Robert H. Lister: The Rest of the Story
What ever became of Private Robert H. Lister of the 165th Infantry?
Andrew Exum is circulating a famous letter from Brigadier General Ralph McTyeire Pennell. to United States Congressman Clinton P. Anderson, who was seeking special duty for a Private Robert H. Lister of the 165th Infantry on account of his special talents being wasted in the infantry. It was February 1942 and there was a little war on.
In this division of 22,000 men, I receive many letters similar to yours from parents, relatives, friends and sweethearts. They do not understand why the men who had a good law practice at home cannot be in the Judge Advocate Generals Department, why the drug store manager cannot work in the post hospital, why the school teacher cannot be used for educational work. They are willing for somebody else to do the hard, dirty work of the fighting man so long as the one they are interested in can be spared that duty.
If the doctors in the future are to have the privilege of practicing their profession, if archeologists are to investigate antiquity, if students are to have the privilege of taking degrees, and professors the privilege of teaching in their own way, somebody must march and fight and bleed and die and I know no reason why the students, doctors, professors and archeologists shouldn’t do their share of it.
You say, “It strikes me as too bad to take that type of education and bury it in a rifle squad,” as though there were something low or mean or servile in being a member of a rifle squad and only morons and ditch diggers should be given such duty. I know of no place red blooded men of intelligence and initiative are more needed than in the rifle or weapons squad.
It’s a powerful argument, especially when one factors in this:
Because you may think I’m a pretty good distance from a rifle squad, I should like to tell you I have a son on Bataan peninsula. All of know of him is that he was wounded on January 19. I hope he is back by now where the rifle squads are taking it, and I wish I were beside him there.
I have written you this long letter because in your high position you exercise a large influence on what people think and the way they regard the Army. It is necessary for them to understand men must do that which best helps to win the war and often that is not the same as what they do best.
My curiosity piqued, I wondered what had became of Private Robert H. Lister. Did he make it through the war? Was the potential the congressman saw in him ever realized?
It turns out that he became a pretty accomplished archeologist. He was publishing in academic journals shortly after the war (this one is from 1946) and put out a fair number of books. He’s passed on now, but the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center has a fellowship in his name.