CHAPTER TWENTY NINE
ROBERT DEAN NIEMEYER (SR) MILITARY SERVICE
Bob Niemeyer, Fall 1986
When Robert “Bob” Dean Niemeyer was born on September 3, 1919, in Quincy, Illinois, his father, Elmer, was 24, and his mother, Hedwig, was 23. Both were German immigrants. His father was a bookkeeper at Standard Printing in Hannibal, Missouri when he was born.
The family moved to Kansas City, Missouri when Bob was less than six months old, as his father had completed requirements to go into business as a Public Accountant. Bob had one sister, Nancy Ann, who was born in Kansas City when he was eleven years old, just a year into the Great Depression, and a year before the Dust Bowl, a period in American history known as the Dirty Thirties.
Living conditions in the Dirty Thirties was hard. Depression was everywhere and affected Kansas City just as it did every other part of the country. But, on top of it there was superimposed almost a decade of drought and dust storms. Kansas City and neighboring Great Plains states got a double dose of misery and calamity. In 1936 the drought area expanded to include most of the states between the Appalachians and the Rockies.
After one of the long, hard dust storms it might be necessary to close the schools for a day or two to clean out the dust and debris, but that was accepted as just one of the things to be endured. Although folks made their houses as tight as it could be made with weather stripping and similar devices, the attic, and to some extent the rooms on the ground floor would be covered with fine dust a quarter to a half inch or more in thickness.
One year, probably after the big blow of 1935, neighbors reported that 16 truckloads of dirt were hauled off their lawn and yard. Family back in Hannibal and Quincy were reporting water levels on the Mississippi River were so low that barges were scraping bottom, and the Army Corps of Engineers was blowing up rocks on the bottom of the river to allow shipping to continue.
Bob was popular in school, and was involved in student council, sports, the school newspaper, and various civic clubs. Bob enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1941, at the age of 20. He went to flight school in Pensacola, Florida and Corpus Christi, Texas before being assigned to a bombing squadron and deployed to the Pacific Theater.
He fought in many actions in the ensuing months, and was twice awarded the Navy Cross, the Asiatic-Pacific Medal, Two (2) Distinguished Flying Cross Medals, Philippine Campaign Ribbon, Two (2) Air Medals, America Defense Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. He was released from active service January 10, 1946, but remained in the Navy Reserves until 1983.
1935 Paseo High School Traffic Squad – Kansas City, Missouri
1936 EDITOR OF HIGH SCHOOL PAPER – AGE 17
Sports Editor of The Paseo Press, newspaper of Paseo High School, Kansas City, Missouri
1937 TRACK TEAM – AGE 18
Paseo High School Yearbook – 1937 • Kansas City, Missouri
WAR IN EUROPE
Germany and the Soviet Union jointly invade Poland in September 1939. The WPA turned its attention to strengthening the U.S. military infrastructure, even as the country maintained its neutrality.
15 JUN 1940 – ENLISTED U.S. NAVY RESERVE – Age 20
Entered Navy at Kansas City Recruiting Center • Assigned to Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Florida for Basic Flight Training as a Naval Cadet.
14 APR 1941 GRADUATED NAVAL CADET TRAINING, PENSACOLA FL
Designated Naval Airman
On the above date Cadet Niemeyer was promoted to the rank of Ensign and became eligible for advanced training. He was assigned to Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Tx.
“Nr” is notation for Naval Reserve
In 1941 the U.S. Navy still had a “lighter-than-air program” for anti-submarine patrolling of the coast and harbors. Thus, the “heavier than air” designation for these naval aviators
U.S. NAVAL AIR STATION, CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS 1941
Surrounded on three sides by water – Corpus Christi Bay, Oso Bay and the Laguna Madre – Naval Air Station Corpus Christi has been home to Naval pilot training since 1941. Construction began on June 30, 1940, and the first flight training started on May 5, 1941.
Corpus Christi provided intermediate flight training in World War II, training naval pilots to fly single and twin engine basic and advanced trainer aircraft, seaplanes, observation floatplanes, PBY, and N3N type airplanes. In 1941, 800 instructors provided training for more than 300 student pilots a month.
