By Jennifer Martin - email
Robert Bowling joined the Army with a friend when he was 21 years old.
"We were going to join the Army and go to Hawaii. We were over in Georgia. And I noticed that they had airplanes. And I decided that I wanted to fly airplanes. I didn't want to go to Hawaii. And iIgot transferred to the Army Air Force."
He worked at Keesler for a couple of years, then went to flight school in Oklahoma. He was assigned to the 3rd Photo Reconnaissance Group under the command of Elliot Roosevelt, son of President Franklin Roosevelt.
"There were three planes in his organization. B17s. There were other planes taking pictures but there were only three b17s. And he thought these planes and pilots and crews were the best in the world.
Most of the time, we got fired on. I didn't get fired on that many times in North Africa. But I flew in a high area most of the time. One of our planes got shot up pretty good. And some of the people on it got injured. But I never had anyone injured in my plane."
In addition to his reconnaissance flights, Bowling frequently flew shuttle flights. During his many trips to England, he would stop at the Rock of Gibraltar.
"They say no one ever landed there that didn't pray before they did. When you passed the Rock, and got on the other end of the thing, you saw the burned boats on both sides that had been destroyed by the enemy and you had to stop pretty short because of Spain, you had to turn around and come back to the rock."
For one shuttle mission, he was tasked to fly General George Marshall from Algiers to visit his West Point classmate, General Patton.
"We took off and it started. Fighters came along with us. Came up over a mountain, got in weather up there and got iced. All the fighter planes left us except two on each end of the plane."
He decided to land, for the general's safety.
"I went to land and I felt somebody was standing there behind me. And it was the general and he said 'I've never watched a pilot like this the way I watched you land this plane.'
I went on and became a commanding officer of a base in El Fasher, Africa."
After he returned to the states, Bowling worked out of Washington for a while. Then he began inspecting bases around the country.
"Pilots were coming out of these fields, going overseas and being killed without... They weren't flying very well. I was going all over the country seeing why they weren't flying properly."
He left the service in 1946 and went on to work with Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Company until he retired about 30 years ago.
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