Sixty years came and went without Warren Robinson knowing how his older brother Frank died in World War II.
One day, he decided to change that.
The process started almost 17 years ago, when the Bridgeton resident and World War II veteran helped put together a book of stories from local veterans of the war. Before that, Warren Robinson was not one to talk about his war experiences, but then he began to see many of his fellow veterans aging and dying. He came to the conclusion that it was time to start telling the stories and, in some cases, learning them.
"So we come home," said Robinson, 86. "Like everything else, we didn't talk about it and all else. But all those years, I wanted to find out about my brother. How did he die? Did he suffer?"
Life after wartime
The Robinson brothers were young soldiers during World War II, stationed just 30 miles from each other in France when Frank Robinson died Dec. 4, 1944. Warren Robinson survived the war after serving across North Africa and Europe, receiving multiple decorations.
Upon coming home, Robinson married and began working in car dealerships as a parts and repairs expert. He also gained recognition as a local - and vocal - guy to whom one could go to get things done within the government. Aside from a brief period during which Frank's young daughter lived with him, Robinson had little contact with the two small children his brother left behind.
Life went on like that, until he retired and began thinking about his fellow veterans and the war. He thought about his brother's death and how learning of it while he was in France nearly drove him mad.
"I think my family tried to shield me from it," Robinson said. "I think they couldn't accept it because they didn't receive any personal effects. All these years, I walked around like most GIs. I never really talked about it. I think we should start talking and share the stories."
About 12 years ago, Robinson tracked down his nephew, Frank Jr., who was 2 years old when his father died. It turned out Frank Robinson Jr. had stayed in the area as an adult and became a Millville police officer.
He had come in contact with Warren Robinson a few times over the years but never connected with the fact that they are related.
"They called him 'Robbie,' but I didn't put two and two together," Frank Robinson Jr. said.
So they talked, reacquainted, shared some stories and went on with their lives.
Then Warren Robinson started looking into his brother's death. He said he found a newsletter for the survivors of his brother's old unit, the 749th Tank Battalion outfit. A historian for the newsletter contacted Robinson. A few more talks and letters, a bit of help from U.S. Army records, and he found what he was looking for.
Where and when
"I found out where he was when his tank was hit," Warren Robinson said. "I got eyewitnesses. They managed to get three of the guys out of the tank. The Germans were waiting on them. The tank was hit, I think, six times, so there really was no hope for my brother."
A certification from Lt. Archibald Wilhelm confirmed the basic facts of the death and indicated the plot in Hochfeldon, France, where Frank Robinson originally was buried. A report by a U.S. Army embalmer stated there were multiple fractures, missing bones and no identification tags, which Warren Robinson believed was consistent with a fire in a tank.
A historical account of the 749th indicated the Dec. 4 battle took place at Dimeringen, where they had been forced to retreat because of heavy artillery fire. Pvt. Frank Robinson and Pvt. Elmer Stefani died, while tank gunner Charles Melton lost his right foot and tank driver Austin Perry took shrapnel to the right thigh. Witness Norman Charron, who remembered Frank Robinson for always borrowing pencils, wrote that the tank was the lead tank, which is why it took such heavy hits.
Another A Company member, Henry Peters, wrote Robinson after learning of his search. He remembered the time around Dec. 4 because he was injured around then. It was cold and wet, with plenty of rain and snow, he wrote.
"Conditions were horrible, and the Germans had a big push going on at the time," Peters wrote, according to Robinson's transcription.
Their company went 196 straight days in combat without relief from June 1944 to January 1945, Peters told Robinson.
Peace in knowledge
After communicating with the families of his brother's unit, Warren Robinson eventually told his nephew what he had found. That prompted Frank Robinson Jr. to go visit his father's grave for the first time. His father originally had been buried in France, but his remains were sent back to the U.S. for final burial in 1949.
"I was in awe really that he did all that research because I knew nothing about how my father died," Frank Robinson Jr. said.
About two years ago, Warren Robinson gave most of the documents regarding his brother to Frank Robinson Jr., who put them in a box for safekeeping.
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To learn more
For more information on Frank Robinson's unit, visit www.pitnet.net/heathde/749. The grandson of one of the unit's survivors has done a series of interviews with survivors to reconstruct the unit's timeline, including the Dec. 4, 1944, death of Frank Robinson Sr. Also of interest is www.749thgenerations.org