Lt. Robert Turner Waugh

Inducted: 2018
Born: 01/16/1919
Died: 05/09/1944

United States Army LT Robert Turner Waugh is one of three Rhode Islanders to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II. Each of the three Medals was presented posthumously.

Robert was born in Ashton (a mill village of the Lonsdale Company that eventually would become part of incorporated Cumberland), Rhode Island to John A. and Emma (nee Turner) Waugh on January 16, 1919. Robert was the youngest of three siblings with older brother John and older sister Mildred. He attended local schools including Cumberland High School from which he graduated in 1936. In 1937 the family moved to Augusta, Maine in search of more gainful employment during difficult economic times. The elder John took a job as a supervisor at the Edwards Manufacturing Company textile mill.

On April 4, 1938, at the tender age of 19, Robert joined the Maine National Guard in Augusta. On December 1, 1939 he enlisted in the United States Army and was assigned to the U.S. Army Air Corps at Langley Field in Virginia. There he served as an aircraft line mechanic until January 1941 when he was transferred to Losey Field at Ponce, Puerto Rico where he continued to serve as a mechanic. After a promotion to sergeant Waugh was assigned to be a supply clerk. He made application to be an aviation cadet but was rejected. He subsequently requested a transfer to the infantry which was granted.

As an infantryman Waugh was sent to the Army’s Infantry Replacement Training Center at Camp Wolters, Texas southwest of Houston near the Mexican border where he .served as a recruit instructor. In September of 1942 Waugh entered Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Benning, Georgia, was commissioned a Second Lieutenant and assigned to the 339th Infantry Regiment (Detroit’s Own; Polar Bears) of the 85th Infantry Division (Custer Division) at Camp Shelby outside Hattiesburg, Mississippi a major Army training installation. He married Helen Sabol there in December of 1942.

On December 23, 1943 the regiment shipped out headed for Italy but stopped in Casablanca, Morrocco on January 2, 1944. Allied victory against the Germans and Italians in the North Africa campaign had been achieved in May of 1943 so there was no combat deployment of the 339th. On March 10, 1944 Waugh and the 339th Regiment landed in Naples, Italy and, with the rest of the 85th Infantry Division, prepared for operations northward to liberate Rome. They quickly discovered the slog up the Italian boot would be anything but the “soft underbelly of the Axis.”

Italy was significantly weakened as a military force and approaching capitulation leaving defense of their homeland to the Germans. The strategy was to establish three major defensive lines from coast to coast across the Italian peninsula. The further the Allies advanced toward Rome, the stiffer the German resistance became. The :fighting throughout the entire Italian campaign was as intense as in any theater during the entirety of WWIl.

In May, the 339th with the entire 85th Division, as part of the U.S. 5th Army’s II Corps under General Mark W. Clark, were components of a major Allied attacking force determined to breach the German Gustav Line south of Rome. Let LT Waugh’s Medal of Honor citation describe what occurred on May 11-14, 1944 during the Battle of Monte Cassino: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy. In the course of an attack upon an enemy-held hill on 11 May, First Lieutenant Waugh personally reconnoitered a heavily mined area before entering it with his platoon. Directing his men to deliver fire on 6 bunkers guarding this hill, First Lieutenant Waugh advanced alone against them, reached the first bunker, threw phosphorus hand grenades into it and as the defenders emerged, killed them with a burst from his Tommygun. He repeated this process on the 5 remaining bunkers, killing or capturing the occupants. On the morning of 14 May, First Lieutenant Waugh ordered his platoon to lay a base of fire on 2 enemy pillboxes located on a knoll which controlled the only trail up the hill He then ran to the first pillbox, threw several grenades into it, drove the defenders into the open, and killed them. The second pillbox was next taken by this intrepid officer by similar methods. The fearless actions of First Lieutenant Waugh broke the Gustav Line at that point, neutralizing 6 bunkers and 2 pillboxes and he was personally responsible for the death of 30 of the enemy and the capture of 25 others. He was later killed in action in Itri, Italy while leading his platoon in an attack.”

