Frank Robinson, Redlands resident and World War II flier, dies at 95

By KRISTINA HERNANDEZ | Redlands Daily Facts, Calif. | Published: July 22, 2014

REDLANDS --- Frank Bryant Robinson was never a big talker.

But when it came to writing about taking to the skies while in the military, the Redlands resident, who died earlier this month at age 95, spoke volumes.

While with the Army Air Corps, Robinson was transferred in 1943 to the Galapagos, where volcanic activity was common. As soon as he and a four-plane patrol arrived, a major eruption occurred, creating an enormous 40,000 square-foot high cloud of smoke and ash.

The four planes went to work to determine if men at a radar station at the foot of the volcano required evacuation, and the four planes maneuvered themselves to guide one another through the difficult conditions. Robinson brought up the rear.

“We were in the process of heading back to the air base when the volcano erupted again and we were engulfed in a dense cloud of smoke and ash with extreme turbulence,” he wrote. “It was so dark I could barely see No. 3 less than 100 feet ahead of me. Suddenly, he flipped upside down and disappeared.

“Now, I could only rely on my instruments to stay straight and level and get out over the Pacific and away from the volcano. (And) due to the various gases in this cloud, the aircraft engine was unable to run normally ... and not producing full power. In addition, there was hail, rain and lightning with so much static that the radio was useless. I knew that if I could maintain a straight course I was bound to get through the cloud in a few minutes, and sure enough I suddenly was out in bright sunshine.

“Back at the airfield I found No. 1 and No. 2 had landed. Both had lost control in the cloud, but they were able to recover over the ocean. No. 3 was never found although we searched diligently for the wreckage for weeks after the eruption was over. We assumed it had fallen into the crater and had sunk down under the hot lava. Fortunately the men at the radar station were safe after all and the period of eruptions was over.”

Robinson was awarded a number of military decorations — something he was proud of until the day he died July 9 at his home in Redlands, his family said.

Robinson was born Aug. 1, 1918, in Seattle.

Orphaned as an infant, Robinson was brought up by adoptive parents Garland and Tennie Reynolds Robinson.

He graduated from high school in 1935 and enrolled in college while working at a broom-making factory to make ends meet, his family said.

In October 1941, Robinson joined the military following in the footsteps of his uncle Duncan Wing, a veteran of both the Boxer Rebellion in China and World War I.

Robinson began pilot training at Kelly Field in San Antonio, which was where he learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor, his family said.

Training at several bases followed, and in 1944, Robinson was deployed to fight in World War II as a P-51 Mustang reconnaissance-fighter pilot, joining the 109th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, his family said.

Robinson earned an Air Medal in France and the French Croix de Guerre, which is awarded for acts of heroism, his family said.

After the war, Robinson served in various posts. He met his first wife, Dorothea Mathers of Boston, at the Pentagon.

The couple were married on Aug. 30, 1946. She died Aug. 4, 1994. The couple raised two sons, Glenn of Fontana and Tom of Long Beach.

Robinson concluded his military career in 1953 at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, where he inspected aviation photo systems.

Robinson founded Pictorial Crafts Inc., an aerial photography business, at the Riverside Municipal Airport.

He became well known in the photogrammetric community as a “producer of high-quality photomapping film,” his family said.

At 80, Robinson married Connie Sowell? of Redlands.

The couple went on a number of cruises — on the Pacific, the Mediterranean and the Danube. He participated in the family’s annual Hermosa Beach reunion where he interacted with a number of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, his family said.

He was also a longtime member of Trinity Lutheran Church of San Bernardino and was known for his integrity and quiet but adventurous spirit, they added.

“He certainly could speak and when he did ... he practically had a Victorian (dictation) to his voice,” said Robinson’s step-daughter, Diana Mathur. “He was from a different generation — a generation who could really write a letter, and the same could be said with his speech. It was from another era and eloquent, articulate.”

A memorial service for Robinson was held Friday, followed by a memorial gathering at Plymouth Village on Saturday.

Robinson’s ashes will be interred at 10 a.m. Friday at Riverside National Cemetery with military honors. The service is open to the public.


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