Col. Robert Armstrong - Another Fallen Hero
It was a Sunday afternoon, August 4th, 2013, at the first annual Gathering of Warbirds & Legends fly-in and the skies weren’t exactly cooperating. As the bulk of the storm skirted Forbes Field to the north, most of the show’s participants had already begun their journeys home. There was however one man who chose to stick it out and not follow the bulk of his crew back to Texas. Scott Glover remained with his T-6 and Staggerwing hoping to head home the next day.
As we few hung out at the airport watching the weather, two men approached asking about the free rides many of the aircraft owners had offered to veterans throughout the weekend. Without any hesitation, Glover offered for the men to step on up. Col. Robert Armstrong (Ret.) cautiously walked over to the T-6 and slowly climbed the ladder leading to the rear seat. With some physical encouragement, Armstrong slipped into the rear of T-6 and made himself at home.
A former B-17 pilot with the 381st Heavy Bomb Group, 532nd Squadron of the 8th Air Force, Col. Armstrong earned his wings as a Second Lieutenant in 1944. He was quickly introduced to combat flying during his fifth mission when the B-17 he was co-piloting, affectionately named 'Mizpah', suffered severe damage.
"I didn't have any rudders, I didn't have any brakes," Armstrong said, “and the bomber kept drifting to one side”. With more than 300 holes caused by shrapnel and a disabled pilot, Armstrong was determined to bring the lumbering B-17 home. The catch being that this would only be his second time landing the bomber. "The thought did enter my mind that (his crew) must be losing their minds knowing that the guy flying the airplane (has only flown) the plane once in his lifetime and is trying to get us back to base," Armstrong laughed.
His valiant actions that day earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross. Before the end of the War he had flown 30 missions over Germany and two over France. Following the War, he was called back to active duty and was a co-pilot during the Berlin Airlift and remained with the Air Force Reserves until the age of 60. In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross, he earned five Air Medals and six Battle Stars.
It was a true honor to be there with Scott Glover as Armstrong took a long awaited flight in the T-6. After landing, his smile spoke all that was needed to be said. Col. Armstrong passed away with his family by his side on October 14th, 2013.
Col. Armstrong and his wife Mary have four children: Elizabeth Rider, of Houston, TX; James Armstrong, of Scottsdale, AZ; Robert Daniel Armstrong, of Topeka, KS; and Jane Webb, of Kennewick, Washington.