Stinson, Robert J., Sgt

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Last Rank
Last Service Branch
Last Primary MOS
AAF MOS 740-Flight Engineer, VHB
Last MOS Group
Aviation (Enlisted)
Primary Unit
1944-2008, AAF MOS 611, POW/MIA
Service Years
1941 - 1944


One Service Stripe

Four Overseas Service Bars

 Last Photo   Personal Details 

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Year of Birth
This Military Service Page was created/owned by MAJ Mark E Cooper to remember Stinson, Robert J., Sgt.

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Casualty Info
Home Town
Last Address
Highland, CA

Casualty Date
Sep 01, 1944
Hostile, Died while Missing
Air Loss, Crash - Sea
World War II
Location of Interment
Riverside National Cemetery - Riverside, California
Wall/Plot Coordinates
Section 49A Site 74

 Official Badges 

 Unofficial Badges 

 Military Association Memberships
World War II Fallen
  2006, World War II Fallen [Verified]1

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 Ribbon Bar

AAF Aerial Gunner Wings

 Unit Assignments
  1944-2008, AAF MOS 611, POW/MIA
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1941-1944 WWII - Asiatic-Pacific Theater
 Additional Information
Last Known Activity
Remains of Long-Missing WWII Airman Given to Family in California

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


HIGHLAND, Calif. — 

For two decades after her son's bomber went down in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, Vella Stinson faithfully wrote the U.S. government twice a month to ask if his body had been found — or if anyone was looking.

The mother of six strapping boys went to her grave without the answer that has finally reached her two surviving sons 65 years later: the remains of Sgt. Robert Stinson are coming home.

Military divers recovered two pieces of leg bone from the wreckage of a B-24J Liberator bomber found at the bottom of the ocean off the coast of the island nation of Palau. DNA testing showed the femur fragments belonged to the 24-year-old flight engineer who died in combat on Sept. 1, 1944.

Stinson's remains arrived under U.S. Air Force escort Wednesday and will be buried Friday at Riverside National Cemetery with full military honors. In between, the body will be kept at a mortuary less than 100 yards from the home where Stinson grew up with his brothers.

"He's not someplace on a little island or at the bottom of the ocean. He's home," said Edward Stinson, who was 9 when his brother died.

For Robert Stinson, the journey home was far from a sure thing.

Stinson's family knew only that his bomber had gone down in the Pacific Ocean. The government politely responded to his mother's letters but said again and again that no new information had surfaced.

The family learned that Stinson, who joined the Air Force right out of high school, won several medals in the summer of 1944 for participating in dangerous attacks on Japanese airdomes, military installations and enemy ships.

In 1994, a nonprofit group of adventurers and scuba divers began to search for the missing bomber off the waters of Koror, Palau's biggest island. The 15-member group, called BentProp, travels to the island nation each year for a month to search for some 200 missing U.S. World War II aircraft.

Half of the wrecks scattered in the waters around the archipelago's 300 tiny islands have missing crew members associated with them, said Daniel O'Brien, a member of the BentProp team. Stinson's plane, dubbed "Babes in Arms," had 11 crew members — and there were eyewitness reports of where it went down. Eight crew members went down with the plane; three parachuted out, but were captured by the Japanese and are believed to have been executed.

The group attended reunions of Stinson's bomber squad and the aging veterans told them where they thought they had seen the plane go down as the rest of the formation raced back to base at 200 mph. BentProp members methodically searched that area for six years, but found nothing.

Then, in 2000, several members of the group doing more research stumbled upon obscure black-and-white aerial photos in the National Archives that were taken by a crew member aboard another bomber just moments after Stinson's plane went down. The team thought it odd the photographer had taken shots when no bombs were falling, and then realized the pictures were probably an attempt to document where the bomber crashed.

The pictures indicated a splash zone eight miles from where BentProp had been looking.

An elderly fisherman bolstered that evidence: he had seen plane wreckage in that area while spear-fishing about 15 years before.

The team dove the site in 2004 and instantly hit a jackpot: a B-24 propellor at 30 feet and then the plane, broken in three parts around a coral head where it had sat for more than 60 years. Debris was scattered at up to 70 feet deep.

The divers quickly turned over their findings to the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, or JPAC, the government agency that searches for U.S. prisoners of war and missing soldiers.

Military divers soon confirmed the plane's identity and recovered hundreds of items from the ocean floor, including dozens of tiny bone fragments, a rusted metal eyeglass frame, a tangled parachute cord attached to singed parachute, a shoe sole, coins, dog tags and one intact shoelace.

In 2006, Edward Stinson and Richard Stinson, the other surviving brother, gave DNA samples. On Feb. 1, Richard Stinson got the call: their brother, the 6-foot-4 clown with curly hair and a love of sports and poker, was finally coming home.

Four other missing crew members were also identified and are being returned to their families. Three could not be identified, but the remaining bones will be buried together at Arlington National Cemetery next spring.

"There's finally an ending to it. We never expected something like this," said Richard Stinson, now 87. "We knew that three of them had gotten out of the plane and ... you always hope that the three that got out, that one of them would be him and that maybe he survived."

With Stinson's remains coming home, his brothers are overwhelmed with the memories they have stored away all these decades — memories that, until now, are all they had. And, after years of imagining their brother lost and alone at the bottom of the ocean, his brothers have finally found their own peace.

"He hasn't been lonely the last two, three weeks. He has risen," said Edward Stinson. "Welcome home, brother."

