By Mari-Alice Jasper, Fort Campbell CourierMay 19, 2016
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (May 19, 2016) -- Robin Sink McLelland lovingly traced her fingers along the polished wooden surface of the Brazilian mahogany desk that belonged to her father, Lt. Gen. Robert F. Sink, for possibly the last time, during Robert F. Sink Memorial Library's 50th anniversary ceremony Friday afternoon.
McLelland returned to Fort Campbell to speak at the ceremony, celebrating the library named in honor of her father, but also to donate his beloved desk to the institution as a place for patrons to read, think, dream and plan.
A place to think
"I want you to love the desk to death," McLelland said. "I want it to live out a happy life here and know that every patron who steps in here has access to it and may discover something that is important and valuable to them. And then, when it's all good and worn out, it will just return to the universe. Please, enjoy it."
The desk, a gift to Lt. Gen. Sink from the Brazilian Army, traveled with him to commands at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and in Panama.
"He discussed the Brazilian Role in the Cold War at this desk and he probably helped to form STRAC [Strategic Army Corps], one of his major accomplishments as a general, at this desk," McLelland said. "After he retired in 1961, he used the desk to correspond with friends, fellow warriors and visitors from abroad."
After his death in 1965, the desk was moved to Sink's mother's home and was eventually handed down to McLelland. For several years after that, the desk was loaned out to the Distinguished Visitors Quarters, aka Sink House, at Fort Bragg. From 1983 to 2015, the desk stood in her husband's law office, but McLelland said it needed to be moved one more time to rest at its final home: The Robert F. Sink Memorial Library.
"When the desk needed a new home I could think of no better place than this library named after him," she said. "And here it sits now, where patrons may sit, study, read, do research or perhaps just doodle and daydream -- often the origin of imagination and innovation."
The man behind the desk
Sink, an innovator in his time, was a senior United States Army officer who served during World War II, the Korean War and the early part of the Vietnam War. In 1942, the Army named Sink the regimental commander of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. In 1945, he was named assistant division commander of the 101st Airborne Division.
Beginning in 1951, Sink served as the assistant commander of the 11th Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. He held his last major command in Panama, as the commander of U.S. Caribbean Command in Panama.
McLelland said from an early age, she understood the importance of her father's role in the Army, but she never fully grasped his influence until after his passing.
"As a teenager, I wasn't interested and he wasn't talking to teenage girls about the war," she said. "And then he died when I was 23 years old, so that opportunity for me to mature and for him to age to a point where I would sit down and listen to stories never happened for us."
Luckily though, many of his colleagues and subordinates have been able to fill in the gaps for McLelland by telling her stories of her father's integrity and adventurous spirit.
"It seems like everyone I meet has a Bob Sink story to tell me," she said.
As his daughter, McLelland said her memories stem from her father's love for reading and his dedication to education. "My father was a very demanding person," she said. "He was demanding of his Soldiers and he was demanding of his children. I've said more than once he didn't really distinguish between children and Soldiers. It was important to him for you to know something. If you ever said to him 'Well I think,' it wasn't good enough."
McLelland attributed much of her father's success in the Army to his strong mind and ability to think about topics critically.
"His love of a good book and the building of strong minds were essential components of his success," she said. "I can hear him now. If he ever sensed there was hesitancy or doubt in my questioning, he would bellow out 'If you don't know, find out!'"
Like father, like daughter
McLelland, one of Sink's four children -- two daughters and two stepsons -- said much of her relationship with her father was built on their common love for reading. Now, a trustee for the King County Library System in her home state of Washington, McLelland said her father's passion for books inspired her to read starting at a young age. She said often times growing up she would read the same books as her father, albeit sneakily if he thought they were too risqué for a young lady to be reading.
"I have my father to thank for a lifelong passion and a commitment to literacy," she said, teary-eyed. "I feel a special connection to this library and the services it provides to its patrons. Services that would amaze a man who left this world dependent on the Dewey Decimal system and handwritten cards in the backs of books. But as a forward thinking innovator, my father would embrace the digital world and feel at home in today's library with its computers, e-readers and all forms of access to information and knowledge."
McLelland said over the past 50 years, she has been asked several times why the Army decided to name the Fort Campbell library after her father.
"Recently, someone asked me if they named the library after my father because he liked to read and I wondered about this," she said. "In addition to military service records and physical exam reports, does the Army keep track of their library card? Should his epitaph say 'Good Soldier, fine commander, voracious reader?' I suspect the Army named this Robert F. Sink Memorial Library to honor my father's service, as a pioneer parachutist and a commander of the 506th and his subsequent responsibilities as he rose up the ranks. Although, he did love to read."
Fort Campbell's library, a testament to Sink's undying resolve and perseverance, opened its doors to the public in 1967 boasting expanded reading areas for references and periodicals, a music area with 25 listening stations and a room for children's materials.
The Robert F. Sink Memorial Library, formerly known as The Fort Campbell Post Library, now accomodates more than 75,000 volumes, about 47,000 more volumes than the library had before the new facility was built.
McLelland said when the building was dedicated to her father 50 years ago, many of his Family members were in attendance to celebrate the special day. However, after the sequential passing of her mother, sister and her father, McLelland said she is the only one left to represent her father's career and legacy.
"I think if my grandmother were here, well first off, she was 87 when she was here 50 years ago, so she would be quite ancient," she joked. "But she was extremely proud of my father and she never let him forget his roots. She could dress him down if she needed to. She would tell him to stop all that cussing. It was always fun to watch because very few people ever did that."
Library director James Moore, said the desk will remain in the library for patrons to use and admire for many years to come. The library already homes many Sink artifacts and memorabilia, including his uniform and medals.
"We are so pleased to have this desk to add to our collection," Moore said.
During the anniversary ceremony, the donation of the desk was officially accepted by Robert Vail, Director for the Directorate of Family and Welfare, Morale and Recreation.
"I've been in this job for almost 20 years and I cannot think of anything that would be more meaningful than the acceptance of this desk to the library," Vail said.
With her hands resting on the desk, leaning in to browse a collection of photographs marking the groundbreaking of the Robert F. Sink Memorial Library, McLelland reminisced about the hours her father spent at the desk and the time she spent there as well.
"This desk is so solid and sturdy," she said. "It's designed for thinking and using your imagination to come up with something creative or innovative."
•Robert F. Sink was born in Lexington, N.C. -- April 3, 1905
•Graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York -- 1927
•Commanded the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment throughout World War II. Made two combat jumps at D-Day and Operation Market Garden. Commanded the regiment during the Battle of the Bulge.
•Named assistant division commander of the 101st Airborne Division -- Aug. 12, 1945.
•Became assistant division commander of the 11th Airborne Division at Fort Campbell -- December 1951.
•Honors included Silver Star with two oak leaf clusters, Legion of Merit with one oak leaf cluster, Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Unit Citation with one oak leaf cluster, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal and Master Parachutist Badge.