Very rarely do we learn the details of how a fallen hero met their death and, often, the oral history of what may have happened can be flawed or incomplete. In the case of Newport, Tuscarawas County’s Robert C. Watson (1922-1943), how he lost his life serving overseas was well documented by his unit.
Robert was born in 1922, the son of Frank G. Watson (1880-1968) and Goldie Corey (1894-1930) of Newport, Tuscarawas County. Frank worked as a clayminer and a store keeper during the early 20th century. The couple were married in Tuscarawas County in 1914, and their first child was born shortly after. Goldie died of cancer in 1930, two years after the birth of their last child, leaving Frank to raise their five children (ages 2 – 16).
It is difficult to determine exactly what Robert was doing in the decade between his mother’s death and his enlistment in the United States Army. Based on his 1943 enlistment record it is known that Robert attended school for some time, worked as a brakeman on a railroad, and was considered semi-skilled.
Robert was either living or working in Akron, Ohio in 1943 when he enlisted in the United States Army. Following his enlistment Robert trained at Fort Belvoir, Virginia as a replacement for duty in an Engineer Aviation Battalion. These units were tasked with the construction and maintenance of airfields, and support for the United States Army Air Corps.
The 825th Engineer Aviation Battalion was transported to England in 1942 to work on the construction of a number of airfields that would be needed to support the Allied war effort. They found themselves completing the Boreham Aerodrome, just northeast of Chelmsford, England in the late summer of 1943. Robert Watson, after his training, was shipped to England and assigned to the unit in September 1943.
Private Watson was there less than a month when he was killed. The 825th’s unit history gives the details of his death. “On October 10, 1943 he was operating a D-4 tractor, with carry-all attached, hauling dirt for the construction of an airdrome [sic] at Boreham, Essex, England. A P-47 fighter plane was forced to make an emergency landing on the partially constructed drome. Pvt. Watson did not see the plane and drove his tractor into its path. He was killed instantly by the impact.” According to the unit history, Robert “had already made a place in our hearts by his high ideals and deep sense of belonging to something greater.”
Private Watson was initially buried in England, but the family had his body returned to Ohio in 1948 to be laid to rest in the cemetery at Newport Methodist Church. Had the 825th not mentioned Robert’s death in their unit history, it is possible that the unfortunate circumstances of Private Robert Watson’s sacrifice in the service of his country would have been lost.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.