Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 3

Segment 4

Segment 5

Segment 6

Segment 7

Segment 8

This is for Keeps

Roadblock

Annotation

Robert Christie was born on Long Island, New York. Christie came from an all New York family. His mother’s family had lived in New York for five or six generations. His father came from Scotland and worked for the Standard Oil Company of New York. Christie grew up in a small town called Freeport on Long Island. He did the usual things that kids do. Boy Scouts taught him a lot of formative skills. He still uses some of these skills today. The skills that he picked up, like map reading, were very helpful to Christie in the service. Christie was not a distinguished student. His father was a pilot in World War 1 and could see war coming from a mile away. His dad advised him to go to college because of his personal experience seeing how the enlisted guys were treated. There was no way Christie was going to get into West Point to become an officer. Christie did not have any political connections either. Christie's father worked with another guy who worked at Standard Oil was a trustee of Norwich University. He told Christie's father that it was a top tier educational institution and that he should send Christie there. A lot of Christie’s peers were going to school at Harvard and Princeton and other Ivy League institutions. Norwich University was where Christie ended up going. Norwich University was about the same size as Dartmouth for a time. There was a lot of animosity between the two schools. The guys at Norwich wore uniforms but those at Dartmouth did not. This led to the Norwich guys getting the women. The barracks at Norwich mysteriously burned down in 1856 and there was some debate as to who the perpetrators were. Christie got dropped off at Norwich and remembers that it was on top of a hill and there were no trees. They had a parade ground and a few administrative buildings. The army’s first ROTC [Annotators Note: Reserve Officer Training Corps] unit was at Norwich University. It was a horse cavalry unit. Christie got his ROTC training in the horse cavalry. This is how he eventually ended up at Fort Knox for tank training. Christie went with his entire class to Fort Devens where his army career started. The army formed its armored divisions from the old horse cavalry units.

Annotation

A year after enlisting as a private Robert Christie graduated from OCS [Annotators Note: Officer Candidate School] with most of his fellow classmates from Norwich. Everyone scattered to the wind into different services upon graduation from OCS. He had gotten about three years of military style discipline at Norwich prior to entering the army. The senior class at Norwich was immediately commissioned as second lieutenants in the cavalry. Some of the guys ended up in armored divisions and a few engineers because Norwich was strong in engineering. Christie enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor but they were not called to duty until April 1943. They had time to put in a few more years. The army was not quite sure as to what to do with the masses of men enlisting so some people were deferred for a time. Christie was a sophomore when Pearl Harbor occurred. He was sitting in his room at the Alumni Hall barracks at Norwich. He and his roommate were listening to music on an old Emerson radio. His roommate immediately stood up and gave a salute once the radio announcement about Pearl Harbor had taken place. [Annotators Note: Christie implies that his roommate was kind of a jerk, but in a light hearted way so that he finds much humor in the situation 68 years later.] Christie got to Fort Riley and when he was there the army realized that horse cavalry was impractical. They were trained as truck drivers instead. They completed their basic training in the mechanized cavalry. When they got to Fort Knox they went through the usual paces. They mastered close order and parade drill as well as map reading. There were classes in armament as well. A second lieutenant was in charge of Christie’s class. He lined everyone up on the parade ground one time to call them out for being Norwich University students. He told them that Norwich graduates had all of the bad characteristics of a good soldier but none of the virtues. He cracked up and everybody realized he was joking. He went on to say that those guys were the best class he had ever had. During OCS one of their jobs was to go out in the field at Fort Knox and learn how to drive various vehicles. They knew about most vehicles but they had no experience in a medium tank. Firing the weapons on a tank was taught. There are five members of a tank crew. There is a driver and an assistant driver who occupy the hull of the tank. Three guys in the turret included the tank commander, gunner and the loader, who was on the left hand side of the cannon. By the time Christie got assigned to the 11th Armored Division the cadre was overloaded so Christie was shipped back to Fort Riley to help train incoming recruits.

