A native of New Haven, Connecticut, Nett enlisted in the Army National Guard in 1940 at age 17. The minimum enlistment age was 18 years, but Nett was able to join by creasing his birth certificate so that his year of birth was obscured. Two years later, he was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he was graduated from Officer Candidate School. Nett was then sent to the Philippines, where he met his future wife, Frances, an Army nurse.
By December 14, 1944, Nett was a lieutenant in Company E of the 305th Infantry Regiment, 77th Infantry Division. On that day, near Cognon, Leyte, during the Battle of Ormoc Bay, Nett led his company in an assault against a heavily fortified Japanese position. Despite being seriously wounded twice in hand-to-hand fighting, he continued to lead his men until being wounded a third time. After making arrangements for the leadership of his company, he left the front lines to seek medical aid.
Nett was able to rejoin his unit for the Okinawa Campaign. His division was then sent to Cebu and began training for the planned invasion of Japan. The operation was canceled after the surrender of Japan in August 1945.
On February 8, 1946, Nett was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Cognon. A ceremony was held in his hometown of New Haven, and President Harry S. Truman was to have presented him with the medal there, but had to cancel in order to attend to the formation of the United Nations in California, Nett told a reporter.
Nett's official Medal of Honor citation reads:
He commanded Company E in an attack against a reinforced enemy battalion which had held up the American advance for 2 days from its entrenched positions around a 3-story concrete building. With another infantry company and armored vehicles, Company E advanced against heavy machinegun and other automatic weapons fire with Lt. Nett spearheading the assault against the strongpoint. During the fierce hand-to-hand encounter which ensued, he killed 7 deeply entrenched Japanese with his rifle and bayonet and, although seriously wounded, gallantly continued to lead his men forward, refusing to relinquish his command. Again he was severely wounded, but, still unwilling to retire, pressed ahead with his troops to assure the capture of the objective. Wounded once more in the final assault, he calmly made all arrangements for the resumption of the advance, turned over his command to another officer, and then walked unaided to the rear for medical treatment. By his remarkable courage in continuing forward through sheer determination despite successive wounds, Lt. Nett provided an inspiring example for his men and was instrumental in the capture of a vital strongpoint.
Nett continued his 33 years of service in the Army after the war, retiring with the rank of colonel. He gave frequent talks on leadership and duty, lecturing to every class of the Officer Candidate School (OCS); he was frequently invited to speak to the Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning. He is considered the "Father of the Officer Candidate School".
He was inducted into the Army Ranger Hall of Fame and the Officer Candidate School Hall of Fame, an honor reserved for OCS graduates who received the Medal of Honor or rose to the rank of colonel. After his retirement, he spent 17 years as a teacher in the Columbus, Georgia, school system.
Nett died on October 19, 2008. He was survived by his wife, Frances, of Columbus, Georgia. Their son, Robert Nett Jr., also served in the U.S. Army.COL Robert B. Nett building, The Fort Benning OCS classroom.
COL (R) Robert B. Nett Leadership Award is awarded to the Distinguished Leadership Graduate (DLG), the second highest honor bestowed upon a Candidate at OCS.
Colonel Robert B. Nett Medal of Honor Highway , 5-mile stretch of US 280/SR 520 (Martha Berry Highway) through Fort Benning.
COL Robert Nett Leadership Hall, the leadership hall for the Connecticut National Guard at Camp Niantic in Niantic.
Nett Warrior, a dismounted battle command system (Ground Soldier®), named for Colonel Nett in 2010.
In January 2007 the United Service Organizations (USO) awarded him its Spirit of Hope Award.