the popular caffeinated drink until recently. Basinger said he remembered the taste was so bad that he would give castor oil to his sisters’ grandchildren if they were naughty.
He worked at a sawmill cutting down trees for lumber most of his life and drove a truck for Cannon Mills in Kannapolis. For him, he believes that automobiles remained the most important invention of his life, with Model T vehicles being the first to be driven. With three pedals, he said it wasn’t difficult later on to switch to driving cars with just two.
Basinger cared for Hildred after his cancer diagnosis and when he died in 2000 he met his future carer at a bluegrass concert. Aliene McCombs became close friends with him and they occasionally went out to eat and took day trips in the mountains just as he liked. But when he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001, it was the start of a new adventure for both of them.
“He had to have surgery and he did fine, but he developed an infection,” said Sharon Deal, McCombs’ daughter. “He was in a coma for two weeks and they didn’t expect him to recover, but one day he woke up and he was fine.”
Medical staff still did not feel comfortable sending him home because at that time he had no family in the area to care for him. McCombs told his daughter he could live with them, and according to Deal, he was welcome after his recovery. He continued to live with McCombs until his health led him to move to North Carolina State Veterans Home in Salisbury two years ago. She and her two daughters always help out when needed. He also remains in close contact with his closest relative, a great-niece, in Florida.
“He’s always bouncing around,” said his former neighbor, Rick Yost. “We did everything together and he always helped me on my farm.”
Yost said Basinger always stuck to the Farmers Almanac when gardening and often had superstitions that he lived by. He only left a house by the door by which he entered and did not play cards on Sunday evenings. Instead, he would play dominoes.
“He was never really a hat guy,” Yost continued. “He wore that slide sometimes, and if you saw him with that, you’d know it was really cold outside.”
Other things Basinger enjoyed were cooking and baking. Most of the time, he made watermelon and rhubarb pies. However, he stayed away from shrimp due to a bad fishing experience. He and the people he went with used shrimp from a store marketed as bait. Their fishing trip had not been as successful as they had hoped, leading them to fry the small amount of fish they had caught with the shrimp bait. Unfortunately, the shells made him sick.
Despite the many obstacles in his life, he was able to live his years with infectious humor and playing with his friends. One tip he suggests is to give misbehaving children castor oil, as he is sure it would keep them from wandering off.