Harold William Roberts, son of John and Elfreda Roberts, was born 14 October 1895 in San Francisco, California. He was a small man, slight in stature, but was a very energetic person filled with zest for living and an active imagination. While still a boy, his family lived through the great earthquake of 1906 and his mother died two years later.
After graduation from the Wilmerding School in San Francisco, he took a short trip through Mexico. He then enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley. On 14 October 1916, while attending the university, the war started in Europe. Roberts anxious to do his part enlisted in the Army at Fort McDowell located on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay. After basic training at Fort McDowell on Angel Island, he was assigned to the Cavalry and sent to the Philippines.
Returning, his next assignment was Camp Fremont, near Palo Alto, California, a few miles south of San Francisco.
Wanting to see action, Roberts requested transfer to the Tank Corps and was accepted. He was sent to France and assigned to Company A, 344th Light Tank Battalion. Initially, the 344th was assigned to the 1st Division of the 304th Tank Brigade, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel George S. Patton, Jr.
Forty-five of the 2-man tanks were assigned to the battalion only two weeks before their initial action. The tanks were the French Renault FT-17, weighing slightly over 7 tons and with a top speed of 7 miles an hour. Armament consisted of either a 37mm cannon or a .30 calibre machine gun.
Roberts was well liked by his comrades, and developed well as a tank driver.
In an interview with Sergeant Virgil Morgan, the gunner whose life Roberts later saved at the expense of his own, Sergeant Morgan said, “Bob, as we called him, came to our company last summer and almost at once he was liked by everybody. By his good work he soon was promoted to Corporal. There never proved to be a better soldier.”
On 4 October 1918, shortly after his promotion, his company was engaged in a fierce battle in the Montrebeau Woods, which was part of the famous Saint Mihel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives. His company was advancing under heavy enemy artillery fire. Advancing about a mile, Sergeant Morgan and Corporal Roberts saw a disabled tank with a soldier crouched by it. As Roberts stopped his tank, the soldier crawled toward them, open the door and asked for help. They said they could not help at the moment but would return after the battle and render aid and drove off into the heart of the German artillery barrage.
Ahead lay a large mass of bushes that they thought was a machine gun nest and drove the tank into it. In an instant, they found themselves overturned. Recovering from the shock they learned the tank had fallen into a tank trap with approximately 10 feet of water in it. The tank had only one doorway and with the water rushing in Roberts said to Morgan, "Well, only one of us can get out, and out you go," and with this he pushed Sergeant Morgan from the tank. Morgan tried to assist Roberts, but with the heavy gunfire around the area, was unable to do so. After the machine gunfire ceased, Sergeant Morgan returned but found Roberts dead.
For his actions on 4 October 1918 Corporal Harold W Roberts was awarded the Medal of Honor, his citation reads:1
"Cpl. Roberts, a tank driver, was moving his tank into a clump of bushes to afford protection to another tank which had become disabled. The tank slid into a shell hole, 10 feet deep, filled with water, and was immediately submerged. Knowing that only 1 of the 2 men in the tank could escape, Cpl. Roberts said to the gunner, "Well, only one of us can get out, and out you go," whereupon he pushed his companion through the back door of the tank and was himself drowned. "
Corporal Harold W Roberts is buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery and Memorial, Plot B, Row 45, Grave 36.