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After decades of repressed memories, Korean War veteran is finally able to ‘get those things off my chest’

Robert C. Enser, 83

Hometown and residence: Lancaster

Branch: Army

War zone: Korea

Years of service: 1952-54

Rank: Sergeant first class

Most prominent honors: Korean Service Medal with two battle stars

Specialty: Tank commander

By Lou Michel

News Staff Reporter

Robert C. Enser and Margaret Favreau had planned to marry in June 1952, but when they noticed that so many young men were being drafted for the Korean War, they decided not to take any chances.

“We moved our wedding date up to April 1952, and I was drafted in July,” Enser says, grateful that he and his high school sweetheart had more time together before he was shipped off to war.

He arrived on the Korean Peninsula in January 1953 and was stationed on the front lines as a tank commander for about 150 days.

“We were facing the Chinese. They were on the next mountain over with a valley between us. Every time you turned around, you were getting shot at. They were trying to kill us and we were trying to kill them,” Enser says, taking a breath before expressing amazement at his willingness to publicly discuss his war memories.

For years, he says, he kept those memories buried deep within himself.

That started to change when his brother-in-law, a former Marine who had fought in Vietnam, had visited from California about five years ago.

“He started talking about his time in Vietnam, and then I started talking about my war experiences,” Enser says. “It felt so good to finally get those things off my chest. My kids were listening, and they said, ‘Dad, you never talked about the war.’ ”

There were memories that he had wanted to forget, he explained. But in looking back, the 83-year-old veteran says, he came to realize that the enemy was human just like him.

“For some reason,” he says, “it hit me that these people I had killed were somebody’s husband, father, brother or friend.”

And now in publicly sharing his experiences, Enser says, he recognizes the humanity of those whom he fought and also understands that he was in a situation of kill or be killed.

“I sure had my share of close calls. Two members of my tank crew were killed, and five other guys were wounded at our position,” he says. “I was lucky.”

Further pondering his survival, Enser says he credits the prayers offered by his wife back home. “She went to church every morning and prayed for me. She also wrote me a letter every day. That was nice. Sometimes you’d get six at one time. That was how the mail was,” he recalls. “She also mailed cookies once a week. As soon as the box came, in 5 minutes, it was gone because everybody helped themselves.”

His wife’s cookies, always chocolate chip, were so popular that the box was sometimes opened and resealed before it reached him.

“They’d open the box of cookies and take a few and then close it back up and send it on to me along the line,” Enser says. “I never knew who was doing it, but it didn’t make any difference.”

Staying alive mattered more than filched cookies.

Before Enser left Korea in January 1954, the brass offered him a promotion to master sergeant and training to become a helicopter pilot, if he would re-enlist.

However, “I wanted out,” he says. “Heck, I was married.”

Back home, he resumed his job at Hank’s Tire Service on Central Avenue in the Village of Lancaster.

“Hank went out of business on a Saturday, and I knew the right politicians. By Monday, I started with the Village of Lancaster Department of Public Works,” Enser says of his good fortune and connections. “It’s funny: You start on the back of a garbage truck, then you’re driving it, then you work your way up, and you’re operating heavy equipment.”

At 62, he retired, and he and his wife, who died two years ago, traveled throughout the country and abroad for several years.

“She was not only my wife, but my best friend,” he says. “We were married three days shy of our 61st wedding anniversary.”

They raised five children, he says, “and all of them turned out great.”

Reflecting on his life, including his war service, Enser says, “I have no regrets. I just feel very blessed.”