Annotation

Robert Christie was assigned to a repo depot [Annotators Note: replacement depot] and shipped overseas. He was sent to the ETO [Annotators Note: European Theater of Operations] as a replacement officer. The ship he went on was called the Aquatania. It was a four stacker like the Lusitania. Their captain was an Englishman. He told everyone on board the ship to not worry about u-boats because the ship could outrun them. Christie very distinctly remembers someone being a smart ass and asking aloud what would happen if the u-boat was in front of them. There was no answer to that one. Nobody would have gotten out of that ship alive if it was torpedoed. They got overseas fairly quickly. The food was terrible. They were immediately put on a blacked out troop train. They landed at La Havre and before he knew it they were on the outskirts of Paris. From there Christie waited for his assignment. He ended up in the 3rd Armored Division. Christie wrote a book called Fates Finger in which he described the trip up to the front. He was in a six by six truck with about seven to eight other officers. It was snowing. They ended up on back roads. As Christie looked out the back of the truck he saw a body lying in the snow. It was at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. He assumed the body he was looking at was a German soldier but to his shock it was GI. There was blood on his face. It was only then that he realized he was in a war. This was all for keeps. Christie realized what war was then. Christie ended up at the door of an old farmhouse. He was told by a sergeant that it was his time to get off of the truck. This bothered him a little bit because a sergeant is not supposed to address an officer by first name. Christie carried an M1 carbine and a pistol as well. He walked downstairs into the cellar of the farm house and there was a major behind a desk. He grunted when Christie walked in. Christie threw him a sharp salute. He was ordered to sit down while the major looked over his papers. He asked Christie a bunch of questions about horses. He asked him if he ever ran into a horse named Maggie. He was talking to a Norwich graduate. Christie said he had intimate times with Maggie. The major said he was glad to see another Norwich graduate. The major informed him that the situation was precarious. He said that the Krauts [Annotators Note: American servicemen referred to Germans as Krauts] were all around. Christie was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Armored Division in Company E [Annotators Note: Christie was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 33rd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division].

Annotation

Robert Christie was in combat for a few weeks before his tank was hit. They had to bail out of their tank. He was not injured except for a dislocated shoulder. Christie ended up in a hospital in Belgium. When he got out of the hospital a week or two later he went back to the 33rd Armored Regiment but was assigned to Company F of the 3rd Battalion [Annotators Note: 3rd Armored Division]. Christie stayed there as a platoon leader. He finished the war as an executive officer because of attrition. His unit had landed on D plus 13 or 14. The war ended for them at the Elbe river. Christie met the Russians on the other side of the Elbe. During that interval Christie stayed with the same company and moved up through various platoons. Their turnover rate was almost 300 percent from D Day through the end of the war. Christie was in the Ardennes when his tank got hit. He had been in a couple of other encounters but nothing that had knocked out his tank. After they took a town they would spread the line of tanks out to not make an easy target. Christie was able to see what was going on all around him. One way or the other Christie lost five tanks. One of them was lost because his driver rolled them over an embankment. It ended up upside down. It was near the end of the war and they had come down around a corner. The night before the company commander had gone over the maps with Christie. Christie did not like the route because it was perfect for an ambush. They came around a corner and Christie was in the lead tank. There were a couple of big trees around the corner of the road. Christie was figuring out what to do and at that time he noticed two cannonballs go over his head. He was surprised at first but then he realized what was going on. As they were advancing they overshot Christie. Christie told the driver to back up but he backed up the wrong way which was right over the bank. They were stuck upside down. One of the things Christie told the bow gunner to do when they were backing up was to spray the road block. Before they ended up falling over the bank they actually killed the two guys. Christie took a map off of one of the dead Germans and it was the same map that he was looking at with his company commander the night before. The exact point Christie was suspicious about was marked for an ambush. That was an interesting experience. Christie jumped into the tank behind him and they were able to negotiate the road block. These were the kinds of experiences that they had. One time they were outside a town named Paderborn. They were like a knife through soft butter at this point. Paderborn was the German equivalent of Fort Knox. It is where the Germans trained in tanks. As a result of that the 3rd Armored Division got tasked with taking Paderborn. Christie was in the lead tank of the lead platoon on the run into Paderborn. Christie was on a hill overlooking Paderborn and he got a call to stop the advance. He did not know what was going on but shortly after that he was instructed to pull back. The division was not going to advance any further because it turned out the division commander was killed a few minutes before he got the call. That was where Christie thought his career was going to end because Paderborn was a rough assignment. One of the guys in his unit had already written home saying that he might not make it.

