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Partial Transcript of an Interview with Robert Walker [July 19, 2002]

Mary Jane Robinson:

Today is July 9th, 2002, and I am meeting with Robert Walker to discuss his experience in World War II. As we begin, Robert, if you could simply identify yourself, your name, birth date -- let's go with that in the beginning.

Robert Walker:

Okay. My name is Robert M. Walker. I was born July the th, 1915 -- and you are the only lady I ever told that to, because I'm getting a little bit shaky about that birthday business -- and I was born in Laredo Nuevo, Texas, which is on the Mexican side of the border, because my father was in the Texas Border Patrol, under Black Jack Pershing, who then was in the Army against Poncho Villa. And we had the same border control problem then as we have now.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Is that so?

Robert Walker:

Yes. And Dad was down there as an enlisted man, and that's when I was born, because my mother traveled, and you were allowed to do that if you were married, you could travel with the unit.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Is that right?

Robert Walker:

Anyway, that's who I am, and what I did in World War II was to serve as a replacement fill-in officer with the 80th Infantry Division which was being mustered in Tullahoma, Tennessee, at Camp Forest, which doesn't exist today -- it was just a training center -- but there were thousands of troops being put together, and I was one of those who had graduated from OCS at Fort Benning and had been in Camp Robinson in Arkansas, a rated officer, briefly. And finally, I was fed into the system, and I became a member of the Light Weapons Platoon in the company, and soon, don't ask me why, but I was plucked out of all of this to take part in Tennessee maneuvers. Now, I don't want to stray too far --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Okay. We won't.

Robert Walker:

Yes, because that's -- no --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- I do want to know, though, too, your serial number. Do you remember that?

Robert Walker:

Oh, boy. Let's hold that in abeyance.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Okay. We will add that later.

Robert Walker:

Because the expert on that just left.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Okay. And you did identify the unit you were in?

Robert Walker:

Yes, it's the 80th Infantry Division.

Mary Jane Robinson:

You are hooked up, remember.

Robert Walker:

I have very, very few visuals, but I do have this that we wear for reunions, and that's the patch. It's called the Blue Ridge Mountain Division.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Yeah?

Robert Walker:

And the reason for that is -- and there are the mountains -- most of the recruits in World War I were from Pennsylvania, in the upper eastern part of the United States, and this is the Appalachian area, and boy, they are very proud of that. Coming from Indiana, I wasn't one of those, but we got along fine.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Good. And then you said you graduated from OCS?

Robert Walker:

Yes.

Mary Jane Robinson:

And when was that?

Robert Walker:

Well, that was -- let's see. I came back from Hawaii -- it must have been in the latter part of '41 and the early part of '42, and a very strange thing happened. They had ,000 men at Camp Waldorf, in Texas, being trained as infantry riflemen, machine gunners, and I bumped into a sergeant on the train coming from Indiana to Texas, and I said, "Excuse me, sir," and he said, "No, no, no, no. You don't say 'sir' to stripes; you save that for the bars." And we struck up a rather amiable conversation. He said, "You know anything about compasses? Do you ever camp?" And I said, "Oh, sure." And he didn't say much more about it, but when I got to Texas, everyone was assigned -- there were 750 men on that train, and I was left hanging with two men from Tennessee; everyone else had been assigned. And then one day, my name was called out, and they were filling up a special company for combat scouts. We -- I didn't know this at first, but we waited and waited for three more weeks to fill up the company. That company, as a prerequisite, had to have men with a minimum of a 110 IQ. I knew nothing about this. So I sat -- or slept next to the superintendent of anti-erosion projects for Colorado, for instance, a wonderful man, and on the other side was a farmer from Iowa, a brilliant fellow. But we had professors, one from Georgia who was a real character. I'll never forget him. But anyway, they were all at least 110, and as you can imagine, the conversation was never dull.

Mary Jane Robinson:

No.

Robert Walker:

Anyway, we went through three months of training there, very highly specialized, excellent teachers.

Mary Jane Robinson:

And you still didn't know the qualifications of that IQ were part of it?

Robert Walker:

No. Uh-uh. No. They really didn't care, they were such great people. Anyway, as the Army would do it, there were six carloads of infantrymen, riflemen, and machine gunners, and two carloads of combat scouts, and when we got to the west coast, at Fort Ord, there was a tremendous storm, lightning flashing. They switched the thing, and the six carloads of infantrymen who were supposed to be replacements there for the 27th New York National Guard Division were sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, and the two carloads of specially-trained men were dumped off. Well, we were not welcome. They didn't need us, because our jobs called for immediate placement in minor ranks; non-commissioned officers, corporals, sergeants, and so forth. They didn't have any of those. Those were all filled. Well, they never went to the trouble of turning around. The riflemen were accepted in Washington in Second Division, and so then the next thing I know, we're on our way to the state of Hawaii. And we got there immediately after the Japanese attack, and that's when I got into an argument one day with an officer, and he said, "Well, you think you are so good, I'll send you back to officer's school," and that's how it happened. So I went back and -- not really. The major -- one night, we were out on a special project -- we really used our training in Texas to good effect -- and he said, "Why didn't you go back to officer's school?" -- this was about six o'clock at night -- and I said, "Well, I filled out the papers, sir, and I never heard anything more about it." And there was a long silence, and he said, "Well, we just cleaned house, and we sent back 110 men. Why weren't you on that list?" I said, "I have no idea." And the next thing, his voice changed, and he said, "Let me see your dog tags." And I bent over, and the tenth name from the top of the list was mine, and they had sent back a William Walker in my place --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Oh, gosh.

Robert Walker:

-- and so I went back to Forth Benning. I had to go through three examinations, and it was interesting, but I went back. And anyway, when I got there, this fellow had flunked out the second week.

Mary Jane Robinson:

William?