In 1944 it was the largest naval aviation training facility in the world. The facility covered 20,000 acres (81 km2), and had 997 hangars, shops, barracks, warehouses and other buildings.
The Corpus Christi training facility consisted of the main location and six auxiliary air stations at Rodd, Cabaniss, Cuddihy, Kingsville, Waldron and Chase fields. By the end of World War II, more than 35,000 naval aviators had earned their wings here.
Former President George H.W. Bush was the youngest pilot to receive his wings at NAS Corpus Christi in June 1943.
WAVES HELPED TRAIN NAVY PILOTS
Also assigned to the naval air training bases were WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the World War II women’s branch of the United States Naval Reserve, who served as instrument training (Link) instructors, parachute riggers, aerologists, meteorologists, radio operators, hospital apprentices, mechanics, metalsmiths, pressure-chamber technicians, air-traffic controllers, gunnery instructors, secretaries, storekeepers, and at least one doctor and a chaplain’s assistant.
One WAVE instructor found her new assignment “very pleasant if you don’t mind large cockroaches in your locker, and your shoes mildewing.”
There were humorous incidents. One WAVE Link trainer instructor’s students was ten minutes into his cross-country “flight” when the simulator appeared to shake in all directions. The loud thumping and sounds from inside led her to believe that the cadet had “cracked up.”
As she later recalled: “I grabbed a wing, put the trainer in its straps and cautiously raised the hood. The door to the cockpit flew open and out jumped my angry student hollering that a roach had crawled up his pant leg.
Sure enough, out crawled a Texas-sized roach whose tiny legs had felt like spurs. He sure drew a crowd. The flight was continued successfully. The next day the order was given that NO FOOD was allowed in the area.”
Flight Cadets of Patrol Squadron 13 advanced to Instrument Flight Training – 1941
NAS Corpus Christi TX – AT-6C-NT Texan Training Aircraft in the background
BATTLES RAGE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC
COMPLETION OF BASIC FLIGHT SCHOOL – AGE 22
15 JUN 1942 – Promoted to rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade (a junior commissioned officer that ranks above ensign and below lieutenant.) It is equivalent to a first lieutenant in the other uniformed services where it is above the rank of second lieutenant and below the rank of captain.
The U.S. Navy Register is the official record of Date of Grade, which records dates of promotions, which in turn establishes which officer is “senior,” and therefore assumes command, in certain situations. This one shows that Bob was a commissioned officer effective 15 Jun 1942. This edition of the Register was published 1 Jan 1943.
SERVICE AS A FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR
Assigned to flight instructor school, Corpus Christi.
TRANSFERRED TO ACTIVE DUTY 15 AUG 1943 – AGE 23
Assigned to N.A.S. Los Alamitos, CA with Scouting Bombing Squadron Nineteen. The squadron was redesignated Bombing Squadron Nineteen in September, and equipped with 36 SBD-5s, the latest model of the Douglas “Dauntless” dive bomber, which was top of the line at that time. Advanced training was undertaken, including carrier landings that honed battle-ready skills of the new dive bombing pilots.
Naval Air Station Los Alamitos in 1940s
U.S. Navy Dauntless Dive Bomber in the Pacific Theater of World War II
Bombing Squadron VB-19 was activated on 15 August 1943. It had its dive bomber roots in Scouting Bombing Squadron VB-19, formed in part from Navy Flight Instructors based at N.A.S. Corpus Christi. Robert “Bob” Niemeyer was one of them.
Also assigned to VB-19 were fighter pilots and torpedo bomber pilots. Each pilot had ground responsibilities in respective administrative areas, but those were relatively minimal. Learning to be proficient in flying was the primary role. They had learned the basics of flying, navigation using instruments, night flying, and now were taking their skills to the next level with carrier takeoffs and landings.
