Retired Brigadier General Robert “Bob” Scott spent almost all his life in dedication to military aviation. His name is inseparable to the history U.S. Air Force history. His life journey was, in fact, an amazing story of flight and fight.
He was there when the nuclear missiles detonated. He was one of pioneers of the U.S. Air Force. And he was among those who witnessed the Russian warships dock on Cuba during the missile crisis.
His experience of the war made him ready for surprises. But, he sure did not anticipate the surprise he got from his wife, Terry, who threw him a surprise party on his 90th birthday on a Saturday, December 14, 2013 at Buck’s T-4.
Born December 14, 1923, Bob Scott shared his love for cross-country skiing, hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities in Big Sky and Cody, Wyoming.
At high school, Scott already knew he had a penchant for aviation. He thought of pursuing a career in commercial aviation. But, he chose to join the military out his love for flying and his sense of duty to country. And it was where he spent 31 years of his life.
A native of Miami, Bob Scott attended a military school in his locality from fourth to sixth grade. He was, thus, introduced to the life of discipline and commitment at an early age. He was focused to get into aviation and pursued the goal with planning and organization. He then went on to take advanced courses in high school to earn credits for two years of college in the Aviation Cadet Program of the military.
In the summer of 1942, he received the letter with a note, “Greetings, Uncle Sam wants you.” He was then 18 years old and working in Oregon.
It was the outbreak of World War II. Bob Scott chose to enlist in the military and send oath of office papers. He returned to his hometown and took the examinations necessary to be accepted in the military. Having passed the exam, he proceeded to basic training in Miami Beach. Then, the U.S. Air Force was one of the divisions of the United States Army.
While in the military earning $75 a week, he got married to his high school sweetheart, La Verne. Family housing was not yet offered during the time so the couple had to live separately. Bob stayed in the barracks while La Verne rented a room nearby. La Verne also worked at the base exchange to be close to Bob. The couple was able to spend the weekends together.
After completing his course at the Aviation Cadet School and his pre-flight training, Bob Scott trained to become a pilot of the Boeing B17 bomber. Assigned as a crew, he trained in the bomber for three months. He was then assigned to England at the 92nd Bomb Group of Britain’s 8th Royal Air Force.
“I was the pilot and commander of a crew of nine. We all survived World War II and came back together. I was the only one who stayed with the military,” Scott said during his birthday. As of the date, Bob Scott is the only surviving member of the unit.
At that time, La Verne moved back to Miami. She worked as a stenographer and bookkeeper for Pan American Airways.
While serving in the military during the Second World War, he was quickly promoted from second lieutenant to first lieutenant to captain within 43 days due to losses.
“You do what you have to and I had the ability to assume the lead position,” Scott added. At 21, he was already flying the first plane in the formation.
After the war in Europe, the bomber planes became carriers of military personnel back to the United States. “We started carrying troops to get them back as fast as we could to retrain them to get back to the Pacific,” Scott said.
He was, then, assigned south of France. He flew the troops to Casablanca which he described as “somewhat like the movie.”
When Japan capitulated, the United States Army deactivated the war effort. Scott along with his crew returned to the States on a troop ship in February 1946.
He recalled his two-week trip from Antwerp, Belgium to New York as “crowded and the sea was rough. It was a safe return to the United States, but cold coming across the North Atlantic.”
Bob and La Verne reunited in Miami. They, then, transferred to McDill Air Base in 1946. Shortly thereafter, the couple had a son, Randy. The United States Air Force also came into creation as a separate entity.
Bob Scott was reassigned to Roswell, N.M. in the fall of 1947. The base was near where stories of alien spaceship sightings and government cover-ups abound.
“I lived there for six years with the people who were supposedly involved and never heard about it. Someone dug up the story years later,” Scott said.
He was assigned at the 509th Bomb Group which manned nuclear-armed aircraft. He was a commander of one of the legendary bombers, the B29. The unit was the “only nuclear equipped group in the Air Force” at the time. Soon, the unit was conducting nuclear testings in Nevada desert north of Las Vegas.
The nuclear fallout was still yet to be conceived at the time. During the early days of nuclear research, the bombs were launched from towers.
“There were a few airplanes around the target area that were to measure the effects of shockwaves and the electronic effect of detonation at specific points and altitudes,” Scott explained. He was flying one of those planes.
“At countdown we put on smoke goggles so the flash wouldn’t affect our eyes. As soon as the blast went off, the sky was brighter than the brightest day you could possibly imagine in the Las Vegas desert even with the goggles on. There was a seething red mass from the cloud as electromagnetic pulses were generated from the nuclear explosion. We flew around the periphery of the cloud to photograph and measure anything we could from the reaction of the cloud. We needed to see if the pulses would damage the electronics in our weapons. It was all new and we were having to learn it.”
