Fort Benning remembers Medal of Honor winner, WWII hero
October 27, 2008
Medal of Honor recipient, retired Col. Bob Nett, 86, died Sunday after a short illness. He was buried Thursday in the Fort Benning Cemetery after a funeral Mass was celebrated at the Follow Me Chapel on Main Post.
Nett earned the Medal of Honor for his actions on the island of Leyte during World War II. But he found out he had been recommended for the award through a news article in the Stars and Stripes, said Russ Eno, Infantry Magazine editor and long-time friend of Nett's.
He received the award in his hometown of New Haven, Conn. Lt. Gen. Oscar Griswold presented the medal on behalf of President Harry Truman who had to go to San Francisco at the last minute to resolve a crisis threatening the founding of the United Nations.
"Colonel Nett was a very humble man," Eno said. "He always said he accepted the Medal of Honor on behalf of the wonderful Soldiers he served with. He was very sincere."
Nett enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard at 17. His date of birth was smudged, Eno said, describing the way Nett had folded the birth certificate in half and rubbed the crease to blur the date.
"The sergeant said 'You were born in 1921' and Robert said, 'If that's what you say, Sergeant,'" Eno said.
Nett's mother found out he joined the National Guard when she saw him marching in a parade wearing a uniform. His father died when Nett was 8, and his mother raised him. She conditioned him to always ask if there was anything else he could do after he finished any type of errand, Eno said.
This trait worked in his favor in the Army, by the time he was a staff sergeant he recognized what needed to be done. While on Christmas Island in 1941 with the 102nd Infantry Division, he received orders for Officer Candidate School. Graduating in December 1942, he was commissioned an Infantry officer. While with the 77th Infantry Division, Nett was a first lieutenant commanding E Company, 305th Infantry Regiment, when the division made a surprise amphibious landing behind enemy lines in December 1944.
During a battle against a reinforced enemy battalion, Nett killed seven with his rifle and bayonet. Seriously wounded - in the neck, in the chest, which collapsed his lung and sent a rib through his back - he turned his command over to another lieutenant and started to walk to the aid station, according to Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty.
He met his wife, Frances, who served in the Army Nurses Corps, in the Philippines. They were married for 66 years.
After Nett received the USO's Spirit of Hope Award Jan. 24, 2007, in Marshall Auditorium, he told The Bayonet, "Any success I can claim, I owe to her. She often found herself having to fill the roles of mother and father while I was away for months at a time. She gave freely of herself. She raised our family and helped generations of Soldiers and their wives. I couldn't have done it without her."
A veteran of three wars, Nett served 33 years in the Army. One of his assignments was as the battalion commander of the Officer Candidate School. He was the father of OCS, said Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, Fort Benning's commanding general during a ceremony honoring the five Medal of Honor recipients who called Columbus home.
"I am among the thousands who consider him one of my mentors," Wojdakowski said.
Nett, who taught industrial arts in the Muscogee County School System for 17 years, touched the lives of many people, Eno said.
"What I learned from Colonel Nett is the importance of respect," Eno said.
"He felt people want to do the right thing. Set a good example for them and they would rise to the occasion." Nett had high standards and elicited the same from others, Eno said.
"He will be missed and fondly remembered," Eno said.
Nett is survived by his wife; his son, Dr. Robert B. Nett Jr. and wife, Patti Ann, and their children, Erica and Nicholas, of San Antonio, Texas; his daughter, Frances Anne Randall and husband, Doyle, of Roswell, N.M., and their daughter, Yvonne, of Las Vegas.