Robert Anderson and his future wife Iris saw how devastating a World War can be, up close. For Bob, it was surviving the siege on Bastogne in Belgium as part of the “Battle of the Bulge.” Bob would see the devastation that constant combat and bombardment could do to a city and to the soldiers and citizens who had to endure the onslaught of the German Army. At the battle's beginning the U.S. Army was equipped with 80,000 men, 400 tanks, and 400 guns, while the Germans had 200,000 men, 600 tanks, and 1,900 guns. For Iris, it was treating the young wounded men in an Army hospital in Illinois.
Bob was born June 22, 1924 in Chicago Illinois. He entered the Army in November of 1942 and did his basic training in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was part of the government’s college deferment called the Army Specialized Training Program. He was attending the University of Georgia with “around 800 other men” when the government ended the program in March of 1943 and the unit was called up to active duty. He was assigned to the 10th Armored Division and left New York in September 1944. They were part of the first division to land in Cherbourg, France (and not in England as had been done previously by all troop ships). The 10th Armored “followed General George Patton through France and arrived at the front north of Paris”.
Bob was assigned to the 150th Signal Company as a wire man. There were “9 or 10 guys on a half-track”, and their job was to “maintain communication lines from the front back to division headquarters. His company moved to Metz then Thionville, France, where they would become the first division to enter Germany. He noted that “70 years later, the town of Thionville put up a plaque in honor of their liberation by the Americans.”
The Battle of the Bulge began on Dec. 16, 1944, and Gen. Patton ordered Bob’s signal platoon to Bastogne on Dec.18, 1944 to establish communication lines. The German army managed to push American forces back nearly to the Meuse River and surround the town of Bastogne in Belgium. At that time, when ordered to surrender Bastogne, Brig. General Anthony C. McAuliffe famously replied, "Nuts." That same day, reinforcements, food and medical supplies were sent by airdrop, and Allied airplanes began their attack on German tanks. Bob noted that they were “running out of ammo, food and gasoline.” He said that he was “sure glad to see the 101st Airborne arrive in Bastogne.” The siege was finally halted on December 27, 1944.
On January 7th, 1945 Bob came down with hepatitis and was sent first to a hospital in Paris, then Le Mans to recover. He eventually returned to his unit in Trier, Germany to join the 7th Army push across Germany and ended up on the Austrian border when the war ended on May 7th, 1945. During this time, Bob’s vehicle “hit a land mine” and he was “blown off but only suffered minor scratches.” In September 1945, he was sent to Antwerp, Germany where he boarded a Liberty ship bound for home, and he was discharged on Jan. 16, 1946
Here in Iris’s own words is her story and how she and Bob met:
“I met my future husband in a church Bible camp, when we were 15 and 16. There were 20 miles between us in Chicago, where we grew up. He travelled one and a half hours each way, each time we had a date. So, most of our romance was carried on by telephone. I am a year older than he, so that when I started college, he was still in high school. I was teased by the other girls for dating someone still in high school, so we drifted apart for a time.
“I was a civilian nurse in training in the Cadet Nursing Program during the Second World War. The year was 1945. I did not have to commit to the program but I did. I received a monthly stipend and a uniform. From my class, only five women signed up for the Cadet Corps. We all roomed together. In the last 12 months of this program, I was sent to Galesburg, Illinois. It was at this time, that Japan surrendered in July and I graduated in September 1945.
“The six months I spent in the Army hospital were very traumatic for me. Some of the spinal injuries I saw were so tragic. The attitude of these injured soldiers was bitter and they were desperate. Bedsores were too common. Some of these sores were so large you could put your fist in them! We nurses faced many challenges such as these. This was a very emotional experience for me. “At about this time, Penicillin became available. We knew that this was something that would ease the pain and start the healing process, especially with bedsores. We rejoiced over this latest medical discovery.
“About the time the war came along, and after I had become a nurse in the Corps, the mother of my old boyfriend from back home became ill with a brain tumor, which eventually took her life. I was working at a private hospital at the time. I was one of the nurses assigned to her care and realized what a coincidence it was that me and my "old flame" should see each other again, through the illness of his mother. We began seeing each other and our romance really flourished. We wrote letters all the time, when we were unable to see each other. He arrived home after his discharge in January 1946. We became engaged on Valentine's Day and were married in May 1946. We have been married for 70 years. We have two sons.
“My husband attended the University of Chicago on the G.I. bill and earned his Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Chicago. We lived in a very small house. He also attended the University of Austin for three years. He was offered a position at Texas Tech and that is how we arrived in Lubbock.” Bob noted that there were 7 PHD’s in his family and his wife had a Master’s Degree.
At the conclusion of our interviews, Iris made the following comment about the war; “Bob saw the dead bodies of the soldiers, I saw the dead souls.”
Respectfully submitted by,
Larry A. Williams
Veterans Liaison Co-Chair
Texas South Plains Honor Flight
and Marian Anderson