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Front Page » October 5, 2006 » Senior Focus » Two careers of public service
Published 2,942 days ago

Two careers of public service


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

Jim Robertson is active in many kinds of organizations today, including the Rotary Club which will again be passing out dictionaries to kids in the East Carbon area and in a school outside the area that doesn't have a Rotary Club connection. He is also active in the American Legion and the Utah Sheriff's Association.

When Jim Robertson got out of high school the last thing on his mind was to become a cop.

Yet over 30 years later that is exactly what he would be; in fact he would become the sheriff of Carbon County and hold the position for a decade.

Born in Benson, Ariz. he found his way through elementary school and junior high in the town of a couple of thousand southeast of Tucson, near the Mexican border. When he was in high school his family moved to Sacramento, Calif. where he graduated from high school and decided then and there he wanted to work for the forest service. He became a fire fighter in the Tahoe National Forest.

"It was a seasonal job and soon the winter took away my employment," he said. "That is when I joined the Army."

He signed up with the khaki green corp despite the fact that he had been a part of the Navy V-12 program at Grant Union High School. That program was a reserve organization for kids who had not yet graduated, but were deciding if they wanted to be in the Navy.

Little did he know that decision would lead him around the world, seeing sights he never thought he would see, guarding former Nazi prisoners, slogging through hellish cold battlefields in Korea, teaching others how to be soldiers and then, in later years, onto a job at the Pentagon.

"Who knew that I would be in for over 20 years," he said. "I joined because I needed a job that was not seasonal."

His duty began with basic training at Fort Ord, Calif. and then Ranger school at Fort Benning, Ga. He also spent some time in Panama for training and then was sent to Germany, as part of the occupation forces in the late 1940's. He got there just in time to see the Berlin airlift proceed from start to finish.

The Berlin airlift occurred when the Soviet's decided they were going have Berlin as part of East Germany even if they had to starve the residents out to get the few miles of what was then mostly bombed out buildings. They shut off all ground travel to the Soviet surrounded city and began the wait. Problem for them was that the Americans, British and French found a way around the blockade; aircraft. For 462 days (June 25, 1948 to May 12, 1949) flights were arriving at three airports in the Berlin area about every four minutes with supplies. On one day during the airlift (April 16, 1949) a plane landed in Berlin every single minute with 1,398 flights carrying almost 13,000 tons of life providing goods. Overall, throughout the operation, there were 278,228 flights that carried 2,326,406 tons of food and supplies to Berliners. That also included 1.5 million tons of coal, because the Soviets had not only isolated the city with a blockade, they had also cut off all the electricity to it as well.

Chief Deputy Robertson stands with Carbon County Sheriff Ross Horsley in the early 1980's.

Once the supplies were on the ground they had to be distributed. Robertson was part of that process.

"I rode on convoys as part of the security," he stated. "We had to take the supplies around to various distribution points and sometimes to do that in a city where a lot of the roads were still bombed out, we had to cross parts of Soviet Berlin. That was always tense. There were often discussions with the Russians about us passing through a checkpoint. Discussion is actually putting what happened lightly. However, cooler heads always prevailed and we passed through to finish our work."

When Robertson's duty on the airlift ended he was sent to Nuremberg, where Nazi war criminals were on trial.

"I guarded a lot of the guys that were accused of war crimes," he states. "I escorted many of them from their cells to the courts."

He said he remembers a few of them but also remembers the testimony of the witnesses against them.

"One thing you can say about the Nazis is that they liked to document everything through both film and stills," he said. A lot of that documentation that was not destroyed as the allies neared Berlin was never destroyed and was used against those on trial.

Of the witnesses he saw testify he remembers Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter who was instrumental (by many accounts) in putting away many of the notorious and not so well known perpetrators of the holocaust.

Robertson said the most famous of the criminals he guarded was Oswald Pohl. Pohl was a direct crony of Henrich Himmler during the Nazis reign of terror, particularly when it came to concentration camps. He joined the Nazi parting in 1926 and during World War II was in charge of organizing the camps. His direct duties included the distribution of prisoners to various camps and also was in charge of the "rental" of detainees various forced labor organizations. Pohl was convicted of the charges against him in 1947, but was held in prison during a series of pleas and appeals. He was finally executed by hanging in 1951.

After some time in Germany, Robertson was sent to Maryland where he got orders to report to Edwards Air Force Base in California. He was there for a very short time, and then was sent to Korea, where the war had begun in 1951.

"As most people who have ever been there will tell you, Korea is the coldest place there is," said Robertson. "That is what I remember most about that place."

