Brigadier General Robert I. Stack
Assistant Division Commander
36th Infantry Division
Robert Ignatius Stack was born in the bustling New York city of Amsterdam in February of 1896. His father, a contractor, worked in a family business alongside Stack’s grandfather who had immigrated from Ireland a few decades prior. The family did not stay long in Amsterdam before they picked up and left for Schenectady where Stack grew up and went through his schooling career. He was a bright student and in 1916 began his studies at Cornell University in preparation to become a lawyer. While at Cornell he participated part-time in their ROTC program, a decision that came to shape his entire life. The once all-European war transformed life for Stack and his classmates upon the United States’ entrance in April of 1917, influencing Stack to leave his position in the ROTC to join the Army Reserves in August 1917, commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant by May 1918.
After undergoing intensive officer training and preparation Stack officially traveled overseas with the 49th Infantry Regiment in July. Unfortunately, Stack’s time in the 49th was not destined to be and upon arrival in France, he was attached as a platoon leader with the famed 28th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. A true frontline force, Stack saw some of the war’s most intense combat as he fought along the St. Mihiel front and pushed through the forests of the Argonne leading American doughboys against the German masses. Distinguishing himself as a capable combat leader, he was quickly promoted to 1st Lieutenant and was marked with distinction for his service in the campaigns. As the war came to a close Stack was slated to spend several more months serving occupation duty in Germany before returning home to Camp Zachary Taylor in 1920. It was not long after that he was promoted to Captain before receiving a discharge and returning home to New York.
Stack’s time out of the service did not bode fruitful and before long he rejoined what he came to see as his true career. In 1922 he returned to army life and resumed tours across the world, spending time in China and the Philippines serving with the 31st Infantry in the early 1930s before returning stateside to serve a variety of commands in the 9th, 28th, and 68th infantry. In 1926 while serving with the 60th Infantry Stack was married to his wife Sherry, most fittingly, by a regimental chaplain. The couple continued following Stack’s career as he completed infantry officer courses at Fort Benning and even became proficient in Armor Tactics through the Fort Meade Tank School. By August 1940 Stack was acting as a Lieutenant Colonel in the 69th Armored Regiment, a rank which would only be bumped as Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the country descended once again into world war. A now physically imposing man at 6’1 and 200 lbs, Stack’s figure matched his rank when he was once again promoted to colonel in the spring of 1942. Now a member of the 1st Armored Division, Stack had spent his time leading the division’s forces through the various pre-war maneuvers and was now prepared to take the division for the first US engagements in the European Theater.
Stack and the 1st Armored Division traveled overseas to Northern Ireland in May 1942, performing several months of unit training and tactics. It was here that Stack was given his full command over the 6th Armored Infantry, one of the primary infantry units in the 1st Armored, with whom he landed on 8 November 1942 in Algiers to kick off the North African campaign. While the French forces there did not fight long before surrendering, Stack and his men were not given much west before they were rushed westward towards Bizerte and Tunis to meet Rommel’s infamous Afrika Korps. In January 1943 Stack and his forces faced some of their first major combat tasks, most notably with a surprise raid on Sened on 24 January. With American forces bruised from their first engagements against the Germans, Stack led a force of 2,000 men from Gafsa to perform an early morning assault against the German garrison at Sened. The attack proved a tactical success as Stack and his men quickly defeated the German forces and returned home that same day with nearly 100 prisoners. Although the feat was a good boost for the American forces, the Germans correctly saw the feint and continued on towards their primary objective: the Faid Pass. While Stack attempted to counterattack with his own assault on Sidi Bou Zid on 30 January, two German Panzer divisions continued to plow through French forces, driving away American opposition who had only barely met the enemy. It was here that began the infamous fight known as the Kasserine Pass
In reorganizing to stop the German advance Stack was given command of the 1st Armored’s Combat Command C (CC C), a diverse and multi-branch force mainly centered around his 6th Infantry Regiment with various levels of armored support. In conjunction with the other two divisional commands, Stack and the other 1st Armored forces sought to maneuver and battle against a veteran German tank force wiping their way through Tunisia. On 14 February a large German detachment of 200 tanks with half-track and artillery support went through Faid amidst a sandstorm, attacking American outposts at Ksaira and Lessouda. The German attack proved a complete success against the inexperienced GI defenders, outmaneuvering the Americans while overwhelming them with direct aerial bombardments. One particularly devastated area was known as Kern’s Crossroads, a critical junction between several of the major cities in the area, where dozens of American tanks and armored vehicles were lost. Stack’s task force was sent to quell the fighting there and to regain the critical crossroads, joining his mobilized infantry with a large tank unit led by Lt Colonel James Alger.
