A personal bond with me and Bob Maxwell, our nation’s oldest Medal of Honor recipient and only Medal of Honor recipient who lived in Oregon, developed over a food cooler.

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Instructor Bob Maxwell at Central Oregon College in Bend, Oregon.
Instructor Bob Maxwell at Central Oregon College in Bend, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Dick Tobiason.

National news media coverage of his death focused attention to his courage and exemplary life.

Bob Maxwell’s death on May 11, 2019 got national attention.  He was our nation’s oldest Medal of Honor recipient. He also was the only Medal of Honor recipient living in Oregon. I was proud to call him a friend and part of our bonding involved a small food cooler. It started when he brought his wife, a daughter and two grandchildren to my 40th wedding anniversary. My wife Marianne and I rented a portion of Tualatin’s Community Park for this event. Bob’s group arrived early, while I was setting up my portable barbeque. I had noticed several homeless guys at the other end of the park. They were not having success in getting a fire going to cook some meat they had so I volunteered my barbeque.  They quickly seared their meat and went back to the other side of the park.  The last one to leave was someone I had talked about with Linda Molholt when she ran the Schoolhouse Food Pantry where he was a regular patron. She said he slept in a nearby culvert. He told Bob and I that he had served in the Marines. He advised us that we should not trust guys like his group.  After the party, we packed a small cooler with food for the Maxwell’s trip home. I told him not to bother returning the cooler.  But he did mail it back, to an incorrect address so it was returned to him.  He did not do email, but that cooler came up every time I called him.

Bob Maxwell, age 24, soon after receiving Medal of Honor on May 12, 1945.
Bob Maxwell, age 24, soon after receiving Medal of Honor on May 12, 1945. The presentation is on YouTube: youtu.be/q3TVFgR_bpM. His citation was one of the last papers signed by President Franklin Roosevelt before he died. Bob and his wife, Bea, have attended all Presidential Inaugurations (courtesy of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society) since Pres. Eisenhower’s inauguration. But he did not meet a President until Memorial Day, 2006; President George W. Bush.

I first met him about 15 years ago while accompanying Howard Ramsey, our nation’s oldest living WWI battle veteran at the time, to significant veteran events. Howard died in 2007 at age 108.  I became directly involved with Bob when he accepted my invitation to attend the Tualatin VFW Cpl. Matthew Lembke Hall dedication on August 26, 2009. I arranged for the Comfort Inn to comp he and his wife for two evenings for the event. Prior to the Dedication, I facilitated a private presentation for the Lembke family at the Comfort Inn involving Bob, the Bend Band of Brothers and the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Tyler J. Troyer who was killed in action in 2005 in Iraq.

The last direct contact I had with Bob was at the dedication of the Oregon Medal of Honor exhibit at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville on November 24, 2015, two days before his 95th birthday. Since then, I had kept in touch with Bob through his close friend, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Dick Tobiason, who serves as his biographer and PR agent. Dick copied emails I sent with pictures and stories for Bob and kept me up on Bob’s activities. Bob was born in Boise, Idaho on October 26, 1920. He was brought up in the Quaker faith on a Kansas ranch but chose not to register as a “Conscientious Objector.” He dropped out of school after the seventh grade, and worked in ranching during the “dust bowl” days. Drafted into the Army in 1942, his first duty was in North Africa with the famed 7th Infantry Regiment of the Third Infantry Division. He was assigned as a “wireman” to a small team setting up field communications (laying wire and setting up phones and switchboards) at forward command posts as unit moved during combat operations. 

Bob first saw combat in Sicily followed by the invasion of Anzio, Italy where he was injured during the landing for which he was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. He rejoined his unit for the invasion of Southern France where he survived the action that led to his Medal of Honor citation.  Later Bob was presented with a second Silver Star, the Bronze Star, a second Purple Heart, and French Croix de Guerre. Six decades later he was presented the French Legion of Honor on board a French Navy frigate near Norfolk, VA.  After discharged, Bob took automotive technology classes at Eugene Vocational School. He worked as an auto mechanic until teaching automotive technology at Bend High School, then Central Oregon College followed by Lane County Community College.

The President of the United States of America as authorized by Congress takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor
to
MAXWELL, ROBERT D.

Rank and organization: Technician Fifth Grade, U.S. Army, 7th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Besancon, France, 7 September 1944. Entered service at: Larimer County, CO, Birth: Boise, Idaho, 26 October 1920. G.O. No.: 24, 6 April 1945.

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 7 September 1944, near Besancon, France. Technician 5th Grade Maxwell and 3 other soldiers, armed only with .45 caliber automatic pistols, defended the battalion observation post against an overwhelming onslaught by enemy infantrymen in approximately platoon strength, supported by 20mm. flak and machinegun fire, who had infiltrated through the battalion’s forward companies and were attacking the observation post with machinegun, machine pistol, and grenade fire at ranges as close as 10 yards. Despite a hail of fire from automatic weapons and grenade launchers, Technician 5th Grade Maxwell aggressively fought off advancing enemy elements and, by his calmness, tenacity, and fortitude, inspired his fellows to continue the unequal struggle. When an enemy hand grenade was thrown in the midst of his squad, Technician 5th Grade Maxwell unhesitatingly hurled himself squarely upon it, using his blanket and his unprotected body to absorb the full force of the explosion. This act of instantaneous heroism permanently maimed Technician 5th Grade Maxwell, but saved the lives of his comrades in arms and facilitated maintenance of vital military communications during the temporary withdrawal of the battalion’s forward headquarters.

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Dale Potts
Dale G. Potts has organized and MC’d Tualatin’s Memorial Day observation for the past 16 years. He is a Navy Vietnam vet, serving as the Public Affairs Officer of the Aircraft Carrier USS Yorktown. After active duty, he remained in the reserves, retiring as a Navy Captain (same rank as an Army Colonel). His civilian career was primarily as the Oregon Public Affairs Officer for IRS. Contact Dale at vet.dale@gmail.com.