Curtis “Helldiver” Dive Bomber in the World War II Pacific Theater
Above: Global Wartime Action in August 1943
Above: Global Wartime Action September 1943
TIMELINE OF VB-19 WARTIME ACTION
- 16 Nov 1943 Squadron Activated – Based in San Diego, CA
- 21 Feb 1944 Entrained To Alameda For Transportation West
- 24 Feb 1944 Departed For Pearl Harbor Aboard USS Lexington (CV-16)
- 8 Feb 1944 Arrived Pearl Harbor
- 29 Feb 1944 Transferred To N.A.S.. Kahului, Maui, T.h.
- May 1944 Received New Dive Bombers (SB2C-3’s)
- 21 Jun 1944 Departed Maui Aboard USS Intrepid
- 30 Jun 1944 Arrived Eniwetok
- 1-10 Jul 1944 Moved To USS Bunker Hill
- 7 Jul 1944 Refresher Carrier Landings
- 9-10 Jul 1944 Permanently Based Aboard USS Lexington
- 18-21 Jul 1944 First Combat Missions – Against Guam
- 25-27 Jul 1944 Strikes On Palau Group
- 4-5 Aug 1944 Strikes On Bonins – Kazans – Iwo Jima
- 10-29 Aug 1944 Rearm – Provision – Eniwetok
- 6 Sep-7 Oct 1944 Strikes On Peleliu Island, Mindanao, Philippines
- Visayas – Cebu – Mactan – Luzon – Manila – Negros
- 26 Oct-1 Nov 1944 Strikes On Okinawa – Formosa – Pescadores – Coron – Romblon – Japanese Battle Fleet, Sibuyan Sea – Luzon – Japanese Carrier Force – Philippine Sea
- 5-6 Nov 1944 Strikes On Luzon
- 5 Nov 1944 Lexington Hit By Kamikaze Plane off Luzon – Squadron Decimated
- 23 Nov 1944 Relieved By Air Group 20 – Transferred To USS Enterprise For Transportation To Pearl Harbor
- 8 DEC 1944 Aboard USS Long Island For Transportation To San Diego
- 14 Dec 1944 Arrived San Diego Aboard USS Long Island
- 15 November 1946 – Squadron Deactivated
VB-19 SQUADRON OPERATIONAL HISTORY
18–21 July 1944: The squadron’s first combat sorties involved pre-invasion strikes for the Battle of Guam. It also provided support for the initial landings on the island.
July–October 1944: Squadron aircraft flew sorties against targets on Palau, Bonin Islands, the Philippines, including Mindanao and Luzon, Okinawa, Formosa and the Pescadores.
24 October 1944: Squadron aircraft participated in several major engagements during the Battle for Leyte Gulf. VB-19 aircraft flew search missions from north of Lingayen Gulf to the northern tip of Mindoro to locate the Japanese Task Force. It struck the Japanese Central Force in the Sibuyan Sea, which included the Japanese battleship Musashi. However, only limited damage was caused by the squadron’s attack since its aircraft were armed only with general-purpose bombs instead of armor-piercing bombs. For his actions during this engagement Lieutenant Leonard R. Swanson was awarded the Navy Cross and Lieutenant (jg)s Stuart E. Crapser and Herbert N. Walters were awarded Silver Stars.
24 October 1944: The squadron’s commanding officer, Commander R. S. McGowan, failed to return from a combat mission and was declared missing in action.
25 October 1944: The squadron participated in coordinated attacks against the Japanese Carrier Task Force in the Battle off Cape Engaño. VB-19 aircraft claimed they either sunk or assisted in the sinking of three Japanese carriers. Four Japanese carriers were sunk during the battle. Thirty-two squadron pilots were awarded the Navy Cross for their actions in this battle. They were: Lieutenants Price R. Stradley, Robert D. Niemeyer, John B. Gunter, William E. McBride, Emil B. Stella, Jack Meeker, John L. Butts, Jr., Donald F. Helm, Norman E. Thurmon, Donald F. Banker, Robert B. Parker, Joe W. Williams, Jr., William A. Wright and Raymond G. Wicklander; Lieutenant, JGs George H. Bowen, Melvin L. Chapman, Robert E. Lee Duncan, Jr., Donald D. Engen, Arnost Jancar, Jerry B. Wilton, Webster P. Wodell, Daniel Sadler, Jr., Louis A. Heilmann, George W. Peck, Jack Scott, Stuart E. Crapser, John H. Crocker, William T. Good and Robert G. Smith; and Ensigns Leon F. Kinard, Robert W. Doyle and William H. Wagner, Jr. Two squadron personnel were awarded the Silver Star for their actions; they were: Lieutenants Donald F. Banker and Leonard R. Swanson.
