York County’s Bob Senft, World War II vet, exemplified the Greatest Generation

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Robert N. Senft had just been inducted into the service in this August 1943 photo. He is pictured with his wife, Ethel. Senft spent much of his life in York County, Pa., mostly in Zion View, Conewago Township. (See additional photo below.) Also of interest: In the WWII fight, in York County and abroad and ‘Little Johnny’ called from York for Allies in World War II and Beacon helped spot whereabouts of Zion View.

York County’s role in World War II was so sprawling that I thought much about how to frame it in my research for a book on that topic.
After running across a nearly full set of York Corporation newsletters, at the York County Heritage Trust’s Book Blast, I had gained a record about how one influential industry, and its employees, ventured through World War II.
Then I went on the lookout for particular employees who could help tell the story.
I found a hero, Red Lion’s Thomas Frutiger, who survived the Bataan Death March in the Philippines only to die at war’s end on a Japanese hell ship as they transported the lieutenant and other POWs to Japan… .


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Robert N. and Ethel Senft
I had a general of the four-star variety, York native Jacob Loucks Devers. I found women who contributed, Flo Snyder Neff, who worked in an office at Yorkco and wrote wonderfully encouraging poetry to company men and women in the service.
And I looked for a typical soldier with York Corporation – Yorkco – links, a York countian whose heroism was less obvious, but typified the efforts of thousands of men and women who served and never received coveted metal stars.
I read about Bob Senft in Norma Bear Gates’ book “WW II Years … The Way Life Was, As Told By Those Who Were There” and looked him up.
Here were some interesting points about Bob Senft, very much an York County everyman of the Greatest Generation.
I was looking for a York native, and he lived for years in Zion View, in the heart of York County.
He was a busy office employee at Yorkco, not a brawny worker in the foundry.
He was not an early responder, a volunteer who rushed in after the Pearl Harbor bombing. He had a young wife, and he contributed to the war effort through his work at Yorkco, a major defense contractor. But when when he was drafted, he dutifully responded.
Bob Senft did not see combat. He could type and thus worked in office jobs. He made it to Okinawa after the carnage and witnessed the bloody results of that savage fighting.
He returned home, went back to Yorkco, which became Borg-Warner and York International, and retired from there with 42 years of service.
Volunteerism characterized his long life, whether at Quickel Lutheran Church, where he held all sorts of leadership positions, or the Lions, where he served as district governor, the top regional leadership post.
I was able to learn all this from several Saturday morning meetings with Bob and his wife, Ethel, who also worked at Yorkco during the war.
Bob Senft’s military service and life served as an effective framing device for the book, titled “In the Thick of the Fight.”
I was in his cottage in the Lutheran Social Services’ The Village at Kelly Drive in York on Nov. 20, 2004, the day Bob Senft was celebrating his 85th birthday.
I’ve previously written about how our time together ended that day, but it’s worth repeating.
He excused himself from an interview to take a phone call concerning a fellow Kelly Drive resident.
Upon returning, he said, “It’s an emergency. A resident has a bloody nose, and she can’t stop it. I have to run her to Memorial Hospital.”
Ethel explained that such emergency runs were common.
“He’s never here,” she said.
More than 60 years later, Bob Senft continued his work on the war front. Ethel Senft looked after the home front.
Still in the thick of the fight.
Bob Senft died this week at the age of 90, truly one of the greatest of the Greatest Generation.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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