Soldiers From Ohio: Memories Shared Through Generations

This is a story about two men from Ohio, one from Akron and the other Columbus. Both fought overseas for their country. One saw the battlefields of Europe, the other the desert sands of Afghanistan. Their personal belongings and their uniforms tell about the lives of two soldiers who fought in wars 60 years apart. Both call the same state their home, and both donated their military items to the Ohio History Connection to preserve their stories and enable generations to come to learn about the past.

The Robenstine family lived in northern Ohio. On November 5, 1924, James D. Robenstine was born, the youngest of the three Robenstine brothers. Exactly 20 years later, Robenstine was drafted during the Second World War for the 11th Armored Division and sent off to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he trained in preparation for overseas deployment.

Robenstine tried to enlist already in 1943. He was withdrawn from service due to his bad sight. When he was drafted, the Army gave him standardized glasses to wear. The very same glasses belong to the Robenstine donation of today. They come with the original case, and both are in excellent condition. This kind of glasses was manufactured by American Optical and was issued to soldiers. The silver-rimmed glasses are in the Marshwood style, which was introduced in 1921.

Robenstine was deployed to Europe in January 1945. During the time of Robenstine’s enlistment, he was registered under the serial number “R-0935”, given by the Army. It can be found on many of his items, for example scribbled onto the lining of the dress uniform’s jacket, next to his family name in capital letters. This part of the Robenstine dress uniform seems to be almost as good as new. Made of wool material, the jacket shows no stains or signs of wear on the outside. A tag indicated that the jacket was manufactured in the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot. The jacket is typical for American Army-issued uniforms of the Second World War. It has a notched collar and breast pockets with pointed flaps. During the last days of the war, Robenstine went on missions in Germany and Austria, where he stayed until mid-July 1945. He received the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Campaign Medal for North Africa and Europe and the World War II Victory Medal. The ribbon bars are still neatly pinned onto the jacket.

The Army shipped him back home in preparation for redeployment to the Pacific Theater. Lucky for Robenstine, he arrived home on V-J-Day. With no more wars to fight, he was assigned to an office desk to do paper work. Since the work did not hold much pleasure for him, he applied for a discharge. Robenstine was honorably discharged on the November 4, 1945, at 10 p.m., exactly two hours before his twenty-first birthday. Robenstine received a lapel pin and an honorable service lozenge. It shows a golden eagle, expanding its wings. Veterans fondly called it the “Ruptured Duck.” The lozenge is also sewn onto the jacket, while the pin was worn with civilian clothing to identify veterans of the Second World War.

After the war, Robenstine went back to Ohio. He followed in the footsteps of his father and became an engineer. His brothers, Hurd and Nash, had also served in the Second World War. Fortunately, all three Robenstine sons safely returned to Ohio.

The items James Robenstine donated around 70 years later are of a great variety. There is his uniform jacket, two pairs of pants, belts and ties, two overseas caps, a laundry bag and a duffel bag. Furthermore, two sewing kits and various toiletry items, such as a shaving kit, depict the daily life of a soldier. Having all these items in the collection help to tell a thorough story of an individual and build an emotional connection. They spark thinking about what it was like to fight in the 1940s, thousands of miles away from home.

Approximately 60 years after James Robenstine returned home following the Allied victory over the Axis Powers in World War II, Kevin Lang joined the military to fight in Operation Enduring Freedom – Afghanistan. Through examination of his military uniform, which he donated to the Ohio History Connection in 2013, one can catch a glimpse into his life as a soldier. Lang donated multiple items including his military jacket, pants, service cap, boonie cap and a pair of combat boots. All of his donated items are in excellent condition which implies that the gear was recently issued; however, there are a few scuff marks on his boots and a few stains on his uniform which reveals that the items are not brand new. By looking at the jacket and pants, it was also easy to discover Lang’s height. For example, Lang’s pants had a tag sown in them which read “Nato Size: 7583/7989.” After a quick search online, it was determined that Lang is considered a medium regular or around 33 inches in the waist with an inseam of approximately 30 inches. However, these facts gleaned from Lang’s uniform only scratch the surface of who Lang is and what he has done. Who is Kevin Lang as a person? Thankfully, we have a few facts about Lang’s life that help paint a fuller image.

Lang’s military service began in August 2004, when, at the age of eighteen, he enlisted for active duty. Soon, the Army shipped Lang to Fort Benning, Georgia, which has served as the home of the U.S. Army Infantry since 1918. Fort Benning’s motto is “One Force. One Fight.” At Fort Benning, Kevin Lang underwent basic combat training as well as infantry advanced individual training. After graduating in December 2004, he continued his training at the U.S. Army Airborne School. In February 2005, Lang was ready to join his assigned Army regiment.

Fresh out of training, Lang joined the 82nd Airborne Division. The 82nd Airborne specializes in parachute assault operations into restricted areas. As a member of the 2nd Battalion, 508th Infantry Regiment, Lang spent three months training West Point cadets in mountaineering, knot tying and small unit maneuvers. During October, Lang and his unit trained at Fort Polk in Louisiana to prepare for deployment to Afghanistan.

From February 2007 to April 2008, Lang and his unit were deployed to the Andar district in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan to support the global war on terrorism. In October 2007, he was promoted to sergeant. Under his guidance, Lang’s unit received the Valorous Unit Award, the second highest unit decoration bestowed upon a U.S. Army unit. It is the equivalent of a Silver Star Medal and is awarded to units of the United States Army that display extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy of the United States of America.

It takes a trained eye, an abundance of patience, and a sincere respect for peoples’ stories to properly describe and identify an item. Both collections have a story to share about the lives of two men who fought in separate wars. They show the evolution of military equipment from one generation to another. Through the gear James Robenstine and Kevin Lang used, their stories are shared with future generations.

Posted August 31, 2015

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