My Military Life
By Robert E. Sheffield ‘50
Robert registered for the draft in May of 1943 and reported to Fort Snelling,
Minnesota, in September, with a number of his friends from Edgeley, North
Dakota. Basic training was at Camp Roberts, California, and then shipping
out to the European Theater of Operations as infantry replacements.
The following excerpts are from his story.
“About June 8  we loaded on trains for the south English ports.
Unloading off trucks at the docks in Weymouth we had to wait for our ship
to come back from the Normandy beaches and unload the wounded. Little
did I realize that about 2 weeks hence I would come back on an LST as a walking
“I was assigned to Co. E of 8th Regiment who were in the front lines just
outside Montebourg, France. I was about to spend my first night in
the front lines. We replacements were split up among several squads
with the combat experienced NCOs. We stayed there for several days
and nights getting our first outpost and night patrol experiences.
Montebourg was being shelled by our artillery all night long and after each
barrage we could hear the tiles falling off the roofs.”
“We spent more days chasing the Germans past Valogne and eventually reached
the outskirts of Cherbourg. Starting to advance one day we received
heavy machine gun fire in an open field. We all went to ground and
started to return fire towards a hedgerow to our front. I was the BAR
man by this time and I commenced firing although we couldn’t see the Germans.
The BAR overheated so I got the oil vial and soaked the chamber and commenced
firing. I had positioned myself by a short tree stump but when a burst
of machine gun fire chipped pieces of the stump off I rolled over to a new
spot. … The firefight continued with me remembering a German 20 MM gun firing
off to my left. A mortar shell hit just between a member of my squad
and me. I heard my squad member moan. I felt some sharp pains
in my left hand and my lower left arm. I said I’m hit and then it seemed
to get quiet. … That night I was examined and they cut into my hand and arm
and removed the shell fragments. The medics said I had to be evacuated
to England the next morning. … That day outside Cherbourg our company
took heavy casualties. We lost about 22 killed and numerous wounded.
Some of the casualties were my replacement buddies from Camp Roberts, CA.”
Robert survived, became a squad leader, and was wounded again by shrapnel
from a German bazooka while fighting in a small German town. His Company
continued to chase the fleeing German Army across the Siegfried Line, back
into Luxembourg and Belgium, and again across the Siegfried Line. As
the war came to an end in Europe, Robert’s Company was in the resort town
of Starnberg, south of Munich. From May to July 1945 he was part of
the Army of Occupation. Back in the States, he received his orders
for discharge in October 1945. In January 1946 he started college on
the G.I. Bill.
Robert concluded his story with following: “I always had a deep trust
in God and from the close calls I had I believe he had chosen me to survive.
I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the experience and wouldn’t give a
nickel to do it again. … I had gone to military service at age 18,
and come home at age 20 ½ having made it from Private to Staff
Sergeant in the 2 years I was in. I earned the Combat Infantryman’s
Badge, two Purple Hearts for battle wounds, the European Theater ribbon with
4 campaign stars (Normandy, Ardennes, Rhineland, & Central Europe), and
a Bronze Star.”