An Armistice Day memory from Dad

Published 9:55 pm Friday, February 26, 2016

By Frank Roberts

I found a letter my father wrote to me in 1959, in which he shared some memories of World War I — the first one, once mistakenly referred to as “the war to end all wars.”

Dave Roberts was on the front lines in France and, when he wrote to me in ’59, he recalled what had happened around Armistice Day. I am quoting directly from his letter:

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“Just forty years ago today, at 11 a.m. I was standing around with a lot of my buddies. Big guns were going off all over the place from both sides. Suddenly, 11 a.m. — silence! A thunderous silence! We looked at each other and realized all the rumors we had been hearing were true! Somehow, we didn’t feel like celebrating as civilians were doing all over the world. Because on that very morning we had lost several men who had gone through the whole war without a scratch.

“We were stationed near Sudan in France. Already, plans had been laid for an all out attack on Metz, across the line in Germany, to start on Nov. 14th. In the next few days we began to learn what we would have been up against had the war continued. German officers with maps were taking our men over all the ground in front of us, pointing out every spot that held a land mine. They were all dug up and deactivated.

“There were hundreds of them and we were slated to go over them on our way toward Metz. It would have been a slaughter and have cost us thousands of men before we reached our objective. Just a little matter of history I thought might be of interest to you.”

My father was a very quiet man, in contrast to my mother, who was all over the place. In another letter he wrote about using a rifle, and how he had enjoyed that. It surprised me because he was the essence of non-violence.

When I was 17, I sort of followed in his footsteps, and I joined the Army. My “front line” was the community of Nome, Alaska. I was thinking about my basic training days in Fort Dix, N.J. The first three weeks we did our training in civilian clothes — uniforms for our outfit were slow arriving.

* * * *

Now to World War II. All wars, of course, are ugly, but this one was pure horror, so often involving civilians, rather than just the military.

In her book, “Hitler’s Furies,” Wendy Lower looks at some of the women, noting that the first horrors of that period began “in the hospitals of the Reich,” where “the first victims were children. During the war, nurses gave thousands of deformed babies and disabled adolescents overdoses of barbiturates and lethal injections of morphine, and denied them food and water.

“Female midwives and medical personnel, both doctors and nurses, would eventually murder more than 200,000 people in Germany, Austria, the Reich borderlands of Poland and the Czech lands.” She described “cruel experimentation, mass sterilization, starvation, and poisoning.”

She added that in the cases of newborn infants and children under the age of three with severe mental and physical disabilities mothers were pressured to hand over their “diseased” children to so-called pediatric clinics, which became processing and killing centers. As many as 8,000 children were killed in Germany and Austria.”

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at