Remembering the Enemy

World War II Veteran offers a unique perspective to the next generation

Paul Dorsey
Age of Empathy
4 min readFeb 3, 2021


LST -496 at Normandy

Lookout towers along our coastlines once stood watch for German U-boats preying on U.S. ships— a concrete testament to our country’s resolve in defending a way of life. Today, as we walk those beaches, the towers melt into the natural landscape.

Robert Whaley joined the Navy at 17. Not after a military career, he was just doing his part for the war effort. At his first stop in Cape May, New Jersey, his recruit platoon marched away the days in basic training. But it was 1943 — a year of great urgency, so they worked overtime removing debris and human remains from our sunken ships that washed ashore at night.

Bob’s Enlistment Photo

After Boot Camp, Bob reported to a Tank Landing Ship (LST) in Evansville, Indiana. Times were tough. The ship didn’t have a name, only a number.

LST 496 sailed south down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico en route to Europe and real action. Whaley wrote in his journal,

“Most of the men on board had never been to sea. I think it was a miracle we made it across the Atlantic. It was winter, seas were rough, the ship was loaded with men, tanks and vehicles, but the crew did their jobs, and we made it safely to England.”

In April of ’44, Whaley and his mates practiced in Exercise Tiger, a top-secret rehearsal for D-Day. Eight LST’s carried over 4,000 soldiers. Army and Navy on the same team.

Unfortunately, German patrol boats discovered the convoy and started the bloodiest naval battle since Pearl Harbor. Two of our ships were lost, and 749 soldiers and sailors died.

General Eisenhower threatened to arrest anyone who leaked news of the incident. It would have been disastrous if the Germans discovered the plans. And any word of casualties could destroy troop morale right before D-Day. The order of silence was never lifted.

Bob followed his orders implicitly. Selflessly keeping it all inside, he would wake up from dreams with screams in the middle of the night. Today they call it PTSD.

After Exercise Tiger, the rookie crew kept steaming. They successfully delivered soldiers and supplies to support the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. After five days of fighting, Number 496 hit a mine while attempting to avoid a torpedo, and they were forced to abandon ship. “We suffered seventy-five percent casualties, lost or wounded men and all vehicles,” he wrote.

After recovering from injuries, for which he received the Purple Heart, he was quickly reassigned to keep fighting. Bob dodged more torpedoes on another LST, escorting ships and boats across the English Channel until the end of the war.

A purple heart for the Seaman First Class

Seventy years later, it is easy to walk by memorials or lookout towers, but hard to understand what our forefathers endured, protecting what we take for granted today. We legitimately worry about the threat posed by terrorists, but it’s nothing like what the last great war posed for our citizens and soldiers.

I remember visiting Cape May with my father as teenager. As we walked along the water, he pointed to the remains of a beached cement ship the Navy unsuccessfully tested during the war. The saltwater wears it away and soon it will be gone, like the men and women that defended our country so long ago.

Unbeknownst to me, it was the same beach that Whaley’s platoon worked at night, picking body parts out of the sand. The same beach where German subs once stalked our dark shoreline just a few hundred yards away. A different kind of threat to our country, to our way of life, our hometowns, and our families; one that is hard to comprehend.

When I ask Bob about Exercise Tiger or D-Day, his hoarse voice is deliberate. “I have that damned disease. Sometimes I forget who I am,” he says.

Bob Whaley with his wife Barbara

At 90, he sits up straight in a black metal wheelchair with his wife Barbara by his side. The sparkle in his eyes hints of younger days. His eyes gaze widely like he wants to tell me something.

I have scratched the surface of events he would rather forget, of memories sealed away, of times that molded his life and values.

He doesn’t remember much about the fight in the European Theatre, but he won’t forget the enemy in our backyard. His generation truly understands the price of freedom.

When I ask him what he would say to kids today, the 17-year-olds, he responds, “The Germans were off the coast of Cape May.”



Paul Dorsey
Age of Empathy

When not working as a Financial Advisor, Paul writes about everyday people.