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Fort Knox resident reveals snapshots of installation history since the 1940s

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Frozen in the middle of her dance routine, a little girl’s infectious smile beams at a crowd of faceless men sitting in Waybur Theater. The Soldiers had filled the theater to see the girl and her brother perform, and maybe to forget about the war for a few minutes.

Now 76, Susan (Shelton) Robinson flashed that same infectious smile as she recalled what it was like growing up during the 1940s in a housing community called Goldville near God- man Army Airfield.

“That’s when I did the tap dancing,” said Robinson. “The dancing teacher came from Louisville, and mother enrolled us and I don’t know how many other children.”

Robinson has been living at Fort Knox since 2016 — this time. She recently sat down with Matthew Rector, the Fort Knox historic preservation specialist, in her home in the historic district to discuss her memories of Fort Knox, how the post has changed over the years, and to compare notes with Rector’s research.

“There’s nothing where it is now,” said Robinson.

War: Growing up
in the 1940s

Robinson’s first time at Fort Knox began at birth, Dec. 25, 1941. World War II had just begun the month prior and her father, Tab, served as a Soldier at the installation.

Looking for ways to assist in the war effort, Robinson’s mother, Dorothy, decided to play on her strengths as a church pianist and volunteer to entertain the troops who were either heading off to war or returning because of injuries, furloughs or training. Her grandmother also helped in the effort.

Robinson’s mother later incorporated some song-and-dance and juggling acts into the show after the war ended — her children.

“The [troops] loved us,” said Robinson.

Though she was born at Fort Knox, Robinson’s roots to the area run much deeper. Her grandparents lived in Vine Grove where her grandfather, Virgil Shelton, taught school.

When Robinson wasn’t entertaining Soldiers at Waybur, the old cantonment hospital and the newer brick hospital, with Shirley Temple numbers, recitations of “The Night Before Christmas” at Christmastime and “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover,” she and her siblings were running the streets at Adair Circle with the other neighborhood children.

She also enjoyed school at Fort Knox Elementary as evidenced by the report card she handed to Rector. The card was covered in “S”s, which represented “satisfactory” as opposed to “U,” or “unsatisfactory.”

Rector handed her a Louisville Courier-Journal article dated 1942, which described the growth of the Goldville community — winding streets lined with 141 housing buildings and 700 frame apartments that were considered modern at that time. The community was a mix of noncommissioned and commissioned officers, and civilian employees working for the War Department.

“This is going in my scrapbook,” said Robinson.

“You know, the garrison commander at the time was Col. [N. Butler] Brisco. His wife and him lived in Goldville,” Rector told her. “When he retired in ‘45, he died at his home in Goldville two weeks later.”

“I’ve heard the Brisco name all my life,” Robinson said. “I knew he was something because I’d heard his name.”

Robinson shared how important the trains were back then for people traveling around.

“The Soldiers loaded on down near where we go through the main gate now,” Robinson said. “The civilian trains came through that
station and if we went
to my grandmother’s
in Leitchfield [Kentucky], we would board the train there. People didn’t have cars.

“There was also a bus station across from White Hall, and a cab station. Back then, White Hall was the PX and the commissary was down from there kind of down where Knox Hills is now,” she continued. “So we would catch different rides depending on where we were going.”

Robinson said one building that hasn’t changed its purpose over the years is the Child Development Center. Back then, it was called Children’s Cottage.

“There was always a nursery school on that corner, since the ‘40s,” Robinson said. “My brother and I went to a nursery school in that building. It was one of the old wooden buildings.”

Robinson remembered many walks with her older brother, Jerry, and mother from Adair to the nursery and back.

“There were barracks along the way until you got up to that corner where the nursery school was, and we’d walk from Goldville to there,” Robinson said. “[Soldiers] would lean out the windows and whistle at my mother.”

Robinson talked about the clubs of the era that have all since vanished.

“There was a civilian club here, in the ‘40s. It was fabulous!” Robinson said. “They had slot machines in them, and at that time you could take children because my parents took us. I remember going.”

Rector asked where it was.

My memory now is a little rough but I think it is Dixie somewhere, maybe past the high school and to the right over there,” Robinson said. “My memory of it is people really dressed up, like my grandfather was at the NCO Club, and they let me play the slot machines. That’s why I remember so well.

“I remember being around the table there with momma and daddy and all the friends,” she continued. “It was a tight little community. Everybody was good friends. That’s probably why they kept in touch.”

The Sheltons moved out of Goldville in 1948 and into Vine Grove.

Education: Changes in the 1960s

Robinson grew up in Vine Grove and, after graduating from high school in 1959, attended college at the University of Kentucky, where she studied English, speech and drama. During summer breaks, she worked in the area to make a little money for the next school year.

Meanwhile, her older brother Jerry had studied at the University of Louisville until he got an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1960.

Robinson graduated college in 1963. A year later, she took a job at Fort Knox High School as an English teacher.

Her new Fort Knox home — wooden barracks known as the Teacher’s Quarters. The barracks no longer exist. During this time, she said she met a dashing lieutenant named Paul Loeffler III.

“Ah, yeah. Here’s my husband the lieutenant who later became the lieutenant colonel,” she said, smiling as she handed a photo to Rector. “We were young.”

“He’s wearing civilians,” Rector noted.

“Well he had gotten out,” Robinson replied. “The family tipped him off — said, ‘If you want to marry her, you better tell her that you’re leaving because you’ll go and she won’t follow. Somebody else will come along.’”

It worked. She and Loeffler married April 30, 1966. By then, she had decided to hang up her teaching career and pursue something better.

An electric utility in Louisiana had offered her $29,000 a year with retirement benefits to work for them. She was making $13,000 at the high school: “It was a no-brainer.”

Memories: Back to Fort Knox

After leaving Kentucky for Louisiana, Robinson eventually remarried, eventually moved to Atlanta, and raised children of her own along the way. Yet Fort Knox remained in her thoughts.

“For years I would pack up stuff in little plastic totes that said, ‘For Kentucky House.’ Then I would buy blue and white stuff and store it because it didn’t go with the house where we were,” said Robinson.

When her mother passed away, Robinson seriously considered buying her house but decided against it. Her brother bought their grandparents’ house in Vine Grove. They ended up building a new house and by the time they got around to selling her the old home, it had turned dilapidated beyond repair.

She eventually turned to Knox Hills for help. They came through with the home she now lives in.

“Let me tell you, Knox Hills is fabulous. I rate them at the top of the line,” Robinson said.

She is considering moving back to Atlanta later this year, or maybe Florida, to be close to her children and grandchildren. If she does move, she said her heart will always linked to Fort Knox.

“I met Louis Armstrong here and got his autograph at the Brick Club. He signed my Armored School tent card,” she said. “And my wedding and reception were here.

“My grandfather oversaw some of the German [prisoners of war], and my parents knew many people whose names now memorialize them on Fort Knox buildings,” she said. “I’m very sentimental about Fort Knox.” n