Interviewed By Steven F. Crane
11 March 2013
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Steven F. Crane
11 March 2013
Copyright © 2013 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Stegen, Robert, an oral history by Steven F.
Crane, 11 March 2013, WSU Stewart Library
Oral History Program, University Archives,
Stewart Library, Weber State University,
March 11, 2013
Abstract: Robert Stegen participated in an oral history interview with Steve Crane of
the Ogden Rotary Club on March 11, 2013 to discuss his experiences as a
veteran of World War II. Robert was drafted in 1943 and served until 1946 as a
1st Lieutenant. He is a Purple Heart recipient and also earned the Bronze Star
for valor in combat. Following his military service, Robert began his career at the
Army Defense Depot in Ogden, Utah and retired as a chief civilian of that facility
in 1980 with 37 years of service.
SC This is the first session of the 2013 Ogden Rotary Club and Weber State
University Veteran’s history Project held March 11, 2013 at the George E.
Whalen Ogden Veteran’s Home. I’m Steve Crane with the Ogden Rotary Club
and I will be conducting this interview. Also present are Bob Harris from the
Ogden Rotary Club, Stacie Gallagher from Weber State University and my wife,
Donna Crane. Our guest at this session is Robert Stegen. This session is to talk
about your service opportunity. We understand that your birthday is July 26,
1924, which makes you 88 years old. Your branch of service was the Army and
you served from 1943 to 1946. Your highest rank was 1st Lieutenant and your
position was a war bride escort.
RS: It was a program to get back and process through all of the war brides whose
husbands were soldiers and had already left for the states. It included medical
examinations, counseling, and all the different language interpretation we could
have and packing up everything for those that qualified for shipment.
SC: Some of the awards you received were the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
There is a little “2” by the Bronze Star, what does that mean?
RS: That’s a “V” for “Valor”.
SC: We’d like to start talking a little bit about your service and I’d like to ask you how
you came to be in the service?
RS: I graduated from Ogden High School in 1942, right after Pearl Harbor. We were
not looking for employment then, we had some assured. I went in the Army with
the first 18-year-old draft on May 8, 1943.
SC: Where did you receive your training?
RS: I went to Fort Knox, Kentucky, which was the center for the armory corp. It was
the tank corps of the U.S. Army. There, I was trained as a tank gunner and tank
driver for a big Sherman three-quarter ton tank. Later, through events, I ended up
in the infantry as a replacement officer in Europe.
SC: What major campaigns were you involved in?
RS: Central Europe and the Rhinelands. That’s two of them. That was after the Battle
of the Bulge. Fortunately, I missed the Bulge. My infantry division and my
company did not miss the Bulge and they caught heck there. I was fortunate and
came up as a replacement officer and I missed the Bulge.
SC: Who was your leading general?
RS: General Bradley. From the top it was Eisenhower and coming up on the pecking
order, it was General Simpson with the 9th U.S. Army and we were under his
majesty Montgomery, heir to the British crown. He was not liked by the typical
SC: During these campaigns, did you see combat?
RS: Yes. I was wounded at Dortman, Germany in the upper industrial part of
Germany where the crop iron works and there was a big concentration of
industry and chemistry. Of course, it was just bombed and we gave it heck trying
to put it out of operation. I got pretty heavily involved in that for my time.
SC: Were you shot?
RS: I was wounded. I was shot by a 20 millimeter cannon in the left leg and it tore the
meat all the way up from behind my knee. I was in the hospital for a little over two
months for that.
SC: What hospital did they send you to?
RS: They sent me first to the Army General Hospital 221st, which was located in
Reims, France. It was a comparatively new hospital over there. I developed
gangrene in my left leg and it was bad news. They’d push it and it would shoot
puss all over the bedding and everything else. I had some pain with that, it was
miserable. The leader of the hospital came to tell me, “Lieutenant, I’m going to
transfer you to the 36th General Hospital. They’ve been over here since North
Africa and have had a lot of experience. Unfortunately, in the United States, we
don’t treat many gunshot wounds. We’re a new hospital. We’re good, but we’re
going to send you where there’s more experience.” That got me to Dijon and I
was in Dijon at the 36th General Hospital when the Germans surrendered.
