The 36th Division Archive
Corporal Robert L. Dresser
Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, Headquarters Company,
262nd Infantry Regiment, 66th Infantry Division
Robert Lloyd Dresser was born to a musical and rather classy family in Akron, Ohio. His father, Clarence Dresser, served in Italy as a member of the 332nd regimental band of the 83rd Division during the great war and returned home to become a trumpet player for the Vaudeville shows in the city. A year after his parent’s marriage Robert was born and as the depression hit, his status as a single child became certain. While his early years were full of music, learning to play many instruments from his father, he began to see less and less of him as the economic crash hit his family. Now working in one of Akron’s many growing rubber factories, Robert watched his once lively and entertaining father slog his way through a long factory job in order to make ends meet.
As he grew older Robert became a bit of a quiet and studious person. Performing very well academically, his first job came during high school as a bookkeeper and librarian at the Akron Public Library. The job did not last long, however, as he received his draft notice in 1942 and soon shipped off to Camp Blanding, Florida where he did his basic and joined the first soldiers of the newly reformed 66th Infantry Division. With his library experience, Dresser trained as a rifleman first but became a member of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon for the regimental headquarters of the 262nd Infantry Regiment. He followed the division around the United States for several years until the day finally came for all members to begin the trek overseas.
Arriving in England in November of 1944, the 66th was planned to become a replacement division for the many troops who had been engaged since D-Day. On Christmas eve the division loaded onto two transport ships, the S.S. Leopoldville and Cheshire, and made their way to the French shore. Dresser, along with regimental headquarters and the first battalion of the 262nd, resided on the Cheshire while the rest joined the 264th on the Leopoldville. 5 miles out from Cherbourg, Dresser and the men of the Cheshire awoke to loud clamor and explosions coming outside their ship. Rushing to the deck, they saw the burning and slowly sinking Leopoldville churning over in the channel, the result of a German U-Boat torpedo that met the hull. Taking on what survivors they could, Dresser and the rest were forced to leave behind thousands of GIs before making a second trip back to the slowly sinking ship. In all, almost 800 soldiers died in the attack, many from Dresser’s own unit.
Now soundly on the mainland, the 66th received what would become its defining role during the war. Replacing the 94th ID in northern France, they were assigned to begin operations to crush the German stronghold around Lorient, St. Nazaire, Royan, and La Rochelle. These important ports were home to many German naval facilities including several U-Boat pens. As the allies pushed further during the invasion, however, the nearly 100,00 German troops guarding these coastal facilities were left surrounded and isolated, held in place by changing Free French, US, and British forces. When Dresser and the 66th arrived in the winter of 44-45, the allies finally decided to strike back and close the pocket in retaliation for the offensive in the Bulge. Now holding a 112-mile front, the “Panthers” sent patrols day and night along the line to slowly but surely eliminate strongholds of enemy resistance. Despite lacking reinforcements and the type of support enjoyed by the main army, the Germans fought back hard and gave the 66th a hell of a fight. The combat continued for several months but really began to lighten up by March and April. ON V-E Day, the German officers of the final, now minuscule, pocket met commanders of the 66th and Free French forces in St. Nazaire to announce their formal surrender.
During the period of combat, Dresser served primarily in his role as staff for the 262nd Infantry Regiment. While he had his share of artillery bombardments, patrols, and close calls, he was luckily able to keep a pretty low profile by overseeing the strategic operations for the regiment. As they had arrived so late, Dresser and many of the Panthers had to serve their time of occupation duty rebuilding northern France from over 5 years of occupation. Eventually, he was granted return home where he married and settled down, spending many years as a purchaser and inspector for the Wadsworth Sash and Door Company but never forgetting his time overseas as a Panther.