Robert Walker:

Yeah. He was gone. And I enjoyed my three months down there. I really did. I just -- I thought Forth Benning was a great experience.

Mary Jane Robinson:

And you came out at what rank?

Robert Walker:

Second lieutenant. That's where you start, second lieutenant, shavetail.

Mary Jane Robinson:

You mentioned late '41. Where were you on Pearl Harbor Day?

Robert Walker:

I was in, probably, Fort Dix, getting ready to -- it's a staging area to get on the Queen Mary to go overseas --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Okay.

Robert Walker:

-- and I know that this -- I was not overseas, because I had a date with my wife in New York, and I -- it was impossible, because that's -- I remember that that's where I was in New York City, and I had never been to New York City, so I asked my boss, who was the G2 of the division -- I was the assistant G2 at that time -- and I said, "Look, I've got a date with my -- a girl, and I'd like to take her to some different places in New York." And, of course, he was a New Yorker, and he said, "Just a minute," and he wrote on a little notebook pad, and we went to some of the most wonderful places you ever -- I mean, I never would have found them. I mean, crazy places, like Tony's. This fellow practiced yogism, and every night at midnight, he'd stand in the doorway of his brownstone, and he'd play, "Yes, We Have No Bananas" on his violin at midnight every night.

Mary Jane Robinson:

At Tony's?

Robert Walker:

That's it. And then we went to see Sid Ceasar and Imogene Coca up on 54th Street, a little place up on the second floor, and then on and on and on. And we saw Rodney Dangerfield on the 19th floor of a business building when he was just getting started, and --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Wonderful.

Robert Walker:

-- Oh, yes, it was wonderful, but it was brief, and it was just about time to go and --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- On the actual day --

Robert Walker:

-- Yep.

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- who told you -- how did you find out -- Pearl Harbor; what were you doing?

Robert Walker:

Well, everything was hustle-bustle, and training, you know, right down to the nth degree, and I think we got it from a general information distribution of the information, you know, from -- I was on the general staff at that time.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Yeah?

Robert Walker:

I'd come up quite a bit and -- I really can't tell you why. I got along with people, and I liked what I was doing, and, of course, that basic training, it didn't do me any harm, because I was more or less an expert in cartography, and they needed somebody who was good at maps -- we'll get to that later, because it --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Yes.

Robert Walker:

-- really played a very important part when we get into Europe. But anyway, very soon, we -- I didn't know we were going by the Queen Mary. Everything was very, very hush-hush, but we did, and I was named, what was it, publicity officer. Everybody had a rank. This was nothing. And I was walking down the deck, and one day, I hear this voice from a very dark little cubbyhole doorway:: "Hey, Lieut. Care for a cup of tea?" And these were the English people who ran the trip, and I had my first canteen cupful of English tea, and the way they make it --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- On the Queen Mary?

Robert Walker:

-- oh, brother, they pour heavy milk in it, almost cream, and then about 16 teaspoonfuls of sugar, and it was the most nauseating drink; white, sweet, gooey tea.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Not what you had been drinking in New York?

Robert Walker:

I never had a cup of coffee in my life until I got into the Army, and that was all there was to drink. Anyway...

Mary Jane Robinson:

You shipped out on what day? What --

Robert Walker:

-- I think this must have been just about D plus one, and we took a four-and-a-half -- no, it didn't take us four-and-a-half, it took us four days to get across. And it was a normal crossing. I mean, everybody was pleasant. We were very apprehensive, you know, of all these ships around us. Everybody was on edge, waiting for something to happen, which didn't, but it could.

Mary Jane Robinson:

You presented this to me, not on the tape --

Robert Walker:

-- Yep.

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- so we need to get on the tape, you shipped out, in the Queen Mary, 15,000 men?

Robert Walker:

Oh, yes. See, the ship had been transformed from a luxury liner to just a form of transportation, so men were sleeping on bunks, we were hanging from, you know, hammocks and so forth. That never existed on the Queen Mary, but that's how we got all the men on the ship and to feed them and all that. It did the job, and did a wonderful job, as far as I'm concerned. It was a real experiences. When I talk to other people who were transported, they were not as fortunate.

Mary Jane Robinson:

On the Queen Mary?

Robert Walker:

Yeah. But anyway --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- You know something that most young Americans -- even Americans my age, I have found, are not aware that there were U-boats so close to America's shores that they were right off the coast of Florida and all the way up.

Robert Walker:

That's right.

Mary Jane Robinson:

And none of us knew that.

Robert Walker:

I was astounded to find that out myself, because I read a book -- I forget what it was, but it's from the German angle, and they laughingly pull up on the Jersey coast, and they could see the ferris wheels going and the people driving by in the amusement parks, and they would just sit there until a liner came by -- I'm talking about a freightliner, an oil tanker -- and that would be a beautiful silhouette, between the bright lights of the mainland -- and they'd put a perfect bait on the thing and sink it just like that. We gave away hundreds of ships. The Gulf of Mexico is filled with hulks that they shot down in our Gulf --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Wow.

Robert Walker:

-- with about six submarines in the whole Gulf.

Mary Jane Robinson:

And who would know?

Robert Walker:

Well, we were poorly prepared. Poorly prepared.

Mary Jane Robinson:

What were your thoughts on the way over there? Were you full of trepidation --

Robert Walker:

-- No.

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- on the way over to Europe?

Robert Walker:

No. No, I really wasn't.

Mary Jane Robinson:

What did you think you were going to find there?

Robert Walker:

When we got there or on the way?

Mary Jane Robinson:

On the way. What were you thinking? What was the mood on the ship?

Robert Walker:

Everybody was not morose. They were in good spirits. Some men, boys, just hadn't grown up, and they were apprehensive and fearful and would have been that way at home, you know, on a dark night when they walked into a black room. But most of the men were perfectly willing, you know. We were all in this together, and there was a great unified feeling, and it was grateful [sic.] to be a part of, to tell you the true. It existed throughout. We had a lot of esprit de corps. There was no turning back, and, "Gee, I wish this" -- you know, "I want to go home," none of that.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Well, tell me, too, about the service at that time. Did they tell the men where they were going?

