This story was written by Ron Albers for Motts Military Museum and is reprinted here with permission.

When one asks Bob Lockard about his military experiences in Europe during World War II more than 66 years ago, he still gets extremely emotional. He cannot and will not ever forget what he witnessed and endured.  WW II was a life-changing event that has and will always remain with him. His story is about a small, gentle farm boy from central Ohio who had never traveled more than 20 miles from home who was, because of circumstances totally beyond his control, removed from that sedate environment and thrust into the horrors of war thousands of miles from home for nearly three years. At barely age 21, he was sent back to his origins and expected to continue the life he had known earlier. He is one of many with similar tales. All Americans owe men like him more than we have given them in return for their sacrifices.

Robert Eugene Lockard was born on a dairy farm near New Holland, Ohio, on 18 Oct 24. His father was a dairy farmer, and Bob was the next to the youngest of six children in the family. By the time Bob attended high school in Circleville, his father was disabled and could no longer run the farm and support his family, and the United States was in the midst of the Great Depression.

At age 17, Bob was forced to quit high school and go to work for the Civilian Conservation Corps. He became a medic who worked for $30 a month attending to crews who were planting & trimming trees, clearing trails, building bridges and creating the park atmosphere that is now Hocking Hills State Park in southeast Ohio. He worked hard at this job for more than a year.

In early 1943, at the young age of 18 and at about 5’5” and less than 120 pounds, Bob was drafted into the Army Air Corps and was processed though Ft. Hayes in Columbus on 28 Feb 43 before being shipped by train to Camp Kearns, Utah, for six weeks of basic military training. Upon completion of basic, Bob was sent to Lowrey Field near Denver for three months of Cooks and Bakers School. This period was especially rough, as the trainees spent as much time scrubbing walls and hardwood floors as they did learning to cook and bake.

Next, Private Lockard was shipped down to Warner Robbins AAF near Macon, Georgia, for a trial period as a cook. He successfully completed that tour, earned his first cook rating, and was promoted to corporal while there. Next he was sent up to Camp Kilmer, just outside of New York City, for outprocessing and shipment to Europe. Along with about 15,000 other troops and a crew of nearly 1000, Corporal Lockard was aboard the Queen Mary as she departed New York harbor on October 9, 1943. The 3600+ mile trip took 5 days, 15 hours and 33 minutes before she docked at Gourock, Scotland. She had carefully and successfully navigated the Atlantic, fearful of being pursued by German submarines. This unpleasant voyage finally landed just prior to Lockard’s 19th birthday.

Corporal Lockard was transported by train to an RAF base at Oxbridge, about twelve miles from London. For the next six months or so he was cooking with the RAF cooks as they fed about 250 officers who were training for the “big invasion” of Europe. The American aviators consisted of fighter pilots from 9th Air Force. It was common for Bob & his buddies to take British gals on dates into London for perhaps a movie and a meal of fish and chips. One evening, while enroute with a pal and their two dates Bob witnessed a German bombing attack. While the other three scurried to safety in the doorway of a building, Bob remained outside, fascinated at the sight of “fireworks like the Fourth of July” lighting up the skies directly above him. When he refused his date’s coaxing to get under cover, she grabbed him by both shoulders and pulled him to safety. Bob recalls that only a second later a huge fiery piece of shrapnel landed right where he had been standing. It no doubt would have killed him instantly had she not moved him.

On June 9th, three days after D-Day, Bob landed at Utah Beach. He will never forget the carnage still strewn everywhere on the beachhead.  Dump trucks were hauling the corpses of killed Germans to the edge of the water, and a bulldozer was pushing those piles of the bodies into the sea. Bob waved his arms at the dozer operator and screamed for him to stop. “How else are we to get rid of the smell?” replied the driver. Bob literally ran across the beach to get away from that horrid scene. Next he saw stake bed trucks loaded high with the bodies of American troops that were picked up on the beach and being carried to their burial place. And the stench was unbearable. (Even today, when Bob recalls that scene, he can still smell that unique, rancid, foul odor.)

Still assigned to 9th Air Force, Bob was part of a unique unit of about 15 men who manned a communications van and staffed an advanced headquarters. Bob and his team, equipment, and supplies were taken by truck up to the front lines, which were only about three miles away at the time. While living in two-man pup tents, Bob’s unit was tasked with communications between the ground troops and the allied aircraft and gliders. As the front line moved eastward, Bob & his team followed – all the way to Paris. The infantry troops surrounded Paris but didn’t enter the city or damage it. Bob & a buddy, however, sneaked into the city merely out of curiosity and almost met their demise. When Bob’s pal said something, Bob turned his head. At that very instant a bullet flew by Bob’s right ear so close that he could hear the swoosh and feel the air from it. A lone Nazi sniper had fired a round just as Lockard moved his head. Had that shot been fired a nanosecond sooner, Bob would not have survived.

