Remembering Biscuit Bomber Bob Mosier
Robert Mosier, a 96-year-old WWII hero, died recently after a short illness. He was active and lucid up until the very end. I wrote the following column about him several years ago, but please read again if you’ve read it already. And if you have not, welcome to a true hero.
I am a regular at a local cove in north Laguna. It is small. At its center is an old house that terraces up the hill. This is where Bob Mosier lives. He is in his 90s now and although he is a widower (married 67 years) and his balance ain’t what it used to be, he is fully mobile, sharp as a tack and full of laughter. And God love him, he has an eye for the young lovelies at the beach.
I knew all that, but I did not know he is a genuine American Hero. I did not know until I read his autobiography, “Flying With Biscuit Bomber Bob.” A few chapters into it, I realized he was an integral member of the Greatest Generation who signed up for war while still in their teens.
Robert Mosier graduated from high school in 1943 and immediately took written and physical tests to qualify to be a military pilot. Once he was certified for that, he enlisted in the Army, hoping he would be selected as an aviation cadet and thence would win a coveted position as a pilot. Without going into the details, he did get selected, took his training at a variety of bases in the Western United States (including at what now are the OC Fair Grounds), and was chosen to be a pilot.
Then Bob was shipped to New Guinea to join the war. He would fly a C-47, a troop and cargo carrier. From our vantage point more than 70 years later, one would assume it was not all that dangerous. One would be dead wrong.
First of all, they did not fly over land. They flew over a body of water some 500% the size of the United States. Navigation was by map, compass and pilot TLAR (“The Looks About Right”), and if you got it wrong, you went into the ocean with zero chance of rescue. In Bob’s memoir, he recounts stories of guessing, literally, which way to head when his plane was down to minutes of fuel left. If he guessed wrong, he was dead. Should he turn left or should he turn right?
Then there was the aircraft. C-47s have two engines each generating almost 2,000 horsepower while turning 4-bladed, 13.5-foot propellers.
Just imagine the pressure on all the parts, the torque, the chances for something to go wrong—and something almost always went wrong.
If one blade went wrong, there went the engine. If two engines went bad, there went the plane. There was no such thing as autopilot. The pilot constantly had to adjust six different levers to keep the two engines running smoothly and synchronized one with another. Bob did it by listening to the engines, by feel, and by instinct.
Bob had to be one damn cocky guy who trusted his judgment totally.
And remember, he had just turned 20.
Then there were the conditions. The many islands on which he was based were hot and humid and everything rusted, rotted, fell apart. This included the aircraft (not to mention bullet holes). This meant maintenance was paramount, but flying the next day was paramount too, and while your pit crew did what it could over the night, it was never perfect. None of the pilots had it perfect. The supplies or people were not a luxury, they were needed somewhere else, now. So the pressure was on the pilots to rev it up—to get into the air. Cut some corners. Get going. Take the chance. It was war, everyone was taking chances.
Then there were the airfields, primitive, just built out of a jungle,
short runways, no room for error. One time Bob’s plane mistakenly was overloaded by thousands of pounds. While taxing on the ground, he could feel it, could feel the sluggishness, but he was a cocky kid with that gunning instinct. The airstrip was 3,500 feet long and Bob could barely attain enough speed to get off the ground and not enough to clear the palm trees. Then he saw the slice of an opening in the trees, tilted his wings vertically sideways, and slipped that way through the opening.
Another thing: it never let up. He states in his book, “By the end of my time overseas I had accumulated over 1,200 hours of flight time, of which over 90 hours was classified as combat flying. I was in the air an average of every other day, sometimes twice a day, and made 460 landings on over 40 airfields in the South Pacific, most of them improvised jungles strips on islands in eight different countries.”
I asked him what gave him the greatest pride? He said it was rescuing hundreds of women and children who had been held in POW camps in Manila during the Japanese occupation. They had been there for over three years and were thin and frail. Americans soldiers had dropped in behind enemy lines to capture the POW camps, but the POWs had to be airlifted out while the battles still waged. Bob and others flew in and out, in and out, loading up as many as the planes could carry, bullets flying, one pilot killed on the ground by a Japanese sniper, and somehow Bob’s plane escaped through it all with only bullet holes.
He was young and alive and part of something huge, and today he talks about it proudly, happily. Laguna has honored him in our annual Patriot’s Day Parade.
Most weekends, he wanders down to the beach from his perch above, telling jokes, happy, quick. Last Sunday, I asked him the three most important parts of being that flyer. He said, “I had a job to do. I did it. It was war.” There was no boasting and no preening.
Robert Mosier, American Hero.
Michael is co-founder of Orange County School of the Arts and The Discovery Cube