Never Forgotten: Capt. Robert B. Conlon

Killed on May 21, 1944 by German machine-gun fire, Capt. Robert B. Conlon’s actions, just before his death, saved the lives of 1,000 men. Hear the story of how Capt. Conlon was killed in action, and hear his son recount the experience of visiting his father’s final resting place for the first time.    

Video Transcript

JAC CONLON: My dad’s name was Robert Bellinger Conlon. My dad fought in World War II. He was a captain in the United States Army. He was killed in Italy, May 21st, 1944. Even though I never knew him, what I read about him and what the men said about him, just inspired me for my whole life, all my life. I’m 72 years old and his example’s been with me all those years. He didn’t have to enlist, but he did it anyway. And as a man who loved his country, loved his God, loved his wife, just a fine example. My dad was captain of the 93rd Armored Field Artillery Battalion, and he was a leader amongst leaders. They were always in the front lines. There was nothing from behind. He was always out in the front, his battery.

He served across Africa and then they went to Sicily, and from Sicily to Italy and Italy is where he was killed. There was this bridge that went over a railroad trestle and it was vital for the advancement of all the troops, and my dad was out in front, scouting out the terrain and what was going on and when he was there, he saw the Germans getting ready to blow up the bridge. So he told the second he was with other men, he told the other men to go back and get help, and he and his lieutenant jumped on a jeep that had a machine gun on the back of the jeep, and my dad got up on the machine gun, saw the Germans on the bridge, ready to blow. He killed the Germans on the bridge, drove the jeep out in full view of the others Germans that were on the other side of the bridge and got off the jeep and cut the wires to the explosive charges, and then unbeknownst to him there was a hidden machine gun nest that he did not see, and they opened fire and they killed my dad, and the man that was with him and another Italian that were with him on the bridge. I can only go by what his commanding officer said in one of the letters that I received that my dad’s action in scouting the troops and heading for reinforcements saved the lives of about 1,000 men. That’s one of the reason’s he was granted the Distinguished Service Cross because he not only saved the bridge, but the lives of his fellow soldiers in the process.

He always was a leader. He never expected anybody to do anything he was not willing to do, or did do himself so that way his men were very eager to follow him, and his example was exemplary and one of his commanding officers, a colonel, said that he was a gallant and honest man, and a man highly respected and loved by his men. Realizing that any day he could die didn’t matter, he was going to live every day with the idea that we’re one day closer to freedom and to winning this war.

He’s buried in Nettuno, the American military cemetery. It’s about 100 miles north of where he was actually killed, the cemetery, and it’s a beautiful, beautiful tribute to those men and women who sacrificed. To visit the place where he was killed in the area, it was very important to me because of never having known him or anything, here was an opportunity for me to be near his bones, so to speak. And to just stand in front of the cross and cry. And put my hand on the cross, and stand up, come to attention and salute him and tell him I miss him. Basically it’s a once in a lifetime or maybe twice in a lifetime opportunity to actually visit where he was buried and so, it was an experience that I’ll treasure. And the ocean doesn’t make him any farther from my heart than if he were here in the United States. We need to pay respect to those that have gone on because it makes us think and realize that what we have came at a price. It was free to  us, but not to those men and women that made who possible for us to live in such a great country as America.