Bob Gautreau had been through a lot before becoming a patient at Valley Forge General Hospital.
Gautreau served in World War II in the 569th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, C Battery. His job was to shoot down enemy planes. During his time serving in the war, he stepped on a land mine during Battle of the Bulge as he was on his way to cross the Rhine River.
Gautreau and the troops were walking through the woods at the time.
“I saw something shiny in the leaves,” Gautreau said. “I was stepping on a mine. The mine didn’t go off. It’s when you take your foot off...that’s when it started to go. I made one step and that was the end of my service right then and there.”
The mine’s explosion affected his left, leg, arm, hand and ear. Today Gautreau can walk on the leg, but cannot move his fingers on his left hand. He can hold a magazine or other items with the hand.
Gautreau said after the mine went off the medics came right away and he spent time in hospitals in Paris and England.
He was sent back to the United States on a medical ship and remembers seeing the Statue of Liberty on his trip back.
After some time at a Howell General Hospital in New York, he ended up in Framingham, Mass., at Kushing General Hospital, where he had a lot of work done to treat his injuries.
Gautreau said, “They (staff) came to me and said, ‘Bob, the hospital is going to be closed. We have to send you some place else. We’re going to be sending you to Valley Forge Hospital.’ I didn’t know where it was at.”
He had heard of Valley Forge before and he was told the hospital was near Phoenixville. Gautreau said he received good care at VFGH.
Recently he participated in a dedication for a historical marker along Charlestown Road on the former grounds of the hospital (now Valley Forge Christian College). The hospital treated veterans from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War. It was known in the area as the “army hospital” and was the second largest U.S. Army Hospital to Walter Reed east of the Mississippi River.
Gautreau met his late wife, Nell, during his time at Valley Forge General Hospital. She worked at the post exchange or PX which functioned as a general store.
“I went to pick up some shaving cream and things at the PX,” he said. “There was a woman working in the office. She was on the typewriter. Nobody was waiting on me. She saw me standing there and came out to wait on me.”
He asked her to have coffee at the PX with him and she said yes.
When they met, he asked what her name was and she said, “It’s Nellie. I hate it.”
She said she thought of Nellie the cow when she heard the name so he ended up calling her Nell.
Nell lived nearby with her family in Kimberton. Her father also had a job heating the buildings with coal.
Gautreau said he was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1947 and two years later he and Nell got married. They settled in Kimberton where they started a family. Son David Gautreau serves on Phoenixville Borough Council.
Bob and Nell celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1999. Nell passed away in 2004.
He remembers stars from Hollywood would come to the hospital from time that would speak to the patients and entertain them.
Gautreau made good friends at the hospital.
He remembered that women would come in to visit and talk to the patients. One of the women that visited married his friend, Roger Bennett.
After he left the hospital, he wanted to find a job, but had trouble getting hired anywhere. He said it was because of his disability. He contacted the Veterans Administration and the person he talked to said to leave it alone and do whatever he wanted to do.
He said when he would go to the post office, he would see a lot of little kids running around. He decided to start little league baseball since Kimberton didn’t have a team. He helped start what is known as the Kimberton Youth Athletic League.
When the announcement was made, there were 43 boys that responded. They were divided into four teams: Pirates, Braves, Giants and Phillies. His team won the championship the first year in 1955.
Gautreau took pride in starting little league and helping out the children.
He threw out the first pitch of the 2011 season and saw how much KYAL had grown since its start. He found out there are more than 700 children, both boys and girls, who play for KYAL.