The twin Roberts brothers are like bookends in Hall County's World War II story.
Ennis Roberts, who enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1935, was the first Hall Countian to die in the war. He was aboard a Coast Guard cutter, the Alexander Hamilton, when it was struck by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat in the North Atlantic in early 1942.
Until this summer, not much was known about the service of his twin, Aubrey. Two decades after his death, research by the sons and grandson of Aubrey Roberts has found that he was present for a historic moment near the end of World War II.
Aubrey was on the Pacific island of Iwo Jima during one of the bloodiest battles of the war and was present for the flag raising captured in one of the world's best known photographs.
But the photograph that sparked the interest of Roberts family was a second one taken by photographer Joe Rosenthal that includes Roberts and his fellow Marines celebrating the posting of the flag on Mount Suribachi.
In the 36-day battle of Iwo Jima, Aubrey Roberts was wounded twice and awarded two Purple Hearts. His son, John, said he spoke little about his war experiences. It was not until the family found out Aubrey was in the second photograph that they began searching military and family records.
War comes home to Hall County
The Roberts family was well-known in Flowery Branch in the days when the town was a sleepy, rural community. Family members still reside on the land that belonged to Will and Maude Roberts, parents of Ennis and Aubrey.
Maude Roberts kept a daily diary of life on the pages of a calendar. She noted the weather, what was happening on the family farm and the activities of family members.Her writing style does not reflect emotion, but gives a picture of the life of a rural family during the war.
Ennis Roberts was 17 when he joined the Coast Guard. His father had to sign for him to enter the service because he was underage.
Three days before Christmas 1941, just two weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he wrote what would be his last letter home. He told his parents that the ship was about to head out for an unknown destination. "You might not hear from me for a long time," he wrote.
He sent $10 for his parents' Christmas and told them that he had written Aubrey with the location of his car at Norfolk, Va., "if anything should happen."
A month later, Ennis was one of 20 killed aboard the Hamilton and became Hall County's first casualty of the young war.
On Feb. 2, Maude Roberts wrote in her diary that a telegram had arrived informing them of Ennis' death. His body was never recovered; a memorial service was held by the family in May.
Ennis Roberts was memorialized in Flowery Branch with the naming of the city hall assembly room in his honor. He is also among those named at the American Battle Cemetery at Cambridge, England. The wall lists 5,127 names of those missing in action, unidentified, lost or buried at sea. Notably, the wall includes the name of Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., the brother of President John F. Kennedy.
Twin joins Marines after brother's death
Aubrey Roberts was working at the Big Star supermarket in Macon at the time of his brother's death. After his brother was killed, the surviving twin decided to enlist.
According to his family, Aubrey was hearing impaired in one ear after a childhood case of the mumps. He failed the physical examination for the Army and Navy, but managed to pass the exam to enter the Marine Corps.
In September, he was sent to Camp Pendleton in California to begin basic training. In March 1943, he shipped out for New Caledonia in the South Pacific to begin training for what would be the Battle of Bouganville Island, where his company landed on Dec. 4, 1943.
In September 1944, Aubrey Roberts arrived in Hawaii for the beginning of what would be the final leg of his wartime service. He wrote home that Hawaii, which he couldn't name in his letter for security reasons, "is the most beautiful island I've been on yet."
In January, he left for Iwo Jima, where his outfit landed on Feb. 19. Four days later, he participated in the capture of Mount Suribachi and watched as the U.S. flag was raised. Despite the victory, the battle for the island was far from over.
On March 9, Aubrey suffered a glancing wound to his head. Four days later, he suffered gunshot wounds to the legs that left him with a limp for the rest of his life.
Sean Childers, Aubrey's grandson, said a cousin gave him the picture of his grandfather at the flag raising. Not content with the tentative identification, Childers contacted Pat Mooney of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.
Mooney found one survivor who identified Aubrey Roberts with his rifle raised in the photograph.
For Sean Childers, who was 18 when his grandfather died in 1987, it has been a chance to learn more about a man he deeply loved.
"It was neat to find out about this man who I thought so much of growing up and had the highest esteem for had been involved in a historic moment," Childers said. "He was never a man who brought attention to himself."
Aubrey's son, John, also said that his dad didn't talk much about his war service. "The only time I can remember my dad talking about the war was with a nephew who was also on Iwo Jima," John Roberts said.
The nephew, Forrest Bushman, was in a tank corps on Iwo Jima. John recalls Forrest telling of looking among the fatalities and finding his uncle was not there. John Roberts, his brother, Lee, and Childers have planned a trip to Iwo Jima next spring on the anniversary of the battle.
After the war, Aubrey Roberts returned to Flowery Branch, where he married and had three children: sons John and Lee and a daughter, Louise, who is Sean's mother.
Aubrey retired from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a Ranger and served as a member of the Hall County Board of Education.