SC: What was your experience like during close combat? How did you feel?
RS: I am alive today because I was kind to a German soldier.
SC: Can you tell us about that?
RS: We had a machine gun nest. There were four Germans turned up on it and two
of us with hand grenades and one with a bazooka blew the front of it and
charged it. The whole area was encompassed by a big red brick wall. We would
restrict the entry from where the machine gun nest was right out of this exit. I was
the last one out of the brick area and I looked down and there was a German
soldier with a raincoat on who was leaning on his left arm. He raised his arm up
and said, “I am injured, help me.” I stopped. There was nobody else around. My
troops had run on to a railroad embankment out of sight just beyond the brick
wall. I don’t know why I stopped, but I said, “Do you have a weapon?” He said,
“Yes,” in broken English. I asked, “Where is it?” He pointed and he took out this
P-38 and threw it out on the ground with his one good arm. He was bleeding
All of a sudden, all hell broke loose. There were screams, children crying
and everything. Out of a bomb shelter came I don’t know how many children and
women. I didn’t even know the bomb shelter was there. It was a dugout affair
with a lid. All these kids came charging out of there. They were terror stricken.
That stops you and you start wondering, “Where am I?” One woman about 60
years old came out of that thing and she looked at my face—and I’m not being
melodramatic—but I can’t describe the hatred that she showed for me in her
face. I looked at her and pointed at the wounded German soldier and said, “Help
that man.” You should have seen what effect it had on her. Her face softened
and she said, “Ya, ya, ya.” She got down and started helping him. I heard this
noise and I turn around and not even 20 feet from me, in high weeds, was a
German paratrooper. He got up and threw an M-42 machine gun on the ground
right in front of me and surrendered to me. He had watched all of that go on
when I was helping that other soldier. So, I say, “I’m alive today because I was
kind to that soldier.” There are several of those kinds of stories, and yet, I killed
Germans. Anyone can tell you the same story. It’s a matter of what you’re cast
into and what the role is. I killed some, but I didn’t hate them all.
SC: Did you make close friends during your service?
RS: My company commander is 84-years-old and still alive. I was platoon leader of
the first platoon until I was wounded and he’s still my best friend today. He lives
in St. Charles, Missouri. You form all kinds of friendships. We ran our own
reunions for the division and for our company for 25 to 30 years after the war.
We’ve quit now. Everybody is too darn old and can’t make it anymore. You really
do form some friendships.
SC: Any other memorable experiences that you could share with us?
RS: A platoon attacked toward this big chemical plant of some kind in Dorsten,
Germany. We got up there and by my estimate there were probably 3,000
displaced workers in there that the Germans held. They were well fed, which
confused us because they wouldn’t want to feed people they were trying to
starve to death. We got in there and these people had run the German guards
off. It was a place called Maral and it was the largest synthetic rubber plant in the
world we were told. It was never bombed because of the number of prisoners
that were there. They were Belgian, French, and everything. The British didn’t
want it and it was particularly safe at that time. When we broke through the gates
of that place, you should have seen the celebration that took place. Those people
must have been in there for three years or more before we came in and freed
them. That was an experience.
SC: Did you ever come across any concentration camps?
RS: No. The only thing I came to was that one at Maral. Those were talented
workers, so the Germans were feeding them well and treating them decently.
SC: Did you come back to Ogden?
RS: Yes, I came back to Ogden. I was born and raised in Ogden and stayed here all
my career. In fact, this place where we are right now was part of the old Ogden
Army Depot and I retired as a chief civilian of this facility. You know what it’s
done for me? They’ve got me in room 120—that’s the furthest you can get from
the front gate—and I sit there and I look at my domain and it is a three inch
window sill. That’s all of my glory for retiring as a chief civilian with 37 years of
service. I think, “Well, it all comes back to haunt you one way or the other.”
