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Interview on experiences in World War II

View at Kansas Memory

Creator: Piller, Robert J.

Date: October 5, 2006

Level of Description: Item

Material Type: Manuscripts

Call Number: World War II Oral Histories Project

Unit ID: 211746

Biographical sketch: Robert Piller was born and raised in Great Bend, Kansas. His father was an automobile dealer and farmer and he grew up working on the farm. He describes growing up in a great family and that he doesn't remember being affected by the Depression as his father hadn't invested in stocks but in land. He graduated from high school in 1942 so he figured he would be drafted and he wanted to be. However, his parents thought it would be good to get some college hours before he went into the service so he enrolled at Notre Dame where he sustained a knee injury and had to have surgery. After recovering he enrolled in the spring semester at the University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. He tried to enlist but because he was only seventeen and his medical condition he was rejected. Then he was drafted and because he had been a pre-med student in college they sent him to medical corps basic with the idea that he could go on to be a medic. He qualified for ATSP (Army Specialized Training Program) but the program got cancelled as they needed bodies and they were all put in the infantry. Staging was at Camp Maxey located in Paris, Texas and he describes what his training was like. As he was an average shot from growing up a hunter, he became a Browning Automatic Rifleman and he also talks about the training they received for disarming booby-traps and mines. From there he went to Taunton, Massachusetts near Boston and from there to England. They crossed the English Channel in October of 1944 and headed across France but had no combat there. From there they went to Belgium where the Battle of the Bulge took place. Mr. Piller describes what it was like during the Battle of the Bulge, the terribly cold winter and many of the men getting frostbite because they didn't have enough warm clothing and how he was cold all the time. He talks about communicating with the people they encountered because not many spoke English of course. Before the Battle of the Bulge he was wounded by two pieces of shrapnel in his arm which he didn't pay much attention to as "it could be covered with a Band-Aid" but he ended up with blood poisoning and got sent to a field hospital.
He was started on penicillin shots and was supposed to be evacuated to London for rehabilitation but "the Bulge hit" and he was sent back to the front. The 395th Infantry Regiment were hit with artillery "daily and nightly" but the 393rd and 394th he said were hit the most severe. After the Battle of the Bulge their objective was to reach the Rhine River so they headed East. They crossed the bridge at Remagen under a "rain of shrapnel" before it collapsed. It was after this when they were moving ahead that he stepped in a hole and hurt his ankle. The medic said that it was probably broken so he was loaded up on a stretcher and sent back to the hospital. For both of his wounds he was eligible for a Purple Heart but didn't apply for it because his parents would have been notified and he didn't want to worry them but he did receive two Bronze Stars. His last fight was across the Danube on April 27th, 1945. Mr. Piller explained the points system, how those with enough points would be sent home and those that did not would be sent to the South Pacific. They didn't have enough boats to take his division home so it took three months before they were finally able to return to the United States. He was discharged at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and returned to Great Bend where he helped his dad on the farm until the fall semester in 1946 when he went back to Kansas University and ultimately graduated from there. After graduation he worked as a rep. in a manufacturing company and eventually ended up buying the business which he has since passed on to his son.

Summary: Piller was inducted into the Army (Infantry) in 1943 and served until 1945 in the 395th Infantry Regiment. Interviewed by Brian Grubbs on Oct 5, 2006, Piller talked about military experiences in the Second World War. The 2005 Kansas Legislature passed a bill funding the WWII Veterans Oral History grant program. This transcript is from one of the community institutions receiving grants. The transcript of the interview is presented here; the original video copy of the interview is available through the Watkins Community Museum of History (Lawrence) and through the Kansas State Historical Society.

Space Required/Quantity: Video

Title (Main title): Interview on experiences in World War II

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019-14-05-05  Mini DV Tape (2) 

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