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Major General James Milnor Roberts Jr. '40: A life of service

Gen. Roberts and his wife, Priscilla, in France.

As Major General James Milnor Roberts Jr. left Portland Naval Base in England bound for the beaches of Normandy, he looked around and couldn't help but think that by the end of the next night, half of the guys on the ship with him would be dead.

The next day, he came across a familiar soldier on his knees, dead, behind a sea wall. He and the soldier had similar training and similar backgrounds and, looking down at his fallen comrade, Roberts realized how truly close he had come to death.

So it's no surprise that Roberts' emotions ran high on the observance of the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, when he was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal by leaders of the French government with President George W. Bush in attendance in Paris last June.

Roberts embarked on his lifelong journey of service to his country after graduating from Lehigh's ROTC program and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

And since military blood runs through his veins (he is a descendant of Col. George Gibson, one of Gen. George Washington's commanders at Valley Forge), Roberts embarked on an extensive career of service.

"I was proud to serve in the military with the knowledge that family members had participated in every U.S. conflict from 1776-1812, the Mexican War, and both sides of the Civil War," Roberts says.

And because his career started at the dawn of World War II, Roberts had to jump in with both feet.

"After four years at Lehigh, my appointment as a 2nd Lt. Infantry Reserve meant very much to me, especially because I wore it after Dec. 7, 1941. I reported for duty at Fort Benning, Ga., 25 days after Pearl Harbor," Roberts says.

He was then assigned to the 29th Infantry Division Unit, 13 days before the Omaha Beach landing on June 6, 1944.

"I landed on what was termed the Easy Red section of Omaha Beach with the 115th, to prepare for Gen. Gerow, who commanded the attack on Omaha Beach."

Roberts participated in the next five WWII campaigns, including the Battle of the Bulge. "I was reminded of landing on Omaha Beach 60 years earlier and my participation in the entry into Paris on Aug. 25, 1944," Roberts said.

In 1971, Roberts was promoted to Major General and, after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, served as Chief of the U.S. Army Reserve at the Pentagon until 1975.

Throughout his impressive military career he received many other awards and honors, including the Distinguished Services Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star, Czechoslovakian Military Cross of 1939, and the Bronze Arrowhead for the D-Day invasion.

Roberts is currently the director of High Frontier, an organization that promotes defense against ballistic missiles; president of the National Historical Intelligence Museum; and chairman of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Society.

Roberts and his wife, Priscilla, also host a weekly radio program titled, The Greatest Generation, which focuses on veterans' issues.

--James Calder

Lehigh Alumni Bulletin
Spring 2005

Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2005

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