Golden Gate Wing Guest Speaker Archive

Presentation Date: March 22, 2007

Sgt. Robert W. Davis Company B, 1st Battalion, 394th Regiment, 99th Inf

Speaker Photo

* Drafted into the Army in January 1943 in Santa Barbara, trained as a baker and cook, medic, and then as an as an infantryman following ASTP at New Mexico State.
* Assigned to B Company, 394th Regiment, 99th Division (1st Army) and deployed to Europe (ETO) in September 1944.
* Following some brief patrolling during the time of the Battle of the Bulge (without having any major combat), Sgt. Davis's unit was overrun and captured from behind in the Ardennes Forest. He was sent to a number of POW camps, finally arriving and release in Moosberg by Company B of the 394th Regiment, now part of Pattons 3rd Army, on April 29, 1944.
* Sent to Camp Lucky Strike and then back to the States via Trinidad. * Born 6/14/1924 in Ontario, CA
* Raised and Schooled in Santa Barbara, CA
* Drafted into the Army in January 1943 in Santa Barbara, trained as a baker and cook, medic, and then as an as an infantryman following ASTP at New Mexico State.
* Assigned to B Company, 394th Regiment, 99th Division (1st Army) and deployed to Europe (ETO) in September 1944.
* Following some brief patrolling during the time of the Battle of the Bulge (without having any major combat), Sgt. Davis's unit was overrun and captured from behind in the Ardennes Forest. He was sent to a number of POW camps, finally arriving and release in Moosberg by Company B of the 394th Regiment, now part of Pattons 3rd Army, on April 29, 1944.
* Sent to Camp Lucky Strike and then back to the States via Trinidad.
* Attended two semesters at Santa Barbara State Teacher's College, now UCSB, while taking advantage of the GI Bill, then returned to New Mexico State where he obtained his BS in Chemical Engineering. Difficulty in the job market caused Bob to study for his Master's at MIT.
* He then went to work for Stanolind Oil and Gas (a wholly owned subsidiary of Standard Oil Company of Indiana), and eventually for Chevron, where he worked in the El Segundo Refinery twice, and managed three refineries in El Paso, TX, Salt Lake City, UT, and Richmond, CA.
* He retired in 1989 as President of Chevron Chemical in San Ramon.
* Married to his wife, Judith, and has three children, two daughters and one son. In the last half of 1942, Bob Davis, a self-described "barefoot California beach boy," was in his first semester at Santa Barbara State College.

He clearly recalls being with his girlfriend atop Summerland Hill one cloudless evening when he heard what he thought was thunder. Looking to the west he and his girlfriend saw what appeared to be lightning flashes.

When Bob turned on the radio he heard a report that a Japanese submarine was off the California coast.

"That was when the Japanese sub came up and started shelling the oil fields at Ilwood(?) That kind of changed my whole outlook on life. I said to myself, ‘that’s pretty serious’.

"So a lot of my buddies and I got together and talked about that. We decided that as soon as the semester was over we better go down to L.A. and volunteer for the Navy, because none of us wanted to go into the Army. We didn’t want to get drafted."

They planned on the Saturday after their grades were to come out to go sign up. But on Friday, they all received Army draft notices, and soon Davis and his friends were in Monterey, California to be inducted.

"We learned how to salute officers and police the area, learned about K-P and short arm inspections, all the good things the Army makes you understand."

In their fresh uniforms, Bob and his buddies rode the rails for four days to El Paso, Texas, only to have the train parked on a siding there for two days. About half of the troops were given leave to go see El Paso, and some of those soldiers knew Juarez, Mexico was right across the river.

"Some of them came back and told the damnedest stories of what goes on in Juarez. They finally got us all back on board and we went to Camp Barkley, Texas, for basic training."

Davis was taught about weapons and says he mastered the M-1 rifle, the Browning Automatic Rifle and 60mm and 81mm mortars. And, despite the fact his family had run a bakery in Santa Barbara, he was put into "cooks and bakers school."

"That was probably the biggest mistake they ever made. They normally don’t allow people to go into what they already know. I really learned a lot, and the best thing I learned was that the cooks and bakers get the best chow. I knew where the tenderloin was on the side of beef. And we had a lot of tenderloin, a lot of filet mignon while we made hamburger for the boys."

Cooks and bakers school didn’t last though. The Army shifted Davis to Specialized Training Program at New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Old Mesilla, to pursue medical training and become an officer. In the Army’s often circuitous manner, the training continued at Texas A&M until the Army entirely set aside the Specialized Training Program for officers and engineers, in favor of creating more foot soldiers and close teamwork.

Bob was assigned to the 99th Infantry Division in Paris, Texas. It was the heart of watermelon country and he fondly recalls taking leave into town and seeing huge tubs of chilled watermelon. He says you could go in and eat your fill for about a nickel.

In June 1944, after a couple of months of training, Bob and a few of his fellow soldiers went to Dallas on leave. Checking into the hotel, the bellhop asked if they wanted some girls.