Annotation

Robert Christie notes that the armored tank units worked with the armored infantry. One of the residents at Christie's retirement home was a combat reporter. Christie met him later in life when they retired to Kendall. [Annotators Note: Kendall at Hanover is a retirement home in New Hampshire that famously banded together to write and record the World War 2 stories of all of its residents.] Robert Stambaugh was a reporter attached to the 36th Armored Division [Annotators Note: he likely means the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment]. They had a lot of fun swapping war stories. The armored infantry would go into a town first and clear people out. It was dangerous for tanks to go into those towns at first. When they got through the town and got it secured the infantry would jump on the back of the tank and go to the next town. The objectives at that point of the war were town to town in central Germany. Some were small cities but for the most part they were small towns. They never knew what was in the towns. One of Christie's great, but in retrospect tough, experiences of the war was dealing with a German SS captain hiding in a town. He was in a house and the infantry could not get in. The sergeant came up to him and said they needed help getting in. The sergeant took a grenade while Christie shot the lock out. The grenade was tossed inside and exploded and then Christie and the sergeant went in. Christie was escorting him out to the infantry so that he could be taken back to the prisoner camp when the German officer started to give him some trouble. Christie could not tell if he had anything on him so he repeatedly told the man to put his arms up. He would not put his arms up so he put his .45 [Annotators Note: M1911 .45 caliber pistol] in the small of his back and asked him if he was going to put his hand up. Christie took the pistol and put it to his head and the man put his hands up. Christie realized however that if the man had not put his hands up he would have shot him. That was Christie’s greatest moral dilemma in retrospect. Christie still thinks about this incident. He has not quite gotten over it. Christie ran into plenty of civilians, however, it was almost impossible to find any civilians that admitted to being in the Nazi party. Some of them had never even heard of the Nazi party. They went through Nordhausen which was a work concentration camp. There were all types of people in there working in a factory building V2 rockets. They worked those people until they dropped. The 3rd Armored Division liberated Nordhausen but Christie was only there for a day or two. Christie saw plenty of Germans who were swearing up and down that they had no idea there was a concentration camp a few miles away. There is a scene in Saving Private Ryan that gives Christie a chill. The scene when a Mark VI comes around a corner and the turret starts swiveling was realistic to Christie. The Mark VI had an 88 caliber [Annotators Note: 88 millimeter] gun on it and Christie likens it to someone shooting a pumpkin with a rifle. Christie had multiple opportunities to shoot at German tanks. He knocked out a German Mark VI tank one time. The gun he had on his tank was able to penetrate German armor. Christie never actually had to face a Mark VI face to face.

Annotation

Robert Christie notes that in the war all of the high philosophical things go out of the window. To actually see it and smell it was a terrible experience. He did not hate Germans any more after seeing Nordhausen. He realized later on in life that there were a lot of good German guys doing what they had to do. Christie was trying to kill them and they were trying to kill him. He did not worry too much about the bigger picture. Christie maintained correspondence with his family and girlfriend during the war. He is presently transcribing his war letters. When Christie was waiting for the interviewer's arrival he was typing an email to his former roommate from Norwich. He is a Jew who lives in Israel and was awarded the Silver Star for actions in Italy. Christie saw his former roommate at the 50th reunion for Norwich graduates. The 3rd Armored Division morphed into a constabulary force which was the occupation force of Germany. It was essentially a state police type unit. They got a lot of new inductees into the army that had been through basic training. Their job was to turn them into soldiers who could keep the peace. Christie had the job of maintaining order in a town on the Danube. It was a time of high living. There was plenty of cognac, schnapps and whiskey. Christie swapped his cigarette rations for liquor. He came home after a year of occupation weighing 60 pounds more then he weighed when he was inducted into the army. Life was good during the occupation. He did not feel as isolated from the home front. Eventually he was transferred to a soft job changing people’s money out so they could spend money on their furloughs. Christie also worked for an outfit that was in charge of documenting officers' leave. Christie got another random assignment. He found out that the Women’s National Basketball team was staying a week at one of the recreation areas he was in charge of on the German and Austrian border. Christie was informed that the skiing was going to be good. It was going to be a plush assignment. They drove two days through Germany and got all set up. The bus drove up to the hotel and out stepped a dozen black WACs. There was no integration whatsoever. Expletives were exchanged. They had one hell of a week of damn good skiing. Little things like that happened. Ever since Christie was a kid his family had dogs. He acquired two dogs when he was in Europe. They used to ride around in the back of his jeep. Christie was able to take the dogs home. Some of the German prisoners of war had the job of constructing animal crates for the GIs to bring their animals home. Some guys even shipped horses. Christie had the dog live with him for 10 to 12 years from when he got back to the United States.

