The Normandy landings, on D-Day, June 6, 1944, launched the invasion of German-occupied Western Europe and began the Allied victory in the war. Robert Royce was one of the 160,000 troops who were there.
What may seem like a bunch of random numbers to some, 15354258 rolls off the tongue of Army Air Corps Veteran Robert Royce with ease, even now, over 70 years later.
He recites the numbers with pride. For it was these numbers, Royce’s enlistment number, that set his life on a path that would never be the same again.
Royce remembers the pride he felt the first time he looked in the mirror and saw himself in uniform. “It was the first time I felt like a man,” Royce recalled. That was December 2, 1942. Royce was 18 years old. Now, 70 years later, Royce said he would enlist all over again, if he could.
“I’m so glad I joined the war effort,” Royce said. “Most days I didn’t think I would make it through the day,” he explained. “I was there for the Battle of the Bulge and for the Normandy invasion. So many deaths,” he said shaking his head. “I’ve always asked myself, why me? All of these guys, young guys…18, 19 years old, they didn’t get to go on and live their lives and have families. I always wondered how I got to be so lucky,” Royce said.
He’s carried this gratitude for life with him, like a badge of honor, and it has had an impact on every part of his life. He sees challenges as opportunities and he has nothing but love in his heart for all of mankind.
Royce was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. When the war broke out, he was eager to enlist. “I wanted to be where the action is,” Royce recalled. “I went right down and signed up. My dad told me to get a job working on airplanes, thinking it would be safer for me so that’s what I did. I don’t know how much safer it was — I ended up moving with the infantry and being so close to the front lines that I could hear the constant shelling and bombings,” Royce said.
“We were under attack at all times. I was one of the lucky ones, though, I made it back. When our boats arrived at the New York Harbor at the end of the war, we were told we were being discharged at the convenience of the government and we could now go home. And that’s what we did.”
Soon after Royce was discharged in 1945, he went to the local VA and enrolled for benefits. “VA has always looked out for me,” Royce said. “I like to think of VA as my big brother — it has been there for me.
“Besides getting my health care at VA for the past 65 years, I also used the GI Bill and took courses in air conditioning, refrigeration, carpentry, electricity and plumbing. I was able to find employment and support my family, thanks to the GI Bill,” Royce said. “All in all, the military and the VA have taken care of me and it makes me proud that I was able to serve this country,” Royce said.
(Another important anniversary this month is the 70th Anniversary of the GI Bill. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law on June 22, 1944.)
VA has taken care of me and makes me proud that I was able to serve this country.
Royce thinks that today’s troops returning from war and leaving the service don’t have it as good as he did upon returning from Europe after WWII.
“There were more jobs after the war than there were people to fill them,” Royce recalled. “You could find work doing just about anything you wanted to do back then. To those Veterans returning today, I would tell them not to isolate themselves. That can be dangerous. Get involved with something that matters to you and stay active. There are people all over that will help, if you only ask.”
When Royce moved to Gulfport, Mississippi, in the mid-90s, he joined the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in Biloxi. He’s a member of the Gold Team and he has nothing but praise for his health care team.
Royce maintains his youth through daily exercise, a sensible diet and an active social life. He rides his bike every day, enjoys stretch classes and gets out on the dance floor every chance he gets. He has three daughters and two grandchildren. Royce looks forward to celebrating his 90th birthday this June.
“I’m still enjoying the benefits of my service by being able to live in such a beautiful place,” Royce said. He’s alternated living at the Soldier’s Home in Washington, DC and at the old Naval Home in Gulfport, Miss. “It’s peaceful living and they have everything I could possibly want here. I am blessed to have such a life.”