A local soldier who was killed in action during the final months of World War II in Europe was inducted into the Ohio ROTC Hall of Fame last month.
Army Captain Robert C. Hess Jr became the 20th inductee into the Ohio ROTC Hall of Fame on March 23, 2019. Hess attended Ohio University and was enrolled in Army ROTC. After his second year at Ohio University Hess was sent to complete his officer training, and later landed on the beaches of Normandy as part of D-Day.
Hess was given a variety of honors, including bronze stars, silver stars and two purple hearts during and after his service.
“All of those awards, silver stars, bronze stars were all for heroism in battle,” retired Army Colonel Joe Mulligan, who was part of the board that inducted Hess, said.
Hess had a strong connection with both Athens and the university. He played football at OU under Don Peden and was a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity.
Hess spent two years at OU in the Army ROTC, Hess’ nephew Robert Hess Matters said that the growing conflict in Europe created a need for officers. The Army took ROTC cadets and those that qualified to complete their officer training. Hess was one of those cadets.
“My uncle completed his officer training and was at various camps throughout the United States, and then returned home and in March of ‘44 he left Athens and left his family for the last time,” Robert Hess Matters said.
Hess landed on Omaha Beach during D-Day, where some of the most intense fighting took place. A few days after the landing, Hess gained command of a division of the 18th Infantry Regiment and remained its commander until early 1945 when he was promoted to a planning and training role within the battalion.
On April 19, 1945, he was on a return trip from one of his frontline companies when he was shot and killed by an enemy sniper. He was 23 years old.
Hess’ deep roots in Athens continue to this day. His nephew Bill Matters said even 70 years later, Hess has an impact on his everyday life.
“He had a huge impact on our lives. And you know, to this day, I still think about him almost every day,” he said.
Hess’ impact extends beyond his family and Athens. Bill Matters said that when he was visiting his uncle’s grave in the Netherlands when a woman asked him and his mother, Hess’ sister, where they were going. She told her they were going to the cemetery where his uncle is buried.
“She said ‘oh do you have a loved one buried there?’” Bill Matters said. “My mother said, ‘yeah my brother.’ And the lady got down on her knees and grabbed my mother's hand and said ‘thank you so much for your sacrifice.’ I still get chills thinking about it. I guess the story is that they’ve never forgotten … the sacrifices that the Americans made.”
Hess had been also been honored by a bridge over the Hocking River on the east side of Athens being named after him.