The Arrowhead Club

Robert Sumner Stearns, Update

Robert Sumner Stearns
Photo courtesy of family members Kathy Stearns Anderson and Maradee Stearns

New information from a new search on, and new information from military records have provided me with some new and updated information regarding Robert Sumner Stearns, the bombardier flying with the John Oliver Buslee crew of the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Forces in WWII on 28 September 1944.

To view my original post and other information about Robert Stearns, please see the links at the end of this post.

Stearns Family

Robert “Bobby” Sumner Stearns was the son of Carey Sumner Stearns (1894 – 1966) and Betty Hunt Stearns (1896 – 1970) of LaPine, Deschutes County, Oregon. Robert was born 25 August 1923 in LaPine. LaPine is about thirty miles southwest of Bend, Oregon.

Robert had an older brother, James Gerry (Jim) Stearns (1922 – 2003). The Stearns were a farming/ranching family.

Robert’s and James’ great-grandfather on their father’s side led a family wagon train to Oregon from Illinois in 1853 over the Applegate Trail through northern California. Their mother’s family also were Oregon pioneers, arriving in the 1850’s.

In 1930, the Stearns family lived on Freemond Highway in LaPine, Deschutes County, Oregon. Father Carey S. Stearns was 35 years old, mother Betty M. Stearns was 34, brother James G. Stearns was 8, and Robert S. Stearns was 6. Carey Stearns was a farmer. All of the Stearns were born in Oregon.

In 1940, the family still lived in LaPine, Deschutes County, Oregon. Father Carey S. Stearns was 45 years old, mother Betty M. Stearns was 45, brother James G. Stearns was 18, and Robert S. Stearns was 16. Carey Stearns was a farmer.

Education and Civilian Employment prior to Military Service

Robert Stearns graduated from LaPine High School. He worked at Douglas Aircraft Corporation in Los Angeles, California at the time he registered for the WWII draft. He completed one year of college at Oregon State and was attending the college when he entered the service.

James Stearns also attended Oregon State University and worked for the U.S. Forestry Service before entering WWII as a flight instructor.

Entry into WWII Military Service

Draft Registration

On 30 June 1942, Robert Stearns registered for the WWII draft at Local Board No. 273 in Los Angeles County, California at 411 Jergins Trust Building. He listed his place of residence as 1859 Walnut, Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California. Robert’s Employer’s Name was Douglas Aircraft Corporation and place of employment was Lakewood & Carson St., Long Beach, Los Angeles, California. He was 18 years old and born on 25 August 1923 in LaPine, Oregon.

Mr. Carey S. Stearns (Robert’s father) of LaPine, Oregon was the person who would always know his address.

Robert described himself as 5′ 6 1/4″ tall, 160 pounds, with blue eyes, brown hair, and a light complexion. He noted as an “other obvious physical characteristic that will aid in identification” both a scar on the index finger of his left hand and a scar over his right eye.


On 19 August 1942, Robert Stearns enlisted in the Reserve Air Corps at Portland, Oregon. Robert’s enlistment record notes his residence as Deschutes County, Oregon and that he was born in Oregon in 1923. His Army Serial Number at the time of enlistment was 19122996. Note: Officers were reassigned with a new serial number when they were commissioned and Robert’s later become O-761314.

Note: Robert’s enlistment record is found in the Reserve Corps Records, rather than in the Enlistment Records file, link below.

At the time of his enlistment, Robert Stearns had completed 1 year of college and was single, having no one dependent on him for support.

Military Training

Robert Sumner Stearns graduated from Bombardier School at Deming AAF, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Class #43-17, 12 April 1943.

While I do not have an official military record of Robert’s other military training schools, dates, and stations, I do find some information as appeared in the newspaper.

As reported in The Bend [Oregon] Bulletin on Friday, 25 June 1943,

Lapine, June 25 (Special) … Robert Stearns, son of Mr. and Mrs. [Carey] Stearns, is stationed at Kingman, Ariz., where he will study aerial gunnery for six weeks or two months.

