Veterans Day: From bomber pilot to dentist, Dr. Kasper says it's a wonderful life
October 11, 2017
Point of distinction: Dr. Kasper points to his name in a list of alumni from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry while visiting the school in 2016.
. — A little more than 550,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still alive.
That's according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and with Veterans Day taking place Nov. 11, it's the time of year to recognize the sacrifices and lives of WWII veterans, including the men and women still living, while we can.
One of them is Dr. Robert Kasper, 95, who ran a private dental practice in Detroit for more than 30 years and retired in the mid-1980s.
Before that, he was a pilot in World War II.
Dr. Kasper saw much of the world when he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps — the Air Force wasn't formally established as a separate military branch until 1947— at the age of 21, he said in an interview with the ADA News.
World War II was at its height, and he chose to train to fly one of what he called "the big boys": the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a four-engine heavy bomber used in strategic bombing campaigns against German industrial and military targets.
Young pilot: Dr. Kasper is shown when he was a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII.
Dr. Kasper ended up piloting his Flying Fortress — he named his "Merrie Christie" after his niece — 35 missions over Germany, logging over 900 flight hours as part of the 511st Squadron in the 351st Bombardment Group, flying out of Polebrook, England.
Once Germany surrendered, the war didn't end for Dr. Kasper. He piloted air transport planes in the Pacific until Japan surrendered.
Discharged in 1945, Dr. Kasper decided to enroll, through the G.I. Bill, in the university closest to his boyhood home: the University of Detroit, now known as the University of Detroit Mercy.
Dentistry, as is turned out, wasn't his first choice.
"I tried to study aeronautics, but all of the veterans had it filled," Dr. Kasper said.
With aeronautics out, he chose to pursue a liberal arts degree. After his graduation, he enthusiastically enrolled in the dental school. "You're your own boss," he said of dentistry. "It appealed to me."
Being in the military was conducive to being a dentist, Dr. Kasper said. "I'm an advocate of the military life," he said. "Discipline and orderliness are fantastic, and I'm all for it." He thinks every young person today should spend a few years in the military to learn things they will keep with them the rest of their lives.
After graduation, Dr. Kasper ran a private dental practice in Detroit until he retired in 1984. "The profession was great," he said. "I enjoyed it all."
During his time as a dentist, Dr. Kasper was able to own his own plane and flew regularly until 2002, when he suffered a stroke. Widowed twice, Dr. Kasper enjoyed traveling with each of his wives before they died. "I appreciated the scenery and different cultures," he said.
Resting on his laurels: Dr. Kasper poses over lunch while visiting with University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry Dean Dr. Mert N. Aksu in Naples, Fla
Upon retirement, he moved to Naples, Florida, and although he no longer plays golf three times a week, he still lives on his own and does everything else, including cooking for himself and doing his own laundry.
His secret to longevity? "Good genes," he said. "Good genes and moderation. Don't drink too much, eat too much. Don't overdo anything."
"Dr. Kasper is a very special man who has an incredible soul and a genuine appreciation and affinity for the profession," said Kimberly A. Raleigh, director of the Institute for Advanced Continuing Dental Education and Alumni Relations at Dr. Kasper's alma mater.
"Dr. Kasper's high regard for the profession and service to our country is to be admired," said University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry dean, Dr. Mert N. Aksu. "Though he has experienced a lot in his lifetime, he humbly credits his success to the discipline the service gave him, the opportunities his alma mater provided and the lifestyle the profession afforded him. I personally have learned a lot from his appreciation and zest for life. May we all be so happy, humbled and healthy at 95."
"It's a wonderful world," Dr. Kasper said. "I'll never be able to see enough of it."