Robert Sumner (Bobby) Stearns was born August 25, 1923 to Carey Sumner Stearns (1894 – 1966) and Betty Hunt Stearns (1896 – 1970) of LaPine, Deschutes County, Oregon. Older brother James Gerry (Jim) had been born a year earlier, in 1922. The Stearns were a farming/ranching family.
Both of the Stearns’ sons served in WWII. Jim first became a flight instructor and later trained to be a turret mechanic and gunner on a B-29. Robert enlisted in the Army Air Corps on August 19, 1942. He trained to become a bombardier and was assigned to the 544th Bomb Squad of the 384th Bomb Group at Grafton Underwood, England on AAF Station 106 Special Orders #113 dated June 15, 1944 as part of the Larkin C. Durdin crew.
Robert’s first mission as a bombardier was Mission #142 on June 21, 1944 to Berlin. By June 28, he had flown his last mission with the Durdin crew. After that, he served as bombardier on several different crews. In a letter to the Stearns family in January 1945, Durdin explained the reason that their son was flying with other crews was that Durdin had started flying lead, but Bob had not been checked out as lead.
The Stearns’ local paper reported on August 26, 1944 that Robert had earned an air medal.
LaPine Aviator Wins Air Medal Over Europe
An Eighth AAF Bomber Station, England, Aug. 26 (Special)
Award of the air medal for “exceptionally meritorious achievement while participating in sustained bomber combat operations over enemy occupied continental Europe” to 2nd Lt. Robert S. Stearns, 20, Box 113, Lapine, was announced today.
Lt. Stearns, a bombardier on a B-17 Flying Fortress, has taken part in more than 10 bombing attacks against targets in Germany and occupied countries. The son of Carey S. Stearns of the same address, he attended Oregon State college and worked as a ranch foreman…
On September 27, 1944 on Mission #200, Robert replaced James B. Davis as the John Oliver (Jay) Buslee crew’s bombardier. Mission #200 was Robert’s sixteenth credited mission.
On his seventeenth credited mission on September 28, Mission #201, Robert replaced Davis on the Buslee crew as bombardier for the second time. After coming off the target at Magdeburg, Germany, Lazy Daisy carrying the Brodie crew collided with Lead Banana carrying the Buslee crew. Of the Buslee crew, only waist gunner George Edwin Farrar survived. Robert and the other members of the Buslee crew were killed in the mid-air collision.
The local paper announced that Robert was missing in action, article date unknown.
Lt. Robert Stearns is Missing, Parents Told
Lapine, (Special) – First Lieut. Robert Stearns has been missing in action over Germany since September 28, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Carey Stearns, Lapine, have been notified by the war department.
Lt. Stearns, a bombardier, was a graduate from the Lapine high school.
Classified as missing in action since the collision, the Stearns learned on December 23, 1944 that their son, Bobby, had been killed on the September 28 mission. The local newspaper ran an article regarding Robert’s death.
Lt. Robert S. Stearns is Killed in Action
Bend, Dec. 23 – Reported missing since September 28, in action over Germany, Lt. Robert S. Stearns, son of Mr. and Mrs. Carey Stearns, Lapine, was killed in action, his parents were notified today by the war department.
Meager information received by relatives indicates that Lt. Stearns, a bombardier, was in a plane shot down only ten miles from Berlin. The young officer, a graduate from Lapine high school, went overseas last May. He was attending Oregon State college when he entered the service.
Aside from his parents, Lt. Stearns is survived by one brother, Pvt. James Stearns, now at Fort Lewis. Marshall T. Hunt, Bend, is an uncle.
Lt. Robert Stearns was a grandson of Mrs. Frances E. Stearns, and a nephew of Harry and the Misses Lora and Nora Stearns, of Prineville.
Robert Sumner Stearns lost his life barely a month past his twenty-first birthday. He was first buried in the cemetery at Ost Ingersleben, near the Lead Banana crash site. He was later buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Margraten, Holland in Plot “L” Row 12, Grave 299.
After the end of the war, Robert’s body was returned to the states and he was buried in Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, San Mateo County, California, Section B, Site 302.
He also has a memorial marker in the Stearns family section at the Juniper Haven Cemetery, Prineville, Crook Co, Oregon.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2015