As an Army forward observer, Lieutenant Robinson’s job was to work his way up close to enemy positions and radio in coordinates for artillery strikes. In April 1945, his infantry regiment had pushed deep into Germany and was crossing a river when it ran into tough resistance: 1,800 men from an SS Panzer division, dug in on high ground.
His company of about 100 men attacked across an open field, but the Germans hit back hard. They attacked again before dawn the next day, but the SS troops were ready, raking them with machine-gun fire and pounding them with mortars. By noon, half the company was dead or wounded, and the rest were pinned down. At that crucial moment, the company commander was shot in the head by a sniper.
That left Lieutenant Robinson, who had next to no leadership experience, in command.
“Fully aware of the hopelessness of the situation, knowing that if the company remained in that position they would be annihilated in a very short time, he would have been justified in withdrawing,” read a singed report in the file, typed by a sergeant shortly after the battle. Instead, Lieutenant Robinson, “with complete disregard for his personal safety, amid the deadly hail of bullets and shells, gallantly and courageously rose to his feet and coolly walked among the men, shouting encouragement,” the report said.
He led a charge up the hill, jumping into enemy trenches and killing 10 German soldiers at close range, records showed. The company rallied behind him and overran the position.
Though the unit was down to just one-quarter strength, the lieutenant urged the men on to rout the enemy from a nearby village. At its edge, an enemy mortar round exploded next to him, sending hot shrapnel through his larynx.
Bleeding down his chest and barely able to speak, Lieutenant Robinson refused first aid and continued for hours to call in artillery strikes. At sunset, with the Germans finally driven off, he walked wordlessly back to the closest aid station, a mile and a half away. He died on an operating table a few hours later.
Ms. Milhous had heard as a child that her father was a hero, but the archive’s detailed records filled in the gaps, reassured her that the stories were more than just legends, and gave her something concrete to pass down.
“It finally puts things to rest,” she said. “And I can rest too, knowing his memory is preserved.”
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