Upon their arrival at the crossroads Stack and Alger began to physically survey their territory and while doing so, came under attack from a large flight of nearly 50 German Stukas wreaking havoc and disorganization throughout their commands. Rather than wait for further assaults, their counterattack began at 1240 targeting the village of Sidi Bou Zid. Alger’s tanks, in perfect parade order, led the way as Stack’s infantry followed behind in trucks and half-tracks supported by AAA vehicles. The Americans, expecting a German force of roughly 40 tanks versus their 50 or so, were surprised to find a 100-piece Panzer force lying in wait. While Alger’s tanks had trouble crossing the dry Wadi creek beds that crisscrossed the terrain, bogging them down, a flight of Stukas once again dove at the Americans as German artillery erupted from the surrounding hills. Stack, commanding from a hillside by the crossroads, remained concerned until he noticed two sizeable detachments of German armor appear from the hillsides on either side of the American forces. Now realizing that his command was in severe danger of being totally surrounded, Stack immediately called for emergency action and ordered all his forces back towards the American lines. Unfortunately, the call came too late for the armor. While all of his infantry returned safely, Alger’s insistence on the attack led to the utter destruction of his command, knocking out all but four of his vehicles, including his own, suffering numerous casualties, and even losing Alger as a prisoner of war. The ambush was brutally devastating to the 1st Armored Division, contributing to a combined total of 98 tanks and 57 half-tracks lost within the first two days of fighting. Thankfully, however, Stack’s quick action did save the bulk of the division’s fighting infantry to reorganize and remobilize.
It was during this fighting around Kasserine that it is believed Stack received his award of the Silver Star Medal. Although the exact dates and context for the described action have not yet been found, the following citation appears to reference a culmination of actions for Stack’s regrouping of CC C and their defense against German forces in the days after the defeat of Alger’s armored force:
“Robert I. Stack (07585), Colonel, 6th Armored Infantry Regiment. For gallantry in action on **** 1943 in the vicinity of ****, Tunisia. Colonel Stack continually exposed himself to enemy fire in inspiring and leading his regiment. After an unexpected tank attack caused much of his regiment to lose ground, Colonel Stack inspired and led his regiment and displayed such qualities of leadership as to permit the prompt re-taking of the ground that had been lost. The gallantry and devotion to duty and leadership displayed by Colonel Stack are deserving of the highest credit. Entered Military Service from New York. (Medal No. 16676).”
On 16 February the remnants of CC C were attached to CC A and prepared defenses east and south of Sbeitla for an enemy attack that did not arrive until the morning of the 17th. Here, at 0900, a German assault came in force which pushed the Americans to their limits, leaving the 1st Armored to plan a full evacuation through the pass. Stack led his combat command from the fighting as other units of the division found themselves shattered, confused, disorganized, and with no understanding of where they were or what the tactical situation was. It was a truly dark day for the American European forces, but a lesson in leadership and organization that they would not soon forget.
Relieved from his command of CC C on 2 March, the next few months saw scattered action across Tunisia as the Allies gradually drove Rommel’s army to the sea. It was in early May, however, that Stack distinguished himself as a true frontline leader in the battle to eradicate the final remnants of Axis power in Africa. While part of a wider II Corps assault targeting Bizerte, Stack and his regiment were tasked with capturing the town of Matuer and hitting. The assault began against a series of heavily fortified German positions on a group of hills surrounding Djebel el Messeftine. The 6th, beginning their assault on 6 May, faced strong artillery and infantry resistance in the plain east of the road leading through the hills as they attempted to push the Germans from their positions. The regiment was successful, forcing a retreat to a second ridge, but a fierce German counterattack recaptured the ridge and forced the Americans back. For the duration of the battle Stack was becoming a leader from the front, traveling across his regiment ensuring his men were meeting their objectives and retaining momentum. Amidst the chaos, however, Stack was severely wounded in action, likely from German artillery, and had to be evacuated. His wound proved severe and within the next few weeks, he was transferred back to the United States for more intensive care.
