1LT Robert Joseph Harding, Sr.
Company D, 1st BN, 115th Infantry, 29th Infantry Division
Wounded, August 5, died August 6, 1944 at St. Martin de Tallevende,
near Vire, Normandy, France
-- Robert J. Harding Jr., Maria Zifchak, and Philip Harding --
My father's presence is an intimate daily reality. The loss is cellular, underlying ... imprinted too early and too hard to erase. I always found
healing each day in work, in actions taken for the best, in gratitude for all that I have ... in a loving God. Knowing fully, quietly that this is
what my father wants.
My father was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 28, 1911. His father was James Love and his mother Florence Deverall. His ancestors were immigrants
from Ireland. His father died in the influenza epidemic and his mother remarried William Harding and changed my Father's last name. My father was
raised in Brooklyn by his Uncle John Eaton, a New York City police officer. In 1927, at age 16, my father went to work at the Federal Reserve Bank
of New York on the bench as a runner. He stayed to become a member of the Foreign Department. There, in 1933, he met my mother, Florence Martucci,
the eldest child of an Italian American immigrant family that lived in Manhattan. They had a long Depression era courtship that brought my father into
contact with all of my mother's family and friends. They found him handsome, friendly, helpful, a man who loved life. They embraced him. My father
and mother married in January 1937.
My father's mother, Florence died young in 1936, leaving two boys and two girls behind. When her husband died in 1937, my mother and father took the
kids into their Astoria apartment. My mother's mother also lived with them. It was a full house when I was born on January 25, 1938 and my sister,
Maria in January, 1940.
In 1942, before his induction, we moved back to Manhattan, and in March 1943, while my father was away, my brother Philip was born. His two half brothers
were already in the Army. My father volunteered for service even though he had two children and another on the way. My mother had to sign for him at
the draft board. After basic training, he went to Infantry Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning and graduated in July, 1943. He was assigned to
the 84th Infantry Division, the "Rail splitters," who were still stationed in the United States.
When he came home on leave, he took me to an exhibit at the Chrysler Building. Another time he brought me some souvenir K-Ration biscuits and jam, a
grenade pin, a helmet liner. In April, 1944, he got his wish and went to England and Hq. Company of the 1st Battalion, 115th Infantry, and 29th Division.
As assistant communications officer he went into the carnage at Omaha Beach on D-Day June 6, 1944. On June 14, 1944, he joined D Company as machine gun
The fighting in the Norman Hedgerows was vicious. Casualties were high. At the Bois de Bretel on July 11, a German parachute regiment raided the lines
of the 1st Battalion. Despite heavy losses, his unit held, and then counterattacked. For this action, the 1st Battalion received the Croix de Guerre.
Later my father won the Bronze Star for Valor because of his work with the machine guns in the attack on Saint Lo. On July 18, 1944, his battalion was
the first to enter Saint Lo. My father was executive officer of D Company ... the post he held until his death. After Saint Lo, as his company attacked
fiercely defended Vire, he was mortally wounded by artillery fire and died on August 6.
The telegram came in October. I came home from school for lunch and my mother and grandmother gathered us in the kitchen of the old brownstone where we
were living, embraced us, and told us the news. After crying that day, I went back to school feeling lost. I was his oldest son. A kid distracted by
war. My life shaped by emotions that infused my character and ultimately in many ways my work as a fine artist. In childhood, my talent in art and the
effect of these events made me separate, different, more serious than other children.
Mother remarried in 1951. She had one more child, our sister Rita. In a manly, loving way, I felt close to my stepfather, Pat Azzolino, a seaman who had
served in the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Pacific during the war. He also served in Korea and Vietnam. He was completely against war and
the military. He was upset when I went into the draft in the early sixties. My stepfather, a good man, died in 1987. My mother died in 1998.
Throughout my life, my mother was the ultimate, the actual day-to-day loving parent. She was totally generous, supportive, and emotionally steady through
all the years and all the trials. Through all my growth and pain, and two marriages, and my career, she was there. She never complained. Her life was
My brother never knew his father. Unbeknownst to him, my brother married a young woman whose father and his brother had both been in the 116th
Infantry of the 29th Division. One brother was killed on D-Day, the other, my brother's father in law, Bill Simms, had transferred to the Air Corps and
spent the war ferrying B-17 bombers. It was through him that I came into contact with the 29th division Association and with veterans who had served in
battle with my father. This began casually in 1986, when Bill asked me if my Dad had been in the 29th Division. In 1988, when my brother and his family
were living in London, he, his wife and son, Bill Simms, and I went to Omaha Beach for the dedication of a memorial to the 29th Division. In 1998,
my brother's son, Philip, told my mother that he had seen an article in the 29th Division newsletter that spoke of a Lt. Harding. The article was written
by E.J. Hamill of Tennessee, who had served closely with my father on the CP. team when my Dad was Exec. Hamill spoke highly of him and said that he
saw my father hit by an artillery shell in August of 1944. The other man hit by the same shell, Everett Rockwood of Massachusetts, was badly wounded.
I have spoken to him on the phone several times.
This past Fall, living only six short blocks from the Bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, carrying my three-year-old son to safety,
I felt my father urging me on in the name of the very best that is in me. When I am holding my son's hand or when I am alone at night I hear his voice:
"Son, Live! Love! Have faith!"