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Mill family sacrificed more than most in World War II

Posted: November 19, 2010 11:38 a.m.
Updated: November 22, 2010 5:00 a.m.

What is the worst ordeal a family can endure? What event could cause you the most anxiety, stress, or heartache? For one local family, the heartache was tripled in just a few days.
  W.T. and Buelah Roberts were typical of many South Carolina families during the Depression. They both worked long hours in the cotton mill and also farmed. They had 12 children, but lost three of them in infancy. To care and feed the nine remaining children left no time for idleness.
  During World War II, the family home proudly displayed the stars of five sons who were serving in the military. In the summer of 1943, while working at Hermitage Mill, the Roberts family received the following telegram: “I regret to inform you that the commanding general in North Africa reports Private Edman Roberts missing in action July 10. If further details or other information of his status are received, you will be promptly notified.'' In September of 1944, the family received notice that Edman was listed as KIA. Within two weeks, two more sons were killed in action only three days apart.
 Edman and his brother Lester were both already serving in the military when the war began. Lester saw action the first day and brought a small amount of success on "The Day of Infamy."  Lester was a machine gunner in the Marines and was stationed at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7th, 1941. His unit was scheduled to take target practice on Monday the 8th. To help keep score of the gunner's accuracy, each machine gun's bullets were painted. Lester's were painted red. When the Japs started bombing, Lester got his machine gun and started firing. The next day they found a downed Jap plane which was riddled with red bullets.
  Edman had volunteered to become a paratrooper and his unit was a participant in the invasion of Sicily. One of the most tragic debacles of World War II took place during this invasion of Sicily. The American Navy mistakenly fired on the U.S.  troop transports carrying the paratroopers, believing them to be another wave of Axis bombers. Many of the planes went down in the sea and many of the paratroopers were scattered miles from their designated drop zones. Most often paratroopers are dropped behind enemy lines. Edman's body was never recovered.
  Wilbert Roberts was in the infantry and fought for eight months in the Italian campaign. In his letters home he asked about family members, wrote about how when he was wounded he had gotten the opportunity to eat hot meals, watch movies, and sleep in a real bed. He also told how he had gotten a $20 a month raise since he was involved in the fighting. He sent his money home to his wife Lucille and his daughter Catherine Anne. Wilbert was killed in combat against the Nazis on Oct. 1, 1944.
  On Sept. 29th, his brother Gilbert was killed while engaged in the fierce fighting on the island of Peleliu. Prior to his enlistment in the Marines, Gilbert’s wife Azlie had given birth to Brenda and after he was on active duty their son Gilbert was born.  Because he only got a few days of leave for the birth of his son, there is only one family picture of Gil and Gil, Jr.
  Gil was a machine gunner and in a battle all forces place a priority of eliminating the enemy's machine gun positions. Some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific campaign took place on the island of Peleliu.
  The Roberts family and their daughters-in-law were each notified by a telegram from the U.S. War Department that each of their sons and husbands had been killed in action. Because of the loss of his three brothers, Leroy Roberts was not sent overseas.
  In 1948, the bodies of the two brothers, Wilbert and Gil, were returned and, along with an empty casket recognizing the demise of Edman, the three soldiers were laid to rest in Quaker Cemetery.

In honor of the sacrifice of the Roberts family, the city of Camden named Roberts Street, where the hospital was later moved, in honor of the three brothers.
  No one can understand the anguish of the Roberts family in living with the anxiety of having one son as listed as “missing in action” for over a year and then in the matter of a few weeks finding out that you have lost three sons. The sons never knew the excitement of watching their daughter’s first dance recital or watching their son get his first base hit.
  Thank you for your attention.


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