During the outbreak of the Korean War, Scott was a captain stationed in New Mexico. According to him, the 509th, being the sole unit with nuclear weapons, was instructed to be “ready in the event if war expanded and Russia might get involved.”
There was still no aerial refueling at that time. His crew had to be trained for one-way missions. They were also trained for targets that were located deep within the Soviet.
“We could not reach the (targets) and drop the weapon and fly out. We were to choose the best route to the closest border and fly until the fuel ran out and crash land and start walking. Having flown and fought in WWII we knew the consequences of not being ready, and were willing to accept and execute such a mission if required,” he said.
The targets were highly classified. But the missions were publicized. “We wanted the Russians to know that we could execute such a mission as a deterrent force,” Scott added.
He was promoted from captain to major. He became a B36-flying squadron operations officer from a B29 aircraft commander.
Scott’s office in Big Sky contained models of the B36 and he went on to describe the plane. The B36 has a wingspan of 200 feet. The wingspan also had two bomb bays, each with the size of a freight train car. The plane was enormous and boasted a weight of 500,000 pounds. It has the capacity of flying for 40 hours without refueling. The pilots can fly into missions to and from their targets.
“We flew those a lot around Russia during the Cold War,” he said.
Scott was later on promoted to colonel and assigned command of the Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico. During the nuclear crisis of 1962, Russian warships were said to be “coming right by” the coast of Puerto Rico on their way to Cuba. He was in a site “two islands down from where the Cuban Missile Crisis was taking place.”
“We were on extremely high alert with guards posted along the beach. We didn’t want a Russian version of a Navy Seal swimming to shore in the middle of the night and destroying our weapons. We had the same Cold War nuclear responsibility,” he said. “At each base around the country, there was a guard on each airplane, and no aircraft were flying. The pilots were waiting and ready to launch and execute their mission if required. We had a show of force that Russian spies in the U.S. could easily see. The Russians backed down and things went back to a ‘normal Cold War status,’” he further said.
As of today, each unit of the USAF is geared for nuclear attacks. The USAF has gone a long way from when it was just the 509th. Short-ranged missiles as well as long-ranged ones have been developed over the many years. Among these is the intercontinental ballistic missile or ICBM.
Scott was assigned to other bases until he was tasked to command the 90th Missile Wing in Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1968. He was working at a base nearby when his wife, La Verne died.
Later on, he met Terry, a native of Wyoming. A year later, they were married.
Bob Scott was promoted to Brigadier General in 1970 and November three years later, he retired from the Air Force. In all his years in the military, Scott claims he was seen many changes in the world.
Bob and Terry moved to Cheyenne. Bob pursued a career as a banker and became an executive vice president. He maintained his career for 14 years.
They came to know of Big Sky from Terry’s sister, Nancy, in 1995. Bob and Terry both loved skiing so they decided to “quit mooching off relatives” and to buy a residence in Big Sky in 2000.
In 2005, they transferred from the crowded Cheyenne to Cody where a family of Terry’s live. Cody was also closer to Big Sky. The couple spends their time in the two places.
“Cody is our southern home and Big Sky our northern home,” Bob said.
Bob celebrated his 60th birthday in Cheyenne where Terry threw a surprise party for him.
“I told her ‘No birthday party this year. Wait ‘til I make 100 and have a real blow out.’ Unbeknownst to me she was working on this for six months.”
Bob hosted a number of guests who came to celebrate his life at 90. Among them is his son, Randy, who is a veteran of the Vietnam Air Force and a two-time silver star awardee. His grandson, Robert Reed Scott II, also flew from across the country and who completed two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently on full-time active duty as a Wyoming Air Guard.
Veterans of the World War II Wayne Hill of the Army and Jack Crowther of the Marines as well as Vietnam War veterans Dave Vaughan of the Air Force and Bob Torter of the Marines, both residents of Big Sky, also came to his party.
“I helped to build the USAF from scratch in 1947 with leftover WWII equipment,” he said.
“In World War II we had to fly as a squadron and drop bombs in a big pattern to cover a particular target area. Today one smart bomb can fly down a smoke stack or in a window of a particular target. These were things we dreamed about and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do that with one bomb,’ but that technology didn’t exist.”
He also shared his impression on the fast pace of technological advancement in 90 years of his life.
When he was assigned at Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska, Scott was introduced to the first-ever computers.
“It took up an entire floor of a whole building. Now a computer in your telephone can do more than that one big room,” Scott said. “In aviation we’ve gone from open cockpit propeller planes to putting a man on the moon. That’s really amazing.”
According to the US Air Force website, his military decorations and awards include the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, and Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters. He is a command pilot and wears the Senior Missileman Badge.