For veteran 67 years later, she's still first in his book
ROANOKE, Va. — Robert "Boots" Bandy was home on furlough when he spotted the cute girl waiting tables at the S. H. Kress & Co. five-and-dime store in Roanoke.
He was with a girlfriend at the time, but he was curious enough to slyly ask a friend for her name and address.
They didn't date — not then — but he added her name and address to his little red book.
"I don't know how many girls' names and addresses I had in that book," Bandy said.
His intention was to write back and forth with the women from his hometown after he was sent to Europe for World War II. And, just maybe, he'd visit some of them after he returned.
Boots Bandy was one of many Roanokers who fought in World War II. He grew up on Bandy Road near Garden City before he was drafted into the Army, where he was assigned to Company M, 393rd Infantry Regiment in the 99th Division. He was shipped to England before crossing the channel to Le Havre, France, and eventually being taken to the Siegfried Line.
"That's when we got caught in the Battle of the Bulge," Bandy said.
And there he remained from Dec.16, 1944, until March 1945.
"I was on the front line 95 days, and you didn't last long on the front line," Bandy said.
His unit started with 172 men but after intense fighting on the first two days was left with only 46.
Bandy was a self-described "mortar man" who was given a battlefield commission, being promoted to sergeant as the fighting progressed.
"They wanted sergeants with experience, and if you showed any leadership, you got stuck up front and that's where you stayed," he said.
After intense fighting along the Siegfried Line, Bandy's regiment moved northeast into Germany, pushing toward Dusseldorf before swiftly shuttling to the Remagen Bridgehead south of Bonn.
Through it all Bandy continued to read and write letters to his girls in Roanoke. He didn't keep those letters long, though — they got lost in the rush of combat as his regiment moved across the continent. But he kept that little red book.
The 393rd continued its advance into Germany, storming east to Wetzlar. It then moved north to clear out the Ruhr Pocket before closing out that operation at Altena. The regiment then pushed southeast across the Danube River. By then it was late April 1945.
On the last day of the month, the regiment arrived at the banks of the Isar River in Landshut. Bandy was part of an intense battle that saw the Germans bombarding the only bridge to prevent American forces from advancing. It was in Landshut that Bandy displayed the "gallantry in action" that earned him a Silver Star.
The Roanoke Times described Bandy's actions in a short story from August 1945. It reported that Bandy "was mortar observer during an attack in the city. With his radio in hand, he dashed down a street under constant enemy fire to enter a tall building from which he could observe. Behind the scanty shelter of a chimney on top of the building, he established contact with the platoon of mortars and, by his fire direction, repulsed three attacks by the enemy attempting to destroy the only bridge across which the company could attack."
A history of the battalion by Sgt. Earl Wiseman reports that the Americans crossed the bridge as darkness fell, adding, "An act of God sees us across this hot spot."
Within days of the crossing, Germany surrendered to the Allies. By the end, Bandy said his regiment was only 15 miles from Russian troops.
"We had a lot of German soldiers surrender to us when we were getting close, figuring they'd get better treatment," Bandy said.
After the war concluded, he commanded a camp of German prisoners of war before he was gathered up with other experienced GIs to be sent to the Pacific, where the war with Japan continued.
Before they could go, however, the United States' use of the atomic bomb led to Japan's unconditional surrender and the end of the war on Aug. 15, 1945.
Four days later — and 11 months after he'd initially been sent overseas for combat — Bandy found himself sailing back to the United States.
He was assigned as an ROTC instructor at Fort McClellan, Ala., but before heading there, he came home to Roanoke on leave, ready to start seeing some of the young women with whom he had exchanged letters.
"My plans were, all right, I'll take my little red book and visit all these nice girls good enough to correspond with me," Bandy said.
He went first to the house of the waitress he'd met at Kress. She was working, but he met her at the bus stop on her way home. They went out once, then again. By the end of the month, he'd given her a diamond ring.
In December, they were sitting in her parents' living room when he said, "Well, we might as well go ahead and get married."
Robert and Ruth Bandy wed two days after Christmas in 1945.
Bandy continued in the military for a while longer. He left active duty but remained in the Reserves, rising through the ranks from second lieutenant at the end of the war to major and eventually battalion commander by the time he left the service.
He and Ruth lived in her parents' house before moving to a home in northeast Roanoke in 1951. They had a son, then a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, one step-grandchild and even two step-great-grandchildren.
Sixty-seven years later, Robert and Ruth Bandy still are married. He celebrated his 90th birthday late last month, and in December they'll celebrate another anniversary.
He never did make it to see any of the other girls in the red book.