History in Focus: The whirlwind of war
The whirlwind of World War II was unprecedented in its ability to scatter millions of Americans around the world. For Robert Goggin, the war barely let him set foot in Moffat County before he was sent to Italy and his fate. Kenneth Shank, a native of the friendly confines of Moffat County, was shifted from one coast to the other and finally stationed in Puerto Rico.
Robert Goggin and his family lived in Phippsburg in the 1920s and 30s, and just a few tidbits about his family show up in the newspapers. In January 1929, the Phippsburg section of the Steamboat Pilot reported Robert’s mother, Charlotte, left for Denver with the children, because her father was seriously ill. By March, a short blurb revealed Charlotte, herself, “has been taken to Denver to receive medical treatment and recuperate from her recent illness here.” By May 1929, the Goggins packed up their belongings and moved to Denver for good.
In 1940, according to the U.S. census, the Goggins still lived in Denver. By 1942, at the tender age of 19, Robert was drafted out of Moffat County. How did Robert end up back in Northwest Colorado? His draft notice lists his employer as the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad, so our best guess is Robert relocated to Craig, worked a year or so, and was drafted.
The war needed fresh manpower, and Robert was quickly trained and assigned to Company L, 135th Infantry Regiment, of the 34th Infantry Division. On March 23, 1944, his regiment was sent into the meat grinder of Anzio, Italy, to relieve weary troops fighting since January in that ill-fated amphibious landing near Rome. Only three weeks later, Robert died of his wounds April 17. His combat life lasted less than a month. Most likely, he died from artillery shelling while the 135th was pinned down on the beach.
Kenneth Shank, on the other hand, born in 1912, was a lifelong member of the small Lily Park homesteading community in western Moffat County centered around the confluence of the Little Snake and Yampa rivers. His mother wrote the Lily Park report for the Craig Empire Courier, and his life and exploits are well-documented.
He played violin, was a champion speller in seventh grade, and gave recitations at the Lily Park school Christmas program. As an adult, he worked haying, cutting alfalfa, and irrigating. He helped the Barnes family lay a new floor in their house and even pulled weeds in his mother’s vegetable garden. By May 1934, the paper reports Kenneth left Moffat County to “hunt work in the mining country near Alma.” In August, he was in Denver, but his job search did not bear fruit, and he returned home.
By 1937, Shank was a member of the Army and stationed at Fort Rosecrans, in San Diego. A February 1938 Lily Park report in the Craig Empire Courier mentioned Kenneth loved the beautiful weather and good food, yet “he doesn’t know why, but he still doesn’t like it.” By June 1941, he was shipped to Fort Monroe, Virginia, as a member of the Coast Artillery group and later headed to Puerto Rico for duty at Fort Buchanan.
On January 18, 1942, Kenneth’s parents were notified by telegram he had suddenly died. A month later, the Empire Courier printed a letter from Shank’s commanding officer, E.H. Shumate, who wrote, “The wound which resulted in Staff Sergeant Shank’s death was inflicted by a shot from his pistol which went off while he was handling it.” His death was believed to be accidental.
The lives of Robert Goggin and Kenneth Shank illustrate the confusing upheaval caused by World War II. One barely set foot in our area, while the other was yanked away from his secure lifelong home. This whirlwind sent Moffat County’s finest to the ends of the Earth to fight and die, and those hundreds who returned were forever transformed by their experiences.
I spent this past Saturday morning preparing for Sunday’s lunch branding — at least what I could get done early. I cooked pasta and boiled eggs. I made a gelatin salad. I decided to bake a banana cake, a family favorite, for dessert.