Ruston Catholic Received French Legion of Honor

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by John Mark Willcox

There is always a first time for everything when you work for the Church and I had a first time experience recently when I conducted my first interview with an centenarian. Robert “Bob” Hurtig is now awaiting his 101st birthday and he has less grey hair than I do within my mere 59 years of life!

There are many amazing things about the life Bob has led since he was born in Cincinnati, OH, in 1917. He grew up an active Catholic and served as a eucharistic minister prior to joining the armed forces in January of 1941 before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He spent time at several bases in the south and was scheduled to board the famous French passenger liner Normandie for passage to Europe. Before that could happen, the Normandie was resting on the bottom of the Hudson River in New York due to what was reported at the time as a severe fire that broke out on deck. “That is not really what happened,” offers Bob. “The truth is that a German U-boat snuck up the Hudson River and torpedoed that ship before the United States could use it. The officials didn’t want that story to get out so they created the fire story.”

Bob ended up being part of the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier navigator assigned to the famous “flying fortress” which was of course the B-17. “We made bombing runs in France, Germany, Austria and Norway,” recalls Bob, as his still sharp mind recounts his years in combat. “I was quick then, and I’m quick today!” he proclaims with a broad and infectious smile.

Bob Hurtig was part of the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier navigator assigned to a B-17 during WWII.

Some of his bombing targets included chemical plants, factories, a buzz bomb launching platform and submarine pens housing deadly U-Boats. All of these missions resulted in a literal shirt full of medals and commendations for Bob, including the French Legion of Honor medal. “After one successful mission I was told that I was to be promoted from Lieutenant to Captain and slated to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross. I was never promoted to Captain and I am still waiting on that medal!”

Bob flew his last mission in April of 1945 and looks back with a large degree of sadness on his involvement with the war. “I lost approximately 87 good friends during World War II. When we were flying in formation on bombing runs you would many times see our planes going down in flames. With a B-17, that’s 10 good men you lost with each plane shot down.”

I asked about his prayer life during the war and Bob offered “If you weren’t good at praying when you arrived in the European Theatre, you sure learned how to pray real quick.”

Returning to America, Bob had a successful career in New Orleans working in the wine, liquor and beer industry before moving to Ruston to be close to his only child, Dr. Dolliann Hurtig who is a professor at Louisiana Tech University. He has been a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ruston since 1993.

When asked about the secret to living one hundred years, Bob’s advice is straightforward and simple, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and don’t let politics or people ever convince you that the Lord God is not the most important thing in your life!”

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