NOTE: The citation quoted above refers to First Lieutenant Waugh even though he was a Second Lieutenant at the time of the cited action. He was promoted posthumously to First Lieutenant in the aftermath of his heroic action but before his Medal of Honor citation was written.

Not noted in the citation is how Waugh ran back and forth from Hill 79 to Hill 66 and 69 because of a communication failure. Heavy mortar and artillery bombardment, compounded by geography, limited communications. To maintain essential communication in the attack, Waugh ran through the constantly shelled battlefield. Waugh’s efforts spread throughout the regiment quickly. His actions were so moving that it is said to have rejuvenated the men to fight on and work through their physical fatigue. After successfully breaking the Gustav line and overrunning the German forces, the 339th Infantry Regiment as well as the rest of the 85th Infantry Division were ordered to keep pressing on toward Itri where, on May 19, 1944, Second Lieutenant Robert Waugh was hit by shrapnel in the neck and chest and died from his wounds the same day.

LT Waugh’s posthumous Medal of Honor was presented to his widow Helen in October 1944 by Major General Henry Terrell, Jr. (who had served as the Commanding Officer of the 90th Infantry Division earlier in the war) at Fort Dupont (a very active deployment depot throughout World War II) in Delaware.

Sadly, administrative, bureaucratic difficulties would come to frustrate the family of the fallen hero after his death. He left behind his parents John and Emma and his siblings. The Waughs had spent relatively little time living in Maine and claimed their son had enlisted in his native Rhode Island. They spent years trying to convince U.S. Army officials to change his records and his grave marker to reflect this. Try as they may, the Army held to the fact that Robert enlisted in Augusta, Maine and attributed his service, his Medal of Honor and his home of record at the time of his death to the Pine Tree State. There was also disagreement between the family and Waugh’s widow. She elected to have him buried in Italy while his parents and later his sister Mildred petitioned the Army for years to have his remains transferred to a family burial plot in Rhode Island. In fact, the elder Waughs’ final resting places are both in Moshassuck Cemetery in Central Falls, Rhode Island. The headstone in the family plot is inscribed with Robert’s name, notes him being the son of John and Emma, that he was killed in action in Italy and the date of his death May 19, 1944. The inscription contains nothing about his Medal of Honor. LT Waugh rests in honored glory in the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial in Nettuno, near Anzio, Italy with 7,859 other American war dead.

LT Robert Turner Waugh was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame at a special Historical Convocation held at the Old State House in Bristol in November of 2018. At the time of the induction no next of kin had been identified and his embedment was accepted by retired military personnel who would present the honor to a rightful place in Cumberland. Since the induction, however, thanks largely to the efforts of Frank Lennon of the Providence Journal, the identity of a number of Waugh’s relatives has come to light. They will be informed of his induction.


Collier, Peter. Forward by President George H. W. Bush; Essays by Senator John McCain and Tom Brokaw; Photographs by Nick Del Calzo. Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty. Artisan, 2003.

Congressional Medal of Honor Society. “Robert Turner Waugh_t > recipients

Lennon, Frank. “The forgotten hero: Uncovering Rhode Island’s lost Medal of Honor recipient from WWII.” The Providence Journal. 13 May 2024. p. 1+

Delmar, Nathan mentored by Shane Gower. “First Lieutenant Robert T. Waugh.” NHD Silent Heroes. 2016-2017.

“Lt. Robert T. Waugh- 1944 Medal of Honor Moment.” You Tube uploaded by LionHeart FilmWorks. 2018.

“On May 11, 1944, south of Rome, lLT Robert T. Waugh…” You Tube uploaded by Walk Among Heroes. May, 2024. (Contains images of LT Waugh’s gravesite)

“Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno, Italy.” You Tube uploaded by Walk Among Heroes. 2024.

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