Robert Walker:

No.

Mary Jane Robinson:

So you never knew that we're going here on this date --

Robert Walker:

-- No.

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- and this is our job?

Robert Walker:

No. No. That was, at the time, a very extremely tight security, and there were posters -- I don't know whether you remember seeing the -- probably not, you are young, but it was a picture of Uncle Sam, and it said "Shhhhh. Keep your lips closed." You just don't gossip or talk, just don't -- you don't know what -- just talking at -- whatever you are talking about could be detrimental, so don't say anything.

Mary Jane Robinson:

So you must have some strong opinions about our media now telling everywhere --

Robert Walker:

-- Oh, I do.

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- we are, what we are doing.

Robert Walker:

Oh, yes, I do. I think this national disgorgement of what's bad about our country and what's bad about the nation and the globe -- if it weren't for Rather and the other two, Brokaw, we wouldn't have that stuff. And we don't need it. It's unnecessary, and it isn't complimentary to the country, I don't think it is, and it's absolutely against what I believe in. I don't think we should be a communist sort of a closed-off world, but I just don't think we have to wear everything on our sleeve every night at six o'clock.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Right. I agree. So I want to know, I think it would be best if we can do somewhat of a chronological order of events upon arriving in the Queen Mary.

Robert Walker:

Okay. Now, things -- well, I don't remember much about Scotland, except I was absolutely floored to think that we would have gone around -- you know, I expected we might have landed in London -- or not London, a port, but along the -- but that was unwise. The wise thing was to go up around and come in that very secluded Firth of Clyde, and no resistance. I don't know where the other transports went, by the way. They didn't go in there. Only the Queen Mary, one ship.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Were they protecting, perhaps, their ship --

Robert Walker:

-- They were. It was a --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- not because it was war, but because it was the Queen Mary?

Robert Walker:

Yes, it was a convoy. And then the destroyers were their convoy to protect them. Didn't always work, but in our case, it worked perfectly. We didn't lose anybody.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Any incident?

Robert Walker:

No, not a one. Not that I know of. Maybe there was somebody out of the perimeter, but I never heard of it. Anyway, then we went to an English manor called Pettypool. It wasn't a very elegant home, but it was a big, you know, English countryside home, and that was my first experience learning some different terminology that is not exactly in the American vocabulary, such as the throne room." Well, in England, the throne room got its name because the water closet is on a high, elevated -- you go up, at least in this place, two or three steps, and I guess the effect is to get a better gravity flow with the water, and that's where the thing came from in American language, "throne room." Well, one by one, I began to catch on with their name for elevators and -- you know, the "lift" instead of -- you know, et cetera. And it was most interesting. I didn't meet many English people, because most of our work was at the headquarters, the planning, and just many messages and just getting things in order, ready to go when we had to go.

Mary Jane Robinson:

And the 15,000 men are still on the Queen Mary?

Robert Walker:

No, no, no. All dispersed all over England.

Mary Jane Robinson:

You mentioned that you went to a country house?

Robert Walker:

That's Pettypool.

Mary Jane Robinson:

When you say "we," how many?

Robert Walker:

Well, I would give a guess -- that was a division headquarter staff and all the related people who reported to that, such as artillery and tank commander and so forth.

Mary Jane Robinson:

So everybody in planning --

Robert Walker:

-- Yes.

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- went to that?

Robert Walker:

Yes. Pettypool was the center.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Right.

Robert Walker:

Now, at that time, everything was under the jurisdiction of SHAFE, which was Eisenhower, and any orders we got came from SHAFE. And the only orders we got were planning and training, you know, exercise every day. There were no orders at that time, because the big move was just beginning, and that happened in South Hampton, in the Southern part of England. Well, we motored down there, and I think -- well, I don't think, I know we were on what they call an LSI, Landing Ship Infantry, if you can imagine a barge, oh, about 35 or 40 feet long and perhaps 20, 25 feet wide, and the front end would drop down, and the thing would be guided from the rear by the helmsman who guided it with a wheel.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Right.

Robert Walker:

And he got into the water -- supposedly, we thought we were going to go right up to the beach, drop the front, and just walk right up there. That's not exactly the first impression. It was a kind of a rough crossing. I don't know that the seas were more than two or three feet, but it seemed like they were 10, because the size of the gunnels on this thing were not very deep. And all the men were hanging over the side, looking -- peering into the murky future. And when we got there, my first impression of the war was rather sickening.

Mary Jane Robinson:

What?

Robert Walker:

Well, there were all kinds of metal barricades the Germans had sunk into the water so that you just couldn't do this. You couldn't run on the beach. They knew that would be done, and they were well prepared to stop it. And then, when you were caught in this thing, then you would come down this murderous fire and just practically wipe out whatever people were trying to disgorge themselves from these hundreds or thousands of boats. But what really got to me was my first experience of seeing an arm hanging off one of these pieces of metal, or a leg here, or what remained of part of a torso. And all of a sudden, I thought, "Oh, my God."

Mary Jane Robinson:

And you knew they were soldiers?

Robert Walker:

They were dead. Just pieces.

Mary Jane Robinson:

I know, dead --

Robert Walker:

-- Oh, yeah.

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- but they were --

Robert Walker:

-- our men.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Our men?

Robert Walker:

Our men. That was my first --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- That had to have been a dark time, to have seen that.