As reported in The Bend Bulletin on Saturday, 18 December 1943,

Lapine, Dec. 18 (Special) … Mr. and Mrs. Carey Stearns and son, Lt. Robert Stearns, spent the weekend in Prineville with Carey’s mother Mrs. Frances Stearns. …

… Lt. Robert Stearns left for Avon Park, Fla., Tuesday.

Military Service

Brothers Robert and James Stearns both served in WWII. James first became a flight instructor and later trained to be a turret mechanic and gunner on a B-29.

Robert trained to become a bombardier and was assigned to the 544th Bomb Squadron of the 384th Bomb Group at Grafton Underwood, England.

As reported in The Bend [Oregon] Bulletin on Saturday, 3 June 1944,

Lapine, June 1 (Special) … Mr. and Mrs. Carey Stearns received a letter from their son, Lt. Robert Stearns, bombardier, stating that he was overseas and in good health.

Combat Duty in World War II with the 384th Bomb Group

Robert Stearns’ 384th Bomb Group Individual Sortie record indicates that his duty was Bombardier, one month’s pay was $247.50, and his home address was Mr. Carey S. Stearns, P.O. Box 113, LaPine, Oregon.

Morning Reports of the 384th Bombardment Group and other military documents indicate the following for Robert Sumner Stearns

  • On 15 JUNE 1944, 2nd Lt. Robert Sumner Stearns was assigned to the 544th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), per AAF Station 106 Special Orders #113 dated 15 June 1944 as Bombardier with the MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) of 1035, of the Larkin Durdin crew.
  • On 14 SEPTEMBER 1944, Robert Stearns was appointed 1st Lieutenant.
  • On 28 SEPTEMBER 1944, Robert Stearns went from duty to MIA (Missing in Action). He was subsequently declared KIA (Killed in Action) on that date.

Robert was credited with seventeen missions with the 384th Bomb Group. His first mission was on 21 June 1944 and his last was on 28 September 1944.

Medals and Decorations

Robert Sumner Stearns earned the Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, and although I find no record, should have also received the Purple Heart.

Casualty of War

Robert Sumner Stearns, Durdin crew bombardier, but participating on the 28 September 1944 mission to Magdeburg, Germany as bombardier of the Buslee crew, died on that date, at the age of 21. Robert is buried in the Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, San Mateo County, California, USA, Section B, Site 302, and has a memorial marker at Family/Home Cemetery at Juniper Haven Cemetery, Prineville, Crook County, Oregon.

As reported in The Bend [Oregon] Bulletin on Saturday, 23 December 1944,

Robert Stearns Dies in Action
Article courtesy of The Bend Bulletin, 23 December 1944


Robert Stearns Dies in Action

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.

After the War

Robert Stearns’ brother James, described as a third generation central Oregon cattle rancher, homesteaded in the Tulelake, California area [Tulelake is about three miles south of the California-Oregon state line] from 1947 through 1967, farming grain and hay and also working as a crop duster pilot.

James Stearns was very involved in civic affairs in Modoc County, California and was Modoc County supervisor from 1951 until 1967. He was also the Vice-Chairman of the California Klamath River Compact Commission.

He was director of the California Department of Conservation for then Governor Ronald Reagan from 1967 through 1971. On Sept. 15, 1972 Governor Ronald Reagan appointed him Secretary of the Agriculture and Services Agency and a member of the Governors Cabinet.

He served in that position until 1975. He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the Chairman of the Board, Securities Investor Protection Corporation in Washington, D.C.

~per James Stearns’ memorial


Previous post, Robert Sumner Stearns

Robert Stearns’ Personnel Record courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group

Robert Stearns’ Enlistment Record in the online National Archives (in the Reserve Corps records)

MOS means Military Occupational Specialty

Previous post, Assigned Military Operational Specialties of the Buslee and Brodie Crews

Previous post, Timeline for Buslee Crewmembers and Substitutes, 544th Bomb Squadron

Missing Air Crew Report 9753 for the Buslee crew on the 28 September 1944 mid-air collision in which Sebastiano was killed, courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group

Missing Air Crew Report 9366 for the Brodie crew on 28 September 1944 courtesy of the 384th Bomb Group

Robert Sumner Stearns’ Find a Grave memorials

Brother, James Gerry Stearns’ Find A Grave memorial

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2023

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