"We’d been in the room about an hour and then came a knock on the door   and here were these two or three ‘chicky babes’. We let them come in and started talking with each other and having a good time. Pretty soon another knock came on the door, and it was the MPs.

"An MP said ‘Get out ladies. These guys are going back to their base.’ And they did take us back to the base and said, ‘your leaves are cancelled. Get back … and continue your training.’ "

That training was completed in September and the 99th was put on a train to Camp Miles Standish near Boston, and then shipped to England. After a couple months of billeting they were packed into boats to cross the Channel to Le Havre, France.

The regiment’s new camp was in an apple orchard, and to the soldier’s pleasant surprise, it quickly became know the region was the home of calvados, apple brandy.

"And we had calvados," says Davis. "That farmer told us he saved it all the time the Germans were there, because they knew somebody was going to come back and turn us free."

By mid-October, Davis and the 99th began its journey east to the front. About half of the trip was on foot; the other half was in 6x6 trucks. Davis remembers that everybody in the infantry admired the way the truck drivers were dressed, with the latest cold weather clothes and winter boots—attire the 99th’s foot soldiers were without.

The new posting was in the Ardennes Forest on the Belgian border of Germany, within 300 yards of the Siegfried Line. The 99th Infantry was relieving the 9th Infantry Division, which had already built some log-covered bunkers. Davis says once the troops settled in, they were given a special message:

"We were told this is your position. We want you to hold this position… and we want you to stay, basically, to fight and die."

Three weeks passed without any action, except for infrequent patrols. On one information-gathering mission to Monschau, Davis says he and his fellow GIs on the mountaintop saw lots of activity inside Germany.

"We knew they were getting ready for something, and we passed that back to the higher-ups. I don’t know whether they heard us or not."

On another patrol, Davis says they captured a Wehrmacht soldier walking down the street, rucksack on his back and swinging a satchel. Stopping him at gunpoint, they told him he was in American territory and was a prisoner of war. The German was adamant he was to be allowed to go home.

"He said, ‘I’m on leave. I’m going home and I’ve a pass to show it.’ And he pulled out his papers and sure, enough, he had a pass to go home through the American lines."

At about 5:30 on the morning of December 16th the complexion of the 99th’s encampment in the Ardennes changed dramatically. An artillery barrage told Davis his plans for the day had changed.

"My brother in the Supply Corps in Liege, Belgium, knew I was on the front line had arranged to visit me at my bunker on December 16, 1944. At 5:30 in the morning we both knew he wasn’t going to come see me. I’m glad he didn’t."

The barrage of German artillery harkened the start of the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s desperate gamble to make gains in the west and sue for peace.

"All hell broke loose… I hope I never, ever, ever experience anything like    barrage that took place for about two and one-half hours. It was so devastating that everybody was hiding in his bunk waiting for it to go away.

Davis says he felt fortunate the bunker he was in had nine to twelve inch logs on top of it, which protected them from the high explosive shells roaring in.        Then, at about 8:30, he says the Germans began advancing.

"They came in wearing their white winter clothing, marching straight at us. We shot at them and we put them down, as many as we could. They finally backed away. I guess they decided they couldn’t take us from the front. And they started peppering us from behind trees."

"The only way I knew I could kill any more Germans was to shoot a rifle grenade at a tree behind them, so it would explode on the tree and hopefully wound them. I think probably I did, but I don’t know that for sure.

By about 2:00 in the afternoon, all grew quiet, and remained so for about an hour. Then, Davis remembers hearing a German voice from on top of the bunker shouting ‘Raus, raus. Raus mit uns"

Davis says German soldiers were standing on top of the bunker, and they threw a grenade that hit on the left side of the bunker (leaving a ringing in Bob’s ear that he still hears today). About the same time a rifle bullet went through Davis’ helmet, clipping him on the head before it exited the back of the helmet and then hit his buddy’s leg, breaking it and creating a serious wound.

"I tried to get my buddy out so we could carry him with us, but they wouldn’t let me take him out of the bunker. I was assigned to carry a wounded German, and did on my back for about three miles. Finally, they put us in the basement of a house, with not enough room to lie down, but enough to squat down on the floor."

Later, Davis would find out that about 60 percent of his company was killed or captured that day. From there, the survivors began a nine-day journey to a prison camp. At the Malmedy rail station, Davis says he and his fellow POWs were forced to give up parts of their uniforms. He gave up his field jacket and trousers, leaving him in two pairs of long johns and a heavy Army overcoat.

"As we left Malmedy I was scared, because they stood us up in front of railroad train. The Schutzstaffel (SS) was the guard at that time, and when you see those black uniforms, it really focuses your mind. Fortunately they didn’t fire on us, they just forced us to march off and go on that eleven-day journey."

