Their task that day in September, 1918, had been an assault on the German-held town of Sechault in northeastern France and the men of Company D, 369th Infantry, 93rd Division, found it nearly impregnable with thick machine gun fire and artillery.
One of the members of Company D was a 31-year-old officer named George Seanor Robb, who had been promoted to first lieutenant only six days, before the assault.
Advancing through the woods, the young lieutenant was smashed to the ground by machine gun fire that also destroyed his rifle, canteen and binoculars.
He tried to get up, but everything went completely black. He lay there for several minutes, finally succeeding in propping himself up to a sitting position
The battle was still raging and he realized that he could not sit there much longer. He spotted a dead German soldier and took his weapon, which he used for the next 10 hours.
The wound in his side was painful but Robb refused to go to the rear lines for treatment until ordered to do so by his commanding officer. T h e hospital visit lasted only 45 minutes and Robb was back at the front where he remained throughout the night with his platoon, inspecting lines and establishing outposts.
When morning arrived, the lieutenant again was wounded but refused to leave his command.
Later the same day, as Robb was sitting in a bomb crater with his commander and two other officers, a "whizbang" shell from a German 88 exploded almost on top of them. The blast killed the other officers and Robb was hit by shell fragments that went through his shoulder and his hand.
With the other officers dead, the lieutenant assumed command of the company and organized its position in the trenches.
His leadership enabled the company to advance beyond the town, clearing sniper posts and machine gun nests. His outfit was the only American unit to capture its objective that day.
For his bravery and self-sacrifice, Lt. George S. Robb was awarded the highest military honor the United States can bestow on its fighting men - the Congressional Medal of Honor. He is one of the few native Kansans to receive the medal.
"No one was more surprised than myself that I received the medal," he says now.
Wednesday, that lieutenant will be 84 years old, and despite his advanced age, he doesn't live in the past and definitely does not consider himself a hero.
"I've led a normal life for an average man," he asserts, paying no heed to the Medal of Honor and the three other medals he received in World War I, or the fact that he was state auditor from 1935 through 1960 with an unblemished record.
Robb considers himself a normal, everyday man and supports that belief with the thought that respect by one's fellow man is better than the stature of a hero.
To illustrate the point, Robb was postmaster at Salina when he was informed that he had received the highest military distinction. He immediately mailed a reply back to Fort Riley, where ceremonies were to be held, and said he was too busy to take time out for the presentation.
So the presentation was made in Salina and, as he recalls, everyone turned out to see their hero decorated. Robb remembers the event as a regular picnic, which he enjoyed much more than the formality.
A staunch Republican, although not particularly active in politics during his career, Robb was appointed state auditor by Gov. Alf London in 1935 after the death of then state auditor Ed S. Powers. Robb was Salina postmaster when he was appointed to the state post.
When his 12-year service as postmaster ended, his books and records were in such perfect shape that the Post Office Dept, permitted the transfer of postmaster without the presence of a postal inspector.
His 35 years as state auditor represent one of the few items in Robb's life that he will acknowledge as above everyday human endeavor.
"No one can find any criticism of the state auditor's office while I held that position," he says of the job that gave him the responsibility for checking expenditures of state officials and auditing city, county and school districts.
Gentle and soft spoken, Robb had a reputation as an honest. hardworking public servant. He has not changed a bit.
His home now is a small, comfortable room in the Presbyterian Manor where he spends most of his time reading, particularly about history. A table near his bed is filled with books on the Civil War which is in his main study a the moment.
An earlier characteristic he maintains is his pipe smoking.
"I've been smoking for many years now," he says. "I probably smoke too much, but a my age, it probably can't hurt me now."
In addition to being a war hero and former state auditor, Robb also was a school teacher in Mesa, Ariz., New York, and Iola before the war. He was in the real estate business before being appointed postmaster by President Hoover.
He has a master's degree in American history at Columbia University from which he was graduated in 1915.
His "passel of medals," besides the Medal of Honor, include the Legion of Honor, the French Croix De Guerre and the French Citation Certificate of Montenegrin Prince Danilo I, all of which he has placed in a bank deposit box for safe keeping.
"I don't talk much about the war, "he says. "I don't consider the Medal of Honor as something that makes me better than some guy I meet on the street. He might deserve the medal more than me."
But George Robb, 84, is a hero whether he wants to believe it or not.
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Pershing's 100 Heroes At the close of the war General Pershing was asked to provide a list of 100 heroes to the American public. He chose, evidently randomly, such a list which was intended to inspire American's back home to purchase bonds to help finance the war. My grandfather was one of the heroes singled out by General Pershing. As a result my Grandfather received numerous admiring letters and even a few proposal of marriage from subscribers to the Ladies Home Journal which published the list in the summer of 1919.
An Adventure in Freedom My Grandfather told me in my youth that America had no business entering the war in which he received his Congressional Medal of Honor. His eldest daughter, my aunt Mary Jane Sage, when asked what prompted him to enlist explained that a man so steeped in Civil War history wouldn't have missed out on a chance to see his own slice of American history in the making. Read the speech my grandfather gave about a man he was fascinated in his youth.
The Battle of Henry Johnson Another hero of the 369th did not receive the honors bestowed upon my grandfather, but then he was black......
George Robb Exhibit at the Kansas State Historical Museum
Another Harlem Hell Fighter site.