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home : columnists : columnists April 27, 2017


2/6/2017
Bird's eye view of a devastated city
Veteran Stories
Robert Kearns in 1944
Robert Kearns in 1944

Ron May


Robert Kearns knows first-hand the devastation caused by the atomic bomb. The veteran pilot of World War II flew several medical missions into the city of Hiroshima in August of 1945, just days after the bomb was dropped.

Kearns was born in Peoria, Illinois on September 22nd, 1922. His family moved to Indianapolis when he was a youth.

He attended Cathedral High School, graduating in 1940.

Kearns enlisted in the Army Air Corps in November of 1942, becoming an Aircraftman.

But his real goal was to be a pilot. In February of 1943, his dream pursuit began as he received orders for pre-aviation cadet basic training.

He spent the next year attending several schools to learn the craft of flying planes.

Kearns was assigned to fly the Douglas C-47 "Skytrain" transport planes for the 74th Squadron of the 434th Troop Carrier Group in the 9th Air Force.

"I wanted to fly fighters", he said. "But I was too tall at 6 ¼ feet. It sure did disappoint me."

It was not his only experience with disappointment.

A training accident prevented Kearns from leaving with his squadron for combat in Europe.

During his last flight training exercise on a snowy Thanksgiving evening of 1944 Kearn's flight ended with an aborted take-off that resulted in a crash landing.

He suffered burns to his face and head, spending the next five weeks in the hospital as the rest of his squadron left for duty in Europe.

Disappointed, Kearns waited for another opportunity. That opportunity came in a different theater of war.

After recovering from his burns, Kearns was sent to Guam and entered the Pacific Theater, flying C-47's out of the Guam Air Depot at Harmon Field.

Kearns began flying troop-carrying missions between Guam and Japan. He soon got a birds-eye view of the utter destruction caused by the atomic bomb which had been dropped over Hiroshima on August 6th.

"I landed in Hiroshima one day after the bomb was dropped", he said. "We took an American medical team in."

He made two other trips to the devastated city to drop off medical teams in the days afterward.

There were no adequate words to describe the horrific view of a burned out city.

Although there were concerns about the exposure to radiation, the Allied Forces continued unabated in their mission to assist, stabilize, and occupy Japan.

Kearns continued his flight missions to Japan even after Japan's surrender.

He returned home to Indianapolis on Christmas Day, 1945. He enrolled at Butler University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1948.

He got a job with Eli Lilly working in machine productions.

Kearns married Dana Carolyn DeWitt on March 15th of 1947. He and Dana raised 5 children: Carolyn, Sharon, Michael, Chris, and Kelly.

The couple enjoyed a marriage of more than 63 years together before Dana died in 2010.

Kearns returned to Japan during the Korean Conflict. He was activated in 1950 and sent to Tokyo, where he made regular trips flying politicians and media representatives from Tokyo to Seoul for 13 months.

Kearns returned to Indianapolis following his discharge from the Air Force and resumed his job at Eli Lily, working in pharmaceutical productions.

He and his family later moved to Carmel where he spent his last working years and most of his retirement.

Today the 94 year old veteran of World War II and Korea lives in a retirement village in Zionsville. He listens to audio books and enjoys visits from his family.

Ronald P. May, USN (Ret.), is author of the book, "Our Service, Our Stories". He helps veterans share and preserve the stories of their military service. For more information or to tell your story, contact May at 317-435-7636 or by email at yourlifestory@live.com. You can also follow him on Facebook at Our Service, Our Stories.







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