PFC Robert O. Bowser
My memoirs as a WWII soldier. I was born on February 10th, 1925 in Tidal, PA and grew up on my Grandfather Helm’s farm. I finished 8th grade and at 14 years old went to work cleaning and delivering cars for a local car dealer. As a young man, I am quite the “hell” raiser. Thus, I’m always in trouble with the cops, especially for speeding. Hence, I feel leaving town is the best option for me. Besides, being in trouble all the time, I need discipline. So, in January 1943, at the ripe old age of 17, (and lying about my age), I join the US Army.
Consequently, obedience in the military comes pretty darn fast. I watch other guys in my platoon get in trouble and learn very quickly to not volunteer for anything. Above all, I learn to keep my mouth shut. My basic training is at Fort Eustis, Virginia. I train in hand-to-hand combat, bayonet usage, shooting rifles (M1) and throwing grenades and driving vehicles. During training, explosive charges are set off under and around the vehicles, simulating battle conditions. These simulations prepare us for battle.
Incidentally, I always take the position of the last truck in the convoy so I can lag way back behind. After a certain distance, I hit the gas-peddle and speed up to catch the others. I still have the “need for speed.” Unfortunately, my commanding officer doesn’t! I’m ordered to be the first truck in line on all convoys!
After basic training, I receive the rank of “Private 1st Class.” I join “Battery A 634th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion.” My job is to drive a half-track with a turret and four machine guns on it. The half-track also carries our rifles, Thompson sub-machine guns, bazooka with rockets, ammunition for all the guns, hand grenades and five-gallon gas cans (about 10 of them) mounted across the back. I am driving a “bomb!” This vehicle is my home for the duration of the war.
Following Fort Eustis, I travel to Army Camp Shenango in Meadville, PA to await overseas deployment. On October 9, 1943, while in New York City, I board a ship and cross the Atlantic Ocean to England. Landing in Southhampton, England on October 17, 1943, I transfer by train to Bournemouth for field training. My uniform is made of wool. I also have two wool blankets, a pair of leather boots and a helmet with a liner in it. I wear the same clothes for 11 months! Luxuries like raincoats restrict our fighting ability, so we learn how to survive without them.
Finally, we train outside of town at “the Moors” where it rains almost every day. Our tents are out in the middle of a field. Sleeping outside in the cold and rain, we learn to withstand any kind of conditions. My next training is in New Castle, England. I train for anti-aircraft artillery by shooting at targets out over the English Channel. The targets are towed behind a plane with a very long cable. The length of the cable is to keep the pilot safe while live ammo is being shot at him. I shoot the quad 50 caliber Turret mounted on the half-track. The plane makes several passes in each direction and I have to swing the turret from side to side and try to hit the target. I become a pretty good shot. So good, in fact, that I shot the cable! Not a wise decision!
Subsequently, I receive five bronze stars for my participation in five major WWII battles. On June 6, 1944, I am with the third wave going ashore at Omaha Beach, known as the bloodiest battle. Surviving the invasion at Normandy and 7 weeks later, in July 1944, the next battle I endure is St.Lo, otherwise known as the Battle of Hedgerows. There are rows of hedges surrounding several fields heavily occupied by Germans. I’ve never seen hedges so thick in my life. They are like trees. We must fight our way through them.
It’s now December 1944 and I’m fighting at the Battle of the Bulge. We struggle to find a way out while Germans fight their way in. The enemy surrounds us for 9 days outside of St. Vith. On December 25th, with help from General Montgomery and General Bradley, my platoon brakes through the German line.
Two months pass and it is February 1945. I’m at the Battle of the Roer River Crossing protecting the Infantry from aircraft and ground fire. Engineers must build a foot and pontoon bridge to get trucks and tanks across the river. One month passes, and in March 1945 I’m racing my half-track across the Ludendorff bridge in what’s known as the Battle of Remagen. This is the worst and last battle I survive before the war ends. Finally, in November 1945, at Cherbourg, France, I board a Navy ship and come home to the U.S.
For the most part, I spend my days scared to death. However, I must put my fears aside. I have a job to do. As a result, some things I “never” talk about. No one tells about the effects of “after war” and bringing family members home for burial. And, some things I’m not proud at all to say I did. But, in war and desperate, people do desperate things.
“We are called the ‘greatest generation’ for fighting in WWII. All I can say is I am proud of our country. We respected authority, we had a job to do and we did it. Everyone needs to remember, freedom is not free. You have to fight for it.” by Robert O. Bowser
In conclusion, until his death, any sound, sight or smell took PFC Robert O. Bowser back to the war. His memories were alive inside him every day of his post-war life. Seventy-three years after the war had ended, he would live it all over again like it was yesterday.
Robert died, February 13, 2018 at age 93, a loving son, devoted husband, doting father, a child of God and a very proud American veteran.
For a more comprehensive story of Robert’s life during WWII, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.