World War II veteran Bob Babcock shares some of his memories of life before, during and after the war with U.S. history students at Lincoln-Way East High School in Frankfort. | Supplied photo
Updated: April 18, 2013 6:05AM
World War II veteran Bob Babcock, 91, recently became living history for Lincoln-Way East students, recalling events that happened more than 70 years ago.
“I hope you realize how lucky your are,” teacher Paul Babcock told U.S. history students listening to his uncle’s presentation. “World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,200 a day. They’re not going to be with us much longer.”
Bob Babcock told the students about growing up on a farm in southern Wisconsin. He remembers picking corn in the fields on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Babcock said he “had no interest in joining (the Army) before Pearl Harbor. But I knew I was going to have an interest then, whether I wanted to or not.”
Babcock was drafted and trained in Louisiana and Washington before being sent to England as part of the 11th Armored Division.
He was assigned to drive a tank, probably because the Army thought it would be a good fit for a farmer who was used to driving farm equipment, he said.
Babcock said despite rear-ending the tank in front of him the first time he sat behind the controls — and getting “chewed out” by his superior officer — he drove a tank throughout the war.
Babcock told the students about some significant experiences of the war years such as meeting Gen. George S. Patton and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in Europe.
But he said it was day-to-day living that took up most of the soldiers’ time. Babcock said helmets were filled with water for bathing, clothes were washed in gasoline, and sometimes canned food was heated with blow torches.
“You had very little time in action,” he said.
He estimated about 40 percent of the time was spent in battle.
Babcock said one image that remains with him was when the 11th Armored Division entered a Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in upper Austria.
“We wondered how anyone could do that to them,” he said.
When Babcock returned home, he worked briefly in a factory, earning 35 cents a day, he told the students.
He went to school and later had a 50-year career as a salesman for Country Companies, an insurance business. He lives in Rockford with his wife of 65 years.
As a World War II veteran and Bronze Star recipient, Babcock gave the students something to take away from his presentation.
“Try to give something to the community,” Babcock said. “Each generation has something to offer. Remember that.”