Sterling J. Robertson

The bomber pilot flew 67 combat missions over Holland, Belgium and France during World War II.

November 14, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Sterling J. Robertson, a B-26 Martin Marauder pilot who survived 67 combat missions over Holland, Belgium and France during World War II, died Tuesday of complications from dementia at a nursing home in Shepherdstown, W.Va. The former longtime Westminster resident was 91.

Mr. Robertson was born and raised on his family's farm near Jasontown in Carroll County.

After graduating from Westminster High School in 1933, he farmed for several years, then worked in a Westminster grocery store and as a dump truck driver for the John Hyde Quarries.

During the summer of 1941, Mr. Robertson enlisted in the Army Air Forces, and even though he lacked a college degree, was determined to become a pilot.

He enrolled in radio and operator and mechanics school, graduating in the top 10 percent of his class.

Because of his standing, he was one of 20 top students who were selected to attend the first radar school in the nation in West Palm Beach, Fla.

After graduating from the school, he passed the examination and became an aviation cadet.

After completing pilot's training, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1943 and chose to fly B-26s because they were "built in Maryland," according to The Robertson Family of Carroll County, by Harold Jesse Robertson.

Assigned to the 497th Bomb Squadron of the 344th Bomber Group in late January 1944, Mr. Robertson departed aboard his plane, the Smilin' Joy, named for his first wife, from Morrison Field in Daytona Beach, Fla., with other members of his squadron.

Their air journey across the Atlantic ended at Bishop Stertford Air Base in England, which would serve as their home for the duration of the war.

Mr. Robertson recalled a harrowing early mission to the German submarine pens at Ijmuiden, Holland, and because of the extreme range to and from the target, the "Smilin' Joy ran empty and was bone dry on landing" in England, he related in the family history.

The Smilin' Joy was eventually shot down over France on a mission when Mr. Robertson was not in the cockpit, and his crew was issued the No. 5902, a used B-26.

"June 6, 1944, was the most exciting and interesting day of my life," he related in the book. The 334th Bomber Group had been selected to lead the entire 9th Air Force for the D-Day invasion.

Col. Delmar Bentley of the 497th Bomb Squadron, who was to lead the air armada of 400 B-26s in his Hard to Get, selected Mr. Robertson as his co-pilot.

Being more of an observer than pilot gave Mr. Robertson a front row seat to the historic invasion that was unfolding beneath him, as battleships, cruisers and destroyers pounded the French coast, and thousands of troops aboard assault vessels churned their way to the beaches as aircraft roared above.

"It was an awesome sight," Mr. Robertson recalled.

Mr. Robertson concluded his war career in Florida flying B-24s on communication missions or B-26s towing targets for aerial gunnery practice.

He was discharged in August 1945 with the rank of captain.

He returned to Westminster, where he was plant manager for the American Oil Co. for 11 years.

In 1956, he established Sterling J. Robertson Inc., a fuel oil business that he owned and operated until selling the company in 1977.

Mr. Robertson worked for several years as superintendent of the Wakefield Valley Golf Course overseeing the installation of 18 of its 27 holes.

He was a longtime member of Westminster United Methodist Church, and during the 1970s, he traveled on mission trips to Central America and Appalachia assisting in the building of homes for the needy.

Since the 1990s, he had lived in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at his church, 162 E. Main St., Westminster.

Surviving are his wife of 15 years, the former Carol Fink; two sons, Sterling J. Robertson II of North Augusta, S.C., and Joel Robertson of Indianapolis; four daughters, Brenda Gardner of Rineyville, Ky., Betty Jo Eyler of Colonial Heights, Va., Vivian Reaver of Lake Alfred, Fla., and Alys Schiminger of Timonium; three stepsons, Ronald Hughes of St. Petersburg, Fla., James Hughes of Beckley, W.Va., and Chris Hughes of Martinsburg, W.Va.; three stepdaughters, Ruth Henry of Oxford, Pa., Jan DiSantostefano of Apex, N.C., and Jill Jones of Waldorf; 24 grandchildren; and 20 great-grandchildren.

Earlier marriages to Joyce Wade and Flavia Smith ended in divorce.

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