by Paso Robles Area Historical Society
Living in Paso Robles, you most likely find yourself driving across the 13th Street Bridge. Most will think of it as just a connection between the West and East side of town across the Salinas River — but what most may not know, and what you should know, is who that bridge represents.
In 2006, the City of Paso Robles dedicated the 13th Street Bridge to Robert J. Rader, a man who was enlisted in the Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division — otherwise known as, the Band of Brothers.
When Tom Hanks produced Stephen E. Ambrose’s book “Band of Brothers” into an HBO miniseries in 2001, the world took notice of the company’s story.
Born in 1923, Robert would have been 100 years old today. He grew up with during the Great Depression in Ohio alongside a large family and father who was a World War I veteran. At the age of 15 or 16 (depending on the source), Robert and his older brothers enlisted into the Ohio National Guard in an effort to free up more food at the family’s dinner table. However, their youth was soon discovered, leading to Robert’s honorable discharge. Undeterred, he later enlisted with the Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.
Robert would soon find himself overseas, fighting through Europe in the middle of World War II.
There, he experienced many formidable moments, including when his company encountered a group of Hitler’s youth who were willing to die for their leader — and opened fire on Robert’s company. It was in that moment that he vowed to dedicate the rest of his life to helping children, a promise he would fulfill in the years to come.
While Robert was discharged in 1945, the scars of the war remained with him. Despite being shot in two places, he declined to receive a Purple Heart, feeling that others had suffered more than he did. Instead, he received two Bronze Stars for his bravery.
After graduating from college on his G.I. bill, Robert visited a friend stationed at Camp Roberts during the Korean War. He fell in love with Paso Robles and began teaching at local schools in 1950 while also working at the Paso Robles Municipal Airport and serving as a volunteer firefighter.
He started his teaching career at the California School for Boys before moving to San Miguel and, eventually, the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, where he spent 25 years until his retirement. Robert was known to be a strict but fair teacher, earning the respect of his students. He retired from teaching in 1981 and then died in 1997, but not without impacting his community and students.
Robert coached basketball and cross country, achieving success with his teams. His coaching legacy was marked by numerous state finals appearances and the development of standout athletes, including Paso Robles High School Cross Country Coach Ivan Huff.
In his retirement, Robert enjoyed simple pleasures like fishing, golf, and watching sports. He remained in touch with his fellow Easy Company veterans, writing letters always with a sentimental sign-off.
So the next time you drive across the 13th Street Bridge, remember the hero it represents.
Robert J. Rader, here. Be good. Be careful. Sleep warm.
PASO ROBLES PRESS MAGAZINE
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