While undergoing recovery Stack was recognized amongst Army leadership for his daring, bravery, and tactical know-how during the North African campaign and on 11 June 1943 was selected for promotion to the prestigious position of Brigadier General, meaning he would soon have his own divisional combat command. After a few months in the United States, this appointment came true when he officially transferred as the Assistant Commanding General of the 36th “Texas” Infantry Division. The 36th, having forged a legacy in blood through Salerno, San Pietro, and the Rapido River, was already a seasoned and capable fighting force in Italy by the time General Stack joined them at the end of February 1944. Now working hand-in-hand with the division’s commander, Fred Walker, Stack organized a staff and took on his most important role leading the T-Patchers into action. Upon joining the division he first organized a small staff consisting of former aides from the 1st Armored alongside experienced soldiers who had fought through with the 36th thus far. One of the notable men in his staff was Lieutenant Harold L. Bond, a 141st Infantry platoon leader who became one of Stack’s most trusted aides. In his postwar memoir, Return To Cassino, Bond gave one of the most personal and direct accounts of General Stack in action.
One of the first things Bond noticed about Stack was that he always insisted on being up front with his troops despite his utter hatred for walking long distances. As one might expect, this led to heavy reliance upon his jeep (which was padded with floorboard sandbags after having several jeeps blown out by mines in North Africa) in order to dash around the division lines. As Assistant Commanding General, Stack’s role was to primarily oversee the function of the division’s infantry regiments, specifically at the battalion level. While the regiments and battalions had their own commanders, Stack’s job was to ensure these men were retaining full grips on their commands, carrying out orders successfully, fully, and in good haste to effect meaningful results. This task often proved a difficult one as Stack constantly faced enemy fire, dealt with many ill-fitted combat officers, and throughout his career, took over command of many infantry units personally for an extended period of time. Whether it be spurring an advance, encouraging tactical awareness, or simply kicking an officer around until he regained his composure, Stack’s job was essential in maintaining the fighting efficiency of the 36th Division. It was a job he performed well.
In one instance Bond recalls one of these many moments wherein Stack’s actions were critical in pushing and maintaining a divisional assault. While fighting on the way to Velletri Stack was told to check in on a battalion of the 141st Infantry which had gotten stuck in a vat of trees and olive groves. Upon his arrival Stack found a rather flustered battalion CO unaware of his tactical situation entirely, unable to describe the resistance he was facing or even the location of his men. Stack sat by growing more and more frustrated as he heard the weak commander attempt to relate the hopelessness of his position without any true tactical knowledge. Before long Stack pulled him aside from his staff and, in a rather harsh way, told him to get a grip on himself. According to his discussions with Stack, Bond found that the general believed the attack had faltered due to a leadership failure by the battalion commander the moment enemy contact was made. Supposedly, Stack was so angry at the man’s incompetence that he almost entirely removed him and took over himself. While the attack was eventually carried out to fruition, Stack nonetheless made sure to write a scathing review of the commander for his failure under fire, a recommendation that got him relieved from his command soon after the incident.