SC: You worked at the defense depot in Ogden?
RS: I retired from there.
SC: How long ago did you retire?
RS: I retired on the 4th of January 1980. A long time ago.
SC: What have you been doing since?
RS: Well, I have not worked for pay any place one single day. I love history and my
wife and I used to love to travel and see history and things like that. We traveled
all over the country looking at sites. I’m a history buff when it comes to the Civil
War and several others. I’ve had no trouble staying occupied.
SC: Is your wife still with you?
RS: No, my wife died of Alzheimer’s eight years ago.
SC: Do you have children?
RS: I have three.
SC: Where are they located?
RS: One of them is located eight miles north of Tucson, Arizona. He’s chief geologist
for a big American mining company. He’s got a good job and he’s earned it all.
My other son has been employed for 37 years as a switchman for the Union
Pacific railroad. My daughter left when they closed the depot and now she’s
working at Hill Field.
SC: How about grandchildren?
RS: I have seven grandchildren around here and another in Arizona.
SC: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us having to do with your
RS: I had some success, but I’ll tell you why I might have had some success. I was a
one-striper—a private first-class—and one-stripers aren’t told much in the Army
because they haven’t been around long enough. They had this big review by two
major generals, General Anderson and General Green and my sergeant who
was in charge of this tank that I happened to be the driver in. I’d been back at Ft.
Knox Kentucky on a course on the armaments of a tank. My damn worthless
sergeant, that’s all I can call him, went on sick leave so all these tanks were lined
up there and I’m the only one that’s in the head row. Here come the two major
generals, Anderson and Green, who do you suppose they head for in that big
row? They aren’t looking for sergeants; they’re looking for one-stripers. They
walked over and I looked at the look on my company commander’s face and I
think he was saying that my career was over.
Anyway, these guys walked right over to me and General Anderson said,
“Where’s your sergeant?” I said, “He’s on sick call, sir.” He was mumbling. He
said, “Can you explain the working of that 75mm gun in that tank you’re driving?”
I had just come out of the armory center a week before, so I had all the
confidence in the world and said, “Yes, sir.” I lead them up to the top of the tank
and I got down in the turret so they could listen and these two generals sat and
listened to me go through the name, chapter and verse. That’s not bragging
because I ought to be able to do that. That’s opportunity and timing. Those things
change your life and that one changed mine.
SC: In what way did it change your life?
RS: It changed mine from being a one-striper private to getting recognized and being
a corporal the next day and a sergeant in three weeks. Then, I was sent to
Officer’s Candidate School in Fort Benning to get commissioned. That one event
changed all of that. I recall when I had been major sergeant, my company
commander called me in and said, “Sergeant Stegen, I want you to apply for
Officer’s Candidate School.” I said, “I can’t be an officer.” He said, “I didn’t ask
you. Get the papers from the First Sergeant and have them on my desk Tuesday
morning, do you understand that?” I said, “Yes, sir.” So, almost against my will,
I’m on the way to Fort Benning to be a major infantry officer. The thing I’m saying
is, “A lot of what you do is opportunity.” You’ve got to perform when it comes to
you. I was very fortunate on timing.
SC: Well, I want to thank you for coming today. As a citizen of the United States, I
want to thank you for your service. My dad served in World War II, but he died
when I was eight so he never got to tell me about his experience. We all
appreciate what you all did.
RS: I would have felt terrible if I hadn’t been able to go. It’s just the way it was.
SC: We, as a nation, are really grateful for what you and your associates did. Thank
you very much for being here.
RS: I hope I didn’t saturate you, but the things that impress me are the human events
SC: Yes. Thank you for being here. We appreciate your time. It has been a wonderful
experience for us all.
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