Wounded Combat Veteran – Hollywood Actor
(May 23, 2010)
I was in Tulsa, OK attending the largest gun show in the world where
I met the Hollywood acting star Dale Robertson. I watched his TV
show “Iron Horse” in the 11200s and of course “Death Valley Days.”
He made 63 movies, many of them being Westerns. His favorite was
“The Gambler of Natchez”. There was the “Tales of Wells Fargo” TV
show and he was on the extremely popular show “Dynasty.” He was
regularly seen as a guest star on TV shows well into the 1990s
(“Murder She Wrote and Fantasy Island”).
However my first question to Mr. Robertson was “are you a veteran?”
The answer was, not only was he a WW II Army veteran, but he was a
combat wounded soldier. Mr. Robertson is a native of Oklahoma, born
in Harrah. Because he had boxed professionally he was ineligible to
play college sports so he decided to attend Claremore Military
Academy, in Claremore, OK. He was an all around athlete and earned
32 athletic awards while at Claremore.
Mr. Robertson advised me he entered the Army in 1943. He took his basic training
at Ft. Riley and became an enlisted cavalryman. In 1944 he was sent to Officer
Candidate School at Ft. Knox in Kentucky. 2nd Lieutenant Robertson became an
Engineering Officer. He was assigned as the platoon leader of 2nd Platoon, C
Company of the 322nd Combat Engineers, which was in the 97th Infantry Division.
The 322nd was in California practicing amphibious landings on the sunny beaches
of Camp San Luis Obispo. The 97th Infantry Division was supposed to be headed to
the Pacific when the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium occurred.
While stationed in California, Lieutenant Robertson had a photo taken, that was
displayed in the portrait studio. This was how Hollywood discovered him, even
before he separated from the Army at the end of WWII.
The entire 97th was put on a troop train to New York and on 19 February they
sailed for France. I was able to track down Lt. Colonel Fritz Ahlfeld, US Army
Reserve retired, who as a young Lieutenant had been the platoon leader of third
platoon, alongside of 2Lt Robertson's 2nd platoon. The amphibious training for
attacking islands occupied by the Japanese came into good use, when the 97th was
assigned to take the German city of D�sseldorf. The Sieg River had to be crossed
under enemy fire.
2Lt. Robertson and his platoon built a floating bridge that allowed supplies and
infantry troops to cross the river. His platoon was responsible for removing
mine fields that had been set up on the German side of the Sieg River. All of
this was accomplished while under fire from German machineguns, mortars and the
dreaded 88mm artillery. The first two jeeps across the Sieg were blown up by
mines. The Germans were not happy that the enemy was on their home soil and the
fighting was intensifying.
As the Germans were pushed back they would blow up anything that the US Army
might be able to use. 2Lt. Robertson along with the rest of Company C was
charged with repairing whatever they could (such as bridges and roads) or
removing what could not be fixed but was in the way (such as mines and burning
After the capture of D�sseldorf the 97th was sent to the border of
Czechoslovakia to liberate the city of Cheb and get the military factories in
that city out of the hands of the Germans. The biggest problem for the 322nd
Combat Engineers was the minefields that had to be cleared before the infantry
and tanks could move forward. 2Lt. Robertson's platoon fought alongside the
infantry in order to advance, to remove the mines. During this operation they
were under 88mm artillery fire and Dale Robertson told me he was wounded by
I asked him about receiving the Purple Heart. He told me he dressed his own
wounds and got on with the mission. He never reported to a military medical
unit. With no official military record you get no official recognition. The Army
tried to recall him during the Korean War. When they did a physical, injures
were then made known to the military and he was deemed not qualified for active
Like most WW II veterans Dale Robertson just got on with his life after the war.
He happened to do it on the silver screen of Hollywood.
Van E. Harl
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air
Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the
Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of
the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air
Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state
police officer in Nevada.
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