Part I: Parachutist, soldier, pilot
Part II: performer, wife, property investor
Original version: February 2010
Robert Rees was raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Montgomery, Alabama and then Los Angeles. Rees usually played with the girls and was bullied by the boys, and in high school was a loner, sometimes secretly dressing in his sister’s clothes. By age 14 Rees was unable to discuss his problems with his parents. They took him to a psychiatrist to no avail, and his father badly beat him in an attempt to induce conformity.
Rees then ran away with only $3 in his pocket. He managed to reach his grandparents in Kansas, who took him in and put him in a local school where he was able to advance a grade. Rees returned to his parents in Summer 1939, by which time they were living in Oakland, California. To escape from home Rees volunteered for the Civilian Conservation Service, and then the Navy, in both of which he was harassed for not being conventionally masculine. He was discharged from the Navy as “physically unfit” after a conflict over a loan not repaid.
In December 1942 Rees enlisted in the US Paratroopers, and underwent their rigorous training - although he was still ridiculed for his demeanour. While stationed in North Carolina Rees dated and married:
“This girl was cognizant of my desires and the problem in general and was anxious to leave her own home because of family problems. After some discussion with her, it was agreed that we would marry, solely for the benefit of society.”
He was by now considered an instructor, and promoted to Sergeant. In Spring 1944 Rees participated in the invasions of Sicily and then Anzio, for which he later received a Bronze Star and a Presidential Unit Citation. In September 1944 he was part of the jump into the Netherlands to create a bridgehead invasion route into northern Germany and participated in the ensuing fighting, until injured in late January.
After being repatriated and then discharged, Rees filed for divorce as previously agreed with his wife. In March 1946 Rees developed a mastoid condition, an outgrowth of his war injury. During surgery one of the facial nerves was severed resulting in facial paralysis and loss of hearing. This was almost corrected in a second operation a few months later.
In 1947 Rees became a parachute instructor, at first for the Government, and then privately. He also obtained a pilot’s license. In March 1949, he opened the air show for the all Western States Air Meet, held in Red Bluff, California, and on his 527th jump was injured when his parachute did not open properly. A week later he was emceeing at a air show outside Sacramento, when his business partner misjudged a jump and died. Rees then sold the business and never jumped again.
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