Robert Walker:

Well, no matter what you are prepared for, you know, even when they try to tell you, when you are sticking a bayonet into a bag of hay and burlap, "kill, kill," you know, it's tough to do that. I don't want to kill anybody. And you just had to make up your mind that either you were going to kill or be killed. But when you see this, it's already been done. Now what --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- That was your first --

Robert Walker:

-- Yeah --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- glance at --

Robert Walker:

-- my first --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- death, represented --

Robert Walker:

-- on Omaha Beach. And believe me, we spent the first night -- we were not by any means the wave that went in that took the beach, but we got into an apple orchard the first night, and the Navy had a whole slew of battleships off the coast with 16-inch guns, and they fired relentlessly with these huge shells into a town called St. Lo; it's often used in crossword puzzles, S-T, period, L-O. And apparently, they had had some information, intelligence information, which was excellent, that the Panzer divisions that had been staked in the area to protect that area -- "Panzer" being armored division in German -- there were two of them, and they caught them crossing each other. And the next day, about 11::00, we arrived in St. Lo, and we were on our way, now, in, and that was the first time it dawned on me that these great Panzer divisions that we heard so much about, Rommel crossing Africa and all this stuff, suddenly, I see horses' hoofs. The hoofs, that was all that was left, or the hub from a wagon wheel. Yes, the tanks were propelled with fuel, but they were fed and supplied by horses and wagon trains. Now, that shocked me. And the mud that dug this up, they were complete -- the horses were gone, the wagons were gone. They were just stuck. Done. They had no opportunity to escape at all. Didn't have the speed, didn't know how to get out of the mud. They were just stuck, and they were blown to bits. That was a second lesson. Then, as we proceeded the third day -- way back in maneuverers, we always stressed, don't stay on the road, because the enemy has the map, and you are on the map. That road is on your --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- You were on the map?

Robert Walker:

-- stay off the road. If you are on the road, they know exactly where you are. So in France, we were on the road. We forgot. And I was walking along as an observer --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Say -- tell me, when you say we were walking along --

Robert Walker:

-- Our troops --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- how many --

Robert Walker:

-- well, this would be --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- your immediate group?

Robert Walker:

Well, this was not mine, because I -- my boss told me to go down and get a feeling for how we were doing at the front, you know, so I did, and I was walking along with these soldiers in a company.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Okay.

Robert Walker:

Now, we are looking at probably, oh, a thing from here to yards down, and maybe we're looking at 25 or 35 men --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Okay.

Robert Walker:

-- scattered on the road.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Um-hum.

Robert Walker:

That was a lousy decision. I'm standing next to this boy, and the next thing I know, he has no head, and his body was spurting quarts of blood as his body danced up and down, but there was no more head. It was blown off.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Yourself included?

Robert Walker:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Absolutely. I became -- the more of this that happened, the more animalistic you get. You live -- you know, you hear things that you don't hear ordinarily, but they are different sounds; you know that they are not friendly. It took me, oh, I would say three or four months, when the whole thing was over and I came home, when someone would slam a screen door, I would just jump out of a chair, you know. To me, that's a different sound, and I had to re-acclimate myself to find out that it was a screen door. Well, anyway, on and on.

Mary Jane Robinson:

You are in the ditches now. You are off the road?

Robert Walker:

Now we get into an assignment, and we were assigned to General George F. Patton's Third Army, the 80th Division, and we became General Patton's favorite -- this is the regimental insignia that I was in at first, before I got into the division. This is the 317th. More about that in a minute. Anyway, the 80th Division became his front infantry division. Now, the Fourth Armored Division was a crack armored division. They just obliterated everything in front of them. We followed them, and we were supposed to obliterate what they hadn't obliterated.

Mary Jane Robinson:

And Robert, were you on foot or were you in Jeeps?

Robert Walker:

This was in --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- What were you doing? Were you walking all this time?

Robert Walker:

I had my own Jeep.

Mary Jane Robinson:

You had your own Jeep?

Robert Walker:

Yeah. Also -- let's back up a bit. There's an assistant G2 -- no, no, no, I beg your pardon. I had my own Jeep. When I was a member of the division staff, I was the night G2. When night fell, I was the intelligence officer of the whole division until daylight. No matter what went on, I was it. Anyway --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Did you sleep?

Robert Walker:

No, except in the daytime, and in the daytime is when you moved --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- You are moving.

Robert Walker:

That's right.

Mary Jane Robinson:

I guess it --

Robert Walker:

-- I got the short end of the string, and it didn't take me long to figure that out. But anyway, this was a great, great group of men, and everybody was gung-ho. We had a marvelous general, a great G3, a marvelous G2. G3 is the general staff officer who plans our movements, our American troop. G2 is always planning the enemy; what are they doing? Who are they? Where are they from? That was our job.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Yeah.

Robert Walker:

And I had to interrogate prisoners of war. I'll tell you more about that in a minute.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Yeah.

Robert Walker:

Anyway, that's what G2 and G3 mean. G4 was supplies -- food, ammunition, and vehicles -- and G5 was military government, which didn't mean much until the latter part of the war. And G1, of course, the commanding officer. Anyway, we -- you said how do we move. Well, with the Fourth Armored Division, we really began to loosen up the German forces. I mean, we really began to batter them. And we went through Southern France, and Patton was hell-bent for a commander, and he just wouldn't let anything stop.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Did you all love him?

Robert Walker:

I would have to say "all" is a word you are using a little too --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Liberally?

Robert Walker:

-- liberally, yes. Because we had -- by halfway through the war, we had formed a slogan that General Patton would fight the last drop of our blood.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Okay. I understand.

Robert Walker:

And I was in two personal encounters with the man, and neither one brought me much admiration. Briefly -- he's deceased, so there's no harm in telling you this -- we were in a bombed-out castle. It was just -- the thing was a ruin, really, and it was raining, and it was a terrible, cold, foggy day, and we were at pretty much a point where we were exhausted, and here comes Patton with his entourage, which means 30 young officers with the highly-polished boots, and they step out, and we're all watching them, looking like these characters from old, you know, and you step out in the mud, which is that deep, and look at those boots, and we just -- and anyway, General Patton comes in, and he wants to use the telephone, and Beetle Smith was his chief of staff. Well, whenever he left the third army headquarters, Beetle Smith took over. He was the man to run it until Patton came back. Well, he wanted to talk to him, tell him where he was and report in, and he went through all this through the switchboard, you know. Maybe you have seen the movies; they are little leather telephones, field telephones?

