Private Robert L. Gamble (1915–1944)

Robert Gamble c. 1944 (Drawing by Darla Milka, author’s collection)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareTube roller for National Vulcanized Fibre Company
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32485707
TheaterUnit
EuropeanCompany “L,” 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Purple HeartNormandy

Early Life & Family

Robert Lewis Gamble was born on the afternoon of March 31, 1915, in Marshallton, Delaware. He was the fifth child of Howard Gamble (a mechanic, 1882–1938) and Lillian Grace Gamble (a housekeeper, née Tressler, c. 1882–1963?). Howard Gamble’s 1938 obituary stated that he “had been employed by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company for the past nine years.  Prior to that he worked for the Pullman Company for 19 years.”

Gamble had two older brothers (one of whom died very young), two older sisters, and three younger brothers. The Gamble family was recorded on the census on April 2, 1930, with their address listed as 1-5 Dupont Road South in Elsmere, Delaware.

Robert married Marguerite H. Spence (1918–1988) in the 1930s. Gamble’s obituary stated that he had two children: Marguerite “Peggy” Gamble (later Lawhorne, 1934–2021) and Robert L. Gamble (1936–1982). According to Gamble’s grandson, the couple had a third child who was adopted by relatives. The couple were separated by April 1940, and they divorced on March 3, 1941.

Gamble was recorded again on the census on April 16, 1940, living with his mother, three younger brothers, and daughter at 1 South Dupont Road in Elsmere. His occupation was listed as laborer and his industry as “Grading land”—presumably referring to his work in the Works Projects Administration (W.P.A.), which was recorded as his employer later that year.

When Gamble registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, he was living with his family at 1 Dupont Road in Elsmere and working for the W.P.A. at Fort DuPont. The registrar described him as standing about five feet, seven inches tall and weighing 158 lbs., with brown hair and blue eyes, and the initials R.G. and M.G. tattooed on his left arm.

Journal-Every Evening listed Gamble’s preservice employer as the National Vulcanized Fibre Company. Indeed, his mother’s statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission listed his occupation as tube roller for a fibre company. Curiously, his enlistment data card gave his occupation as chauffeur or driver.

His brothers Leslie (c. 1918–1981) and Howard (1924–1983) also served in the U.S. Army in the European Theater during World War II.


Military Career

Gamble was drafted. He was inducted into the U.S. Army in Camden, New Jersey, on December 22, 1942. According to his mother’s statement, Gamble was initially assigned to the Tank Destroyer Force and did his basic training at Camp Hood, Texas. A newspaper article stated that he was subsequently stationed at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. That may have been where he joined Company “L,” 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division.

According to Shelby L. Stanton’s book World War II Order of Battle, the 120th Infantry—originally a North Carolina National Guard unit—arrived at Camp Atterbury on November 15, 1943. The unit arrived at Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts on February 1, 1944, shipping out from the Boston Port of Embarkation 10 days later. The regiment remained in England from February 22, 1944, until arriving in France on June 10, 1944, the fifth day of the invasion.

According to the regimental history for June 1944, the 120th Infantry went into the line on June 13, 1944, north of the Carentan–Airel railroad line. The regiment launched its first assault on the morning of June 15, 1944, with 2nd Battalion and Private Gamble’s 3rd Battalion leading the attack and 1st Battalion in reserve. Backed by heavy firepower—aerial bombardment, naval gunfire, artillery, and tanks—the regiment “attacked the enemy and pushed him back across the Canal de Vire et Taute. In doing so, it moved forward approximately 2½ miles[.]” 2nd Battalion took Montmartin-en-Graignes, while 3rd Battalion captured nearby La Compté.

By June 17, 1944, the regiment had taken the area north of the Canal de Vire et Taute, but the Germans continued to hold the territory to the south. Action was limited to patrols during the next three weeks. The 30th Infantry Division launched a new attack on July 7, 1944, and the 120th Infantry Regiment, led by 1st and 3rd Battalions, crossed the canal that afternoon. According to the 30th Infantry Division after action report for July 1944, by the following day, the 120th Infantry “had established a line 6,500 yards South of Canal with 117th Infantry on left and 113th Cavalry Group on right.” Headway was more difficult on July 9, 1944: “3d Battalion holding crest of hill North of [Le Dézert] received continuous pressure from enemy during day, was relieved by one Battalion of the 9th Infantry Division and moved to support 1st and 2d Battalions[.]”