Robertson, who spent almost all of his 20 year military career in the infantry, slogged through Korea, was evacuated from ports a couple of times when the Chinese came to the aide of the north Koreans and spent a lot of time on the battlefields in the country.

"It got to the point where all we were fighting for each day was vantage points, that ridge or that hill," he said. "I saw things in those battles that I will never talk about. I don't even want to think about them."

Robertson when he retired from the service in Washington D.C. in 1968.

He said war also brings out some humor however. Once his unit (24th infantry division) was parading in a procession in front of the president of South Korea, Sigmund Ree and American General Maxwell Taylor. After the procession the troops all heard an address by Ree who told them that he hoped when the war was over they would return to see his beautiful country in a different way.

"Everyone was snickering to themselves and you could hear the guys saying they never wanted to come back to that cold place," he smiled.

When he came back to the United States in 1953 he was assigned to Fort Lewis, Wash. where his unit (9th infantry regiment) was used as props in a movie.

"We were the background players in the movie To Hell and Back," explained Robertson. "That movie starred Audie Murphy and we all got to meet him. He was quite a guy and very down to earth."

In 1956 the Army sent Robertson to Alaska, which at the time was still a territory of the United States. He was with a unit that was to protect Ladd Field and Eielson Field near Fairbanks. It was the cold war and the country was very nervous about a Soviet attack through Alaska.

"I always thought Alaska would be colder than Korea, but Korea wins hands down," exclaimed Robertson. "Near Fairbanks it gets down to 45 to 50 below zero, but the wind in Korea made it terrible."

Robertson said that the Alaska duty was pretty good and he learned to ski, and he had to learn it fast.

"We would go on patrols, sometimes several hundred miles and most of it would be skiing," he said.

He said because Alaska was relatively unexplored his unit also did a lot of mapping work for the government which was very interesting.

In July of 1958 he drove the Alcan Highway back to the United States and into Price for the first time. He was getting married.

Robertson when he was the Sheriff of Carbon County. He held that office from 1988-1998.

"It was the first time I had ever come to Utah and I knew I didn't want to live here," he said. "But my wife (Vangie) was from there and we got married in the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church."

Immediately after getting married the young couple moved to Davis, Calif. where Robertson was assigned to teach ROTC students at the University of California-Davis.

"I taught military history, small arms and map reading, along with many other duties," he said.

He also went back to Fort Lewis every summer to teach advanced ROTC students who came from colleges around the west for their summer camp. There he taught a young man who would later go on to become famous, Merlin Olsen from Utah State University.

In 1963, he was shipped back to Germany with the Third Armored Division. This time he took his wife and his young daughter with him and Europe was a very different place by that time.

"We did a lot of traveling throughout Europe," he said. "Things in West Germany had been rebuilt and their economy was very strong."

In 1966 he was transferred to Fort Belvoir in Virginia, just a stones throw away from Washington D.C. From there he was assigned to the Pentagon and was a security officer for what was called at the time Blue Ribbon Study Groups for the military. Those groups dealt with secret documents and intelligence.

"We used to laugh about those documents," said Robertson. "There was a standing joke that if you didn't want someone to learn something put it in all the documents that didn't have top secret stamped on them. Nobody ever read those."

After two years at the Pentagon and over 20 years in the service he retired from the military in 1968, and came to Utah, where he settled in East Carbon. For a short while he worked at the Green River Missile Base and then in 1969 he became a deputy sheriff for Carbon County when Sheriff Al Passic hired him after he had attended the police academy.

"I remember being a rookie and not quite understanding what my duties were," he said. "I once helped a woman with a problem she had with a divorce decree concerning her husband and the next day I was sat down before the judge and told that I shouldn't be doing his job. The next time someone came to me with a similar problem I told them to see their lawyer."

Robertson said, despite never wanting to live in Utah, nor wanting to be a police officer, he found that he loved both and would not have done anything different.

When Passic retired in the mid-1970's Robertson ran for sheriff but was defeated in convention by Ross Horsley, who held the sheriffs job for a number of years. Robertson became Horsley's chief deputy for most of those years.

After Horsley came Barry Bryner, who was removed from his job after a couple of years and Robertson was put in as acting sheriff for the remainder of his term. In the next two elections Robertson was reelected as sheriff and held the position until 1998.

"I still loved law enforcement, but it was time for me to retire and let younger guys do the job," he said.

Since retiring Robertson has been active in the Rotary Club, American Legion, and has been the assistant director of the Utah Sheriff's Association for a few years.

"I am busy and happy," he said. "And now I wouldn't want to live anywhere else."

Not bad for a guy who didn't really want to live in Utah or be a cop.


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