Mary Jane Robinson:

Yes.

Robert Walker:

Okay. He yanked this in his hand, and he -- END OF SIDE ONE.)

Robert Walker:

Beetle Smith?

Mary Jane Robinson:

Right, Beetle Smith.

Robert Walker:

Right, back at headquarters.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Okay.

Robert Walker:

No, he didn't have a -- Patton had --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Patton had a squeaky voice?

Robert Walker:

Oh, yes, very high, squeaky voice.

Mary Jane Robinson:

This is so important, because you are saying this because you heard it.

Robert Walker:

Oh, yeah.

Mary Jane Robinson:

How many people --

Robert Walker:

-- Oh.

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- are around who have heard it?

Robert Walker:

Well, there were about 40 of us gathered in this room, and the rain was seeping down, you know, and leaking through the roof, and all eyes are on this man. He's trying to get Smith, his chief of staff, and he said, Well, try two, God damn it. Then give me three. What do you mean, he's not there? Give me four. Oh, give me five. Forget it. You tell that son of a bitch, when I get back, I'm going to ream him from end to end." And he rips the phone off the wall, throws it on the floor, stomps out of the place, and here go all the little guys after him with the mud on their boots.

Mary Jane Robinson:

This is priceless.

Robert Walker:

When they went out, we just all just smiled; it's going to take them hours to clean those boots. But getting back to how you moved, we went 150 miles a day on truck, six-by-six trucks, keeping up with the Fourth Armored. Now, you say, "Well, how can you do that? You can't go miles and absolutely clean out everything." No, you didn't clean out everything. We bypassed these little towns, and there may be 15 Germans left in there. Okay. Then we had to super clean up, you know. We'd alternate this, and they'd stay back and they would capture these men or kill them, depends, if they --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- What was the attitude about that? Why would they not kill? I know the rules of the treaties and all of that, but --

Robert Walker:

-- Yeah.

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- was there talk of that as you are moving, just forget bringing them along? Just kill them?

Robert Walker:

No. You are not supposed to do that. But if they are belligerent and it looks like they are going to be -- you are going to be it if you don't, that's it, they had no choice. But we didn't do a lot of that. We captured an awful lot of them, and -- it was over for them.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Yeah?

Robert Walker:

They knew they were being steamrollered, and the farther we got into this, the more we got into a different type of soldier. Now, when we got into Alsace Lorraine, which is the extreme eastern end of France -- you are just getting into Germany now -- one day, the phone rang from the regimental commander, Hank Fisher, Henry Fisher, and he was crying on the phone, openly crying. And my boss put his hand on the phone, and he said, "Walk, get your stuff and go down and keep Hank company for a couple of weeks. All his staff are either killed, captured, or wounded, and he hasn't got one face that he can recognize, and he says he knows you and he wants to know if he can have you --"

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Really?

Robert Walker:

-- "and just go on down." I never came back. I became a regimentalist, too. And that was another world. Now we're really getting into it --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Tell me --

Robert Walker:

-- well, from Division Headquarters, now you are a regimental, and regimental, there's battalion and company and that's it.

Mary Jane Robinson:

So you are out there?

Robert Walker:

Well, you pretty much are.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Did you want to go?

Robert Walker:

It didn't make any difference to me.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Really?

Robert Walker:

No, I --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- You were leaving a lot of people that were important to you, probably?

Robert Walker:

Sure they were, yeah. The chief of staff of our division, Max Johnson, was a teacher at West Point. He had a lot of regard for me, and I did he, too. And the general, every morning he came in, "All right, Walker," you know, sawed-off pool cue, "what's going on?" And I said, "Well, sir, the enemy crossed the line here." Well, what happened when they crossed?" Well, sir, not much. Not much." What do you mean, 'not much'? Be specific." He was a real bushy-eyed guy, and I -- he -- you know, I knew he was going to ask these questions, so I had answers for him, and it was very -- every morning, he'd come in there and sit down there at seven o'clock in the morning, and I had to go through the whole night, what happened. Some nights, it was very boring, nothing happened, and then some nights, all hell broke loose, and you had to tell him. So anyway, I never came back when I went down here, because that was the most disorganized, screwed-up regimental headquarters I had ever seen in my life.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Christmas what? What year?

Robert Walker:

Oh, that would have been about '43. And I peeked around the tank, you know, because they had a line out here, it was a defensive position, but I saw some activity off in the distance, and I said, "Let me borrow your field glasses a minute." And I put the field glasses on, and it was a farmhouse, and there were about 35 Germans right around the back of the farmhouse, all being put -- sent through a chow line. They were having lunch, a noon meal. And there were also three tanks. They were off of tankers parked behind that farmhouse. And I said, "Hey, wait just a minute. I got a little job to do." And I went back to my Jeep, and I had a 294 radio, which is a huge thing mounted in the back, and you probably heard stories about this (?Obol?) Baker, Roger-out, and all that garbage, which I thought was ridiculous. And I picked the thing up, and I said "Dick" -- that was my boss, the division -- the G2 -- I said, "This is Headache ." That was my name, you know. He said, "Yeah, Headache. What's up?" I said, "You got a map? I want to tell you, I think I got a target." Now, he was an old artillery man, graduated from Dartmouth from the ROTC program in artillery, and I knew that. I said, "Now look, Dick, you take this down very carefully," and I gave him the azimuth, you know, and I gave him the coordinates, longitude, latitude. And I said "Okay. Now, you tell your guys to bring down fire, and I'll tell you how effective." And he says, "Just a minute." And he yelled over for a forward observer, gave him the coordinates and all, and the next thing I heard were those familiar sounds I talked about. (Indicating noises) These are the shells coming down. The next thing, boom, boom, boom, boom. I said, "Just a minute, Dick. Just a minute. Okay. No more tanks. I don't see anybody walking around, and the barn has disappeared. Lunch has been served and is over."