Although essential in his tactical overview of 36th operations, one of Stack’s most impressive feats while in Italy was the famous crossing of Monte Artemisio during the Battle for Velletri which opened the path to Rome. Velletri, an ancient Roman city located only a few miles south of the capital, was home to a large German detachment fighting ferociously to prevent American forces from advancing into Rome. The 36th, at the center of the 5th Army drive into the city, faced fierce resistance all across their line as men drove through olive groves, vineyards, and rocky ridges attempting to beat back the Germans holding up the entire army-wide assault. For Stack, the battle was full of his usual battalion-to-battalion leadership and due to its intensity, meant that he came under constant small arms and artillery fire. More than once did he and his staff have to jump from their jeep and seek cover on the ground. While checking out the primary assault force in the center, the 141st and 143rd Infantry, Stack found the fighting much too intense, resulting in a stalemate. Deciding he would investigate the situation on the flanks he took his team and drove to the farthest right flank where he found pieces of the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry waiting upon a seemingly abandoned road. Telling the general their orders were to take the road and wait, Stack noticed the lack of any German presence and decided that it may just be the opportunity the division needed. Looking at his map Stack noticed that old geographic markings indicated the potential existence of a timber road just a few hundred yards from their position which led to the top of the large mountain overlooking the rear of Velletri, Monte Artemisio. Dismounting from their jeep, Stack took his staff and slowly snuck along the woods beside the road until they came across a junction with a rough, tangled, and overgrown but very recognizable mountain road leading to the top of the ridge. Although the going would be rough, Stack calculated that an M4 Sherman with a bulldozer attached could potentially clear a path through the overgrowth and open up a route to fit a flanking force behind the enemy line, encircling Velletri entirely. The division had the 142nd Infantry Regiment anda a tank battalion in the reserve ready to go, so Stack decided to set the plan in motion.
Racing back to division headquarters, Stack arrived to find both Generals Mark Clark and Walker discussing the situation of the division. Walking up to the pair Stack began to elaborate upon the plan although Clark was skeptical of using the 142nd, their only nearby reserve regiment, for such a risky attack. After he left Stack and Walker discussed the idea more in-depth, revising and planning out the troops and organization needed to make it possible. After a few minutes, the pair was convinced and presented the plan to Clark two more times before he finally gave his consent. Before long Stack was personally leading the 142nd alongside engineers from the 111th Engineer battalion and a Sherman bulldozer to the objective. By the time they arrived they encountered a small German patrol, quickly eliminating them, and began working through the night to clear the road. While doing so the Germans heard their patrol had been eliminated and sent two companies in an attempt to defeat whatever American force was heading their way. Encountering an entire regiment, those two companies quickly became fodder as well. As the 141st and 143rd pressed their attack into the night, the 142nd finally reached the top of the mountain and spread themselves across the ridge overlooking the shell-battered city. The Germans, rather than retreat, first attempted to maneuver their lines to accommodate the encirclement but by the third day of fighting realized their position had become hopeless and went into a full retreat towards Rome. Velletri had finally been cracked and the Road to Rome was now open, with General Robert Stack to thank.
Unfortunately, the story of Stack’s role in the attack was lost amongst the excitement in the capture of Rome a few days later and General Walker was largely credited for the plan which Stack scouted, designed, and executed. The march through Rome did not help this any as the division, planning to use two Italian guides to go as fast and directly through the city as possible, became a massive glob of traffic when Stack, heading the column, decided to ignore the guide’s advice and took a wrong turn. The delay led the entire division to become mobbed by masses of excited Italian citizens, leading them to only arrive at their battle line many hours later. For the next few weeks Stack and the division continued fighting with the Germans north of the city, securing its capture, and setting a strong position for the divisions which would soon take over.
In late June 1944 Stack and the 36th were told they would play a major role in a new amphibious operation, the landings in Southern France. With General Walker’s departure from the division following spats with Mark Clark, Stack temporarily took over and headed the division’s training in amphibious warfare to prepare for Operation Dragoon. Before long a new commanding general arrived, General John Dahlquist, who despite having never before led men into combat, would now lead the seasoned T-Patchers through France and into Germany with Stack as his experienced right-hand man. The landings took place on 15 August 1944 and went fairly smoothly as most German forces were retreating further inland, leaving mostly delaying forces behind. The next month and a half was full of scattered combat across the sunny, flat fields of southern France as Stack and Dahlquist worked hard to maintain the division’s rapid drive through the countryside and formulate strategies to ensure the division’s most effective advance. During this period Stack earned his reputation as a successful task force leader, taking various compositions of units from the division and seizing many targeted objectives to continually keep the 36th’s men on the move. One of his first, composed of mixed units from the 143rd, saw Stack driving dozens of miles inland to blitz the town of Grenoble and secure it for the division. They did so, outrunning gas and provisions, but cleared the town of German forces before having to turn back around and rejoin the division’s heavier fighting around Montelimar. These types of flexible combat detachments became a staple in Stack’s wheelhouse and continued on throughout the rest of their time in Europe. For his exceptional leadership during this period, Stack received a Legion of Merit.
