Robert was born October 5, 1923
in Bernie, Missouri and attended school in the Bernie area graduating high
school in 1941. After graduation he worked on the farm with his dad until
1942. World War I had started, so Robert went to St. Louis attempting to
enlist in the military, but was turned down. He applied for employment
with a Small Arms manufacturer of ammunition and was hired. Fate caught up
with Robert and the Army decided they could use his talents after all. He
was drafted into the Army Air Force in February 1943. He entered 8 weeks
of basic training at Keesler Field, Mississippi to be a truck driver.
Robert was shipped to New Orleans, LA, where he was congratulated and informed
he was accepted into Military Police (MP) school with the 1249th MP
Company, in February 1943.
On July 4, 1943 his company left New Orleans
for the European Theatre, departing from Camp Shank, New Jersey. He was
processed in two weeks and went to Hudson Bay and boarded the "Hawaiian
Shipper" (prisoner boat) for a fifteen day crossing of the Atlantic to
England. He pulled KP duty of 2 hours on and 2 hours off during this
journey. He slept with his rifle and had a duffel bag on both ends of his
bunk. He slept next to the bottom in bunks four high. Robert, even
though he was on KP duty, had to go through the chow lines on his time off like
everyone else. He had his shoes off one time during this trip, and had a
sore toe due to screen wire in his sox (discovered when taking off his shoe)
between his toes. Landfall was between North Ireland and South Scotland at
Firth of Fourth Bay. Minefields weighted with chains were lowered into the
water from the ship to discourage submarines and saboteurs. The day after
landing the 1249th MP Company was put onto a landing craft, went past
the "Isle of Man" a small island, to the Firth of Clyde and docked at
Glasgow, Scotland. They were put on a train to an unknown destination and
traveled all night ending up at the town of Stowmarket. They were taken to
Great Ash Field (Air Force Base) where Robert saw bombers with a "G"
on their tail. His duties included guarding prisoners, the main gate,
ammunition dumps, and airplanes.
After three months he was placed in the 1192nd
MP Company with duty at Coldchester, England as a foot patrolman (along with
1100 men) for one month. He was then shipped to the town of Bury St.
Edmonds (25 miles from Cambridge) and placed on day and night foot patrol.
After a short period of time a motorcycle was assigned to him to provide
military policing of the area. Robert provided support in the movement of bombs,
and escorted convoys during troop movement in the logistical support of the
"Battle of the Bulge".
Robert had several unforgettable
experiences. One was when a United States soldier was in custody for a
violation. An old man (civilian) made a comment to the soldier under
confinement, and the soldier was extremely mad. Later that day Robert was
in charge of quarters (CQ) during a blackout when an inside door rattled, the
same soldier peeped into the quarters area, then burst in with a carbine looking
for the old man who was not there at the time. Roberts pistols were out of
reach behind him. The soldier checked out the cellblock, which at the time
was empty. Noticing a stairway he forced Robert up the stairs where the
Provo-Sergeant and another Sergeant were sleeping with their guns stored at the
ends of their bunks. He took all three as prisoners back downstairs with
one Sergeant made to set on the desk, and the other one on a table. He
then asked one Sergeant if he parted his hair, then proceeded to shoot a part in
his hair. The Sergeant collapsed slumping into a sitting position.
Later he placed his three prisoners into the front seat of a jeep, and sat in
the back seat. He then ordered them to drive to the house of the old man
he was mad at. In route, he shot at a cat. The jeep was driven and
parked behind a civilian police station. The "Bobby" (English
Policeman) surprised the soldier when he opened the door, and the soldier threw
his gun in an upward motion. The Sergeant with the newly parted hair
pushed his gun away. Robert grabbed the soldiers other hand that held a
hand grenade, and held it so he could not pull the grenade pin. The other
Sergeant helped remove the grenade from his hand and gave it to the
"bobby". Robert forced the manís hand behind his back (into a
judo hold), apprehending him.
In another instance Robert escorted a troop
convoy through his area on their way to the "Battle of the
Bulge". It was night and his only light was a slit in his
headlight. Upon his return he was going about 35 mph when he saw a glint
of reflected light in front of him, so he laid his motorcycle on its side and
slid under the object. When he picked himself up he saw that the object
was a bull dozer that extended beyond the flatbed trailer and was part of the
convoy he had just escorted.
Robert was on patrol duty in Bury St Edmonds
when a V2 rocket came roaring about 30 feet above the street, and just above the
two story buildings, with a tail flame that appeared to be about 10 feet
long. There was a small hill and the rocket rose with the terrain, passed
on through town and hit trees in the woodland just outside town. The
explosion leveled and splintered trees in a circle about a half-quarter mile
After the war was over Robert returned to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and then to Jefferson Barracks (St Louis) to be discharged in
January 1946. Robert said during his military service he managed only a
three-day pass but no leave.
It is noteworthy that Robert, just as his father and
grandfather, were all members of the Masonic Lodge. Reverend John Coats
married Robert to Helen Louise Cox on November 9, 1946. Helen was raised
in Tennessee, and moved to Missouri at the age of 13. Robert farmed in the
Dexter area until 1976 when he purchased the Farm Bureau dealership at Aquilla
(north of Bloomfield). He later moved the business to Dexter where he
operated it as well as a grocery. In 1979 he sold the business and
continued to farm until 1981, when he purchased the MFA station in Bernie.