John William Robertson Sr.

John William Robertson Sr.

On Aug. 4, surrounded by special friends and family, John William Robertson Sr. — Jack to his friends — became a member of two exclusive clubs: the Centenarian Club, those 100 years old or older, and the diminishing group of World War II veterans. 

Soon after their youngest son was born (August 4, 1918) in Elwood Ind. Clayton, a Lutheran minister, and the family relocated to a church in Ohio.

“We moved around Ohio,” he said. “We lived in four different locations.”

One of those locations was in Columbus, not far from Ohio State University.” 

“When I was young I saw Ohio State play football,” Robertson said. “I would sneak into the OSU stadium — at that time stadiums weren’t very secure.”

As sons of a minister, Robertson and his brother David, who was almost three years older, were expected to “toe the line;” however, as normal boys they occasionally crossed the line, Robertson said, adding with a mischievous grin.

Those early adventures in OSU stadium left a lasting impression, and although he never attended OSU, Robertson became a lifetime OSU fan. To this day he rarely misses a football or basketball game.

When Robertson was 12 his father was moved to Calvary Lutheran Church in Louisville, Ky., where his family finally settled for good. 

Robertson was working as a bank teller when he was drafted into the Army. He was inducted on Feb. 2, 1942, left for basic training at Camp Atterbury in Indiana. From there Robertson was attached to the 8th Army Air Force division, Eastern Defense Command, and sent to Fort Benjamin in Harrison, Ind., for training, then Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., for more training.

“We used wooden guns until we learned to aim at targets,” Robertson laughed.

From Mississippi he went to the former Presque Isle Air Force Base in Maine where he was promoted to staff sergeant and was one of 10 men who “volunteered” to serve as cryptographers. 

The commander asked for 10 volunteers and, “before anyone could raise their hands he picked 10. I was one of them,” Robertson explained. 

The soldiers didn’t realize they had already been carefully screened.

Robertson’s next stop was the former Sondrestromfjord Army Air Base, in Greenland (now called Sondrestrom Air Base). The Army referred to it as Bluie West Eight (BW-8), code name “Bodkin” in communications.

The Base, located 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle, was established in 1941 with high security responsibilities. 

According to Robertson, due to their jobs, the 10-man team was heavily guarded at all times. Their job was 24-hour/seven days a week and entailed inspecting incoming and outgoing mail and coded and decoded information moving between North American and European operations. It also included assisting with the safety of the U.S. Army Air Force fleet’s Atlantic crossings to engagements in the European Theater.

“We helped the Air Force send planes to England,” Robertson said. “They could contact us if they needed help and we helped set up our entry into World War II.”

Robertson recalled when the team’s decoding and message interception detected an enemy submarine heading for the U.S. Greenland operations. The colonel in command of BW-8 advised headquarters and the submarine was destroyed.

After 18 months in Greenland, Robertson was reassigned to Fairfield-Suisan Army Air base in Fairfield, Calif.

“It felt like I was [in Greenland] three years,” he said  

During a 30-day furlough before reporting to the base in Fairfield, Robertson returned to Louisville and on Oct. 23, 1943, he married his longtime sweetheart, Evelyn.

“We took the train to California — that was our honeymoon — and she took the train back to Louisville,” he said.

After six months in California, Robertson was shipped to Lindley Field in Greensboro, N.C., for cryptographic briefing related to the North African Theater, then to Fort Kilmer in New Jersey where he boarded a transport, which took an unusual route to Preswick Air Base in North Scotland to avoid enemy submarines and his new assignment as a cryptologist. He remained in Scotland until the end of the war —13 months later. 

Jack returned to the United States in time to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast at Fort Kilmer before returning to Camp Atterbury where he was honorably discharged and sent back to Louisville and his bride. Evelyn hadn’t seen him since they said their goodbyes in California and she was more than ready to begin their new life together.

Robertson became an accountant and worked for three local well-known distilleries before he took an accounting position with American Synthetic in Louisville, which was acquired by Michelin.

Evelyn was a tennis player and a school teacher. She taught for 35 years in the Louisville public schools, Robertson said.

They had two children, daughter Kitty and son John, both of whom settled in Franklin; five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.    

Robertson retired in 1980. He and Evelyn traveled the country for several years. After 75 years of marriage, Evelyn passed away in 1995 and Robertson joined his family in Franklin. He lives next door to John and his wife, Carol. Robertson works crossword puzzles every day, still manages his own financial accounts, enjoys watching Ohio State games and sitting out on his big stone front porch.

 Carole Robinson may be contacted at crobinson@williamsonherald.com

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