Annotation

Robert Christie got orders to go back to the United States via a troop ship. The ship was named the Newburn Victory. They were told that they could not take anything beyond their personal possessions. Christie had a half grown German Shepherd puppy. Christie got with the surgeon and figured out a way to tranquilize the dog. When the orders were given to load up on the ship they were told there would be a two hour delay. Christie had the puppy in his duffel bag and the puppy woke up. When Christie walked up the gangplank the sergeant who was checking everybody paid no attention to the dog. When Christie got on the ship it seemed that everybody had an animal. The seven day trip on the Newburn Victory Christie had his dog with him the entire time. Christie sailed into New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty. When they pulled into the pier there was a lot of people assembled waiting to greet people. A megaphoned message came across the water asking if there was a Captain Christie aboard. It turned out that Christies mother who worked for the motor vehicle division of the American Red Cross had worked up the administrative fortitude to request she be present for when her son gets back. Christie ended up coming home and was greeted by his mother on the dock. Christie was embarrassed as hell. When Christie finally got home he was lined up with the GI Bill and overseas combat pay. He decided to go to college and he went back to Norwich University. Norwich welcomed its veterans back. 18 percent of Christie’s class was killed during the war. They stayed in uniform because it was a military college. Christie had a wonderful senior year. Christie went to the VA and took a bunch of tests. As a result of the tests they advised him to go on to graduate school. Christie asked what they suggested. Christie went back and talked to his roommate for advice. Christie had not made up his mind so his roommate told him to flip a coin. Heads he goes to law school and tails he goes to medical school. The coin landed on tails. Christie was allowed to take freshman and sophomore pre med courses to qualify for medical school. Through great fortune a family friend of Christies father was a doctor and he told Christie to give him a call if he thought about going into medical school. It turned out he was on the admission board of the Long Island Medical School. As a result Christie got into medical school. There were so many veterans coming back that it highlighted the lack of public education in New York State. They decided to make the Long Island College of Medicine and decided to call it the Downstate University of Medicine. That is how Christie graduated from the State University of New York. Christie had a great life as a physician. [Annotators Note: Christie reads the poem called Hunter which he read for an NBC Nighty News Special.]

Annotation

Robert Christie believes that it is very important to document history. Norwich University recently helped build a museum where it honors the military legacy of Norwich graduates. Christie is a firm believer of museums. He believes that people should study World War 2. World War 2 was the biggest and most encompassing of all of the wars the United States has been involved in. Also, the sacrifices that were made on the home front should be remembered. Christie was on the school board of the town he used to live in. He feels strongly about history and was actually able to facilitate the development of an ROTC program at the local high school. The ROTC program was able to give the kids some focus that will help them throughout the rest of their lives. Christie believes in service for your country and feels that everybody should have some military experience. It bothers Christie that we have elected Presidents who have no service in the armed services. If you are elected Commander in Chief of the military you should have some life experience that could help guide you. Whenever Christie came to a tough spot in his life he always thought back to his wartime experience and that helped drive him. His military experience is invaluable in helping him cope with the world that we live in. Christie does not like war. He hates war. One of Christies favorite books is the Lessons of History. Christie reads the book every New Years Day. In all of recorded history there are only 342 days where there was not a war going on somewhere. Christie personally believes that this kind of aggression is built into our DNA. Jane Goodall, the famous lady who studied chimpanzees, documented this warlike behavior. Wars are not going to be stopped by church, prayer or treaties. If you are not prepared to take care of yourself during a war you are going to be taken over. Christie believes that there is nothing wrong with being responsible for yourself, your family and your country. Christie strongly believes in freedom and liberty. If he were called again to serve he would do it in a heartbeat. He hated it while he was doing it but when it was all over he is incredibly happy that he did it.

