Del Mar man receives Bronze Star for World War II service — 70 years later

Congressman Darrell Issa presented retired Navy Capt. Robert Sulit with the Bronze Star.
(Kristina Houck)

Seven decades after his service overseas, Del Mar’s Robert Sulit finally received the recognition he deserves.

Congressman Darrell Issa presented the former Army private with the Bronze Star on Monday, Aug. 17, for his European service during World War II.

“Once earned, it has to be delivered,” said Issa during a small ceremony at his Vista office. “Our country is slow sometimes in paying all of its debt, and so just 70 years later, we thought that we would equal this.

“I look forward to being the guy that gets to pin it on somebody who earned it before I was born.”

A retired Navy captain, Sulit was drafted by the Army on his 18th birthday in 1944. He had just graduated from high school.

“We were all scared,” Sulit said. “We made do.”

Sulit landed on the beaches of France not long after D-Day as a member of Company A, 69th Armored Infantry Battalion, 16th Armored Division. He was the only member of his squad chosen for mine-clearing school.

“The first two days had to do with how mines work and how you dug them up,” he recalled. “The third day was the ‘Chaplain’s Day,’ and he gave us Holy Communion so we were cleansed of our hearts.”

Over the next two days, Sulit remembered searching for mines along the Atlantic Wall, Nazi Germany’s defensive system that stretched from the Spanish border to Scandinavia. He dug the mines up, placed them in a pile and detonated them.

Soon after, he had his first combat experience when he and his company traveled to Frankfurt and met with Russian forces. As a third machine gunner, Sulit manned a .30-caliber machine gun mounted on the back of a half-track.

“We were going through town and people were shooting at us — that’s kind of dangerous,” he said. “I crunched back down so I could angle up and shoot my machine gun. I think I got somebody.”

Issa pins the medal on Sulit.
(Kristina Houck)

Although the war ended 70 years ago, it was just a few months ago that Sulit, now 89, learned he might be eligible for the Bronze Star, the fourth highest decoration for individual valor in the U.S. military.

He asked his wife, Shelly Sulit, to investigate the issue. She found that the late Gen. Omar Bradley had declared years ago that all infantry and medics who saw combat in Europe in World War II should be awarded the medal.

Shelly Sulit contacted the Army but did not receive a response. She then reached out to Issa’s office, and a few weeks later, the medal was secured.

“It was something I didn’t expect, so it was very welcome indeed,” Sulit said.

After the war, Sulit served in the Army Reserves from 1946 until 1950. In 1957, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Navy Reserves. He worked for the Department of Defense and the Navy Reserves as a nuclear physicist until he retired as a captain in 1985.

“He’s a very proud man; he’s a very quiet man,” said Shelly Sulit. “He’s very excited. I haven’t seen him this excited about something. He is very proud of his service to his country.”