John M. Robinson, decorated World War II veteran

John Robinson

John Morgan "Nemo" Robinson, a retired operator of a Chesapeake Bay summer resort and decorated World War II veteran, died Saturday of a heart attack at Anne Arundel Medical Center after undergoing brain surgery a week earlier. The Severna Park resident was 90.

Born and raised in Catonsville, he was a 1938 graduate of Catonsville High School and spent another year at Polytechnic Institute. He gained the nickname Nemo as a child because he had long blond curls like a lion in the "Little Nemo" comic strip.


He earned a degree at Western Maryland College — now McDaniel College — where he was later inducted into the college's Sports Hall of Fame. He lettered in basketball three years. A top scorer in the state, he was team captain as a senior and was a member of the 1941 Mason-Dixon championship team.

He also played baseball two years and was The Baltimore Sun's 1942 All-Maryland second-team shortstop.


During World War II, he graduated from Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga. Assigned to Europe in late 1944, he fought during the Battle of the Bulge. A lieutenant, he belonged to the 78th "Lightning" Infantry Division.

"One week after he reached Belgium, the Germans attacked," said his son, John M. Robinson of Cockeysville. "He earned three Battle Stars, the Bronze Star with 'V' for valor and the Combat Infantryman Badge 'for heroic action in the Battle of the Bulge.' "

His son said his father's unit fought to break the Siegfried Line. "It was an 80-mile string of mines, tank traps and large concrete pillboxes, each manned by 30 or more SS Panzer soldiers. A battle raged for several days and nights in the freezing Hurtgen Forest in January, where my father crawled back and forth in deep snow and under enemy fire to carry dead and wounded back to the American line. During it, he suffered a severe hernia."

Mr. Robinson, though he was injured, did not receive a Purple Heart. A 2009 Washington Post article detailed the efforts of one of his military associates to gain him more recognition.

The article noted that Mr. Robinson recuperated at a military hospital, where his bed was next to another injured soldier.

"I asked him how his leg was," Mr. Robinson recalled in the Post interview, "and he pulled back the cover, and he didn't have to say anything. His leg was gone."

Mr. Robinson said in the article that a Purple Heart was offered while he was recuperating. He said he "didn't feel that I deserved it after seeing him lying there."

Despite the effort by a man in his unit to upgrade his award, Mr. Robinson was never awarded the Purple Heart, which he maintained he did not deserve. His recollections of the Battle of the Bulge were included in an on-camera History Channel interview.

His son that that when the European war ended in May 1945, his father coached the 78th Division's basketball team to the Army's European Theater finals in Munich.

When discharged in August 1946, he sought an Evening Sun sportswriter job. Sports editor Paul Menton said he had no positions and suggested that he coach.

"He was referred to Gilman School, where there was an opening, and he began teaching math and coaching basketball that September," his son said.

Mr. Robinson taught math and coached at Gilman's Lower School until 1955 and coached the varsity basketball team until 1962. He also returned to military service during the Korean War.


His son said his teams took five Maryland Scholastic Association titles, and he remained Gilman's all-time most-winning basketball coach until 2005.

Author and National Public Radio commentator Frank Deford, who was one of Mr. Robinson's students at Gilman, dedicated his memoir, "Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter," to Mr. Robinson and a fellow Gilman faculty member, Jerry Downs.

Mr. Deford said his book is "about writing and sports, so it's only appropriate that I dedicate it to two good men who were so instrumental to my development in those areas when I was growing up."

Mr. Robinson gave up teaching to run his father's business, a summer resort known as Pinehurst-on-the-Bay. He rented cottages and ran a beach at Pasadena. He later sold real estate at Hammond S. Carr & Associates and retired from O'Conor, Piper & Flynn.

A singer, he belonged to the Severna Park Bums, a group that performed at nursing homes, parades and fundraisers from 1970 to 2012.

A funeral service and interment will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, 611 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd. in Severna Park, where he sang and was a Sunday school teacher and elder.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 41 years, the former Lucia Laten Buchanan; three daughters, Margie J. Robinson of Lochearn, Linda R. Pollack of Pinehurst and Mary B. Selzer of Severna Park; 11 grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren. His marriage to A. Jane Miles ended in divorce. A son, Dr. James R. Buchanan, died in 1989.

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