Annotation

Robert Christie was assigned to a repo depot [Annotators Note: replacement depot] and shipped overseas. He was sent to the ETO [Annotators Note: European Theater of Operations] as a replacement officer. The ship he went on was called the Aquatania. It was a four stacker like the Lusitania. Their captain was an Englishman. He told everyone on board the ship to not worry about u-boats because the ship could outrun them. Christie very distinctly remembers someone being a smart ass and asking aloud what would happen if the u-boat was in front of them. There was no answer to that one. Nobody would have gotten out of that ship alive if it was torpedoed. They got overseas fairly quickly. The food was terrible. They were immediately put on a blacked out troop train. They landed at La Havre and before he knew it they were on the outskirts of Paris. From there Christie waited for his assignment. He ended up in the 3rd Armored Division. Christie wrote a book called Fates Finger in which he described the trip up to the front. He was in a six by six truck with about seven to eight other officers. It was snowing. They ended up on back roads. As Christie looked out the back of the truck he saw a body lying in the snow. It was at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. He assumed the body he was looking at was a German soldier but to his shock it was GI. There was blood on his face. It was only then that he realized he was in a war. This was all for keeps. Christie realized what war was then. Christie ended up at the door of an old farmhouse. He was told by a sergeant that it was his time to get off of the truck. This bothered him a little bit because a sergeant is not supposed to address an officer by first name. Christie carried an M1 carbine and a pistol as well. He walked downstairs into the cellar of the farm house and there was a major behind a desk. He grunted when Christie walked in. Christie threw him a sharp salute. He was ordered to sit down while the major looked over his papers. He asked Christie a bunch of questions about horses. He asked him if he ever ran into a horse named Maggie. He was talking to a Norwich graduate. Christie said he had intimate times with Maggie. The major said he was glad to see another Norwich graduate. The major informed him that the situation was precarious. He said that the Krauts [Annotators Note: American servicemen referred to Germans as Krauts] were all around. Christie was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Armored Division in Company E [Annotators Note: Christie was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 33rd Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Division].

Annotation

Robert Christie was in combat for a few weeks before his tank was hit. They had to bail out of their tank. He was not injured except for a dislocated shoulder. Christie ended up in a hospital in Belgium. When he got out of the hospital a week or two later he went back to the 33rd Armored Regiment but was assigned to Company F of the 3rd Battalion [Annotators Note: 3rd Armored Division]. Christie stayed there as a platoon leader. He finished the war as an executive officer because of attrition. His unit had landed on D plus 13 or 14. The war ended for them at the Elbe river. Christie met the Russians on the other side of the Elbe. During that interval Christie stayed with the same company and moved up through various platoons. Their turnover rate was almost 300 percent from D Day through the end of the war. Christie was in the Ardennes when his tank got hit. He had been in a couple of other encounters but nothing that had knocked out his tank. After they took a town they would spread the line of tanks out to not make an easy target. Christie was able to see what was going on all around him. One way or the other Christie lost five tanks. One of them was lost because his driver rolled them over an embankment. It ended up upside down. It was near the end of the war and they had come down around a corner. The night before the company commander had gone over the maps with Christie. Christie did not like the route because it was perfect for an ambush. They came around a corner and Christie was in the lead tank. There were a couple of big trees around the corner of the road. Christie was figuring out what to do and at that time he noticed two cannonballs go over his head. He was surprised at first but then he realized what was going on. As they were advancing they overshot Christie. Christie told the driver to back up but he backed up the wrong way which was right over the bank. They were stuck upside down. One of the things Christie told the bow gunner to do when they were backing up was to spray the road block. Before they ended up falling over the bank they actually killed the two guys. Christie took a map off of one of the dead Germans and it was the same map that he was looking at with his company commander the night before. The exact point Christie was suspicious about was marked for an ambush. That was an interesting experience. Christie jumped into the tank behind him and they were able to negotiate the road block. These were the kinds of experiences that they had. One time they were outside a town named Paderborn. They were like a knife through soft butter at this point. Paderborn was the German equivalent of Fort Knox. It is where the Germans trained in tanks. As a result of that the 3rd Armored Division got tasked with taking Paderborn. Christie was in the lead tank of the lead platoon on the run into Paderborn. Christie was on a hill overlooking Paderborn and he got a call to stop the advance. He did not know what was going on but shortly after that he was instructed to pull back. The division was not going to advance any further because it turned out the division commander was killed a few minutes before he got the call. That was where Christie thought his career was going to end because Paderborn was a rough assignment. One of the guys in his unit had already written home saying that he might not make it.
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 
$60.00
Product: 

All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You will be purchasing the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only specific clips. Please contact the Museum at digitalcollections@nationalww2museum.org if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to two weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address. See more information at http://ww2online.org/faqs.