Distinguished Alumnus
Class of 2014
Bobby Gene Ghere
(May 4, 1923 – March 3, 1945)

AHS Class of 1943

Dan Ghere
Son of Bobby Ghere

Bobby Gene Ghere accepted the responsibility of leadership at Arcola High School and made the ultimate sacrifice as a leader in battle. He was born May 4, 1923, in Arcola, the twelfth of seventeen children of Roy A. and Lillie E. Smith Ghere. His father died when Bobby was just eleven years old. Bobby was an exceptional four-year football, basketball and track athlete for the Purple Riders. He was end, halfback, place kicker and his football team’s 1942 co-captain, as well as Arcola’s leading scorer in basketball his senior year. In track, Bobby was very competitive in high jump, 440-yd. dash and ran with a widely publicized 880-yard relay quartet. The Record-Herald reported his “outstanding performance” in 220-yd. low hurdles at the state track meet in May 1942. As a result of his childhood illnesses, Bobby graduated high school in 1943 at the age of twenty.

Following his graduation, Bobby was soon called to military service. He and his brothers, John, George, Don, Harry, Russ and Jim, were a Seven Star Family who served this country during World War II. U.S. Army Private Bobby Ghere and 1942 AHS graduate and high school sweetheart, Imogene Bright, were married in Arcola on September 1, 1943, prior to his September 9th departure. He was stationed at Camp Van Dorn, MS, and Camp Breckenridge, KY, before he was deployed overseas on April 6, 1944. Bobby served with the 81 mm. Mortar Section, Company M, 331st Infantry Regiment, 83rd Division when he landed on Omaha Beach June 18, 1944, twelve days after the invasion of Normandy. He was in continuous battle as he traveled across Europe through France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. Bobby was wounded in France on July 9, 1944, and was hospitalized in France and England until August 28th. He was promoted from Corporal to Staff Sergeant in a short time and then led a mortar platoon that had been reduced to seven men coming out of the Battle of the Bulge. Their mission throughout the war was to drive back German artillery in order to advance Company M tank and armor units.

As Bobby’s platoon and two other Mortar Sections of Company M advanced toward Kapellen, Germany on March 1, 1945, approximately 300 German infantrymen, supported by more than twenty tanks, waited in hiding for the approaching American Army units. David Wheeler, who served with Bobby from late December 1944 until March 1945, related the events of the skirmish at Kapellen. Bobby’s small section moved into the village, commandeered a two-story building and set up their base camp. As the shelling began, the sergeant who served as commanding officer for the two combined platoons chose to seek the safer shelter of the basement along with seven other men. The remaining seven soldiers elected to join S/Sgt. Ghere as they made their courageous stand against the enemy. On the second day of the impasse, as their stack of mortar shells was diminishing, Bobby asked for a volunteer to accompany their jeep driver as he returned to battalion supply for more ammunition. There were no volunteers. As the platoon leader, Bobby had the authority to order anyone in his squad to make the trip. Rather, he assumed responsibility to accompany the driver himself. The two arrived at battalion supply, loaded ammunition and were then ambushed by German troops on their return to the base. The driver was able to flee to safety, but S/Sgt. Bobby Ghere was wounded and died March 3, 1945, at the age of twenty-one. The eight solders, under Bobby’s leadership, had been able to stand their ground for two days, unaware they were holding off 300 German soldiers and more than twenty tanks. The U.S. planes of the IX Tactical Air Force arrived to destroy fourteen of the enemy tanks and the 83rd Division completed the mission. It was later learned this was a key battle to halt a serious threat to the entire Thunderbolt operation.

Bobby was buried in the Netherlands American Cemetery near Margraten. His parents’ headstone also honors his memory at the Arcola Township Cemetery. He left at home his widow, Imogene, and a son he had never seen, eleven-month-old Daniel Gene Ghere. Bobby was awarded the Expert Infantry Badge for meritorious service and received two Purple Hearts for his wounds and bravery in the line of service. Ghere/Pullen/Reinheimer VFW Post 7862 was named in his honor. David Wheeler later graduated Harvard and went on to become Artistic Director of the Theatre Company of Boston. After many years and many attempts to locate Bobby Ghere’s family “on a farm in Illinois”, he was able to locate Dan and his mother in 2003. They learned from Wheeler’s writings of his wartime experiences, and through their conversations in Wheeler’s home, of the events leading to Bobby’s death. He described Bobby as the “ultimate leader, the source of power, dignity and humanity in the face of war that the city boys in the squad didn’t have. Sgt. Ghere was the complete companion, always calm, fearless, indefatigable. Any of us would have followed him into Hell.” When asked to speak at veteran events, Wheeler always spoke of Bobby Ghere as “the best, but also the sacrifice, and as a legend of the possible grandeur of American troops.” Bobby Ghere remained his personal hero from all his war experiences – “a wonderful man and terrific soldier.” Bobby is survived by his son, Dan; two grandchildren, Bob and Gina; two great-grandchildren and a great-great-granddaughter.

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Last Revision November 11, 2017