Robert Hunt, 95, is not originally from Canandaigua, but has made the Chosen Spot his home and livelihood for years.
But who is Robert Hunt? Where is he from, and how did he get to the Canandaigua VA, where he currently resides — and in one piece?
Born in 1924 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Hunt lived in and graduated from Susquehanna. He’s from a family of 10 — his mom, Ethel; his dad, George; himself and his siblings: Ruth, Betty, Harold, Billy and Raymond; and his half-siblings, Margie and Evelyn.
Having eight kids during that time period made for some tough times for his parents, Robert shared.
“During the Great Depression, my dad lost his job. One week, we lived on split pea soup. Nobody had any money. We had a very nice home, [but] we couldn’t make a $25 a month payment,” Robert said.
When his family moved to Hornell in November of Robert’s senior year, he stayed with an uncle to finish high school before joining his family in Hornell. After graduation, he went to work in the shipping department at Sears & Roebuck.
In 1942, when the United States government lowered the draft age to 18, Robert was drafted in December of that year. In January 1943, he went to boot camp in Alabama before he was sent to New York, where he boarded a converted cruise ship with 7,000 other servicemen bound for the Mediterranean Sea.
His ship landed in Algiers, where he served with the 117th Chemical Warfare unit, where, Robert said, they “gave out gas masks in case of gas.”
Robert’s group was divided up, and he went to a secret base — code name JBIB. He was there working as a teletype operator for about eight months when a US tank fired on an opposition tank.
But the mortar misfired and ended up hitting his own base instead, killing many men. The concussive blast left him critically injured and unconscious without eyesight, hearing and speech.
“They believed him to be dead, and were processing him as dead, until they saw him flutter his eyes,” said Pamela Fleming, Robert’s niece, via email.
“I’m told I was in a coma for four months,” Robert said. “What happened was, they put me on a pile of dead bodies to be buried with the next morning, or so they tell me. Then my eyes opened the next morning and they found out I was still alive.”