Bob landed at Parris Island at a hard time for the Marines. The Corps was so short of manpower that the teenage Bob soon became a drill instructor, barking orders at recruits a dozen years older than he.
By 1944, Bob had transferred to the new 24th Marine Regiment, which, along with the 23rd and the 25th, became part of the 4th Marine Division. When the 4th Marines stepped aboard ship in San Diego, they would not touch dry land again unless they were fighting on it. There would be four island invasions over the next thirteen months: Roi Namor, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima.
Bob made it only as far as Saipan. Like so many combat veterans, he consideres himself very lucky. So many close calls. So many killed by fire that should have struck him. Finally, on July 4, 1944, he did get hit.
It was still dark when Sgt. Williams saw the grenade land at his feet. He scrambled for a bomb crater. The grenade exploded, and Bob, expecting another grenade, jumped up and started running. He noticed a loose rope flopping around him. It was his arm, disabled by the blast. Bob would spend the next year in military hospitals. His arm would heal well enough for Bob to earn a living as a wallpaper hanger back in Pennsylvania.
In the summer of 2012—almost 70 years to the day he joined the Marines at age 17—Bob Williams presented his story to Todd DePastino’s World War II History class at the Canonsburg campus of Waynesburg University.