From Paris, Bob’s team marched with the troops north towards Reims and then up into the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, where they assisted the troops fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. The death and destruction he witnessed that cold, snowy winter is permanently embedded in his memory bank. Because of the loss of so many combat troops in Bastogne and the Battle of the Bulge, in Mid February Bob was flown back to England for six weeks of specialized infantry training, where he was trained on everything from flamethrowers and bazookas to machine guns and rifles. He was no longer in the Army Air Corps. He was demoted to PFC Lockard and now in the U.S. Army. In late March he was flown back to Le Havre and then taken by train up to the front lines along the Rhine River in Germany. PFC Lockard was now assigned as a rifleman to 3rd Army’s 89th Divison, 354th Infantry, Company F.

Under a semi-moonlit night at 2:00AM on March 26th, the 1st platoons of E & F, 354th, crawled to the water’s edge and shoved off in their boats, bent low and paddling hard. The Rhine here was about 250 yards across, with very swift current. After crossing the Rhine, they were to take the town of St. Goarshausen. As they reached midstream, German 20mms and machine guns opened up. Three of the Company F’s four boats were sunk. Of the 120 men who started the crossing, only 79 survived. They immediately began taking out snipers and machine guns with well-aimed grenades. Boats full of men from other companies followed and assisted in going house to house, routing the Nazis in fierce combat.

Bob still has a strong recollection of his crossing of the Rhine the next day. His train took him to trucks awaiting his journey to the river. The icy cold water had raging current and the infantry had to feel their way across the river with full packs and weaponry while stepping on bombed out pontoons. PFC Lockard was terrified, as he could not swim. Fortunately, however, the men who had crossed the previous night had taken out all the Germans who had earlier been attacking the crossing troops. Nonetheless, the crossing was treacherous. Once Bob joined his new unit for the first time on the other side, the combat immediately began.

Bob readily admits that he has no recollection of time or place for the next couple of months. “I was simply in the woods fighting and trying to save my own life.” The names of a few of the towns where Private Lockard battled can be recalled, but he doesn’t recall when he was there. It was simply continued combat, day after day and night after night.

Fighting foot by foot for the next several days, the 89th was moving quickly through the German lines and forcing them back or capturing them. By March 30th the Division had cleared all of the enemy in its zone east of the Rhine and was assembled in the vicinity of Bad Schwalbach and Struth. The Rhine phase of operations was ended. In those four weeks of constant combat, they had driven deep into the soil of the Third Reich to establish themselves as aggressive combat veterans.

Bob was exhausted from carrying his M1 Garand and all his gear. His step by step combat was pure misery for him. He had three huge blisters on his right foot, and his leg appeared to have blood poisoning.  His shoulder was raw from the recoil of his Garand.  His arms and legs ached from the strain he was putting on them.  (By the time he was discharged, he’d worn away most of the cartilage in his pelvis, wrists and shoulders.) Perhaps the Army should have found a better job for a guy who only weighed about 140 pounds and was 5’5” tall. The ten pound rifle was huge for a man his size. At one point he recalls literally looking up to the heavens and screaming at the top of his lungs to God, “When is this war ever going to end?!?” PFC Lockard was in pure agony, both mentally & physically, but he had no choice but to continue on through this constant combat.

Patton’s armies were stopped 100 miles shy of Berlin to allow the Russians to take that city. At that point, the 89th Division split off and headed southeast towards Czechoslovakia.  During these battles the American troops were not only defeating thousands of Germans (killing many and capturing many more) but they were liberating Nazi POW camps. Bob recalls the squalid living conditions as he liberated Polish and Russian POWs from their meager environments, actually evacuating them from their Spartan living conditions. “One old boy, an American, came running up to me, crying uncontrollably. He was emaciated - nothing, literally, but skin and bones. I began to cry along with him. That was an unbelievably sad and pathetic sight I will never forget.”

Eventually, the combat did end. On May 9th at 12:01 AM the German surrender became official and effective.  By then the 354th was within a few miles of the Czech border. Starting May 12th PFC Lockard spent 30 days as a private cook for a colonel in Arnstadt (a city the 89th  had conquered in battle just a few weeks earlier) before being taken by truck back to Le Harve. Upon arrival he found that half of the 89th was already aboard a ship. Rumor had it that they were being sent to Japan. Suddenly, however, the convoy was turned back. All of the 89th troops, including those on the ship, were sent back to Camp Lucky Strike. There they pitched tents and prepared for the next six months of performing various tasks for the troops who were being processed for the trip back to the U.S.A. 

Even this experience was far from a pleasant one, as the weary young PFC Lockard watched day by day as battle fatigued troops and gaunt POWs in rags were brought into the camp to be cleaned up, nourished, and rehabilitated enough to make the long ocean voyage back to the U.S. At one point, however, Bob was trucked down to Nice, on the French Riviera, for ten pleasant days of well-earned R & R.

