When a teenage Robert Highsmith enlisted in the U.S. Army at 19 years old, his family said he quickly became overwhelmed by the chaos of war.
“He voted against Franklin Delano Roosevelt from a foxhole,” said his son, also by the name of Robert Highsmith. “He did not want to be in the war.”
Before his very eyes, Highsmith saw the brutality of war that most only read about in textbooks. In May of 1945, he liberated the tortured and starving inmates of the Ampfing concentration camp in Germany, a sub-camp of Dachau.
“He really didn’t talk about the war,” said his daughter, Daryl Grazia. “One of the few things he shared was that he went 65 days without a bath because he lived in foxholes.”
Highsmith’s family said he also fought in the battles of Bannstein and Steinsfeld. He received a bronze star for leading his men through a minefield.
“He was my hero,” said Grazia.
Highsmith’s early years of defending America’s liberty in World War II paved the way for a lasting career in military service. Over a quarter of a century, he rose in ranks to Lieutenant Colonel, taking pride in defending the United States.
“He always felt that God had a special place for him,” Grazia said. “When he lost so many people around him all the time during the war, he just wondered, ‘What is it that God has for me to with my life? He has spared me this.'”
Beyond his military honors, Highsmith’s children said he was a loving and caring husband to his wife, Frances. He had three children: Robert, Daryl and Marshall.
“He was my best friend in so many ways,” Grazia said. “I just miss him.”
The reluctant veteran took part in a parade for the first time last year.
“We had a hard time convincing him,” his son said. “After it was over, we said, ‘Did you like it?’ and he said ‘Yeah, when’s the next one?'”
He died August 30th at 95 years old. His family said he was independent and active throughout his last hours of life.
“He drove himself to the hospital,” Grazia said with a laugh. “He lived very independently!”
Highsmith’s family invites all veterans to attend his services this week. The family will have a visitation from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, September 4th at Getz Funeral Home. There will be funeral services at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, September 5th at Sonoma Springs Covenant Church. Following the service, he will be buried at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens Cemetery.
“I think he’d be very honored,” Grazia said. “I can see the look on his face right now. I know he’ll be looking down on Wednesday. He’ll look down, he’ll smile and he’ll be happy about it.”