Mary Jane Robinson:

Oh, gosh.

Robert Walker:

And he says, "Wait a minute, Bob. Do you know what you just did? You broke the code. I'm going to tell General McBride." I said, "You dirty dog." He said, "No. I think this is something we ought to know about." And believe me, the whole division, within three days, dropped Obol Baker, when everybody says, "Hey, Alabama, listen to me," and we used open voice. Now, when you think about it, how many Germans are going to be listening that understand English? The whole division changed in three days, and we just used open voice.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Just by speaking what you meant?

Robert Walker:

Yeah. Sure. You know, if you call a guy Al, they don't know who Al is, and how could they ever find out? Well, anyway, that was the end of that.

Mary Jane Robinson:

How satisfying and proud you must feel for that.

Robert Walker:

It was all in a day's work, really, Mary Jane. It really was. Look, so many things happened that you didn't have time to get into all of that. The next thing that happened to me at this level, I got an INR platoon -- INR" stands for "Intelligence and Reconnaissance" -- 15 men. You would not want one of them as a friend. They were all cutthroats back in real life. I mean, they were cutthroats, and they were dangerous people, but for us, they were the eyes and ears of the regiment, to me. I was the boss. We had armor put on their Jeep. I had a -caliber air-cooled machine gun welded in the back of one of them, and when they went to town, they always operated between 10 and 15 miles in front of the entire regiment, in front. When they'd go into a small town, they'd come to the end of the road -- they'd come to the road, they'd get this big Jewish guy sitting in the back of this Jeep with this 50-caliber machine gun -- bam, bam, bam, bam, bam -- shooting the windows out of the all of the houses, then they'd go out, come back, turn around, go through again, but you didn't see one person, not one soldier, nobody, and then the radio gone. Sergeant Hoover. Downs clear. Maybe one or two. Shall we go on?" I said, "Go on. We'll take care of the one or two." And that -- that guy was so good, I got him a battlefield promotion. He was, I think -- oh, he operated at least six months toward the last part of the war as a second lieutenant, and all kinds -- anything I could get for him for decoration, he got.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Well, two questions:: First, the people that you were saying were not nice people, but they became very important, like him --

Robert Walker:

-- Yeah.

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- were they gathered together because of their qualities and characteristics?

Robert Walker:

Well, I don't know, because I inherited them, see, when I came down from division to -- they were there, but I met with them, and I said, "Look, guys, we got a job to do. You know what your job is; I am supporting you in any way I can. We're going to --"

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- It sounds like they could have been criminals at home.

Robert Walker:

One guy -- you won't believe this -- he was Jewish -- nothing -- I mean, that doesn't mean a thing -- he fought in the Abraham Lincoln brigade in the Spanish War against the Germans, and when he came to us, he transferred himself. He just walked into division headquarters in Europe. He had a leather satchel with all of his papers in there, which he thought were official. They didn't mean a thing to us. They were all his records, being in the Spanish-German war, fought in Spain. You remember that?

Mary Jane Robinson:

Yeah.

Robert Walker:

Okay. He was in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. That guy was the -- oh, God. He was awful. Just awful. He had a -- he was married to a beautiful lady, showed me a picture of his wife, beautiful gal back in Brooklyn, had a little daughter, and the third time they got him cleaned up from syphilis, I said, "Look, this is your last, last time. Next time, I'm just going to let you go, and you'll never go back to this person, and you are blowing your whole life." Well, I think that finally got through to him. But anyway, we got much more to -- that thing took place in Bavaria. That's the only visual I have that I can point to, and that's Neuschwanstein. That's the castle built by the mad King Rudolph of Bavaria. The interesting thing about this is we came in the night before, at a little town down at the base -- this is the Alps, by the way. This is all the foot of the Alps.

Mary Jane Robinson:

But what a sight when you first laid eyes on it.

Robert Walker:

Well this is what happened. The advanced party were standing there at the bottom with a flashlight, and, you know, "Go this way" or "that way," so we stayed in Field Marshal VonLeim's home, right down the very bottom, in a little town called Fussen, F-U-S-S-E-N, a small town, beautiful town, at the foot of the Alps in Bavaria. What more could you ask for? However, in the morning -- bright sunshine, blue skies -- I opened my eyes, and I see these spears. Now, I've been told that Walt Disney copied this. That's what he did. That's where he got the idea.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Yes.

Robert Walker:

So I closed my eyes and opened them again, and it just seemed unreal, but the third time, I yelled for the Jeep driver, and we found the contour road which you have to follow up the mountain -- it didn't come straight at all; it goes with the contour of the terrain, you know -- and I parked the Jeep right in front of the door.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Right there?

Robert Walker:

Right there, yeah.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Oh, boy. We should say that what we're looking at is like a pen-and-ink sketch of a castle.

Robert Walker:

It is Neuschwanstein. Today, it is a state museum.

Mary Jane Robinson:

It was not destroyed by --

Robert Walker:

-- I pulled -- no, not one --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Nothing was hurt?

Robert Walker:

No. I pulled the bell pull here, and this door has a little window in it, about like with three or four bars on it, and this old man comes across the courtyard here with a long leather apron and a Tyrolean hat with a feather on it. Gentlemen?" And I said, "Open zie door." Nein." And I just reached down and got my .45, and I said, "Open the door." Gentlemen." We became --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Who did you think --

Robert Walker:

-- friends.

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- was in there?

Robert Walker:

I didn't know.