5–6 November 1944: The squadron’s final sorties involved attacks on Manila Bay and the successful sinking of a Japanese Heavy Cruiser on 5 November. For their actions in the sinking of the cruiser, Lieutenants Donald F. Banker and Price R. Stradley were awarded Gold Stars in lieu of their second Navy Cross. 26 Nov–14 Dec 1944: The squadron and air group were relieved by CVG-20 and were en route from Ulithi Atoll, via the Hawaiian Islands, to the States.
VB-19 HOME PORT ASSIGNMENTS
- NAAS Los Alamitos – 15 Aug 1943
- NAS Kahului – 29 Feb 1944*
- NAS Alameda – 20 Jan 1945*
- NAAS Santa Rosa – 06 Feb 1945*
- NAS Kahului – 09 Aug 1945
- NAS Barbers Point – 04 Nov 1945
- NAB Marpi Point and NAB Kobler, Saipan 01 Apr 1946**
- NAS Alameda – 19 Aug 1946
* Temporary shore assignment while the squadron conducted training in preparation for combat deployment.
** Temporary shore assignment while the squadron was deployed to WestPac.
The squadron first received the following aircraft on the dates shown:
- Douglas SBD-5 Dauntless – Sep 1943
- Curtiss SB2C-1 Helldiver – 01 Apr 1944
- Curtiss SB2C-1C Helldiver – May 1944
- Curtiss SB2C-3 Helldiver – Jun 1944
- Curtiss SB2C-4 Helldiver – Feb 1945
ROBERT DEAN NIEMEYER NAVAL SERVICE
U.S. Navy Aviation Cadet Robert Dean Niemeyer, 1940
United States Navy (active service): June 15, 1940 – January 10, 1946. Transferred to Retired Reserve 01 OCT 1956. Discharged from U.S. Naval Reserve: 21 JUL 1983, with rank of Lieutenant Commander.
He joined the Navy Reserve in Kansas City, Missouri, and was assigned to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida for basic airmanship training, transferred to Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, TX, for intermediate training, and was assigned to Scout Bombing Squadron Nineteen. After completion of training he was designated Flight Instructor, and served in that capacity until being assigned to Bombing Squadron Nineteen, activated in August 1943. The unit trained at Los Alameda and served in combat aboard the historic U.S.S. Lexington (CV-16).
He was a decorated veteran of the Pacific Theater in World War II, being awarded the Navy Cross, Asiatic-Pacific Medal, Two (2) Distinguished Flying Cross Medals, Philippine Campaign Ribbon, Two (2) Air Medals, America Defense Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. See details below.
05 Aug 1944 – Air Medal – For distinguishing himself by meritorious achievement while participating in an aerial flight as a pilot in a carrier based bomber aircraft assigned to a strike against enemy shipping in the vicinity of an Island of the Bonin Group on 5 August 1944. In spite of extremely intense and accurate enemy anti-aircraft opposition he performed his assignment in an outstanding manner and materially assisted in the sinking of an enemy medium sized cargo vessel, upon which he scored a direct hit during the attack. His skill and courage were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Description: A Bronze compass rose 1 11⁄16 inches circumscribing diameter and charged with an eagle volant carrying two lightning flashes in its talons. A fleur-de-lis at the top point holds the suspension ring. The points of the compass rose on the reverse are modeled with the central portion plain for engraving the name of the recipient.