The after action report described a confusing incident that could have ended very badly for Private Gamble’s battalion:

On the evening of 10 July, the 3d Battalion, 120th Infantry, moved into position at [Le Rocher] and dug-in, establishing road blocks and all around security.  Unit had been informed that friendly tanks were in front of their position and during darkness on the evening of 11 July, a German tank and infantry column neared Battalion’s road block.  The guards led them through because they believed the column was friendly.  A few minutes later orders were heard in German and the Battalion Command Post was notified at once.  The Battalion was alerted and proceeded to knock out and mop up everything that got through, and sent antitank riflemen and bazooka squads down the main column knocking out everything it could find.  A count the next morning revealed that five tanks and 4 armored scout cars, two of which carried mounted flame throwers and the others mounting light field pieces, had been completed knocked out.

The 120th Infantry went into reserve on July 12, 1944. The division after action report noted that the men of 3rd Battalion had an opportunity to bathe on July 14, 1944. The regiment went back into combat on the morning of July 16, 1944, advancing against “stiff enemy resistance[.]”

The division after action report stated that on July 17, 1944:

          120th Infantry continued attack to S at [0800 hours] and reached its objective high ground W of [La Houchardière] at [1151].  Consolidation of position was harassed by infiltrating enemy from the front and bypassed enemy from the rear.  Counterattack on right flank at [1300] was repelled by 1st Battalion, and one of left flank at [1930] by 3d Battalion.  At close of period positions were being consolidated and preparations being made to actively defend sector.

According to an article printed in Journal-Every Evening on August 17, 1944, Private Gamble was severely wounded in action on July 17, 1944, and died of his wounds in a field hospital on July 19, 1944.

Private Gamble was awarded the Purple Heart. After the war, Private Gamble’s family requested that his body be repatriated to the United States. Journal-Every Evening reported on May 9, 1949, that he and 12 other fallen Delawareans were en route aboard the U.S.A.T. Haiti Victory. Private Gamble was buried in Silverbrook Cemetery in Wilmington on May 21, 1949.


Notes

Mother

I was unable to find documentation for Gamble’s Lillian Grace Gamble’s dates of life. An Ancestry.com family tree gave those dates as 1882–1963, but did not cite sources.

Brother

Most records give Leslie Gamble’s year of birth as 1918. Curiously, his headstone lists 1919 instead.

Daughter

I was unable to find an obituary or Find a Grave entry for Gamble’s daughter, Marguerite (Peggy). However, Gamble’s grandson advised that she died in 2021.


Acknowledgments

Thanks to Private Gamble’s grandson, also named Robert L. Gamble, for providing information about his family for this piece, and to Pitou Jean Paul for helping decipher place names recorded with some inaccuracies in the contemporary after action reports.


Bibliography

“31 Divorce Decrees Are Granted in County.” Journal-Every Evening, March 4, 1941. Pg. 16. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91342553/gamble-divorce-granted/

120th Infantry Regiment history, June 1944. https://www.oldhickory30th.com/120thJune44History.pdf

“After Battle Report, Headquarters 30th Infantry Division, G-3 Section, Period 1 July 1944 – 31 July 1944.” https://www.oldhickory30th.com/After%20Action%20report%2030th%20July%201-31%201944.pdf

Applications for Headstones, compiled 1/1/1925–6/30/1970, documenting the period c. 1776–1970. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2375/images/40050_1521003240_0408-01768

Gamble, Lillian Grace. Robert Lewis Gamble Individual Military Service Record, c. 1946. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/18769/rec/1

“Hearings Begin Monday in 47 Divorce Cases.” Wilmington Morning News, February 26, 1941. Pg. 13. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91342032/gamble-divorce/

“Howard Gamble.” Journal-Every Evening, December 3, 1938. Pg. 14. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91339868/howard-gamble-obituary/

Robert Lewis Gamble birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS76-DSW8-B, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS76-DS7R-T

Stanton, Shelby L. World War II Order of Battle: An Encyclopedic Reference to U.S. Army Ground Forces from Battalion through Division 1939–1946. Revised ed. Stackpole Books, 2006.

“Thirteen War Dead Returning.” Journal-Every Evening, May 9, 1949. Pg. 17. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91380442/gamble-body-repatriated/

“Two Delaware Soldiers Killed; Three Others Are Wounded.” Journal-Every Evening, August 17, 1944. Pg. 24. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/91376769/robert-l-gamble-dow/

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531891_00514

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00550-00313, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00545-00468

World War II Army Enlistment Records. Record Group 64, Records of the National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives at College Park, Maryland. https://aad.archives.gov/aad/record-detail.jsp?dt=893&mtch=1&cat=all&tf=F&q=32485707&bc=&rpp=10&pg=1&rid=3096845

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_10_00003-01187


Last updated on January 11, 2022

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