Mary Jane Robinson:

So you went up here --

Robert Walker:

-- No --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- you didn't know who was there?

Robert Walker:

No.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Who did you bring up with you?

Robert Walker:

My Jeep driver.

Mary Jane Robinson:

The two of you drove up --

Robert Walker:

-- Did a lot of stupid things, believe me. Anyway, he takes me up to the third floor -- the whole castle, as a matter of fact. He took me through the whole thing. He's the only guy there. On the third floor, they had a ballroom, beautiful ballroom, and he told me that in -- oh, Rudolph's protege was Wagner. He lived there, and he gave a program in that ballroom for Hitler in 1933, so he was extolling the virtues of it and all of this. And we got out of the ballroom, and I said, What's all this?" They had an esplanade along here. I don't think I could point it out, but you could look off to this side and -- the back side, down to here, into the valley, and all these things were choked with huge crates. And he won't talk about them, he didn't want to talk about them, but I looked at one of them, and I see this L-U-V-R-E. Well, one of the things when you are in intelligence, Colonel Cochtail, C-H, who was the G2 of the Third Army, puts out things, watch for this, things have been looted. This was all the art --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- All of the art?

Robert Walker:

-- all the statuary from the Luvre --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- All the art --

Robert Walker:

-- was stashed in that castle, and I captured it, single-handedly. So anyway, I couldn't wait to get down to the Jeep, and I got on the radio --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- My gosh.

Robert Walker:

-- and I called the Third Army, and they had a fine arts department, and I said, "Give me the fine arts --"

Mary Jane Robinson:

--

Robert Walker:

Oh, yeah. Oh, they knew they were going to bump into this some day. So they sent down two Jeeps, and painted the color of that paper -- I could have killed these guys -- and they had the sirens going and, you know -- and here we are all down here in the camouflage, everything is OD, dark green, and I said, "Shut those things down." They were so excited, like kids on Christmas morning. They made me put a 37 millimeter -- I didn't put it there; I had the company come in and do it -- a 37 millimeter and a tank gun at that front entrance, and we had a squad of men living there, and we had to feed them 24 hours a day, until we moved out of the area, to protect --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- To protect the art?

Robert Walker:

You couldn't get it out there. The Venus de Milo was there, and the crate for the Venus de Milo was from here to that wicker chair over there, and the wood -- the planks were that thick. These crates were huge. You are going to see how they get them up there:: Russian-Polish slave labor, push it up the side of the mountain, all around there, across the courtyard, up this laborious stairway. They didn't care. I mean, they just make slaves, Russian-Polish labor.

Mary Jane Robinson:

How did you find that out?

Robert Walker:

Later on, they asked me, "How are you going to get them out?" And I said, "Well, you never asked the Germans how they got them up there," and that's how they found how they got them up there.

Mary Jane Robinson:

What an amazing experience.

Robert Walker:

But anyhow, we went on from this thing. He has another place, about 15 miles -- I'm guessing 15 to 20 miles south -- excuse me, I really picked up a cold yesterday -- called Schloss Linderhoff. I have beautiful photographs of it. See, he spent money like water. It took 40-some years to build this thing, and the peasants all around here were bled white all their lives to build it, and also the other one, Schloss Linderhoff, and that one was inspired by his visits to France to Louis the XIV, and it has -- the gardens are in the form of fleur-de-lis, and they had a beautiful gilded fountain in the back that shoots a spurt of water every 20 minutes feet in the air, and it's a gorgeous -- it's entirely different. Very, very French. Everything dainty, gorgeous. And our stupid soldiers, they had candelabra, you know, they thought they were solid gold -- they were absolutely plaster, gilded -- and they broke them off. You know, what are you going to do? We had one captain who tried to steal a truckload of chairs from the dining room at Schloss Linderhoff, and he was 60 miles down the road with, I guess, 40 of those chairs. He was going to ship them home. You can't imagine what people will do. It's dumb. Of course, they caught the guy and threw him in the brig, but dumb, dumb things. Anyway --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- You are obviously in a position of quite a bit of authority now, and you haven't told me, where are you -- what's your rank now?

Robert Walker:

Captain. And the job I had, which the table organization calls for, I should have been a major. But again, getting back to Colonel Fisher -- oh, boy, here's another story. He and I got along like that. I have no regard for him. None whatsoever. He was a West Point graduate, but he was a poor example, and he washed out when he went on to try to get a license to fly as a West Point officer, and he washed out. He didn't make it. Anyway, he was a poor, poor, poor commanding officer, so I never got my majority; however, I was offered the majority if I would stay in for another two years, and I said, "You've got to be kidding. I want to go home and get married, and I am not interested in your offer." Well, they said, You better think about it." Well, they almost put the heat on -- this was from Fifth Army in Chicago -- because I was an intelligence officer, and you don't just walk away --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Yeah.

Robert Walker:

-- Yeah. So anyway, on with this thing -- now, let me think. Now we're in the lower part of the Siegfried Line, and this is way, way down from Luxembourg, where the Germans broke through, and it's like 150 miles south, and I had -- now we're back, now, to the regiment. I had a first lieutenant who was in charge of a Tiger Patrol. Now, all they had to do was to patrol on the other side of the river, which is the Siegfried Line, and tell me what's going on; then I'd write the report, and I'd send it up to division and so forth. They lied to me for two solid weeks, like heavy transports have been heard and could have been tanks, they couldn't be sure, but the treads sounded like they clank-clank-clanked. You know, trucks don't make that sound. And I finally got suspicious, and I thought, you know, I don't believe this guy. I just -- something rotten about it. So when it got dark -- you are going to say -- now, you've got to believe -- you didn't do that. I did. I was determined I was going to find out if he was telling me the truth, so I went across the river, and I went up, and this huge noise he heard, there was grass growing that high; there had been no vehicles there.

Mary Jane Robinson:

What was his motive? He just didn't want to move?

