Robert C. Engel was born in Summerdale [Annotator's Note: Summerdale, Alabama]. He was birthed by a neighbor he called "Aunt Bess." When Engel was born, he was the sixth of nine children. He has lived on the same road all his life. He knew every person in the surrounding three towns. The town would close its stores on Thursday afternoon and Sundays. He thinks people closed down on Thursdays for rest. The land Engel grew up on was bought in 1938. The road nearby was not named, so Engel was allowed to name it after the family name. The country tends to name several roads the same thing, which can be confusing. Engel had just turned 16 years old when the attack on Pearl Harbor [Annotator's Note: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941] happened. The family had just come home from church when they heard about the attack over the radio. The family did not think he would be sent overseas because of his age. However, Engel was the first kid in the family to go into the service. Two brothers were exempt from service and another went to Germany. Engel was drafted right after graduating. He had already done a physical at Fort McClellan [Annotator's Note: near Anniston, Alabama], Alabama. He was inducted at Fort McPherson, Georgia [Annotator's Note: in Atlanta, Georgia]. It was very cold when he got off of the bus and was told to sleep in a nearby barracks. Not long after, he started a three day processing. Afterwards, Engel was shipped to Camp Blanding, Florida, near Jacksonville [Annotator's Note: Jacksonville, Florida]. There were chicken huts nearby and Engel was put into a room that had holes that rain would enter from. The land was sandy. Engel remained there from May to September. He did all of his training there. Engel did early morning speed marches in the dark. There was a latrine near the sound off area. The latrines did not have partitions. It was humiliating and unsightly. Engel did what he was told to do. One time, the sergeant asked if anyone knew how to drive a truck. They were instead told to do something else. The people training were either young kids or men around 40 years old. One older man would pass out during the runs. By the end of training, Engel was very fit. He did night training, crawling under wire with tracers flying overhead. Afterwards, Engel went to Camp Van Dorn, near Centerville, Mississippi. When he arrived late at night, he was told his unit was in the woods. He was brought into the forest and told to pitch a tent with someone he had never met. Engels tent mate never showed up that night. The next day, Engel did not know anyone at the mess. His heart dropped because he did not know anyone. Later, when his wife's brother was in the service, he had the same experience. Engel gave him advice about getting over that homesick feeling. Engle made many friends in training, but had none in Mississippi. He was in Mississippi for two months. When he left the bivouac, the unit was sent on a troop train to New York [Annotator's Note: New York, New York], where he briefly stayed at Camp Kilmer [Annotator's Note: in Piscataway Township, New Jersey and Edison Township, New Jersey]. Engel went overseas in a large convoy. He was in the 63rd Division [Annotator's Note: 254th Infantry Regiment, 63rd Infantry Division]. Engle's daughter was a nurse in Mobile [Annotator's Note: Mobile, Alabama]. His son-in-law became fascinated with Engle's tractors. He had worked on foreign cars in New Orleans [Annotator's Note: New Orleans, Louisiana]. When Engel visited his parents in New Orleans, he found out the boy's father was in a different regiment of the 63rd Division.
Robert Engel's ship had to dodge German u-boats [Annotator's Note: German submarine] by zig-zagging [Annotator's Note: a naval anti-submarine maneuver]. There were destroyers circling the convoys. Engel traveled in a converted Italian cruise ship. He slept in the ballroom. He became seasick and started throwing up before he could make it to a porthole. Someone told him to cleanup his mess, but he refused. His friend was worried about him during the trip. Engel tried hanging out on deck, but that did not help. He ate two meals a day on the trip. He did not eat much though. Engel was happy when he made it to Marseilles [Annotator's Note: Marseilles, France]. He could see the snow on top of the Alps. He landed in early December [Annotator's Note: Decemebr 1944]. His ship was able to pull right into a dock. He had never been anywhere until he joined the service. Engel was very cold. He started fighting on Christmas Day [Annotator's Note: 25 Decemebr 1944]. When the Battle of the Bulge [Annotator's Note: Battle of the Bulge or German Ardennes Counter Offensive, 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945] started, Engel was on the southern section of the front lines. There were four armies a British army and a Free French army that fought. The line went from the south of France to the North Sea. Engel served in an anti-tank crew. He would setup in a barn to look out for tanks. He carried men back from the front and had to move through mine fields. It was hard to stay on the thin paths while German snipers fired on them. Engel carried wounded to medic stations before they would be transferred to other hospitals. He did not have time to worry about his safety, but prayed often. He thinks God helped him make it home. He received many letters from his family. Engel was not married when he returned home. It took some time to get across the Rhine River [Annotator's Note: located in Germany] because the bridges were blown. The engineers had to build pontoon boats, but they were getting killed. Engle fought in that area for a month before he