Woodbury County

S/Sgt. Harold E. Robinson




Harold E. “Plush” Robinson
U.S. Army Air Force
Staff Sergeant    

Harold E. “Plush” Robinson, the son of Wallace and Beulah Robinson, was born in Lawton, Iowa, on January 29, 1924.  He had 11 siblings, Hattie Jones, Marjorie “Sarge” Nichols, Jeanne Jones, Florence Boetger, Dale Robinson, Joanne Gunsolley, Duane Robinson, Bedford “Bep” Robinson, and Beverly “Pert” Degen.  Two sisters, Lois and Shirley Robinson, died at early ages.  He graduated from Lawton high school in 1941.  Harold worked for a local farmer for two years before being drafted and entering the U. S. Army  Air Force on April 15, 1943.

Shortly after receiving his draft notice, he was loaded on a bus in Sioux City at about 11:00 at night.  He rode all night and arrived in Des Moines just as the sun came up.  After being fed some breakfast, he spent the morning parading in front of doctors being poked, pinched and glared at.  Harold was sworn in shortly after 12:00 p.m. on April 8, 1943, and spent the rest of the afternoon exchanging civilian clothes for a new uniform.

Harold had to travel the country for his training.  He went to Miami Beach for his basic training, Denver for armament school, back to Florida for gunnery school, then to Salt Lake City where he was assigned a bomber crew, and took combat training in Colorado Springs.

He trained as a ball turret gunner in a B-24, a 10-member bomber that was often called the “Liberator.”  This position usually required a smaller man.  At the time, he stood 5 feet 8 inches and weighed 130 pounds.  As a ball turret gunner, he would shoot and bomb targets from the turret of the plane, a cramped area beneath the belly of the vessel.  He was often exposed to enemy fire and the elements.  It was always 40 to 50 degrees below zero while flying at 30,000 feet.

Harold believed there were 2 advantages to being in that position, which was being in the shade all of the time and making $172.80 per month, which is the most an enlisted man could make at that time.

One year later, he would be stationed in Leece, Italy, as part of the 98th Bomb Group.  His first bombing mission was on May 5, 1944.  The missions, which took anywhere from 6-10 hours, usually involved bombing oil fields, bridges and factories in various parts of Italy, Austria, Germany and France.  The Air Force flew by day as the British handled night-time raids.

On his 36th mission, Harold’s plane was hit hard over Italy.  The pilot crash-landed the plane in Italy and the crew ran four miles to safety.  He believed that would be his closest encounter with the enemy.  Harold only had 14 missions until his 50th and then he would be able to go home.  But that wouldn’t happen.

On August 22, 1944, he flew his 46th combat mission.  The target was an aircraft factory in a suburb of Vienna, Austria.  Once again they were hit hard.  Ground fire would strike the B-24 in the left wing and the bomb bay.  The two left engines were taken out and strikes to the bomb bay created a gas leak, which soon ignited flames.  Harold headed out of the turret to help two other gunners extinguish the fire while the pilot struggled to get the aircraft under control.  The fire extinguishers would eventually empty.  So the crew would soon bail out near Budapest.

Harold and his crew mates landed in a field where locals were shocking wheat.  The locals would gather the men up and take them into the village.  They would be put on display in the jail and all day long the people would walk past them saying things like, “Terror Fliers!” Occasionally a local would spit at them.

Eventually the men were taken by train to Stalag Luft IV in northern Poland. The camp for airmen held 10,000 enlisted men.  Harold lived with 23 other soldiers in a small barrack that would become his home for many months.  Each morning they read a German newspaper and each night they secretly listened to radio reports from the BBC.  During the day men played cards, baseball and football.  Many of them took classes that ranged from woodworking to music.  The classroom instruction and athletics helped pass the time.  Eventually, they figured, the amp would be liberated by either U.S. soldiers or the Russian Army.

On February 6, 1945, the Russians made a move and camp officials prepared the prisoners for evacuation.  Harold stayed out on an anticipated three-day march for the evacuation but ended up being 86 days across Germany in the hardest and coldest winter they’d ever had.  He would go on to walk for more than 500 miles.

Six thousand POW’s started the march but only 2500 men would live to see their liberation.  The men started the march with eight pounds of food from the Red Cross.  Harold would soon learn that he would need to steal the rest of his food, which included eggs, rabbits and vegetables.

He had befriended a soldier from Florida during the march.  To keep warm they slept together during the winter nights.  One of them would put a blanket on the ground and then they wrapped themselves in the other blanket.  Often they were left to sleep in open snow-covered fields.

Finally, on April 28, 1945, they would be freed.  Harold heard a commotion up at the front and stepped to the outside of the column.  He saw an American jeep with a 10-foot staff atop which the American flag was flying.  An American corporal was standing on the jeep.

Harold would return home to Lawton, Iowa, just after July 4, 1945.  He attended diesel mechanics school using the GI bill and in 1948 he opened Plush’s Service until his retirement in 1993.

He married Adeline Rasmussen on December 1, 1947, in Sioux City at the First Lutheran Church.  For most of their married life they made their home in Lawton.  They have one daughter, Shirley Ehlers, and 3 grandchildren, Loren, Lori (Collins), and Lisa.

Harold would be come active in the community which included serving as mayor and council member, dancing with the Dancing Grannys and Grandpas, and being a long-time supporter of the Lawton / Lawton-Bronson schools.

He would also become a member of the American Ex-POW organization, American Legion Post 718 in Lawton, and the VFW in Sioux City.  He attended the 98th Bomb Group reunions and the Ex-POW national and state conventions.

It would take Harold almost 40 years to talk about his war experiences.  After many years of silence, he decided to tell his story.  He would go all over the region talking to schools and organizations. 

Harold passed away on August 23, 2002, in Sioux City, Iowa.  He is buried in Banner Township Cemetery in Lawton, Iowa.

Harold was a very patriotic man.  Every time the Star Spangled Banner would play or the American flag would pass by, he would always stand straight as he could and memories of his liberation would flash through his mind.  He kept reminding his family to appreciate this great country that we live in and to always respect the American flag.

The American flag would always bring back the emotions of his liberation. Harold said, “…when I see the flag, I think of that long line of POWS saluting that American flag.”

Source: Bio story submitted by his wife