Death of a war hero

Pt. 6 My 1972

Harry Welty

The George Robb exhibit in the Kansas State History Museum in Topeka with his helmet ventilated from front to back. He used to hang it in his garage on High Street.

On a beautiful Sunday in May my Grandfather died five days shy of his 85th  birthday. 

The year before on that birthday Topeka’s Daily Capital wrote about the Kansas hero and their reporter’s visit to the Presbyterian Manor where he resided. The Presbyterians didn’t salt his food but they let him smoke his pipe.  

A handsome man in uniform he received dozens of marriage proposals as he lay recovering from his war injuries in a military hospital on his return at war’s end. He was one of a hundred soldiers who had been written up in Life magazine. The story glorified General Pershing’s 100 heroes.

Mail from young women inundated the 30-year-old convalescent with marriage proposals. My grandfather was flattered but would eventually marry the music teacher he had met in Iola, Kansas. Winona McLatchey had kept up a busy correspondence with her soldier while he was in France.

The marriage took its sweet time but eventually my mother, their second child, would be born nine years later when her father was 40.  

That late start to child rearing was one of the reasons why my Grandfather never came down from the pedestal he was put on for me. He was just too old and reserved. He remained a busy State Auditor until just a year before my parents moved to Minnesota. Before he retired I could visit my Dad in the office of the State Insurance Commission and my Grandfather in the Auditor’s office while passing the wall mural of John Brown reaping the whirlwind. It was painted when my Mother was a girl visiting her father the State Auditor.

My Mother liked telling people that if she had been born a boy she would have been entitled to attend West Point as the child of man who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  

During childhood crises my Mom always told me, “Don’t cry Harry your grandfather was shot.”

I’ll never know if Mom cried the day she took the call of his passing.  She stepped outside to be alone.   For my part I was very aware that I’d just walked in a peace march days earlier and that my grandfather might very well have disapproved. Vietnam was one more war my Grandfather could blame on Democrats but would he have approved of my marching against it once American soldiers were sent there to fight and die?

He lived by the motto “My country right or wrong.” So too had Robert E Lee when he gave the state of Virginia his first allegiance after he turned down Abe Lincoln’s offer to command the Union armies. Life and war are complicated.  

Every summer we would return to Topeka and I would spend an afternoon with my grandfather self consciously making conversation with a man steeped in history. He took umbrage when I told him my fifth grade teacher taught us that Ulysses S Grant was a butcher to his men while Robert E Lee took care of his rebel soldiers. I also suspected that Grandpa blamed my liberal Republican Dad for talking his daughter into voting for Lyndon Johnson for President instead of his hero Barry Goldwater. My folks weren’t impressed to hear the GOP’s Barry Goldwater hint that he might nuke North Vietnam.  

After we moved to Mankato my Mother returned every other month to visit her father for a week. She returned to tell me about his experiences. In rushing this column along I’ve cut off 1,600 words worth of stories. One thing my mother always insisted was that her father was a man of honor.  

George Robb was proud that his father called himself a “black republican.” He was proud that his family were good friends to their neighbor Larry Lapsley whose name is on the road signs that pass their old property. Mr. Lapsley is interred just yards from my grandfather in Salina’s Gypsum Hill cemetary. Larry Lapsley was an escaped slave.  

George Robb was a white officer to black men from Harlem. He suffered three wounds over two days of fighting leading them into battle. In later years he wrote speeches about their courage under fire.  

When appointed State Auditor replacing a Democrat who died during his term of office George Robb ignored Governor Landon’s instructions to fire all the office’s Democrats. He told the governor they were good people. He did this even though not long before the Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt had replaced him as Salina’s postmaster with a Democrat.  

During the Second World War, which he also blamed on Democrats, he wrote a forceful letter to his Alma matter, Park College, when they didn’t want to enroll a Japanese-American student in the college. The young man’s brother was fighting Hitler in the American army.  

And though it grieved him that Democrats controlled the Presidency for twenty straight years he told my mother that he liked the democratic president Harry Truman who joyfully gave Republicans hell.  

Now its my turn to give Republicans, or rather frauds who call themselves Republicans, a little Hell. I’m doing it to honor my grandfather. He was a man who shook the hand of a man who shook the hand of Lincoln. Its time the Grand Old Party returned to being the Party of Lincoln! 

Harry Welty is a Republican dammit and he blogs at