The life of Robert T. Belmont Sr.
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My grandfather died on Tuesday, March 31, 2009. I share this with you because of his contribution to a free Europe. He was a man of strong beliefs, as you will see. A few years ago, he sat down and wrote down his rememberances of his life, what lead him to military service, and his role in World War II. Before reading this, I had not known much of what he will share with you. I say this because what you will read are in his words. It's a bit long but, if you only read some, look for the part that tells of his service. It is extraordinary. I share this with you in memory of him.
"I was born on September 20th, 1922. The Last Rose of Summer, on Dennett Street on the Christian Shore in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Joseph and Gerturde, Belmont.
I attended Franklin Elementary School, Portsmouth Jr. High and High Schoools graduating with the class of 1940. I was a typical underweight, non-athletic male (with the exception of local backyard pick-up sports). I did enjoy ice skating at the pond close to New Franklin. I had enjoyed building model airplanes through out my school days.
My life was pretty uneventful until September 28th, 1938 when our father was taken from us in an electrical accident during the hurricane that hit New England that year, which made me the dubious head of the family. Fortunately in 1939, hich school coach "Babe Malloy" found me a job with McDonough's Sporting Goods Store which prepared me for the future.
In August 1939, while I plus my brothers and sister with my mother were vacationing for a week or two at Mousam Lake near Sanford, Maine, I happened to be listening to the radio when it was announced that Germany had invaded Poland inspite of warnings by England and France that they would come to the aid of Poland.
In late 1939 or early '40, a gentleman by the name of Warren Schultz moved to the Portsmouth Air Field with one used Piper Coupe airplane. As soon as I reached 17, I found a primary use for my part time $7.50 a week paycheck at McDonough's. Flying lessons from Mr. Schultz. My $7.5 a week got alot more flying time than cam be imagined today. Typical was $6.00 per hour dual flight instruction and $4.00 solo. In ten weeks I was ready for my first solo flight which went very well. My second flight was a first experience with the hazards of flying as shortly after take-off, reaching an altitude of 400 feet, the engine decided to quit. Remembering back to my earlier childhood, I recal being in my backyard and seeing a large cloud of dense black smoke rising in the vicinity of the Portsmouth Air Field.
I continued my flying lessons and received my private pilot's liscence in April of 1941. I could not meet the minimum requirements of the Army Flying Cadet program with a minumum age of 20 plus 2 years of college. I began to thing about alternatives. In June, I decided to apply to the Royal Canadian Air Force pilot training program and was given an enlistment date of July 17, 1941.
I completed my flight training and received my pilot's wings at No. 7 Service Flying School, Aylmer, Ontario on June 5th, 1942, with the rank of Sargent. Prior to my graduation, I met with members of the American-Canadian Transfer Train to return as many American personnel to U.
My next assignment was at Eglin Field near Ft. Walton Beach, Florida to tow ariel targets for avation cadets to practice ariel gunnery. Between December 1942 and February 1943 all enlisted pilots (S/Sgt) were upgraded to flight officers (Warrent Officer or Bluetenant). We were then shipped off to appropriate fighter, bomber, or transport training units. I did my fighter training at Paige Field in Fort Myers, Florida to fly the notorious P-39 Bell Aericobra. The only airplane known to tumble end for end. During the next 45 days of training we lost 45 pilots due to the instability of the aircraft. After completion of training most of us went to North Africa by air via Miami, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Brazil, and Dakar, French West Africa.
Next stop, Casablanca, Morocco and a small airfield about 15 miles away with an array of fighter aircraft including the undesirable P-39. We were all given the opportunity to choose whatever aircraft we desired. Needless to say, very few picked the P-39. A new choice was available that was not even dreamed of. The British Supermarine "Spitfire" which interested more than a few of us including myself. We ended up in one of two "Spit" groups, the 31st fighter and the 52nd fighter groups. I obviously chose the Spitfire and was assigned to the 309th squadron of the 31st fighter group. Six pilots, including myself, were given assigned replacement aircraft and headed for Cap Bonn, Tunisia to wait for the invasion of Sicily on D-Day.
From Ponte Levo, we moved to Aggregento in central Sicily then to Termini on the north coast about 40 miles east of Palermo. While we were at Termini we were entertained by a troup headed by Bob Hope with Alice Faye and Phil Harts.
From Termini, we moved east to Cape Milazzo to get ready for the invastion of Italy and our assigned base of Ponti Corvo, Italy. We finally brought our planes to Italy after 19 days of our base being under artillery seige. During that 19 day seige we were flying from Sicily to cover the Italian beach head. Most of the action was dodging the anti-aircraft fire. We got strafed a couple of times after arriving in Italy but, I don't remember anyone getting hit. As the front lines moved (at a snails pace) up the Italian penninsula, we followed to new airfields, first to Naples Pomiliano's existing hard runway instead of dirt strips or open fields with runways prepared with "pierced steel planks". Our primary mission was to protect ground troups from enem aircraft.
I completed my combat tour in April '44 after flying 144 misions. I was asked if I would bly up to the Anzio Beach head in a Fairdhild 24, small civilian aircraft and deliver the mail and orders for one of our squadrons which had a detachment opperating from a small (1000 ft) airstrip.
