Luckiest USN pilot of WW2

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Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
This guy is a charter member of the "Lucky Pilots Club"

F. Willard Robinson of Boise does not know why he survived a World War II plane crash in the Central Pacific.

Neither does the U.S. Navy.

So astonished were Navy officials that they submitted Robinson's story to "Ripley's Believe Or Not" more than 50 years ago.

The 1944 plane crash is one of many riveting World War II tales Robinson recounts in his book "Navy Wings of Gold." So powerful are the accounts that Robinson was invited to speak at the Naval Academy after the first edition of his book came out in 2000.

One of his latest talks was given at a recent meeting of the

La Grande Rotary Club.

A passage from the book recounting his plane crash was read at the meeting. Here is how his brush with death unfolded.

In late January 1944, Robinson was returning to his aircraft carrier, the USS Manila Bay following an air mission over the Japanese-occupied Marshall Islands. His plane, a TBM-3E Avenger, weighted down with four 500-pound depth charges and rockets, went out of control on its approach.

"Like a goose hit in the wing by a volley of shot, we plummeted into the Pacific with terrifying finality. The plane smashed into the water in a death dive, hitting the sea and instantly exploding into a shattering burst of water and debris,'' said Robinson in his book.

Robinson's two crewmen, radioman George Driesbach Jr. of Rockford, Ill., and gunner Harold Eckert of Los Angeles, Calif., died instantly. Robinson, though, was thrown from the plane and survived, even though each of the four depth charges exploded "in a shattering burst of water and debris.''

The crew on the USS Manila Bay later told Robinson that they thought a torpedo had hit his plane.

Upon hitting the water Robinson managed to trip a release on his life jacket which inflated and supported his head. He then found himself "bobbing in the sea in an unreal quietness. I looked around. All was gone: the flight crew, the plane, and even the debris that usually floats from a crash.''

Robinson was seriously injured but he felt no pain because of "numbness from the shock and the realization I was alive.''

He was rescued by the crew of the USS Caldwell, but suffered extensive injuries. His left arm was almost torn off, he had shrapnel at the base of his spine and numerous lacerations. It took Robinson years to recover. Today at age 87 he walks with the ease and briskness of someone much younger. He has no outward signs of injury.

But the hurt from the loss of his two flight-crew members still lingers. Robinson said it was devastating, "a pain I would carry all of my years.''

The Navy submitted Robinson's survival story to "Ripley's Believe It Or Not," because as told to the Idaho Statesman in 2000: "First of all, you don't survive when you dive a plane in at 100 miles per hour. And second, you don't survive on top of a ton of


Following the war he worked for three decades in public education as a teacher and administrator. He concluded his career by serving as principal of Beverly Hills High School in Beverly Hills, Calif., from 1959 to 1976.

Robinson wrote a book about that experience, "Beverly Hills Principal," which was published in 1999.

Robinson was invited to speak to the La Grande Rotary Club by a former student at Beverly Hills High School, Eric Valentine, a retired Union County Circuit Court judge. Valentine graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1960 and wrote the forward of Robinson's book about his experiences as a principal.

Valentine said Robinson had a real commitment to excellence as a principal.

"He had high expectations of all his students,'' Valentine said.

Valentine did not know that Robinson had fought in World War II until years after he graduated. Robinson had not made a point of discussing his war experiences.

"This is so typical of that generation,'' Valentine said. "They did their duty honorably and quietly. They didn't talk about it."
That was a real miracle. The only thing which makes me a sad is the fact that his friends didn't make it, but that's the sad reality of war. :(
luckiest shot down RAF pilot? said:
On one trip Rymills picked up an RAF air crew sergeant who had been shot down over France on his return from a raid on the Ruhr. Baling out, the sergeant had landed virtually at the feet of an SOE agent's wife who was waiting for Rymills. On his arrival, Rymills invited the sergeant to jump in. The airman simply could not believe this stroke of good fortune. After returning to base, Rymills had to walk him to the main gate where a large sign announced: Royal Air Force, Tangmere. Only then was the sergeant convinced.

there are also several stories of men bailing out at 20,000ft, without a 'chute or a broken 'chute and they survived by landing in trees, sometimes with onle a few scrapes and bruises.........
There is one story of a Russian airmen who was blown out of his plane without a chute and landed on a snow convered steep ravine and walked away with minor injuries.
The Russian in question held the record for highest fall without parachute, and surviving. It was beaten by an American, who ended up seriously injured and hospitalised for a long-long time.

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