Captain Robbie Roberts (full name Capt. Richard Sloan “Robbie” Roberts) turned 107 years old on April 17. As a Navy Pilot in WWII and Korea, he flew 50 different aircraft types from fighters to helicopters to seaplanes, saw action in 9 major naval engagements, served in 2 wars, and earned numerous medals. The Navy once declared him dead. He’s very much alive and living in Florida.
Robbie Roberts has many memories, some good, some horrific. Local publications have preserved some of them over the years.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, Robbie was stationed in the Philippines as a pilot of a PBY Catalina seaplane. He remembers flying his first mission of the war, watching two of his fellow pilots’ aircraft explode midair after taking intense enemy fire. “Seeing some of your friends shot out of the sky was just horrible,” he said, “I’ve got a lot of horrible memories.”
On the third day of WWII, Roberts’ plane didn’t get more than 50 feet off the runway when it was shot down by a Japanese fighter. Miraculously, he managed to keep the aircraft in flight before landing the seaplane onto the water below. Robbie and his crew managed to repair the damage to the plane, get it back in the air, and return to base. But his time in the Philippines was short-lived. As the Japanese swiftly overran the island, Richard’s PBY became the last American airplane to evacuate the Philippines, carrying both military personnel and civilians. To this day, Robbie remembers his comrades who were left behind and became Prisoners of War in Japan…
After escaping the Philippines, he was assigned as the Air Officer aboard the aircraft carrier USS San Jacinto (CVL-30). Roberts had the vital job of getting planes on and off the deck of the ship. He served in this critical position during nine major sea engagements across the Pacific Theater during the war. George H.W. Bush was one of the many pilots stationed aboard the San Jacinto, and while Robbie never met Bush, he unquestionably sent the future president on numerous missions. The carrier provided close air support during multiple amphibious landings, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Roberts remembers standing on the deck of the San Jacinto with his binoculars, watching the troops come ashore on Iwo Jima, witnessing the hell thousands of young Americans were going through.
One of his most memorable wartime memories was observing a Japanese kamikaze strike the USS Franklin, another aircraft carrier just a short distance away. He recalled seeing a Japanese bomber come through the clouds and dive into the ship, blowing dozens of men and aircraft overboard, engulfing much of the ship in flames. When the war ended in September 1945, Robbie and the San Jacinto returned home to the US. When asked if he lost any close friends during the war, he somberly replied, “All of them.”Veterans History Project
At one point, the Navy declared Robbie Roberts dead.
At the time, he was frequently unable to contact his family in Oregon.
A lieutenant commander mistakenly listed him as missing in action, presumed dead, as many airmen were.
But, months later, on leave in California and hoping to soon visit his parents, he walked down from the balcony of The Emporium, a store in San Francisco. He lifted his eyes on a stairway landing to see suddenly in front of him his mother, Idamae, walking up.
She was in California visiting his brother in military training, Roberts said, voice quivering, a tear skidding down his cheek.
His mother reacted the same as he did — hollering and screaming — “and the party started,” Roberts said. “She thought I was gone and there I was.”Military.com/The Orlando Sentinel, Stephen Hudak
Capt Robbie Roberts was honored in March with a ceremony at the Orlando Executive airport, where he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Naval Helicopter Association for his work to integrate helicopters into the Navy.
Roberts was Flag Lieutenant for Vice Admiral Alfred Eugene Montgomery at three different duty stations. He served three tours of duty in the Pentagon and served a tour of duty with the Air Force Intelligence Center, Commanded Helicopter Squadron 2 and the Fleet Intelligence Center Europe. He attended the Air University, Air and Command Branch and the Armed Forces Staff College.
Along with the Bronze Star with a Combat V, Roberts was also awarded three air medals, two Presidential Unit Citation Ribbons, nine Pacific Theater ribbons, and 12 other awards.(TeamOrlando.org)
Captain Robbie Roberts retired in 1963. Lifetime achievement indeed.
Featured photo: Then 105-year-old retired Capt. Richard Sloan “Robbie” Roberts talks about his experiences as a PBY pilot during World War II and as a helicopter squadron commanding officer during the Korean War timeframe. (U.S. Navy/Doug Schaub)
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