Our Silent Generation Speaks – Two-Service Vet Robert Lister ~ Valley Patriot of the Month

By: John Cuddy

Raised in Methuen, Massachusetts, where he returned to over thirty years ago, ninety-year-old Robert Lister and his daughter Joan, recently met with the Valley Patriot to tell his story.

Growing up, he had three sisters and one brother. Robert attended Lawrence High School for a while before joining the US Navy at age seventeen. A member of what historians are now calling the “Silent Generation,” they are the younger siblings of America’s “Greatest Generation.”

They were born between 1928 and 1945 and were too young to serve in World War II with their older siblings. Many of the older members of this group, lied about their age, and served in the military during the Second World War, some serving while in their early teens. In his 2008 thesis for the University of Montana, Joshua Pollarine, interviewed many underaged World War II Veterans from the Silent Generation who served in the US Military, some in Combat, as teenagers.

The youngest of those he interviewed, being four Veterans who served in the Army or Navy at thirteen. Another Veteran Pollarine interviewed was US Marine Jack Lucas, who enlisted at fourteen, and earned the Medal of Honor on Iwo Jima at fifteen.

During the Korean conflict, Robert served on several ships, including the USS General Stuart Heintzelman (AP-159) a military transport, the carrier USS Shangri-La (CV/CVA/CVS-38), and the carrier USS Antietam (CV-36). The USS Antietam was in war time reserve after the ship’s World War II service. Robert was part of the crew that put the carrier back into commission after the North Koreans and their Chinese allies invaded South Korea. The ship was returned to active duty on January 17, 1951, with Captain George J. Dufek USN in command. When Robert joined the ship’s crew, as the carrier was embarking on the only combat deployment of her career. During that tour, the USS Antietam made four cruises with US Navy Task Force 77 (TF 77), into the combat zone off the coast of the Korean peninsula.

After each of the vessel’s combat missions, the USS Antietam returned to Yokosuka, Japan. The carrier’s air group carried out a variety of missions in support of United Nations forces combating North Korean, Chinese and Soviet aggression. Those air missions included combat air patrol, logistics interdiction, particularly against railroad and highway traffic, reconnaissance, antisubmarine patrols, and night heckler missions.

From late November 1951 to mid-March 1952, Antietam’s air group flew nearly 6,000 sorties of all types. Robert and the rest of the crew returned to Yokosuka on March 21, 1952, after the conclusion of her fourth combat mission with Task Force 77. The crew then to begin preparations to sail back to the United States. Before returning to the United States, Robert also spent some time assigned to the US Navy seaplane tender, the USS Salisbury Sound (AV-13). This ship was named after a spot in the State of Alaska, not the famous Merrimack Valley vacation spot.

Even decades after his US Navy service, Robert proudly spoke of the carrier USS Antietam being fitted with a British invented port sponson (Canted Deck) in 1952. This made the ship the world’s first true angled-deck aircraft carrier. He recalls being on board while the carrier tested this new flight deck, and experience he found harrowing. Robert and his shipmates earned the Korean Service Medal with two battle stars for service during the conflict. At the end of his Naval Career Robert also earned the Good Conduct, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.

After leaving the Navy, Robert attended the now closed Coyne College of Electrical Technology, worked several jobs to support his family, and decided to reconsider service to his Nation by joining the US Army. Ironic, because when he first joined the military in 1950, the US Army rejected him, due to a suspected heart murmur.

After being rejected by the US Army, Robert simply walked down the hall and joined the US Navy. He trained as a US Army Infantrymen, completing both the Basic Airbourne course and the US Army’s Jungle Training Center in Panama. Robert also served with the US Army’s legendary 101st Airborne, based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

During his service in the US Army, he also attended the grueling seven-week Combat Diver Qualification Course, or CDQC, at the Special Forces Underwater Operations School in Key West, Florida. He completed the US Army Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) or, informally, the Q Course, earning him a coveted “Green Beret.”

After leaving the active US Army, he completed fifteen years of service in the US Army Reserves. Finished with active service in both the US Army and US Navy, Robert started a career at then Western Electric. The company operated a plant in the Merrimack Valley from 1860, until the North Andover facility closed its doors in 2011. The site in North Andover was once one of the largest employers in Massachusetts.

Robert talked at length to me about his two sons, three daughters, thirteen grandchildren, five great grandchildren, and seven great-great, grandchildren. He is very proud of his qualification as one of the earliest US Army scuba divers, and at the age of eighty-six, made one last parachute jump from a plane. As a civilian he did some scuba work with the State of New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department. He went hang-gliding off the cliffs of North Carolina.
Robert qualified as an airplane pilot and flew out of several of the local airfields including Lawrence.

He retired from Western Electric/AT&T as a Licensed Practical Nurse. Studying at Northern Essex Community College, he became an LPN. Robert served at several hospitals and nursing homes between Boston and the Merrimack Valley. Bob says it seems like he has spent his whole life in one school or class of some kind. He gets very emotional talking about parachuting, diving, flying, and especially earning a Green Beret. Korean War Veteran, two service Military Veteran, father, grandfather, great grandfather, and great-great grandfather, a proud member of the Merrimack Valley’s Silent Generation, Robert Lister is a “hero in our midst.”

The Haverhill, Methuen, Andover, and Dracut American Legion Posts ask all World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Veterans, to call (603) 518-5368 and sign up for an Honor Flight to the Memorials in Washington DC! Veterans of all eras are asked to go to the American Legion’s Web site www.legion.org, and join the American Legion, our mission is working with Congress, Veterans, and the Community, preserving our Veteran’s Benefits for future generations and serving all Veterans and their families.

John Cuddy served in the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (also known as the Seabees) after retiring from the US Navy; he earned a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in economics from the University of Massachusetts on the Lowell Campus. He has been employed in Logistics at FedEx for the last 26 years. If you know a World War II, Korean War, or Vietnam War Veteran who would like their story told, please email him at John.Cuddy@Yahoo.com. ◊