Stalag 13D in Nuremburg was the first prison camp he arrived at on December 27th, and he was there until February 17th, when by foot and by train he and other POWs were moved to Stalag 13C in Hammelburg. (In 1980, Davis took his family to retrace his route as a POW, and he says his children were most appreciative of Stalag 13C, "because that’s where Hogan’s Heroes were.")

"The trains were not a pleasure cruise, because they were coal cars. There were 60-70 men in a car and there was no room at all. You could barely squat on the floor and one of the corners was a latrine. I’ll tell you, it was a mess. Riding in those cars was one of the worst experiences of my life.

"There was no water. We got a piece of bread about every other day. We got some tea once in awhile. I traded my Bulova watch for a half a loaf of bread, which I shared with some of my friends who didn’t have anything to trade. And that was a pretty good thing to do.

"For water, we were licking the moisture off of the walls, along with coal dust, just to keep ourselves form dehydrating."

Arriving at Stalag 13C, the prisoners found a little better conditions, but by then most of the soldiers suffered from diarrhea, dehydration and malnutrition.

The diet there consisted of tea for breakfast and cabbage soup for dinner, if you were lucky. Every once in awhile there was a celebration when a piece of meat was made available.

"We didn’t get any Red Cross parcels to speak of, because we’d just gotten there and it takes the Red Cross a long time to rig up a supply line to get things to prisoners."

Toward the end of March 1945, the sound of artillery fire getting progressively closer brought the POWs hope of liberation.

"We all shouted out, ‘Easter ham with Uncle Sam!’  It turned to pure joy when we saw the front gates of the stalag swing wide open. The guards had all left, and we’d been told by the senior commander in our barracks we had to wait there or else we’d get out and get shot.

"So we waited there and the doors swung open and in came these beautiful American tanks. And driving these beautiful American tanks were some ugly Germans."

Davis explained that Gen. George Patton had sent an armored spearhead about 60 miles in advance of the rest of the Third Army in order to liberate his son-in-law, an officer held in the officer’s compound in Hammelburg stalag.

The officers were liberated, but German guards apparently captured the American tanks and returned to the compound holding the enlisted men. The POWs were immediately moved by train to Nuremburg.

Since trains were not marked as carrying prisoners, they were frequently subject to attack by Allied fighter-bombers. Davis says one of the trains he was on was attacked, but he was personally fortunate the planes hit another railcar, three-removed from the one carrying him.

When the POW train reached Nuremburg on April 2, the Germans started their captives marching to Moosberg, east of Munich. Deciding he should exploit the march to make his escape, Davis said he would drop out of line to take care of his gastrointestinal problem. That eventually got him free, but when he sought out sugar beets in farm fields, he drew the attention of a ‘hausfrau’ who saw to it Davis was recaptured and sent marching again.

On April 22 the POWs reached Moosberg, thanks to good weather. Unfortunately, those blue skies gave fighter bombers free reign over Germany.

"A lot of my friends, including Chad Hilton, who was in the group that decided to go to L.A. and join the Navy, were fliers. Chad Hilton strafed my line of march several times, and he and I celebrated that a lot after I got back."

If that wasn’t enough irony, Moosberg was liberated by Company B of the 394th Infantry Regiment—Davis’s very own outfit in the Ardennes that had been overrun by the Germans.

"Some of my old buddies in the same outfit were still there. And, after I got back to the States, I was promoted from buck sergeant to staff sergeant, because the Secretary of the Army felt I would have progressed.

"Fatty Hahn was the company commander, a full Captain, and he couldn’t soldier for damn. He was back on K-P when the Battle of the Bulge broke out, so he helped to form the people who fell back from the front lines where we were and to re-organize. He turned out to be a pretty good soldier."

Davis says he’d always been chagrined because he had been told to "fight or die", and he didn’t die. He carried that guilt until, he says, "one day, in walked a marvelous soldier, with pearl-handled pistols".

"It was General George Patton. And he gathered us around and said ‘Men, we’re proud of you." And that took a big load off of my mind about not dying.

Moosberg proved to be more hospitable after the POWs were liberated from the camp. Davis says the GIs had the run of the town for several days, and they appropriated chickens from local farmers for a barbecued chicken dinner.

He also recalls a day when his GI liberators were lined up at the stairway down to a basement. One by one they came out, holding helmets filled with wine.

"What had happened was they had liberated this basement, and had chopped a hole into a hog’s head of wine. They were up to their knees in wine and were just carrying it out, having a good time.

Flown by C-47 to Camp Lucky Strike in Le Havre, Davis says he was treated for malnutrition. His weight had dropped from 205 pounds to 115 pounds. Camp officials had tried to control the former POWs’ food intake, but Davis says he found a little extra to eat.

Put on a luxury liner for the trip back to the United States, Davis says he volunteered to work in the kitchen, where he proceeded to eat, eat and eat.

Bob Davis says when he came into New York Harbor he saw the Statue of Liberty, and it never looked better. Davis used his GI Bill to return to college in New Mexico before starting his career with Chevron Chemical and Standard Oil.