By Wayne Goble
Robert Earl Goble

Shortly after the onslaught of World War II, Robert Earl Goble joined the Army. He volunteered for the Airborne because it paid fifty dollars a month extra, and because they were construed as the cream of the crop. No one knew where their units might go, but the destiny of the 101st Airborne Division was to become one of the most fabled outfits of all time. They participated in four major operations, two of which might eventually be judged as decisive battles that changed the course of world history. One was the D-Day Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The other was the almost unfathomable defense of Bastogne, Belgium that Christmas. Dad, an original member of the 3rd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the 101st, a bona fide “Toccoa Man,” was in the thick of it for both of them.

After World War II, Dad went on to make a career of the Army. In an extraordinarily rare event, in recognition of his performance, and despite the fact that he had never graduated high school (GED 1948), President Harry S. Truman gave him a direct appointment into the Officers Corps (one of eight such appointments in 1952).. He went onto to become an instructor of small unit tactics at the Infantry School and later was a principal instructor (escape & evasion) at the Ranger School. Years later, during a routine nighttime jump on maneuvers in peacetime Germany, Dad was twisted one of his legs. The injury went unheeded for too many days, and resulted in further, and more serious, complications. Ironically, the almost tragic event aggravated wounds sustained some twenty years earlier at Bastogne and, along with other, more immediate, medical issues, forced him into an early retirement. He was a major (field grade commander) at the time and was on the promotion list to lieutenant colonel. Had he not been injured, he would, most likely, have gone to Vietnam as a battalion commander with the 1st Air Calvary and probably retired as a full colonel. He was, after all, a “soldier’s soldier.”

The following details various distinctions bestowed on Dad during his military career: Metals awarded to Robert Earl Goble


The 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment is cited for extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty in action the initial assault on the northern coast of Normandy, France. In the early morning of 6 June 1944, the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment descended by parachute in the swamps in the vicinity of Carentan, France. Widely dispersed during the descent, the regiment suffered heavy casualties from determined enemy resistance. Small groups assembled whenever possible and fought their way to the assembly area. En route, many enemy strong points and pill boxes were liquidated through acts of gallantry and disregard of self by individuals or the regiment. According to the plans, the bridges and crossings of the Douve River were seized and held in the face of heavy enemy fire. This prevented the enemy from bringing up reinforcements to prevent the beach landings of the assault forces of VII Corps. The determination and gallantry of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment protected the south flank of the VII Corps, enabled a rapid inland advance of the assault troops and assured the establishment of the Allied beachhead in France.


These units (of the 101st Division) distinguished themselves in combat against powerful and aggressive enemy forces composed of elements of eight German divisions during the period from 18 December to 27 December 1944 by extraordinary heroism and gallantry in defense of the key communications center of Bastogne, Belgium. Essential to a largescale exploitation of his break-through into Belgium and northern Luxembourg, the enemy attempted to seize Bastogne by attacking constantly and savagely with the best of his armor and infantry. Without benefit of prepared defenses, facing almost overwhelming odds and with very limited and fast dwindling supplies, these units maintained a high combat morale and an impenetrable defense, despite extremely heavy bombing, intense artillery fire, and constant attacks from infantry and armor on all sides of their completely cut off and encircled position. This masterful and grimly determined defense denied the enemy even momentary success in an operation for which he paid dearly in men, material, and eventually morale. The outstanding courage and resourcefulness and undaunted determination of this gallant force is in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.

SPECIAL NOTE: the piece of camouflaged silk in the shadow box is a remnant of the parachute he used during the drop into Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT NORMANDY: Elements of the 101st Division were the first Americans to set foot in Nazi-occupied France. In all, some 6,700 paratroopers from the 101st jumped into Normandy. Roughly one-third (2,200) were in the 501st PIR. By the time they retuned to England 33 days later, the 501st had lost 898 men (KIA or WIA). Percentage-wise, initial losses stood at 41 percent.

SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT MARKET GARDEN: The 501st PIR, in a daring daytime jump, dropped in at Veghel, Holland, 25 miles behind the German front lines, to seize and hold the highway and railroad bridges across the Willemsvaart Canal, a major water barrier on the route of Montgomery's Second British Army to the "bridge too far" at Arnhem. This corridor became known as Hell's Highway. The division held the road for ten days, and served a total of 72 consecutive days in continuous combat during the Liberation of Holland. The 501st lost another 662 soldiers (KIA, WIA and MIA) in Market Garden. The cumulative casualty rate by that point was 71 percent.

SPECIAL NOTE ABOUT BASTOGNE: The 501st PIR lost 580 KIA, WIA and MIA at Bastogne. In the end, that equated to a cumulative net casualty rate of 97 percent for all actions in which the 501st participated. One must keep in mind that replacement troops were added along the way, but the odds of walking away diminished as the war trudged on. In all, the 101st Airborne fielded an initial 12,335 men for engagement in Europe. By the time V-E Day arrived, the division suffered a total of 1,731 Killed In Action, 5,584 Wounded In Action, and 273 Missing In Action for an overall casualty rate of 62 percent.

Robert Earl Goble is buried in the National Cemetery at Fort Benning, Georgia. A granite paver on the Wall of Fame at the nearby Infantry Museum reads:

Robert Earl Goble, A Toccoa Man, D-Day to VE-Day

Many movies were made about some of the events of World War II in which Dad was an active participant. Some of them: Band Of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day, Bastogne, Battleground, Bridge At Remagen, Arnhem - Operation Market Garden, Screaming Eagles, A Bridge Too Far, Battle Of The Bulge. Another worth viewing because it portrays a “turning-point battle” in Vietnam in which some of Dad’s former comrades from the original 101st and post-war airborne cadre participated: We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young. There are innumerable books as well. Two worthy of mention are Four Stars of Hell by Laurence Critchell, a chronicle of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II, and Bastogne: The First Eight Days by S.L.A. Marshall.

Researched and written by Wayne Goble. Finalized on Memorial Day 2009.

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