They were the broad, mighty, lethal workhorses of World War II: tanks. And it took men sharply skilled in their mechanical workings to keep them rolling along, pushing toward victory. Bob Widholm was one of those men.
They say Fort Knox is one of toughest places to get into but at the age of 18 Bob Widholm had an open invitation. "When I first started school one of the first things I heard was the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor in '41, and in '44 I got my notice to come serve," he said.
Widholm went through basic training at the Kentucky base and tried his hand at machine guns and other weapons like the bazooka. But for Widholm it all led to one place. He said, "they transferred me to what they called armored school where they taught you how to be a tank maintenance man."
And although his instructors didn't know it they were perpetuating a family legacy. "My Dad was in the tank corps division in World War I and I was in the same thing in World War II and my younger brother was in the Korean War and we were all maintenance men in the armored division," he told us, "we didn't really ask for it, it just happened that way."
To understand why is to understand the business the Widholm men ran back in Minneapolis. "It was a family business my grandfather started long, long ago with a horse and wagon," he said.
Widholm and his family ran Widholm Transfer and Storage, a trucking company. That's why all the men knew a thing or two about mechanics. Widholm even studied the subject at his vocational high school. And before he was drafted Widholm drove those trucks all over Minnesota, transporting materials for equipment used in World War II.
"Busy hauling stuff back and forth for the war effort," he told us.
But once he got to Fort Knox he had to learn a slightly different animal, the tank. There were several shapes and sizes. Widholm maintained the tanks for training purposes at Fort Knox. "For all the trainees that were learning to be tank drivers and gunners, preparation for them going overseas," he said.
Widholm says the tanks were especially valuable against the Germans in North Africa even though the enemy had an advantage. He said, "the Germans had much better tanks but we had more of them, so that's how we were able to win the war in North Africa."
Widholm was never sent overseas himself. But he celebrated just like every other American across the globe when the war finally ended.
He got out of the service in 1946 then married his high school sweetheart. He raised his family in the North, continued in the trucking business, and ended up moving to Tyler in recent years to be close to his daughter. Widholm says while he faced the battlefield he was thankful to serve his country, playing his part protecting this well oiled machine that's still running strong.