“Brigadier General Robert I. Stack (Army Serial No 07585), United States Army, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services, as Assistant Division Commander, 36th Infantry Division, from 1 August 1944 to 15 November 1944. Brigadier General Stack worked indefatigably in order to insure the smooth functioning of the division during the training period which preceded the invasion of Southern France. During the fast-moving campaign, Brigadier General Stack helped the Commanding General formulate plans for the rapid advances and was of material assistance in directing the successful execution of these plans. When enemy resistance stiffened, he made hazardous forward reconnaissance to determine the condition of the combat elements. Brigadier General Stack’s knowledge of military tactics, his intelligence, and his personal bravery constantly inspired and encouraged the officers and men of the division. Entered military service from New York.”
By mid-October, the division was entering its next phase of combat, the Vosges Forest. Here a determined and seasoned enemy entrenched themselves throughout the mountains woods leading unto the Alsatian plain, testing the willpower, strength, leadership, and resolve of the division and its commanders. At the end of October Stack played an important role taking command of the 141st Infantry Regiment when its 1st battalion became the “lost battalion” cut off from the division near Biffontaine. Dahlquist, furious with the failure of the regimental commander to reunite the men, was ready to remove him from command until he was wounded, leaving Stack in charge for several weeks until the situation had been resolved and a new commander found. It was here that Stack directly oversaw the regiment’s fighting, particularly in working alongside the division’s newest members, the Japanese-American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, who led the attack which finally rescued the surrounded T-Patchers. A week later Stack came to command one of his more famous task forces, known as the “Stack Force,” which came about in early November when he took parts of almost every infantry and artillery unit in the division and led a quick assault on St Jean du Marche before making a feint attack to fool German forces attempting to maneuver around the 36th Division. At the end of November Stack once again took up the job of regimental commander when Colonel George Lynch, CO of the 142nd Infantry, was temporarily put out of action, causing Stack to lead the regiment as they advanced in and fought off German counterattacks at Selestat. For his many courageous periods of leadership among the division infantry regiments, Stack was again decorated, this time with the Bronze Star.
“Robert I. Stack, 07585, Brigadier General, U.S. Army, Assistant Division Commander, 36th Infantry Division, for meritorious service in direct support of combat operations from 20 November to 20 December 1944 in France. During this period, when the 36th Infantry Division was fighting a fanatically resisting enemy in an attempt to break through the Vosges defenses and attain the Alsatian plain, Brigadier General Stack, Assistant Division Commander, skillfully coordinated movements of three infantry regiments in such a way that maximum damage was inflicted on the enemy forces with minimum of loss to the Division forces. He made hazardous forward reconnaissances, frequently facing hostile fire, to determine the condition of the combat forces. Brigadier General Stack relieved the Division Commander of many of the problems facing him and assumed great responsibilities with determination and devotion to duty. During this period, when the commanding officer of the 141st Infantry Regiment was wounded, Brigadier General Stack assumed command and, for a period of two weeks, led the regiment against enemy troops over a wide sector, directing the combat maneuvers of the organization with outstanding results. In spite of adverse conditions of weather and terrain and the constant threat of enemy shelling, he worked cheerfully and tirelessly, contributing materially to the success of the critical operations. Entered the Service from New York.”
In the months after the fierce Vosges campaign, the 36th Division continued their drive into Germany with General Stack continually pushing their infantry battalions to success. Despite the history made by the T-Patchers as they eliminated the final ranks of the Third Reich, it was in the final days of the war that Stack gained infamy as the man to capture and secure the surrender of Hitler’s right-hand man, Field Marshall Hermann Goering. Goering, a political tactician to the end, had fallen from favor in the last weeks of the war as he attempted to secure a spot as the one to negotiate with the Allied powers upon Germany's inevitable collapse. It was the death of Hitler and the collapse of the government, however, that prompted Goering to finally risk it. Sending out his personal aide, a German colonel, in his personal Mercedes staff car, Goering sent a message to whatever Americans they found that he wished to personally surrender to General Eisenhower and begin negotiations for total surrender. It was while driving through the Austrian town of Kufstein that members of the 636th Tank Destroyer’s reconnaissance platoon, attached to the 36th Division, caught up with Georing’s messenger and word got back to Stack and Dahlquist. Worried that Goering may change his mind or get captured by the Soviets, they decided an immediate and fast-moving patrol was needed to secure the surrender. It was on 7 May 1945 that Stack in his Plymouth staff car, accompanied by five jeeps and two M8-Greyhound armored cars, set out to receive one of Nazi Germany’s most infamous villains.