25 OCT 1944 – Navy Cross – For extraordinary heroism as a Pilot in Bombing Squadron Sixteen, attached to the U.S.S. Lexington, in operations against enemy Japanese forces during the Battle for Leyte Gulf, October 25, 1944. Courageous and skillful in the face of enemy air opposition and extremely intense and continuous fire from hostile anti-aircraft batteries, Lieutenant Commander (then Lieutenant) Niemeyer boldly pressed home a hazardous dive/bombing attack on a Japanese battleship and, accurately placing his bomb, scored a direct hit upon his target, despite its desperate evasive tactics. A superb airman, he contributed directly to the sinking of the enemy battleship and played a gallant part in strenuous operations during this critical period of the Pacific War. His courage, daring tactics and fearless devotion to duty were essential factors in the success of our forces and reflect the highest credit upon Lieutenant Commander Niemeyer and the United States Naval Service.
30 Oct, 1944 – Gold Star in lieu of a second Air Medal – For meritorious achievement in aerial flight as a Pilot in Bombing Squadron Sixteen, attached to the U.S.S. Lexington, in operations against enemy Japanese forces during the Battle for Leyte Gulf, October 24, 1944. Participating in a search flight, Lieutenant Commander (then Lieutenant) Niemeyer encountered and persistently attacked several enemy aircraft despite his lack of fighter escort, successfully downing one of the hostile planes. His cool courage, skilled airmanship and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
12 SEP 1944 – Distinguished Flying Cross – For distinguishing himself by heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating, as flight leader, in an aerial flight against enemy forces on 12 September 1944. While executing one of the first aerial attacks upon shipping in this area in the face of intense anti-aircraft fire, and in the face of such aerial opposition that one bombing plane in his flight shot down an enemy fighter, he led a daring dive bombing attack upon his targets, and did himself obtain a direct hit upon an enemy ship in the harbor, resulting in the sinking of same. Both his actions as flight leader and his individual bombing exhibited skill and courage, which were at all times inspiring and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Description: The medal is a bronze cross pattee, on whose obverse is superimposed a four-bladed propeller, 1 11/16 inches in width. Five rays extend from the reentrant angles, forming a one-inch square. The reverse is blank; it is suitable for engraving the recipient’s name and rank. The cross is suspended from a rectangular bar.
06 NOV 1944 – Gold Star in Lieu of a Second Distinguished Flying Cross – For distinguishing himself by heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight as a pilot of a carrier based bomber type aircraft in the vicinity of the Philippine Islands on 6 November 1944. In spite of enemy air opposition and intense and continuous anti-aircraft fire, he led his attack skillfully and pressed his own attack very low, personally scoring a direct hit upon a large enemy ship. His courage and skill were at all times inspiring and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
3 OCT 1945 PROMOTED TO LIEUTENANT COMMANDER, AGE 26
22 October 1946 – Presidential Citation Awarding the Navy Cross
23 October 1947 – Presidential Citation Awarding DFC with Gold Star
Navy Cross with Gold Star in Lieu of a Second Navy Cross
March 1946 – Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Service Award
Awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces for service within the Asiatic-Pacific Theater between December 7, 1941 and March 2, 1946.
The front of the medal shows a palm tree amidst troops with an aircraft overhead and an aircraft carrier, battleship and submarine in the background.
American Campaign Medal-1 January 1943
This medal was intended to recognize those military members who had performed military service in the American Theater of Operations during World War II. It shows a Navy cruiser underway with a B-24 Liberator bomber flying overhead. In the foreground is a sinking enemy submarine, and in the background is the skyline of a city. At the top of the medal are the words AMERICAN CAMPAIGN.
U.S. World War II Victory Medal
The World War II Victory Medal has a figure of Liberation standing full length with head turned looking to the dawn of a new day, right foot resting on a war god’s helmet with the hilt of a broken sword in the right hand and the broken blade in the left hand, the inscription WORLD WAR II.
Next chapter: Voices of Bombing Squadron 19 of WWII