Seventy five years later, the events of Dec. 7, 1941, remain a vivid memory for Dale Robinson.
As an 18-year-old company clerk in the 35th Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division, Robinson was taking his usual Sunday morning stroll at Schofield Barracks, about 35 miles outside of Honolulu on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
“I was out walking in front of the barracks, enjoying the beautiful weather like I always did,” said Robinson, now 93 and a resident of Paradise in Wise County.
Minutes later the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thrust Robinson into the company of millions of Americans whose service is celebrated each Nov. 11. Veterans Day recognizes all who served in the U.S. military, but especially those who served in combat.
Veterans Day is special to Robinson, because it’s a day on which many Americans think about what’s on his mind almost every day: men and women who have fought and died for their country.
“I’m glad I’m a veteran,” Robinson said. “I regretted nothing in the military. You have to defend your country, don’t you? I’d do it again. There’d be no hesitation.”
Robinson said he isn’t sure the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan qualify as defending America, and he worries about those who have answered their nation’s call since 2001.
“But I’m behind the guys and gals who are over there 100 percent,” he said. “When you’re in the military, it’s your duty to go where your country tells you to no matter what the reason.”
In the weeks leading up to the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Robinson and his Army buddies had been listening to radio news of aggression by Germany, Italy and Japan. But none of them thought they’d be embroiled in a war anytime soon.
‘They weren’t after us’
Just a little before 8 a.m. on the day America was pulled into World War II, the sound of airplane engines drew Robinson’s attention to the sky. A plane with a red ball on its fuselage flew over the quadrangle low enough for Robinson to see the pilot’s face. The plane was followed by others whose pilots paid no more attention to him than had the first one.
According to armybases.org, Schofield Barracks suffered only collateral damage due to its proximity to Wheeler Airfield.
“They weren’t after us,” Robinson said. “What they wanted was the two airfields close to us: Hickam Field and Wheeler Field.”
Indeed, a story on history.com said that 360 Japanese torpedo planes and bombers launched from aircraft carriers in a 33-ship attack force more than 200 miles north of Hawaii had their sights set on the air fields and the 92 ships in Pearl Harbor.
By about 10 a.m., around 3,700 American men and women were casualties of Japanese bombs, bullets and torpedoes. The U.S. lost 18 ships and about 170 aircraft.
Robinson could do nothing but watch.
‘We weren’t prepared’
“We weren’t prepared for any action,” he said. “We didn’t have any ammunition. All we could do is get our field packs ready in case we needed to move out.”
When his regiment did move out, it wasn’t in the direction of the country that attacked Pearl Harbor.
“We left Hawaii in September 1942 for special training back in the states,” Robinson said. “In February 1944 my company boarded the Queen Mary and had 18 zigzagging days unaccompanied to Glasgow, Scotland. We had a little more training and they shipped us to Bangor, North Ireland, then on to Southern England, and from there to Normandy.”
Robinson said he was among about 150 soldiers in a Navy landing craft that stopped about 100 yards short of Omaha Beach on June 8, 1944, two days after D-Day. The man who was a Wyoming farm boy before he joined the Army in May of 1940 doesn’t talk much about his experiences after wading ashore in Normandy, other than to say that he “went through France into Belgium and Germany, fighting until the Germans surrendered.”
Feels ‘like brand new’
These days he keeps up with world news as much as he can.
“My eyes are bad and my hearing’s bad,” he said. “I’m in very good health otherwise. I just had a valve replaced in my heart.”
The heart procedure resulted in Robinson being one of the first patients at Plaza Medical Center of Fort Worth to receive a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement, said hospital spokeswoman Pamela Percival.
“TAVR is the latest FDA-approved treatment for people diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis who are considered either high-risk or too sick for valve replacement through open heart surgery,” said Percival in a news release.
Robinson was released a few days after the hospital’s cardiovascular team did the procedure, Percival said.
Now, Robinson said he feels “like brand new, not a pain in the world and ready to go skydiving again.”
Not long before his surgery, Robinson met members of the HALO for Freedom Warrior Foundation, a group that supports the Wounded Warrior Project. He was treated to a tethered jump with a HALO skydiver from Ohio.
“It was amazing,” Robinson said. “I hope to see him again and jump with him one more time.”