Remains of Missing WW II Vet Return Home After 65 Years
9:25 PM PDT, October 28, 2009
ONTARIO, Calif. -- A World War II airman is finally home. The remains of Air Force Sgt. Robert Stinson, missing for 65 years after his bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, have arrived in Southern California.
Stinson's remains, placed in a casket draped with an American flag, were returned to the United States under military escort at Ontario International Airport on a flight from Hawaii.
Stinson was a 24-year-old flight engineer when his B-24J Liberator bomber was shot down in the South Pacific. His family says Stinson's job was to keep the B-24 flying, but gunfire from the ground during a bombing run at Koror, Palau resulted in the plane breaking up and falling into the Pacific Ocean. Three members of the crew managed to bail out of the plane, but later died in Japanese captivity. The remaining eight crew members, including Stinson, went down with the plane, according to his family.
The crew had made several successful bombing raids before the crash, and Stinson was awarded numerous medals including the Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal, American Theater Ribbon, World War II Victory Ribbon, and the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Ribbon with one silver and three Bronze Stars.
Divers from a nonprofit organization located the wreckage in 2004 and the family was alerted earlier this year that the DNA of Stinson's two surviving brothers matches DNA in some leg bone fragments found at the crash site.
A public memorial for Robert Stinson will be held at Bobbitt Funeral Chapel in San Bernardino on Oct. 29 from 5 to 7 p.m. with a private funeral with full military honors at Riverside National Cemetery on Oct. 30.

Kansas aircrew brings WW II comrades back from watery grave
By Staff Sgt. W. Michael Houk
National Guard Bureau

A Kansas Air Guard KC-135 aircrew discuss their mission while enroute to Palau. Photo by Staff Sgt. W. Michael Houk, National Guard Bureau
A drama unfolded in the skies above the western Pacific island nation of Palau on Sept. 1, 1944, as intense fighting between American and Japanese forces was getting underway. During a raid, comrades of the U.S. Army Air Forces looked on helplessly as the crew of a B-24 Liberator bomber, the Babes in Arms, was brought down by antiaircraft fire. Three of the crew reportedly bailed out, one without a parachute, before the bomber drove headlong into the ocean never to be found … or so it was thought back then.

PALAU INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – A volunteer Kansas Air National Guard crew in a KC-135 Stratotanker from the 190th Air Refueling Wing returned the human remains recovered from that ill-fated bomber back to this country in early March.

Thanks to an organization called BentProp, who found the crash site in 2004, the location is no longer a mystery. BentProp is a privately funded organization that searches for planes and their crews who crashed after being shot down by the Japanese in 1944-45.  They reported it to the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, or JPAC, who for the last three years investigated and recovered the remains from the site. The Kansas Coyotes had the honor of transporting the fallen back to U.S. soil – to Hawaii for identification.

“That seemed like a pretty good thing to do to give some closure to some families back home in the states,” Master Sgt. Mark Mertel said, adding that it was an honorable thing to do and “a fine way to end my career with the Kansas Air Guard. I jumped on it. It’s a great opportunity.”

The Kansas crew flew from its home at Forbes Field just outside of Topeka, to Hawaii, to Guam, and from Guam another hour and a half to the Republic of Palau.

“It was really moving to see that island and kind of imagine what might have happened that day,” said Maj. Jeff Warrender from the pilot’s seat, “It really made me think about how brave those guys must have been and what they might’ve gone through before they died. To see how beautiful the island was, it was just kind of eerie.”

Warrender first did a flyover inspection of the destination, a short airstrip with no tower that is usually used by smaller aircraft, in order for the crew to ensure conditions on the runway would permit a safe landing. Standing water, among other conditions, might keep the lumbering tanker from landing. Satisfied, Warrender circled back around, smoothly touched down, and brought the big plane to a quick halt on the island nation.

Local officials, without whom any of the Palau recovery efforts would have been possible, met the KC-135 crew on the runway. Jennifer Anson, executive assistant to the vice president of Palau, said the event was emotional for her, because, “a lot of my relatives were here during the war, and a lot of them went missing and we never found them.

“I’m happy for whoever’s family has that peace of mind now, knowing that their family members are being returned back home,” Anson added.

U.S. Navy divers sat in the back of a large truck with their cargo – two sealed black cases containing the remains of the B-24’s lost crew. These divers, dispatched by JPAC to this site, spent a month and a half under 70 feet of water meticulously recovering the remains and, in some cases, personal effects of the bomber’s crew.

When BentProp personnel find a site they tell JPAC, and an investigation is begun involving archaeologists, doctors, forensic scientists, divers, and whoever else is required to recover and identify a servicemember so that a family might be notified and the remains appropriately honored.

At the tanker, Capt. Jarrod Ramsey, a pilot, and Master Sgt. Matt Miltz, a refueling boom operator, carefully helped the divers who handed the cases up from the truck into the side cargo door of the KC-135. Other members of the crew got the aircraft ready to fly again, checking and rechecking its structure and systems.
At the end of the runway, the engines whined louder and louder about not going anywhere as the pilot let their power build. Finally, the pilot released the brakes and the tanker rocketed down a rapidly shortening runway and into the Pacific sky with the remaining crew of the Babes in Arms finally on their way to completing a trip that took much longer than anyone would have imagined.

After a quick stop back in Guam, the KC-135 flew east to Hawaii where the remains of the B-24 crew would be examined forensically by JPAC experts to verify their identities. Once identified, the servicemembers will be flown the rest of the way home to their families, but that honor will be for another aircrew. The Kansas Coyotes had accomplished their mission.

“We’ve had some fairly long days, and not a lot of ground time,” Miltz explained. ”But it’s all been worth it, helping to bring these people back.”
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