People in Your Neighborhood: La Jolla WWII vet reflects on war’s horrors and his gratitude for surviving
Thousands of San Diegans raised flags and laid flowers on graves to honor America’s living and departed military service members for Veterans Day this week. There are nearly 18 million American veterans in the United States, and nearly three-quarters of them served during the nation’s armed conflicts.
One of them is Bob Tauber, 96, of La Jolla, who was hit by a mortar shell at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and later witnessed the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps.
Tauber says he knew very well why he was fighting the Nazis when his Army unit landed in Marseilles, France, just after the D-Day invasion in 1944. The then-20-year-old Jewish man of Chicago birth had heard about the slaughter of Jews in German concentration camps.
Tauber had an “H” etched on his dog tag, which stood for “Hebrew.” He feared what the Germans would do to him if he were captured. He wasn’t captured, but he did see firsthand what the Nazis were capable of when he volunteered to carry concentration camp survivors into a hospital in France.
“They put these bodies on the stretchers that you couldn’t believe with your own eyes,” he said. “They weighed 80 or 90 pounds and they were too weak to speak. They just looked at you. I tried to comfort them and tell them ‘We’re Americans and you’re safe.’ But some of them never made it through the doors of the hospital before they died. It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever witnessed.”
Tauber had originally tried to enlist in the Army after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, but he was rejected due to partial color blindness. But as the need for soldiers grew, he was drafted in 1944 and sent by the Army to a technical training program in Cincinnati. Then, as the war in Europe intensified, he was called up to the 94th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron of the 14th Armored Division.
With his cavalry unit, Tauber fought his way north to France’s Alsace-Lorraine region and beyond. Under a crescent moon on New Year’s Eve 1944, the unit took part in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. It was so dark that night, he couldn’t tell whom he was shooting at, except by the shape of the men’s helmets. His Thompson submachine gun was no match for the German tanks.
“We had 37-millimeter cannons, but it was like throwing ping-pong balls at their Tiger tanks,” said Tauber, whose left arm was badly injured that night. He self-administered morphine, was strapped into a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and walked through the snow to an aid station 1½ miles away.
He was in Bavaria when the European war ended and was waiting for orders to ship out to Japan for a land invasion when the United States dropped two atomic bombs and Japan surrendered. Tauber said he was grateful to see the end of a war he had grown to hate.
“It’s the worst possible way to settle differences,” he said. “You kill people you don’t even know, who may have the same background and family ideas you have but they were possibly also drafted. It’s a terrible way to solve problems.”
After the war, Tauber used the GI Bill to earn an electrical engineering degree at UC Berkeley. Then he moved to Los Angeles, where he spent many years engineering circuits and technology for the fast-growing television industry. In the meantime, he married and had two children, Daniel and Jenna.
Because Daniel had severe asthma that was agitated by the smog in L.A., Tauber moved his family in 1969 to the cleaner air of Pacific Beach.
He started an electronics company that made custom battery packs for start-up medical companies in San Diego and ran it for 25 years before selling it in 1996.
That year he also went through a divorce, and a few years later he met the woman he calls his “co-vivant,” Sherri Chessen. They’ve lived together for 17 years, the past 12 at the White Sands La Jolla retirement community.
According to the National World War II Museum, only 2 percent of the 16 million Americans who served in the war are still alive. Tauber believes he is the only surviving member of his unit. Enduring the war’s horrors has made him grateful for the life he has today.
“When I was 20, I often wondered if I’d live to see 21, to see my family again, to get married, or would I die in this snow-covered forest in Germany,” he said. “You realize that so much in life is out of your control, so many things are going on that affect your life. There were so many comrades in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could’ve been you. You had no control; it was just random chaos.”
This article was originally part of a San Diego Union-Tribune report on area war veterans. People in Your Neighborhood shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. ◆
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