Robert Wood Dailey Gutherie
First Lieutenant, United States Army
of His Classmates
United States Military Academy
West Virginia has sent many fine soldiers to the United States Army; one of its finest was Bob Guthrie. He was born in May 1920, in Romney, the son of Doctor and Mrs. James K Guthrie. Bob’s father had been a medical officer in World War I, and Bob had inherited an interest in things military. At Martinsburg High School, he played two years of football and lettered in tennis and track. West Point beckoned but, like so many of our class, an appointment was hard to find.
For two years, Bob served in the National Guard, winning his corporal stripes in Company “D” of the 201st Infantry Regiment. At the same time he spent one year after graduation at Greenbrier Military School in Lewisburg. When Congressman (later Senator) Jennings Randolph finally appointed him to our class, Bob was ready.
Described as an “Adonis” by our Howitzer write-up, he was a natural for hop manager, a post he held for all four years. While not high in academics, he was known for extensive reading. Classmates remember his geniality, his pure sense of logic, but, above all, his innate leadership ability. The logic came into use during the two years of debating. The leadership forecasted his role as infantry leader of men.
Shortly before graduation, newspapers announced the engagement of Cadet Guthrie to Nancy Langhorne Kerse, a Richmond belle whom Bob had met in a classic manner: his sister brought a college friend home for the weekend. Nancy had started at Mary Washington College but finished her degree at Farmville Teachers’ College, now know as Longwood. She and Bob spent Christmas together in Martinsburg and shortly after graduation were married in Richmond. After a short honeymoon, she returned to finish her degree while he did the Infantry School.
Then came almost a year with the 78th Division at Camp Butner, on Carolina maneuvers, on Tennessee winter maneuvers, and then Camp Pickett, much nearer home. But as June 1944 approached, many divisions including the 78th were raided for privates and lieutenants — among them First Lieutenant Guthrie. Even the goodbyes were hasty and Bob sailed for Northern Ireland as one of the many fillers destined for Normandy. His assignment was in Company “D,” 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division.
On the fourth of July 1944, the 1st Battalion entered into the severe combat of Normandy and over a month of testing for Bob. The baptism of fire began on the 8th and 9th of July against a determined enemy. This was the most costly combat for the battalion; 124 enlisted men and five officers. But more was yet to come. The best ground over which to break out of Normandy lay in front of the 1st battalion. But the enemy knew it as well. On 25 July, the battalion spearheaded the St. Lo breakout through which moved two armored divisions and the 79th Division. For that action the unit received battle honors in Army orders. In the breakout the battalion went 50 miles by foot to join in the capture of Rennes. In early August, the unit cleaned up enemy resistance and took in more than 300 replacements.
Then the 8th Division and the 6th Armored were sent west to surround the fortified port city of Brest. Here a German hero from Crete commanded three divisions plus many other units and was under direct orders from Hitler to hold out for four months. It was the lot of the 1st Battalion to be the first divisional unit to hit these fortifications. From 8 August, the battalion began to learn how to deal with piercing the forts as they closed the noose around the garrison. But the airfield had to be taken in order to close the last route of escape. On 11 August, while leading his men in that attack, Bob Guthrie was mortally wounded by enemy machine gun fire. He died in a field hospital on the 14th — an infantry combat leader of great courage hit at the head of his troops.
Our class lost a man whose whole background had suited him for wartime leadership — National Guard, West Point, and searing experience under fire. He would have gone far in troop positions, for his natural leadership would have called him there. In the administrative confusion of France of 1944, formal recognition of his service, except for his Purple Heart, became lost. But, with the preparation of this article, the Army became aware of the omission and awarded the Combat Infantry Badge and Bronze Star to him. An accolade comes from his battalion commander, Colonel Ben Chapla, who said of him, “The quality of his service made me proud to be a West Pointer!”
Bob is survived by his widow, now Nancy Goodell; by his mother; and by two brothers and sisters. But he is missed by many more who knew him or who fought under his leadership. He more than earned the true combat soldier’s “Well done.”
wife Nancy died February 27, 2001 in Menlo Park, California.
Posted: 18 January 2001 Updated: 1 December 2001 Updated: 20 January 2002 Updated: 5 March 2003 Updated: 10 July 2007