Reed Robertson A WWII Veteran An Eyewitness to Hiroshima
The middle school students at Rockridge schools are searching high and low for subjects who lived through WWII. They want to write stories for my book series and so far, six great stories have been found in the local area. A veteran named Reed Robertson came up to me after speaking at his Rotary club a few weeks ago. He said he thought his story would make an interesting one for the series. He was in the Army Air Corp and his crew was occasionally asked to take photos from the air. This is what happened on the morning the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. He said "it was a day like any other day" and his flight crew had no idea what was to happen. He still has the pocket watch he used during the war and the Bible he carried in near his chest. As I held these items in my hands, I thought, "He was just a frightened young man doing his very best to help win the war." The things he saw cannot be described - not by Reed, and not by anyone.
Certainly, none of the young people could comprehend what their new friend had experienced. They are learning to wrap their minds around the stories of WWII. The subjects who share this living history are helping them greatly. Elizabeth Johnson and Maddie Rowe picked this story to write and illustrate for young readers. TV4 also came to the school to hear Reed's story.
Reed Robertson was born on August 19, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It's a city rich in American history and Reed's Scottish grandfather was the architect who set the famous statue of its founder, William Penn, on top of the city hall. Before this 37-foot-high bronze statue went up, his sisters walked around the rim of Billy's hat.
His mother, Hannah Marion Stuart, and his father, Clarence Herbert Robertson, were both known by their middle names. Marion was a housewife and Reed remembers his mother playing piano every morning. It was also a player-piano which was a lot of fun. Herbert started two businesses that failed. It was hard times because of the Great Depression. Prior to this, he was a good father who did things with his children. Reed enjoyed special times listening to the radio with his dad. Reed had an older sister Patty Ann who became very ill when she was eight years old. She was diagnosed with spinal meningitis and it left her disfigured with mental problems. Later she developed tuberculosis, a lung disease which sent people to a sanatorium because it was contagious. She passed away at a young age. His younger sister Jeanette had double pneumonia as a young girl and her temperature got so high, she never recovered her mental capacity. Reed remembers her as being very sweet. Because of his business failures, his father became depressed and things were never the same. They didn't have much money and they lost their home in Philadelphia moving to Collingswood, New Jersey. His parents divorced and his mother battled depression too. Reed did many jobs to help make ends meet. He sold magazines such as the Ladies Home Journal,Saturday Evening Post and Country Gentlemen. With some of that money, he bought himself a bike to make his work easier. When the banks failed in 1933, like so many others, Reed lost the money he had saved. It's estimated that 4,000 banks failed that one year alone. As a young boy, friends and neighbors would buy Reed toys that were luxuries in those days. He was lucky to receive a chemistry set and a child-size pool table. Young Reed wanted to fly which was a dream that would come true, but not in the way he imagined. He ran track for Collingswood High School and played basketball and football with his friends during his free time but mostly, he was making money and studying. When he graduated, he went back to Philadelphia and attended college at Drexel Institute of Technology. He wanted to be a chemical engineer so he interned at DuPont, a world-class company. He was at college when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Now America was in the war and in November of 1942, Reed volunteered to serve. He was called up in January of 1943 and sent to Texas for training. He wanted to fly, so he volunteered to be a navigator in the Army Air Corps. At this time, there was no US Air Force. When they practice bombing missions, they flew over the badlands of New Mexico and used sand bags as pretend bombs. There was an experimental program for the boys in the Air Corps. They were taken by train to Rock Island, Illinois where they attended classes in writing and public speaking at Augustana College. Occasionally, Reed and the others would have free time to go for an ice cream soda or a movie. One day he met a woman named Audrey who would one day become his wife. When he went back to San Antonio, they would write back and forth. Reed continued to train to go to war and his thoughts were always on Audrey. He had leave time coming so he took a trip to Rock Island and saw her again. He brought an engagement ring with him and he asked her to marry him. They were married on November 18, 1944.
In January of 1945, Reed was ready to ship out to the Pacific theater. His unit nicknamed themselves the 23 Skidoos because, except for one (their gunner) they were all 23 years old. 23 Skidoo was a popular slang word meaning "getting out while the getting is good". Reed's unit stopped in Hawaii and then New Guinea. Reed found that the weather was hot and humid, the birds were strange-looking and they heard frightening stories of head-hunters. They were occasionally bombed by Japan there. The Allies then pushed the Japanese back into the hills in the Philippines and Reed's unit moved there next. He wrote a letter to Audrey every day. Many times he would pick a flower and press it between the pages of book and then mail it to her. His dream of being a navigator had come true but he soon learned this was the job with a very high death rate. Navigator's sat behind the pilot using a parachute as a seat. There was very little protection and on many occasions this caused Reed to think "I'm not going to make it." Reed's unit dropped bombs but occasionally they were ordered to take photographs from the air. On these days, the co-pilot would open the bomb bay doors where a camera was mounted where the bombs would be. His 345th Bombardment Group was nicknamed the Air Apaches and Reed remembers hearing a woman named Tokyo Rose mocking them on the radio. Rose was born in Los Angeles to Japanese immigrates but was in Japan visiting relatives during the war. She hosted a Japanese propaganda radio program called "Zero Hour" aimed at the U.S. troops. Rose was returned to the United States and convicted of treason after the war. It was just another day on August 6, 1945 when their orders were to take photographs over Hiroshima. They had no idea it would be the day the atomic bomb would be dropped on that city. But at 8:16 a.m. (Japanese time), an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the world's first atom bomb. It was quite a sight to see the bomb go off and the destruction it left below. Many days later, Reed's unit went down on the ground to see the aftermath of the bomb. Then on September 2, 1945, his unit was ordered to fly over and take pictures of Japan's formal surrender aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay. That was a happy day! Reed came home and he and Audrey moved to the Chicago area where he took advantage of the GI Bill and completed his college education at the Illinois Institute of Technology. They had a good life which included a daughter named Cynthia and two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.