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The story of Bob Hurtig: Centenarian reminisces on his time as a bomber during WWII

June 29, 2017

 

Bryn Young
Staff Reporter | bjy001@latech.edu

 

Ruston resident  Robert Hurtig  turns 100 years old in a month, but it would be difficult to  to tell this by meeting him.

 

His daily trips to the Lambright Sports and Wellness Center leaves fellow patrons with the impression of a man still youthful and full of hijinks as he tells stories and often jokes about how much more he can lift than the younger men.

 

“Whenever he walks in, he is greeted by several people and always tells a story that never disappoints,”  said Tristan Salter, a Lambright fitness staff employee.

 

Hurtig often tells the story of a rather eventful history class from his time as a nontraditional student at Louisiana Tech where he corrected a professor after a mistaken fact about World War II with information not from history books but firsthand experience.

 

“We’re studying medieval history and all of a sudden he’s talking about World War II,” Hurtig said. “How we lost 100 B-17s in one day over the IG Farben ball bearing plant in Germany, I didn’t say a word. At the end of class, I went up. ‘Doctor, IG Farben is not a ball bearing plant. It was the largest chemical plant in the world.’”

 

When asked as to how he knew that, Hurtig said simply, “I bombed it.”

 

Hurtig is something of a living time capsule, filled with tales from an adventurous life. He was part of the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier navigator and fought in the European Theatre during World War II.

 

Hurtig said his journey began with inspiration from a man joining the Royal Air Force who Hurtig and several friends met one night while on a camping expedition in Canada in 1939.

 

“One night, a troop of orphans and their leader came by our fire,” Hurtig said. “He wanted to know if it was OK if they sat there before they turned in.”

 

Hurtig received this Legion of Honor medal for his services in WWII. – Photos by Bryn Young

After praying with the leader and his group, the man told Hurtig and his friends he was leaving to join the Royal Air Force against Germany, which stuck with them all the way back home to Cincinnati.

 

A year before Pearl Harbor, with war looming on the horizon, the friends decided to join the Army Air Corps instead of eventually being drafted.

 

“As time progressed, it looked like war was imminent and we thought we would get our year of service over,” Hurtig said. “Rather than be drafted, you could volunteer and after one year of service, you’d be out.”

 

Both before and after his volunteering, Hurtig found his dreams of flying for the Air Corps seemed to be impossible. He discovered he was colorblind and could not pass the tests to be a pilot but could become a bombardier navigator. Hurtig said he never considered the job but finally decided on it after seeing several friends already go into combat and many killed.

 

Hurtig said he flew his last mission nearly 72 years ago as of April 2017.  After his final mission, he moved to New Orleans and worked for his father-in-law, overseeing seven liquor stores and a coal yard and then got his real estate license in 1966.

 

Hurtig and his wife decided to move to Ruston in the ‘60s to be closer to their daughter, Dr. Dolliann Hurtig, who is associate professor of modern languages at Tech.

 

Robert Hurtig said they never spoke much of his time in the military after the war was over

 

“We never talked about World War II in New Orleans, not one day,” Hurtig said.

 

That changed, however, in August of 2015 after he received a letter informing him he was the recipient of the French Legion of Honor medal. He accepted the award in November 2015 at a ceremony held at Tech.

 

The Legion of Honor was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte and is the highest French honor for military and civil merits.

 

“In my acceptance speech, I didn’t accept it for me,” Hurtig said. “I accepted it for all my friends that are buried in cemeteries all over Normandy and all over Europe.”

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