crossed the river. He was awarded medals during that time. Engel started carrying ammunition and satchels to the men at a front. Bullets would go past his head, but he never saw anyone killed. The Germans had pillboxes along the front that were difficult to capture. One soldier managed to get something into a slit in the pillbox, allowing others to capture it. Engel was a PFC [Annotator's note: Private First Class] at the time. There was no advancement then, but nobody was worried about that. He took a bath when a portable shower came into the area. He wore wool all year long because of how cold it was. Engel was more concerned about saving himself than showers. Nobody back talked the officers. There were bullets and bombs going off everywhere. When Engel crossed the Rhine River, things started moving faster. The Germans had more weapons then the Americans did. They had V-1 rockets [Annotator's Note: V-1 pulse jet flying bomb, German name: Vengeance Weapon 1; Allied names: buzz bomb, doodlebug], which is how the Americans made it to the moon. He does not think the Russians were very smart. Engel believes Van Braun [Annotator's Note: SS-Sturmbannführer, or Major, Wernher von Braun; German aerospace engineer and space architect who became a lead scientist in NASA] was how the Americans made it to the moon. Engel visited Oakridge [Annotator's Note: Oakridge, Tennessee; one of many scientific laboratories that worked on the Manhattan Project], which he thought was a special place. The people there had no idea they were building a bomb [Annotator's Note: atomic bomb]. The B-17s [Annotator's Note: Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber] and B-24s [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] were like birds overhead once the Americans crossed the Rhine [Annotator's Note: Rhine River]. Engel was eventually stopped so the Russians could take Berlin [Annotator's Note: Berlin, Germany]. He had a friend who child was born on the day Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States] died. Friendly artillery started coming in throughout the night. Sometimes he fell asleep without meaning to. Engel was in tough fighting from the moment he entered combat to the end of the war.
The day the war ended, Robert Engel was in a town in Germany. The manure and urine from cows were kept in the town for use. They made bread using sawdust and the town smelled terrible. Engel got word that his nephew was born when Roosevelt [Annotator's Note: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States] died. Eventually, the divisions were moved out and put into holding camps. The government gave soldiers a pack of cigarettes a day. Engel was in a detachment, not a division. He arrived in the camp in July [Annotator's Note: July 1945], and everyone he arrived with was receiving orders to leave. Engel stayed in a Red Cross [Annotator's Note: an international aid organization] tent and it was cold. Engel was in the middle of the Atlantic [Annotator's Note: Atlantic Ocean] when the bombs [Annotator's Note: nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, 6 and 9 August 1945] were dropped. The ship hit a storm that he never forgot. Engel was in a Liberty ship [Annotator's Note: a class of quickly produced cargo ship] without an escort. Engel was very seasick and did not care if a bomb hit his ship. He refused to go on a boat with his family after the war. Eventually, he joined a travel club in Birmingham [Annotator's Note: Birmingham, Alabama] and he was convinced to do a cruise to Hawaii. Engel took 70 people on that trip, and many people got sick. Foreign ships were not allowed to dock there, so the ship had to go to a different island. Engel enjoyed the trip. He later took people to Alaska and met a person who grew up on that island he docked in. After the war, when Engel arrived in Boston [Annotator's Note: Boston, Massachusetts], there was a big feast. He was put in a large auditorium and his name was misspelled, so he was one of the last to leave. He was discharged from Fort McPherson [Annotator's Note: in Atlanta, Georgia] in Atlanta. He was sent from Camp Swift near Austin, Texas, to Camp Blanding [Annotator's Note: near Jacksonville, Florida]. Many of those camps were sent up during the war. When he returned after the war, a taxi driver told him 72,000 men passed through Camp Blanding. Engel was given a 30 day leave [Annotator's Note: an authorized absence for a short period of time] and while he was home, the bomb was dropped. He was given 15 more days off, so he visited his brother in Norfolk, Virginia. His brother worked in the Navy yard in Virginia. Engel returned home and was sent to Camp Swift until early March [Annotator's Note: March 1946], when he was sent to be discharged in Atlanta. Engel was happy to get home and did not have any issues returning to civilian life. The family had a large farm and his father was older and only had one other son working the farm, so Engel decided not to go to college. He took some courses, but worked on the farm. Engel and his brother bought up more land and it became a 1,000 acre farm. They ran cattle and rented some of the land. People tried to give him more land, but Engel did not want it. He was able to double crop every year, while states in the north could only plant once a year. Engel would try to take two weeks off every year between crops. He would travel across the country. Engel does not think the younger generation understands the war. The older generation thanks him for his service. He thinks the country used to be more patriotic and believes the country is in trouble if patriotism does not return.
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