In order to reach Goering at their prescribed meeting spot, Fischhorn castle, Stack and his patrol went nearly 45 miles behind enemy lines, through an area occupied by nearly a hundred-thousand German troops. To their surprise, however, the drive was a rather scenic one as they passed by countless German soldiers, tanks, self-propelled guns, and other vehicles sitting in fields along the side of the road, some even waving to the general as he rode by. After a few hours of travel, the patrol finally made it into Fischhorn, driving in only to be shocked by a massive armed SS detachment from the 8th SS Florian Geyer Division occupying the castle, guns bristling. Thankfully, the SS men understood the nature of Stack’s mission and allowed him inside without harm. Stack, however, was extremely frustrated as he learned that Georing had not even made it to the castle yet, and was instead stuck on roads several miles south. Anxious with the sensitivity and critical importance of the mission, Stack commanded one of his lieutenants, Jerome Shapiro, to lead some of the men he brought to find Goering’s vehicles and bring them back for the official surrender. The second patrol set off the next morning, 8 May, and by 11:30 that night had found and returned the former head of the Luftwaffe. Goering, dressed in his fanciful parade uniform and armed with his pistol, cheerily introduced himself to Stack, quickly moving the conversation towards when he “would get to meet Eisenhower” and whether he should wear his pistol or dagger for the ceremony. Stack replied with a firm “I don’t give two hoots,” before having the German general retire with his family to his quarters (under armed guard, as he was worried the SS men would kill him). The next morning Stack ate breakfast with his staff and disarmed the remaining Germans in the castle before setting out to move Goering to the division headquarters at Kitzbuhel. Upon their arrival, Dahlquist and Stack had lunch with Goering and with Dahlquist fluent in German, attempted to glean what information they could out of him. The meeting proved rather fruitless, however, and the 36th commanders had all of Goering’s medals confiscated and sent him on towards the headquarters of the 7th Army.
Finally, after three years and a career spanning from Pearl Harbor through the deserts of Africa, the mountains of Italy, the forests of France, and now the ranges of Germany and Austria, General Robert Stack had once again found himself part of the victory in a World War. The account of Stack’s capture of Goering became frontlines across the United States, signaling the true collapse of the German state as yet another of her top officers fell into Allied hands. This was not the only high-ranking Nazi that Stack was able to receive and interrogate, however, as he did the same with Generals Rundstedt and Sperrle upon their own surrender to the 36th. As the war came to a close and the 36th transitioned into its occupation duties, Stack continued his leadership organizing local military governments and occupation activities. In October 1945 he was even promoted to full commanding general of the division when Dahlquist was transferred away. It was with General Stack that the 36th returned home, sailing aboard the SS Admiral Capps, on 15 December 1945. Stack returned with roughly 5,000 veteran and battle-hardened T-Patchers as he led the division off the gang-plank to the playing of “Deep in the Heart of Texas.”
By the end of WWII Stack had spent a whopping 41 months overseas in service, becoming a highly decorated and extremely experienced general. Within a few months of his return home, as the army attempted to downsize, Stack was demoted back to a Colonel where he became head of Military Science at the University of Connecticut. He stayed in this position for a few years before the heat of Korea saw him leading troop training in California, his final position, before he officially retired from a long career of Army service in June 1953. Stack’s passion and dedication to frontline service in America’s armed forces made him a legend, particularly to the tens of thousands of former T-Patchers whom he led tearing a path through Europe. Stack retired and spent his latter years in Virginia with his wife, taking up a number of hobbies but always remaining active with the 36th Division Association whom he loved so dearly. In March of 1988 General Robert Ignatius Stack passed away quietly, leaving behind a legacy of service which shall remain forever.