Veteran Profile: Robert Stewart
Madison, Ind.’s Stewart saw
much action in World War II
(September 2015) - In June 1943 Roy Stewart, then 19 years old, rushed home to Madison, Ind., to be with his ailing sister, who died not long after his arrival. After the loss, a heart-broken Stewart was unsure of his next move in life, so he opted to enlist in the U.S. Army to honor his country and what was behind him. It didn’t take long for Stewart to learn the lessons of war and to find connections, through his experiences, that would remind him of home, the good in all people, and how much we are all similar.
Stewart, along with 6,500 troops, ended up on the USS General Mann headed to North Africa. Stewart was assigned to the 106th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion A Battery, which were support troops during the invasion of Anzio. The purpose of Anzio was to cut off the main highways that were feeding the German Army who were trying to take Rome. The 106th used half-track armored vehicles that had wheels in the front and continuous track in the back. Their mission was to support the field artillery.
Photo by Nina Alcorn
Robert Stewart holds a photo of himself from his days in battle.
Rome was considered an open city, which meant there was no fighting there, to preserve the old buildings. On Aug. 15, 1944, they advanced to southern France on an LST ship with their half tracks. While on the ship, they brushed out the 5th Army and stenciled in the 7th Army. They were now the 7th Army under Gen. Alexander “Sandy” Patch invading southern France.
In southern France one night, while standing watch, Stewart and another soldier were working together trying to keep each other awake. Once they started to see daylight Stewart told his friend to get some sleep. While Stewart made some coffee, he looked up to see a German approaching him with his arms in the air.
“He said he wanted to surrender. I said, ‘Well come on in.’ I said, ‘Do you want a cup of coffee?’ And he said, ‘Oh boy!’ ” The man was a medical student from the University of Heidelberg. The Germans refused to put him in a hospital to serve, so he decided to desert.
Before he was turned over to the authorities, he asked for Stewart’s address. Stewart received a letter from the man after the war thanking him and letting him know that everything he said would happen had happened, that he had spent the rest of the war in Fort Custer, Mich., while Stewart remained overseas.
“He kind of rubbed it in a little bit,” Stewart said, laughing. They went on to exchange letters several times.
In November, the 7th Army caught up with the infantry, which had stalled out. Stewart went out to search for a person who was shooting. He came around from behind and fired a shot between his legs. As he approached the man, he found a young teenager who began sobbing, saying he didn’t ever want to be in the Army. Stewart sent the boy up the hill with a white flag. As he walked on further, he came upon a woman who began running. He yelled, “Halt!” which was stop in most languages.
He ended up having to shoot between her feet to get her to stop running.
When Stewart approached the woman, he asked where the two other German soldiers had run. She said they were hiding in a basement nearby. As Stewart opened the door, he realized it was full of Germans. With only five rounds left, Stewart thought quickly on his feet and decided to tell them they were surrounded and he suggested they surrender.
“This officer walked up to me and said, ‘That’s exactly what we want to do,’ ” and handed Stewart his pistol. After everyone had filed out, Stewart realized there were 37 Germans in this room. Luckily, while they were coming out, two field artillery officers had come down to help. Stewart said he felt more than lucky that day.
Stewart’s luck continued to serve him, although he did not escape combat without being wounded. On Nov. 8, 1944, Stewart was hit with shrapnel from a German tank. The 14th Army Division was coming in for relief when some German tanks started firing. The shrapnel hit Stewart in the mouth and went up his nose. The other hit his leg. Luckily, it was all superficial wounds, so he returned to the outfit.
Stewart’s organization pushed on, and following the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans began to surrender. On April 29, 1945, they liberated Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich, Germany.
“It wasn’t necessarily a concentration camp for Jews but more for German citizens who had said the wrong thing.” Stewart remembers bodies stacked up and specifically a girl with blond hair who could have been anywhere from age 6-16. It was hard to determine her age because she was covered with bodies. “I saw her eyes roll, so I knew she was alive,” Stewart recalled.
After liberating the concentration camp, they moved on to an American Prisoner of War camp near Dachau. Stewart witnessed twin brothers, one being the liberator and one being liberated. “There are some amazing things about war. You just can’t believe it,” Stewart said.
After liberating the camps, Stewart’s unit was set up at the airport in Munich. As everyone started to get the word that the war was over, they were approached by English-speaking Germans who were just as happy as the Americans were. “The Germans came over and hugged us and said, ‘Boy, we’re glad this is over.’ It was amazing.”
Finally, in November 1945, Stewart was sent to the 79th Division and on his way home. They started out from Marseille, France, across the Atlantic Ocean, where they encountered storms that lasted six days with 40-50 foot waves. “I thought well, I went through the war, but I’m still not going to make it,” he recalled.
After landing in Bermuda to pick up supplies, they pulled into Staten Island on Dec. 19, 1945. They filed into an auditorium in Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, where a general made a speech proclaiming he would have them all home by Christmas.
Stewart arrived back home about noon on Christmas Eve, 1945. “My mother and dad were looking for me. My dad met me,” he recalled.
At the end of Stewart’s career in the Army, he had been overseas for two years, been in combat 18 months, had 462 combat days, four Battle Stars, one Bronze Arrowhead because he had made an invasion, and a Purple Heart. “I guess I got the good conduct medal,” he said, laughing.
Following his return home, Stewart went on to Cumberland College in 1947, then earned a four-year degree at Union College at Barbourville, Ky., majoring in Business Administration. He married Helen Wilson on Dec. 29, 1973. Stewart credits his longevity to being young at heart, the lessons learned at war and his sister, his “guardian angel,” along with all the others he left behind. He will celebrate his 92nd birthday March 10, 2016.
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