At 97-years old WWII veteran Bob Babcock can still wear the jacket from his army uniform. Bob and his wife, Jean, have been married 70-years this year. (Photo by Doug Schroder)

Bob Babcock was one of the last tank drivers in Patton’s Third Army

By Doug Schroder

Editor

To many people in Winnebago and the surrounding area, 97-year old Bob Babcock is known as a retired insurance agent from Country Companies, where he spent about 50 years, or so, writing policies and making sure people were covered with various types of insurance.

But Babcock led a much different life in his younger years. A life many in his age group experienced as World War II was a part of their everyday living in America from 1941 to 1945.

Babcock grew up on a farm in Manchester Township over in Boone County, just South of the Wisconsin border. It was a peaceful life and he learned many things in his formative years from work on the farm that would help him in what was to come.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Babcock, at five-feet tall and 100-pounds, enlisted in the Army.

“I may have only weighed a hundred pounds, but I could carry a 100-pound sack of feed 100-yards. I was strong for my size back then,” Babcock stated

He, along with the others in his battalion, was sent out to California to learn how to drive armored tanks. Of course none of the new recruits had ever driven a tank before. The farm boys had an easier time learning as they had experience driving tractors and other vehicles on the farm. Most of the city boys had never even driven a car before.

Since Babcock had the advantage of his experience on the farm, he rose to the rank of Master Sergeant after the first week in training and was assigned to teach the other recruits how to drive the tanks.

That wasn’t working out so well. One of the Generals asked for Babcock’s advice on what could be done to hasten the process. Babcock suggested they train the recruits on driving jeeps first, as that was easier to learn. The idea worked.

From California the battalion went to New Jersey to continue training until they got on board ships and went to England as the allies prepared for the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. Babcock was part of the Third army, Company B, 11th Armored Division.

One week after the D-Day invasion, Babcock found himself going ashore on one of the very same beaches in France that had been stormed the week before. There was still wreckage and other casualties from that battle the lay strewn across the sand and water of the beach.

Not long after that was his first encounter with the Germans in a live firefight.

When asked what it was like to go into battle for the first time, where it’s time to kill or be killed, Babcock answered.

“I did not worry about being killed. I worried more about my mom,” he replied.

To read the full story in two installments, see the Nov. 8 and 15 editions of the Gazette.