I remained on active duty until May 1946 at Florence, South Carolina and Dover, Delaware. Then I returned home to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Since I was not required to sign up for the draft before I joined the Canadian Airforce, I did so at this time. Upon completing my physical exam, I was pronounced unfit for combat. I worked for about a year at Yankee Airways in Portsmouth and joined the New Hampshire Air National Guard and was subsequently recalled to active millitary duty in August 1947. In January 1949, I was assigned to the 86th Fighter Wing at Neubiberg Air Base near Munich, Germany. My Family and I enjoyed Bavaria and had many opportunities to partake of the resort facilities and nearby tourist attractions in Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, and France.
In June 1949, I was part of three groups of pilots assigned to ferry 75 WWII P-47 aircraft from Munich to Tehran, Iran, with stops in Rome, Athens, Nicosia, Cyprus, and Habina, Iraq, with a stay in the town palace of the Shaw. In late 1950, the group gave up it's old reliable P-47s and replaced them with brand new F-84E Thunder Jets, which we all enjoyed. We periodically flew to Tripoli, Libya in North Africa (100 miles from Munich in 1 hour and 55 minutes.....what a dramatic change).
In May 1952, we returned to the US to be stationed at Shaw AFB in South Carolina with the recently called up 111th Fighter Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard. To the dissapointment of these young fighter pilots, the then currentP-51 Mustangs were replaced with many of the original F-80 fighters, which would be returned to Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank, California to be modified into upgraded photo reconnaissance aircraft.
On arriving at the brand new Sembach AFB 15 miles north of Kaiserslauten, Germany, we were set to photograph most of Western Europe with the consent of the countries involved. The effort was so comprehensive that it was announced that Eastman Kodak had been reduced to a 30 day stock pile of aerial photo film. During our three year stay at Sembach, the unit performed aerial photography of most of Western Europe including Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, and Spain.
In August 1956, we returned to the good old USA with an assignment to the 9th Airforce Intelligence Division. My job was to establish "Air Target Liberty" receiving, safeguarding, identifying, and developing a system of cataloging 10,000 pieces of classified documentation per month for easy identification of the required material. This enabled a variety of categories to be prepared ie: name, location, type of target, etc, to facilitate rapid distribution to designated Air Force units. As a result of this work, I received the Air Force Commendation Medal. At this time I continued to be a staff officer and non-combat pilot. After 2 years in this assignment, I was advised that officers in staff positions that did not reqire proficiency in combat aircraft as part of their staff function would be asked to make a choice between staff and primary assignment.
I elected to transfer to "Strategic Air Command" as a KC-97 tanker (air refueling) pilot for the last 5 years of my Air Force active duty assignment. Up to that time, I became an Air Force staff officer. I had been primarily a fighter pilot with proficiency in the P-39, Spitfire, P-40, P-47, and P-51 propeller driven aircraft plus the F-80 and F-84 jet fighters. Obviously, it was somewhat of a jump from single engine fighters to large 4 engine transport type aircraft. Especially since the amount of fuel we were required to carry to the support the receiving bomber aircraft made the tanker considerably heavier than the original transport had been designed for. It also required much longer take-off runs before the aircraft would agree to leave the ground.
It was not as nerve racking as it might sound, but each take-off was planned in detail so we would not have any doubt as to what point on the runway it was go or no go. In the air, it was a different proposition, depending on the aircraft we were refueling"passing gas" in the air that is(B-47 or B-52). Our early experience was with the B-47 bomber which required more speed to keep flying than our old propeller driven tankers. Even with 4-3500 horsepower engines, we were no speed demons. As a consequense, we had a little chat with the bomber pilot before hook up, like his marital status and how many dependents he had so we could allow him an extra 5 miles per hour air speed for each dependent he had. We accomplished this by using as much horsepower as possible and then going into a gradual dive to release the pressure on the bomber pilot.
Most of my time as a tanker pilot, I was assigned to March Air Force Base in Riverside, California. We also spent alot of time away from home on temporary duty further north at Mountain Home, Idaho; Great Falls, Montana: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It was normally 16 days at a time away and 11 days at home. After 4 years at March AFB, I was transfered to Dow AFB in Bangor, Maine and retired from the Air Force as a Major.
This started a new life (civilian) for which I was not totally prepared. I returned to California where I had been offered a job as a pilot for a local charter airline.
Applying for work through employment agencies was somewhat confusing as to their conclusion that the only work I was qualified for was in the life insurance business. I found it difficult to make the connection between being a professional military pilot and selling life insurance.
After retiring, I spent my time caring for my ailing wife who had suffered with heart problems for many years. Her condition got worse with the introduction of cholesterol medication. It eventually destroyed her entire muscle structure and she died of starvation.
I have done much research on biodiesel and put together a database containing everything you might ever want to know about what is going on in that arena.
I will continue my interests as I am able. I'll keep looking for answers and passing them on to the younger generation with the power to carry them out.
Robert T. Belmont Sr.
My grandfather is survived by a sister (Mary) and a brother (Joseph), three children: Robert Jr., Joann, and Victoria, four grandchildren: Brian(myself), Kirk, Robert III, and Wesley. He is also survived by 3 great-grandchildren: Hannah, Kyle, and Beca.
He will be missed greatly!