Davis, Robert Leach



Davis, Robert Leach


Robert Leach Davis


Robert Willoughby


Robert had just finished his second semester at U of M when he was drafted. He was living in Ann Arbor, but he was drafted from Vermont because his parents lived there. On June 22, 1943, a got on the train in VT and traveled to Fort Devens. Robert was very nervous because he had entered a completely new environment and wondered what was in store for him. He was sent to infantry basic training in South Carolina in July 1943 and was there for 13 weeks of training. After completing training, he was selected for the Army Specialized Training Program, which gave additional technical training to soldiers. Robert was sent to the University of Connecticut and enrolled in the basic engineering curriculum. He thought it was a poor choice because he was a liberal arts person, and he wasn’t sure that he would succeed. After six months, the program was scrapped anyway, and Robert was sent to the 78th Infantry Division in Virginia, in the spring of 1944. While in Virginia, he prepared to be sent to Germany. He was assigned to a heavy weapons company and was asked by the Motor Sergeant to drive a jeep for the squad. Robert said yes (it would get him out of all the marching!), and he was very glad that he was selected for this position. In September 1944, he was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey where he boarded a troop ship. Robert landed in England about 10 days later (just a few months after D-Day). He was in England for a few months, getting equipment together, and by late November he crossed the channel, and landed in France. From France, he headed to Belgium and Germany. On Dec 13, 1944 he experienced his first day of combat. His 78th division was replacing another infantry division that had been in combat since D-Day, and the 78th division was just over the German border in Simmerath, a small farming community, when they experienced fierce fighting. He was not on the front lines. His job was to carry a trailer (behind his jeep) with a machine gun mounted on it. On the first day, he was ordered to carry ammunition up to a front-line post. As he was carrying them, a mortar landed nearby, and he caught a small bit of shrapnel in his arm and leg. When Robert arrived at the post, the aid man noticed that he had blood on his arm. Robert was told to go to the aid station to record the wound, receive treatment, and receive a purple heart. The doctors could not find the shrapnel in his arm, so he was sent to Paris for more treatment. He was away from the front for about 45 days. By the time he got back to his company in Germany, many of his comrades had been killed, captured, and wounded. Most of the company was made up of new people, strangers to him. His company had held the northern flank of the Battle of the Bulge, and he resumed his job as a jeep driver. In early March, his company moved south; they were the second infantry division to cross the Rhine River. They entered the Ruhr Valley in early April, within a few weeks of victory in Europe. Robert never fired a weapon in combat, since he was a driver. He thinks he was very fortunate to have fared so well, since he did not have to be at the front. Just after Victory in Europe day, his division came across a Prison camp (not a concentration camp, but a prison labor camp), and they liberated it. After the war ended, they ended up in a holding area, in central Germany and thought that they would be sent to the Pacific Theatre. Instead, his division was picked for occupation duty in Berlin. From October 1945 to March 1946, he was on occupation duty in Berlin with his division. Robert became a clerk for a few months, which he liked better than driving a jeep. In March 1946, he was discharged and sent home. He returned to VT, but his father had died while he was away. Robert worked that summer in Vermont, and then went back to Ann Arbor in September 1946, to finish at U of M with a degree in Psychology.

Date Span

Dates of Service


Enlisted; United States Marine Corps; United States Army; 1st Cavalry Division; World War, 1939-1945; Korean War, 1950-1953; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; United States; Vietnam; Lieutenant Colonel


Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

Collection Location


Spatial Coverage

Second World War - European Theater

Item sets