by Paul Roberts
Bob was just another college student at the University of Buffalo when Uncle Sam interrupted, and told him to report to the military. While in the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) at Ohio State University he was perfunctorily yanked because of the urgent need for men in the European Theater of Operation (ETO), and trained as a medic. His unit, the 14th Armored Division, after a harrowing convoy trip across the Atlantic Ocean, arrived at the French port of Marseilles at the end of October 1944. Just a few months before, the port was occupied by the Nazis. As result of the invasion of southern France (Operation Dragoon) this port was taken by the French Second Corps commandos in a lightening thrust up from the Cote D’azur. However, before the Germans fled they laid over 5,000 different mines in the harbor, and filled 11 large ships with gravel, sunk them strategically as well as with three paquettes. It was a great tribute to Army engineers who cleared Joliette Harbor and within a few months 14 divisions were passing through daily, Bob’s included. Within two weeks, they were in combat with the Seventh Army, chasing Germans into the Vosges Mountains, in the area of Bannstein on the Alsace Plain. They attacked across the Lauter River, piercing the Westwall (Siegfried Line).
In December, the Germans launched Operation Norwind, their last major counter-offensive effort of the war. It was halted in the fierce battle of Hatten and Rittershoffen when both sides fought on both sides of these towns, success being measured on how many buildings were controlled by each side. Supplies ran low eventually, and the division ammunition officer ordered abandoned German 8 cm mortars to be gathered and adapted to American 81 mm mortars. They even sent two and one/half ton trucks to Marseilles to dig unexploded ammunition out of the surf and landing sites of Operation Dragoon. On 15 January they were attacked by a German jet bomber, a new and frightening straw in the wind. In this battle over 1,000 casualties kept Bob busy, rendering first aid and trauma care. As the battle moved so did his station, leaving the medics to somehow catch up to the fighting tanks and infantry. After this battle, their commanding general, Lieutenant General Jacob Devers remarked this was one of the greatest defense battles of the war. As a result, the 14th received two Presidential Unit Citations.
In late 1944, facing a shortage of fighting men due to heavy casualties in the European Theater of Operation a call went out for volunteers working in the communications and rear echelon zones to quickly train as infantrymen. Amongst the many who answered the call were 4,000 African Americans, who wound up fighting with the 14th near Bayreuth. They were mostly in platoon units, highly successful, receiving accolades of approval. Four units were organized as Army Provisional Rifle Company, assigned to the 14th, later called the CCR Rifle Company. There was no segregation here as there was in the only other African American unit fighting in Europe, the 366th Infantry Regiment, which distinguished itself in Italy, fighting in the fierce Battle of Monte Cassino, and helping liberate Rome, earning a papal blessing at a special ceremony in St Peter’s Square, Rome. They were proud to have participated with the 14th, as the war drew down, to liberate some 200,000 Allied prisoners of war from German prisons. Among those liberated on 21 April was Stalag VIIA in Moosburg, containing 130,000 Allied POWs, the largest POW camp in Germany. On 2 May they liberated several sub camps of Dachau concentration camp, consisting of three forced labor camps, containing thousands of Polish and Soviet civilians, and additional concentration camps for Jews. Bob declared how the sight of these emaciated survivors has haunted him all these year. As a result of these operations, they earned the distinction of being given the nickname of “Liberators,” permanently registered in the division Army records.
After the war ended, Bob went back to college in Buffalo. Perhaps his exposure to the medical field influenced his life course because he wound up studying physics and chemistry, specializing in polymers research, getting his doctorate and working for the National Bureau of Standards in research and development. He became the deputy chief of the polymer division, receiving the Silver Medal Award for his work in this field. Then he was given a fellowship with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration, becoming an associate, becoming an associate bureau director of Research and Testing. His career culminated with the Red Cross as a senior scientist. How ironic, after 70 years coming back, in a way, to the medical field in which he served so many years ago.
Somehow, with this background, Bob, a veritable Renaissance man, has found the time, and enthusiasm to be a vice-president of the Foundation of Leisure World®, on the Restaurant Advisory Committee, the Health Advisory Committee, the Mutual Board of Directors, Chairman of the E&R Advisory Committee and president of the Fun and Fancy Theater Group. This latter has given him a vehicle for pursuing his secret longings to be an actor, starring in major roles in such productions as The Man Who Came To Dinner, Plaza Suite, Call Me Madam, Oklahoma to name but a few. Also trying his hand as the producer of the Group’s version of the Broadway hit Brigadoon. Following close behind is wife Joy who has been a featured actress with the group. One of their children, daughter Eileen, is a therapeutic social worker and, in her spare time, has developed a technique for fashioning auto licenses plates into mosaic tableaux of the map of the United States, becoming an almost consuming effort in order to satisfy a local demand. One son, Mark, is an internal medical doctor, his son Jeff a hand surgeon; another son, Earl, has a doctorate in engineering; and the third son Steve is a lawyer. Either there is something in the water they drink, or, the genes were perfectly aligned!
All photos courtesy of Paul Roberts – Resident of Leisure World® Maryland