World War II oral history interview
Date: June 6, 2001
Veteran: Robert C. Lutz
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Leah McGonigle
Robert C. Lutz was born in November 1920. Rather than waiting to be drafted when the military draft was initiated in September 1940, Lutz chose to enlist in the New Jersey National Guard 102nd Cavalry Regiment’s A Troop, which was stationed at the Roseville Avenue Armory in Newark, New Jersey and commanded by a Captain Stryker. This choice allowed him to receive military training in an arm of the service he preferred, and to do so with men from his own neighborhood, some of whom were friends. The regiment, including Lutz, was called into federal service in January 1941and ordered to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for what the men were told would be a year of training. Following the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941, however, they were in for the duration. Lutz ended up serving in the military for a total of five years, three of which were spent overseas with considerable combat exposure.
The regimented military life he experienced at Fort Jackson allowed Lutz to form bonds of friendship and loyalty with his peers, and also gave him time to reflect on what direction his life would take once he was out of the armed forces. He recalled many “memorable episodes” during his time at Fort Jackson, one of which was being assigned the task of growing grass on the parade ground. Despite all of the work Lutz and his companions put into it, the grass never appeared. Other assignments, however, allowed him to work with horses, something he enjoyed.
(102nd Cavalry mortar crew, Ft. Jackson, SC)
In September 1942 the 102nd Cavalry, now unhorsed and a mechanized unit, left for Liverpool, England on HMS Dempo, a former Dutch passenger liner under British control. It was the first New Jersey National Guard unit to go overseas. Lutz’s stay in England was short lived however; and, in December, his Second Squadron of the 102nd left the regiment and was sent to Glasgow to board HMS Straithaird for an undisclosed destination, which later proved to be Algiers, Algeria, in North Africa. After landing at Algiers, the Second Squadron traveled eighteen miles south to Douera, where it was assigned as the “Primary Combat Security Force” for important political and military visitors to the army. The duty assigned entailed providing a twenty-four hour security patrol, and a guard to General Dwight D. Eisenhower and others on their way to inspect the battlefront or advanced headquarters in Tunisia.
On November 23, 1943, the Second Squadron of the 102nd was re-designated as the 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized). In December the squadron made a forced march to Marrakesh, Morocco to act as security escort for Winston Churchill, on his way to a meeting with French General Charles DeGaulle. Lutz and his fellow soldiers were told that there was an enemy kidnapping plot directed against the British Prime Minister, although nothing untoward occurred. Other important figures escorted by the 117th included King George V, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Chief of Staff General George Marshall. Though always prepared, Lutz’s squadron did not experience much enemy contact while working out of Douera.
On May10, 1944, the 117th left Algeria aboard a ship in a ninety vessel convoy sailing to Italy. On the second day of the journey, four JU-88 German bombers attacked the convoy. Three of the aircraft were shot down, and the fourth disappeared following the attack. A few days later, there were several additional “red alerts,” but no more attacks. The squadron landed at Naples on May 16. Once arriving in Italy, Lutz and his Squadron were assigned to form a defensive tripwire line from the Garigliano River to a point twelve miles to the south during the heavy fighting at Monte Cassino.
The 117th moved north with the American army and engaged in serious combat all the way. Lutz recalled that the Liberation of Rome was a highlight of his military experience. On June 4, 1944, the men of the117th were ordered to fight their way into Rome “at all costs.” By the following day, they had entered the city and reached the center in short order – without fighting. The enemy had fled, and no shots were fired. After the fall of Rome, Lutz, who had been working as a supply sergeant for a short period of time, was assigned to be the platoon sergeant of his troop’s third platoon.
On August 15, 1944, the 117th took part in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of southern France. American troops landed at St. Raphael, St. Maxime and St. Tropez against little resistance and with minimal casualties. During the squadron’s first days ashore, it became part of “Task Force Butler,” the armored spearhead of the Seventh Army. As the Americans advanced north from the beachhead, they liberated numerous towns and villages, and were greeted by enthusiastic and grateful French people. The Squadron drove north and eventually crossed the Rhine River, ending the war in Frankfurt, where the men of the unit were assigned living quarters in fancy manor houses.
On August 10, 1945, Lutz left Frankfurt for Camp Twenty Grand in France, and from there traveled back to the United States, landing at Boston. On September 10 he left Boston for Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he was discharged on September 14. Faced with deciding which direction his postwar life was going to take, Lutz decided that whatever he chose to do, he was going to be a leader. He subsequently enrolled in Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey, under the GI Bill, and three years later graduated with a BA degree and a double major in Psychology and Economics. He was subsequently hired by the New York Bell Telephone Company and then AT&T, where he reached the upper management level before retiring.
For detailed accounts of the 117th’s combat role in Italy and France, see: http://117th-cav.org/WWII%20History%20of%20the%20117th%20CAV.pdf