World War II combat veteran Bob Kyle of Medford. Jim Craven 12/17/2007 - Jim Craven

'Every year ... we celebrate 'Thank God I'm Alive Day' '

World War II combat veteran Bob Kyle of Medford initially shrugs off suggestions his battle experiences may have affected him psychologically.

Never mind he was struck in the face by jagged shrapnel from a German mortar round. Or that all but two of his 12-man squad were wounded or killed during fierce combat.

"I don't think so — not really," the 82-year-old says of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

But Erma, his wife of 57 years, tells of behavior straight out of a psychology textbook on PTSD.

"I could always tell when he was reading a war book because he had such nightmares," she says.

In 1958 the couple moved to a rural area near Phoenix, where they would often hear people shooting shotguns at pheasants.

"If he was in the front yard when a gun went off, he'd hit the dirt," she says. "He did that for years."

And there was the time when the neighbors began broadcasting a recording of a gunshot to keep the birds out of their cherry trees.

"It went off 24 hours a day, randomly," his wife says. "We finally had to ask them to turn it off. Bob was quite stressed by that."

"I was still a little bit sensitive when I got back," he allows.

Though Kyle's symptoms have since subsided, PTSD still affects about 1 in 20 World War II veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Symptoms of PTSD include aggressiveness, alcohol and drug abuse, emotional numbness, irritability, nightmares, problems with employment and relationships, sleeplessness and violence.

After the war, Kyle graduated with a business degree from Oregon State University and eventually became president of the First Federal and Loan Association of Medford. He retired as a lieutenant colonel after 26 years in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. He and Erma raised three children.

Kyle also served 38 years as a board member of Medford Rural Fire Protection District No. 2 and was on the Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation State Advisory Board and the Oregon Advisory Committee for Social Security Disability Determination Services.

But the war — he received a Bronze Star for valor — played a formative role in his life.

"Every year on Dec. 8 we celebrate 'Thank God I'm Alive Day,'" his wife says, referring to the day Kyle was wounded in 1944.

He was still in Medford Senior High School when he joined what was known as the Army Specialized Training Corps. After graduating in 1943, he was called into active duty on Dec. 27.

Once he completed infantry training, he joined the 100th Infantry Division, landing in Marseille, France, on Oct. 20, 1944. He was the ammunition bearer for his squad's BAR — Browning automatic rifle. Kyle was also a rifleman who carried an M-1 carbine.

After freeing several villages of German occupation, including St. Rémy, his division entered the Vosges Mountains. The range stretches along the west side of the Rhine Valley in eastern France.

Pfc. Kyle, known by his buddies as "Scotty," was wounded while his unit was pushing the German army back through the mountain range into Germany.

"We had taken this hillside — the Jerries (Germans) were on the other side," he recalls. "We had pushed the Germans out that night. Well, the next morning we were walking around because your legs get blasted cold in those foxholes."

That's when the Germans fired a mortar round which landed close to his unit.

One piece of shrapnel tore through Kyle's cheek under his left ear and into his mouth; the other slammed into his chin, slicing it open.

"I spit out the piece in my mouth," he says. "The one that clipped me on the chin, it came in underneath.

"My buddy Herbie Rice took the bandage we all carried and wrapped my face up. I carried gum with me all the time and I started chewing gum to beat hell so my jaw wouldn't freeze up.

"I wasn't going to miss any meals," he says. "I could only open my mouth about this far (half inch), but it was enough to jam food in."

Because his was a head wound, he was sent to England, he says.

"If I had been hit in the arm or the leg, they would have kept me in France, repaired me and sent me back to the front," he says.

It was what his buddies would have called a "million dollar wound."

"There was nothing to it, really, but it got me out of France, got me to the rear," he says. "As it was, after they got me to England, it took a long time to get me back to France. So I just sat and waited."

He rejoined his squad four days after the war ended in Stuttgart, Germany.

"In our squad, we had two sergeants killed and they were the only guys in the squad who were married," he says. "We started out with 12 men — all but two were killed or wounded."

He recalls one night before he was hit in which he drove a Jeep from dusk to dawn on a road that had been mined to remove wounded from the front, saving their lives.

Upon rejoining his unit the next morning, Pvt. Frank Gurley remarked, "My God, Scotty, you look 24 years old!" according to Kyle.

In the infantry in World War II, that would have been an old man. Kyle, who was 19 at the time, was later awarded a Bronze Star for bravery for driving the wounded that night.

Gurley would graduate from Harvard University and write a book, "Into the Mountains Dark," which focused on the actions of the 100th Division during the war. Kyle is featured in the book.

He was discharged in March 1945.

"His mother said he would be home before the cherry trees bloomed," Erma Kyle says. "He was home before they did."

But survival instincts he acquired in combat died hard, he acknowledges.

"I always walked with my eyes on the ditch," he says of combat. "You always wanted to jump into the lowest spot there was. I did that long after the war was over.

"I'd always walked looking down so I knew where I was going to hit the ditch," he adds. "I guess it just stayed with me for awhile."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at

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