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Wilkes County Veterans History Project: Howard Robinson

Howard with a portrait he drew of his father,

Major C. Robinson.

Given to his dad on his 90th birthday.



Howard Robinson's Story - interviewed by Sebastian Dionicio

Howard Robinson is a U.S. Army Veteran. He served from 1980-2003 in the North Carolina Army National Guard, stationed primarily at the North Wilkesboro National Guard Armory, and served his country as a combat engineer, carpenter, and mason. Traveling the world to complete humanitarian work, Robinson assisted in building schools, medical centers, and roads for underprivileged communities throughout his 23 years of military service. He received several promotions over the years, completing his service as a staff sergeant, and he also received honors for inventions he designed while working on the border fence in California and artwork featured in the Tarheel Guardsman, a magazine honoring the Guardsman of North Carolina.

Born in Harmony, North Carolina, to Major C. Robinson and Rachel Souther, Robinson and his family moved to North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, in 1956, where he attended C.C. Wright Elementary School, Wilkesboro Elementary School, and graduated from Wilkes Central High School. His mother, Rachel Souther, a stay-at-home mom, looked after Robinson, his siblings (Douglas, Darrell, Janice, Judy, Karen, Barbara, Polly, and Alma), and their home, while his father, Major C. Robinson, a WWII veteran, worked as a mail carrier for the North Wilkesboro Post Office to provide for his family.

In his early to mid-twenties, Robinson worked at American Drew Furniture Co., Troutman Shirt Co., Foster-Sturdivant Co., and Coco-Cola Bottling Co. He also attended Wilkes Community College, where he studied drafting but never graduated because of his demanding work schedule, before enlisting in the North Carolina Army National Guard in 1980 following his father's and uncle's, Clifford and Claude Robinson's, military service.

During his early days of service, Robinson set out for Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, in 1980 to complete basic training. Driven to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, by his wife, Bernice Robinson, he took a bus from Winston-Salem to Greensboro, North Carolina, where the U.S. Military flew him out to St. Louis, Missouri. Once there, Robinson took a bus to Fort Leanord Wood, where he would complete basic training. 

When recalling those training days, Robinson discussed the importance of keeping a positive outlook, even when challenges emerge. "It's a mindset thing, really," he shared. "You learn how to fight the military're pushed to the limit, both physically and mentally, so you tend to remember it more," he added. Robinson also highlighted how "basic training was very hot" and that "they had to stop training because there was a heatwave going on at the time." Moreover, he mentioned encountering a tornado, which only complicated basic training that much more. 

Following basic training, Robinson returned to North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, that same year, where he continued his service at the North Wilkesboro Armory National Guard and received additional training. While there, he utilized his skills in carpentry, masonry, plumbing, and electrical engineering. 

Over the years, Howard embarked on several journeys across the globe where he would complete humanitarian work, utilizing his engineering skills, by building schools, roads, and hospitals for underprivileged communities. His first humanitarian trips consisted of traveling to Ecuador, where he helped to build a school and medical center for the locals. He also traveled to the Marshal Islands, where Robinson assisted in building another school and medical center for the locals, and, during his final trip, traveled to Alaska, where he helped to build roads for a native community.

Amidst his travels, Robinson also received additional leadership training in Asheville, North Carolina and at a military training center near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. Moreover, he worked on the border fence in California following his first trip to Ecuador, where he invented a tool that made it easier to set poles on the ground to create the border fence and received recognition. 

Looking back, Robinson recalled how his service impacted his life, stating that he "learned how to be self-sufficient" and "become a more clean-cut individual." He also learned "how to work with and get along with people" and "how to manage [his] finances.” Furthermore, he cited "being 
being away from my family," adapting to travel, occasional jet lag, and foreign cultures as the hardest part of his service. 

Robinson's service officially ended in March 2003 while stationed at the North Wilkesboro National Guard Armory. Following 23 years of military service, Robinson continued working as a Sunday school teacher and working at Lowes Home Improvement, where he worked as an "order puller" and in the service department. Keeping in touch with his comrades, Robinson did his best to "visit them every once and a while," and attend reunions, where he and his friends reflected on memories and enjoyed being in good company. Today, Robinson continues to take an interest in matters about the military, even after the completion of his service. 

Sharing his final thoughts about his military experience, Robinson recalled how his service impacted his life, stating, "I’m just a common person and this is just my story... maybe I could have done more, but what I would like people to remember is this is my story and the life I lived.” “I fought for my country, and maybe [others] can model themselves after someone like me and consider going into the military," he concluded.