B O B S T R O B E L L
1944 > < 1995
A self-described "hick kid from the sticks of Vermont," Bob actually spent much of his childhood in Florida before the family returned to the north country to weather the Great Depression. Although the depression brought hard times, it also equipped him with hunting -- and especially fishing -- skills that remain an important part of his life today.
Bob spent 1943 in flight training, progressing from trainers to the P-40 and P-47. He arrived in Scotland in January 1944, and was immediately posted to the Eighth Air Force as an escort fighter pilot with the 353rd Fighter Group. Over the months that followed, Bob logged 300 hours of combat time over the course of some 80 combat missions in the P-47. He also scored two aerial victories during this time, downing one Me 109 and one Fw 190. He occasionally jokes that these two -- when added to three American planes that he bailed out of or crashed while in the service -- raise his total count to five aircraft destroyed, making him "sort of" an Ace.
Bob was reassigned to the First Tactical Air Force Headquarters in France during the winter of 1944-45. While there, he flew several different aircraft types in a liaison role, once even recovering a damaged B-17 with Colonel Hal Watson. When Watson selected Bob to spearhead the jet recovery effort in Germany, he jumped at the chance. Although he had never actually seen a jet aircraft, he knew that flying the Me 262 would be every fighter pilot's dream. The success of the mission that followed is a testimony to his leadership and flying skills, as well as those of his new teammates.
Fortune prevented him from returning with the others aboard the H.M.S. Reaper however. Shortly before the return voyage, he experienced a flash fire in the cockpit of a P-47 on takeoff and barely escaped with his life. Bailing out, he spent more than a month in the hospital with serious burns, before returning to the States in late August, 1945 ... riding in the bomb bay of a returning B-17.
Once stateside, Bob was posted to Wright Field, Ohio, where he was placed in charge of the entire captured aircraft inventory. In this capacity, he was able to lay the groundwork for what became the United States Air Force Museum. He separated from the Air Force in the summer of 1948 and accepted Paul Garber's invitation to join the staff of the National Air Museum (today's NASM / Smithsonian). As a civilian, he also spent a number of years on the staff of the Air Force Association, developing the organization's exhibition and convention programs.
Bob remained active in his lifelong pursuit of preserving (and making) aviation history. He and his wife Adah resided on the east coast, where he was on the staff of an impressive new aviation museum near his home.
UPDATE: We regret to report that Bob passed away on 5 January 2001 following a brief illness. He was 82.
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