One week ago today Columbus lost a member of what many call “the greatest generation.” Retired Sergeant Robert Black, Sr. was a gunner and radio operator in World War II and was also a prisoner of war. He died last week at the age of 95. In tonight’s News 3 Neighbors, we pay tribute to one of our heroes.
Robert Black grew up in Alderson, West Virginia. After graduating from high school he decided to join the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Bob’s harrowing WWII experiences appear in a book written by longtime Columbus educator Jim Arnold, Robert’s son-in-law.
The first page of the book shows Bob and his ten-man crew in front of their B-17 bomber. They were assigned to the 100th Bomb Group in Thorpe Abbotts, England.
“Their first mission was May 24, 1944 to Berlin of all places that nobody really was excited about, but they knew it had to be done, ” says Jim.
Bob served as a gunner and radio operator on the B-17. His plane was attacked over northwestern Germany. “Their plane was heavily damaged during the first pass, ” according to Jim. “They got down pretty low over the countryside and were attacked by another fighter.” Bob’s plane split in two in midair and crashed, but not before Bob was thrown out.
Jim describes what happened as Bob plummeted toward the ground. “He tried to release his parachute but the drogue chute did not come out. So he opened it and began throwing handfulls of parachute into the air. Just as the parachute opened, he hit the ground. So it did save him, but only just barely.”
Only Bob and two other crew members survived. Bob ended up being captured by two young German boys. “He said they had on military-type uniforms sort of like boy scouts. And he thought they had guns, but what they had were pieces of wood carved to look like guns. But he didn’t know it at the time,” says Jim.
The boys turned Bob over to German soldiers which resulted in his becoming a prisoner of war. Bob’s family saved the telegram informing them that he was missing in action. Bob spent time at Stalag Four near the Baltic Sea, then at Nuremburg before ending up at the POW camp in Moosburg.
Despite being a member of the greatest generation, Bob downplayed his war experiences. According to Jim, “He said that what he did was nothing special, that anybody would have done it.” Jim says he wholeheartedly disagrees. Jim says, “That’s the sort of thing that heroes say. To think that anybody would have done it downplays the significance of his courage and willingness to fight through adversity.”
I asked Jim what impact his father-in-law’s life had on him. Jim quickly responded, “I always wondered what a hero would look like. Now I know.”
After the war Bob came home and married Dorothy, the love of his life. They were married 65 years. His oldest daughter, Betsy, lives in Columbus.