Nov 8, 2016
I was born in Boise, Idaho on October 26, 1920. I grew up in the dust bowl of Kansas and later lived and worked in Colorado logging with horses.
I had a rather close relationship with my grandfather who was a Quaker and he had a large influence on my life which made me more of a pacifist. But when Pearl Harbor happened, I knew it was my duty and privilege to stand for my country so I joined the US Army.
Although I had extensive combat training, I found myself in a non-combat situation running cable and stringing phone lines for the command post. My friends called me ‘Wire Man’. I started out carrying an M1 but soon had that taken away when I was classified non-combatant and was issued a 45 instead.
General Truscott took over the 3rd division and it was his belief that an infantry unit could be as tough and rugged as a commando unit. So, we trained and trained until we could fast march 5 miles in one hour every morning. We called this exercise the “Truscott Trot’. From there we marched with full battle gear until we could march 30 miles in 8 hours.
We took part in the North African campaign and then the invasion of Sicily, marching to Palermo covering 90 miles in 3 days, all on foot. General Patton had drawn a line 4 miles short of Palermo as he and his ‘Blood and Guts’ tanks were to be the first in. Since we were there so quickly, he gave General Truscott permission to send patrols into the city. Patton’s tanks rolled into the town with banners flying and cameras rolling only to find us there already patrolling the secured streets.
Then we moved on to Messina. We cleared Sicily of Italian and German soldiers in 38 days. We then moved to Salerno and fought north to an area close to Montecassino.
Somewhere during that campaign, I was out stringing up part of the wire and was not made aware of the password needed to get back into the group. Coming back into the group, the guard called out “Maxwell”. I said, “Yes, that is me.” The guard called out the name again asking what was the counter sign. I said again, “Yes, it is me…..you know me…I am the wireman!”. A click of the guard’s M1 made me aware that I was now in dire trouble. “I don’t know the counter sign!”, I yelled, “It is me…the wireman!”. The guard knew me and let me through. It was then that I found out that the sign was my name and the counter sign was “house”, Maxwell House.
In January 1944, I was injured in the early stages of the Battle of Anzio. I was repairing wires when we came under heavy shell fire. I took shrapnel in my left leg early on during the three hour firefight. I recovered in a hospital in Naples before rejoining my outfit in Southern France.
We were in the town of Besancon at the Battalion command post. It was a farmhouse surrounded by a four foot stone wall. Above the wall was stretched chicken wire to give us some added protection. I was on watch in the middle of the night with three others when the Germans pierced our outer defenses and began attacking the command post with machine guns and 20mm antiaircraft weapons. The gunfire illuminated the scene, silhouetting the attacking enemy less than 100 feet away. All of us were only armed with 45s but did our best at holding off the enemy. We could hear the twang of grenades hitting the chicken wire and bouncing off.
All of a sudden one of the grenades cleared the wire. The decision had to be made quickly. Throwing it back was not an option as it would probably blow up in my hand and take us all out so I did what seemed to be the only clear option. Using my blanket somewhat as a shield, I pushed the grenade up against the wall and smothered it.
When I awoke, I was alone. I knew that I was badly hurt but only felt pain in my foot. I got up and staggered to the command post and found Lt Johnson unhooking the last of the communications. I told him that I was hurt and needed his help. With my arm over his shoulder, we headed off towards the road. A grenade exploded somewhere behind us knocking us down. Knowing the Germans were there right behind us spurred us on and we met up with a jeep on the road. I was placed on the hood of the jeep as it took us to safety. I sustained injuries up my right side from my instep to my arm and right temple. I was sent to Naples where I was operated on and returned to the states to Camp Carson Convalescent Hospital in Colorado.
Besides the campaign and Purple Hearts, I was awarded the Croix de guerre, 2 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor. And so ended my military career.
After the war, I attended vocational school in Eugene and worked in Central Oregon for a couple of motor companies. I attended Oregon State during the summer months while working in Bend and Eugene.
I met my wife, Bea, at church in early 1951 and we were married in August of that year. This August, we will have been happily married for 62 years.
Bea, and I moved to Bend in 1958 where I got a job at COCC. I helped start the automotive program there and at Bend High along with Bob Johnson, setting up equipment and writing courses. I then went to Lane CC where I taught their Automotive program for 20 years.
My faith has always been a huge part of my life, keeping me involved in church often serving as elder in some.
We eventually moved to Bend where we have been living for the last 16 yrs.
There are two reasons that I do what I do. Firstly but not foremost, The Medal of Honor carries the weight of the true heroes….the ones we left behind. The ones that gave their lives so that we can be free. So, I want to honor their memory.
And then to my God, who allowed me to live to tell the story. He has a story of his own and I want to honor his sacrifice for us. For by his Grace, I am here today and I want to live for him.
I am Technician Fifth Grade Robert Maxwell. And proud to be a member of the Bend Band of Brothers.