Finally, in late December, PFC Lockard was himself processed out of the European Theater and taken home on the USS Enterprise. He arrived in New York harbor on Christmas Eve, 1945, and was taken by train to Indiantown Gap, PA, where on December 28th, he was honorably discharged. During his 34 months in the military, Bob had spent nearly half of it in combat. During his military tour, Bob earned the Combat Infantry Badge and a Bronze Star, among other awards and decorations. In later years he was presented a medal from the French government for his action in a number of critical battles as well as a citation from President Truman.

When a train dropped him off at the Circleville depot, he walked home and rejoined his family. He was thoroughly exhausted. He knew he had serious problems as a result of his war experiences, but there was a wait of at least a year for a bed in a VA hospital, so he went on with his life as best as he could. Bob’s memories and experiences have haunted him to this day, and various government and veterans’ programs created to help men like him have proven to provide more frustration than assistance.

For a while Bob managed the Circle Theater in Circleville. While there he used to frequent nearby Gallagher’s Drug store for several reasons: 1) It was the only building in Circleville that had air conditioning, 2) He had a taste for cherry Cokes at the fountain there, and 3) He was falling in love with Mary, a local farm girl who worked there.  They were wed in April of 1948.

For a period of time, Bob worked delivering new International Harvester trucks around the country from the plant in Springfield.

Bob became good friends with Jack Clifton, who owned Clifton Motor sales in Circleville, and Bob worked for him for several years. Jack was also a captain in the Ohio National Guard, and a new unit was forming there. When Bob enlisted in that new Army Guard unit, he was the third person in the unit and was hired as its recruiter. Shortly thereafter, Corporal Lockard had managed to successfully staff the new unit with thirty new recruits and WW II veterans.

In 1952 the Lockards moved to Columbus, and Bob resigned from the National Guard. For a brief period he worked for Mayflower Insurance, which had its own auto repair shop to fix their insured customers’ cars. In those days they didn’t have the antifreeze used today, and cars often used alcohol as coolant. As one can imagine, a small leak of that alcohol somewhere could start a big car fire.     

For three years Bob taught at both  Modern Aircraft Welding School and The Ohio School of Trades.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Later Bob spent 21 years working in the body shop at Avery Pontiac, then three years each at Swad Chevrolet and Quality Chevrolet before retiring with full Social Security Disability in 1982. His arthritis had become so bad that he could no longer work. After battling the Veterans Administration for more than 60 years with countless doctor visits, reams of paperwork, and numerous frustrating appeals; it wasn’t until September of 2010 that the VA finally approved his disabilities as being service-related.

Bob & Mary raised a son and two daughters, and Bob now has six grandchildren. His wife passed away in 2008. An avid fisherman, Bob has earned Fish Ohio Awards for six years in a row. As a hobby he makes and repairs fishing rods. He is an extremely talented woodworker who also makes clocks, shelves, decorative items, and various other arts & crafts. Mr. Lockard also remains active in the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans and the Whitehall Church of the Nazarene. For many years Bob served as an honor guard with the Circleville V.F.W. post.

We’re proud to have Bob as a member of our museum and thank him for his service to our nation. Only because of the sacrifices of men like PFC Lockard have we retained the freedoms that all Americans enjoy today. Our museum exists to honor veterans like him. We must never forget: Freedom is not free. Bob Lockard can tell you the price he’s paid.

 

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Another amazing and well written story.  It was truly an honor to read about this hero's journey through life and the military.  It brought both tears to my eyes and also a wonderful and positive feeling to know Bob also helped launch Hocking Hills into what it is today!  We are all in debt to courageous men such as Ohio's own PFC/Corporal Bob Lockard.  I sincerely hope I get to shake this outstanding Veteran's hand at some point!  Thank you for all you have done for so many, including me and my family who live in the area.

My four uncles like Bob Lockard had been part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

Now reading that he had been a medic in the CCC, why wasn't he slotted as a Medic in the US Army?

My uncle Herman, was a medic in Europe in World War II and he stood in to fight in Korea.

There he was part of a tank unit, and he went to retire as a 1st Sergeant.

When my uncle Herman was in the CCC, he learned how to box and was part of a boxing team.

My grandmother had a picture, of my uncle Herman in a boxing ring before the landing in Normandy.

Beside's another boxer, the referee was Joe Louis.

After I came back from Vietnam and he came up from Texas for a visit.

I was talking to him about that picture, he related that beside Joe Louis.

The time keeper was another big named boxer.

It's sad that many of these stories will never be told.

Because for some it just too painful. 

Another amazing example of the Greatest Generation.  And thanks to member Ron Albers for writing such a beautiful piece!

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