WASHINGTON –U.S. Senator John Boozman is celebrating the 99th birthday of WWII veteran Jesse Robertson with his latest interview highlighting the service and sacrifice of Arkansans who served our nation in uniform as part of the ‘Salute to Veterans’ series.
Robertson, born on June 14, 1917 in Mulberry, spent most of his childhood on his parent’s farm. After graduating from Pleasant View High School in 1936, he went to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where his brother lived and worked, until his mom had to have surgery. He worked at Sparks Hospital in Fort Smith to pay off her bill.
I paid off her hospital bill and “the next month I went into the military,” Robertson said.
Robertson recalls registering for the draft at Camp Robinson but his high number meant he didn’t have to go in right away, so he decided to enlist in order to choose what branch of the military to serve. He selected the Army Air Force, the precursor of today’s Air Force.
Robertson was stationed in Wichita Falls, Texas for basic training.
“I was glad to get out of basic. When I went to Texas, it was January and it was cold. The wind blows there all the time. I know I complained,” Robertson said.
He completed his training requirement in aircraft armament in Denver, where he liked the conditions considerably more than Texas. He worked on B-24s. He was assigned to a unit in Boise, Idaho to train new recruits. Robertson became crew chief and remembers traveling around the country to train new crews on the planes.
“That was during the time that Germany was shooting down a lot of planes. If they shot down one of the bombers they lost the 10-man crew along with it. They needed a lot of training for these people and they needed somebody that could fly with them. You got to train these people on the plane you need to fly. It was one thing to teach the equipment on the ground but in order to use it you need to fly and show them how to use it in flight,” he said.
He was away from the office on one training flight and it saved his life.
“The guy who worked nights had got up and walked over to the office and said he would go, so he went ahead and checked out a parachute, and got on there. They took off and got a few hundred feet in the air and plunged to the ground and burned up everybody on it,” Robertson remembers.
Robertson went to the Philippines, where he spent the remainder of the war.
“They had some planes on the ground that would try to shoot you. I had to fly with that kind of ground fire, but I didn’t have very much problem with fighter planes attacking us,” Robertson said.
After the war, Robertson traveled on the U.S.S. Cottle back to the United States. Troops on the ship had a warm welcome home when it docked in San Francisco. He returned to Arkansas and was discharged from the military and moved back to Mulberry where he raised chickens.
Today Robertson calls North Little Rock home.
“We can learn a lot about our history and the heroism of members of the Greatest Generation, like Jesse, who fought for freedom. Capturing their experiences of military service honors their sacrifice. I’m pleased to be able to share Jesse’s story of his service to our country especially for his 99th birthday,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Robertson’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.