Robert Walker:

Oh, I forgot, there was a barn down there on the river. They'd all crowd upstairs and went to sleep, and in the morning, they'd get together, said, "Here's the story, and here's what we're going to do." They lied.

Mary Jane Robinson:

What did you do?

Robert Walker:

Well, I was going to court-martial them, because as they went up through the Siegfried Line, they had not been occupied for months. They were moldy. The doors were rusty. And I finally yelled his name, and of course, he wasn't there, but I hit about 80 of these things, you know, kicked open the door, and there hadn't been anybody there. It was just dank, moldy, and moss growing, you know, and all that they was telling me was a lie. So I came back out, and I was really going to give it to them, a court-martial, and when I got back, our headquarters were in the farmhouse, and I walked the room, and I knew something was wrong because everybody was standing around, and there was Max Johnson, chief of staff of the division. He turns around and says, "Where in the hell have you been?" I said, "Well, sir, I was across the river." And he turned around and said to Colonel Fisher, You let him go out by himself, Fisher? You and I are going to talk." Well, that's beside the point. What happened was, he came down to tell us that the Germans were going to plan a break-through at Luxembourg, so what does he do? He turns to me and says, "There's one man that can take them up there who knows how to read a map. There are two truckloads of maps outside, Captain. I'll be in the railroad building in Luxembourg, and I will see you in Luxembourg, hopefully with a division behind you, tomorrow at 7::30 in the morning." And I said, "Are the maps all the way to Luxembourg?" Yes, Captain, two truckloads." Can we get the word out to all the companies and battalions to get all their fuel? And this is going to be non-stop, as far as I'm concerned. We don't stop. We are just going to pee off the back of the truck." He said, "Whatever you do, I'll see you at 7::30." So I got -- I didn't even look at Fisher. I said, "Okay." And I said to my Jeep driver, "You better get a couple extra cans of gas and put them on the back," and here we go. So I got out the map, and we just roared, roared, roared. We didn't stop. You know what time we got there? 4::30 in the morning. And they had military police out there. They had what they call slith eyes. They cover up the whole thing down to this, and it's just a slith of light, and, of course, here we get -- you get like an animal, and I can see those things in the dark. I said, "Stop," and I got out and I said, "Is there a password?" No answer.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Oh, gosh.

Robert Walker:

I said, "What's the password?"

Mary Jane Robinson:

Gosh.

Robert Walker:

And a guy walked toward me. He said, "Who the hell are you?" I said, "I've got the 80th Division on the road behind me, stretched out, and I must report to the railroad headquarters building and speak to Max Johnson or General McBride."

Mary Jane Robinson:

By 7::30?

Robert Walker:

Oh, no. Right then.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Right then?

Robert Walker:

And he said, "You follow me." So I got in his Jeep, and we drove, and you'd think we were on Times Square in New York; this marquis outside of this thing had I don't know how many lightbulbs, lit up just like Broadway. It was the railroad headquarters building. And upstairs was Omar Bradley and General McBride, Max Johnson, and they were -- "What are we going to do?" you know. And I walked in the lobby, and I can't believe this, here are these MP's, perfectly impeccable, white, cotton gloves --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- And you'd been --

Robert Walker:

-- eating sandwiches on white bread, sliced on an angle --

Mary Jane Robinson:

-- Oh, gosh.

Robert Walker:

-- and I looked like something out of a sad sack, you know, 4::30 in the morning. And he said -- then he questioned me again, "Who do you want to see?" I said, I want to see Max Johnson or I want to see General McBride." Just a minute." I said, "Just leave the sandwich there." So he turned around, went upstairs. He says, "He said you wouldn't be here until 7::30." I said, "Tell him we're here now, 4::30." They can't believe it. I said, "Did you tell him?" Yes, sir." What are they going to do about it?" They are plotting it right now. They are changing all their plans." I said, "Keep the sandwich." And I turned around and walked out and went back down to the Jeep, and I said, "We've got to wait a while." By 10::00 that morning -- I'll never forget this -- you remember the guy that gave me the fruitcake?

Mary Jane Robinson:

Yes.

Robert Walker:

Well, his first sergeant had picked out a beautiful apartment at Luxembourg, "Going to be for you, Colonel." No way. By 10::00, he was moving his men through the forest into position in foxholes, and we spent the most miserable part of that winter, when that breakthrough came through, and we were -- let's see -- it was like a trough, and we were on the south edge of that trough, and they were coming through here, and that was my first introduction to (?Nebuwarfares?), which is a lot of -- it does more damage psychologically than it does physically with the noise it makes. It comes down, makes a weird thing like, "woo, woo, woo, woo."

Mary Jane Robinson:

What is it? Is it a --

Robert Walker:

-- It's kind of like a mortar shell. It's fired up in the air, then, when it comes down, it makes this weird noise, which psychologically scares you out of your wits. And I had a good friend, Jones, who was our ensign. He just lost his mind.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Because of it?

Robert Walker:

Yep. He recovered in a couple days, but that night, he just went bananas when this thing was being fired all night.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Why hadn't you heard it before?

Robert Walker:

It was kind of a selective thing. It wasn't widely used. It wasn't the kind of a weapon you could kill people with. It was more concussion and noise than deadly fire.

Mary Jane Robinson:

Nebuwarfare?

Robert Walker:

Nebuwarfare, right. Never heard one before. Anyway, we learned a bitter lesson there. We had a train outside of this house, it was a farmhouse, and we were in the basement, the cellar, dirt cellar, and we had a latrine outside. Well, again, going back to the story about the roads, you just have to learn the hard way. When you go outside, we put up a sheet which blended with the snow, but the sheet was that far off the ground, and they could see, and we lost three guys. They didn't kill them, they were wounded, but we had to drop the sheet to the ground. We learned the hard way. And so it went.

[END OF SIDE TWO]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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