The life of Robert T. Belmont Sr.

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Dad, Grandpa, and Joann Germany 1949

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.

The friendly people of Volendam, Netherlands. My grandmother center background.

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.

Grandpa and dad preparing for skiing in Black Forest, 1953
I was sure that I would be involved and had to prepare for the future.

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.

My grandfather and granmother at the top of the Eiffel Tower, Paris 1949
A man and woman flying a World War I Curliss Jenny bi-plane has lost power after take-off and in the process of trying to return to the field had crashed and burned with no survivors. Needless to say, I didn't make that same mistake. I made a gentle left turn and landed amongst the cows in a field belonging to Badger's Farm with no damage to the plane, me, or the cows.

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.

City center Antwerp, Belgium 1949
After my physical exam (5'11"tall, 126 lbs wringing wet) and screening of my education they were not very enthusiastic about signing me up. At that point, I showed them my pilot's liscence which overcame all previous objections and 30 minutes later I was accepted. The next day, I was shipped to Toronto for basic training. The following morning at roll call and general briefing at the general briefing as the instructor welcomed us, he reported that this group of potential Royal Canadian Air Force pilots represented a total of 50,000 Americans in the Canadian Air Force.

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.

Castle on Rhine River 1949
S. Military Organizations as possible. I was allowed to remain in Canada to finish my training and return as a rated pilot.

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.

Castle above terraced hillside along Rhine 1949
Arrving at our destination we were greated be a live lion on a leash. We were impressed.

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.

Town with large church and castle on top of hill Germany 1949
Our flight of six headed for Gala Beach in souther Sicily to patrol for 30 minutes. The Navy control ship was to instruct us to land at Ponte Levo Airflield or return to Cap Bonn. We were cleared to land. The 3 squadrons from Malta and Gozo had landed ahead of us within minutes after the Germans had departed. It was close. I had contracted malaria from the sand flies in Cap Bonn and spent the next 4 days in a field hospital. The suggested sending me home but, I protested and they let me stay even though I was restricted from flying for 2 weeks.

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.

Home and garden in Volendam flying the American flag 1949.
In August of '43, a special mission was scheduled to have 6 Spitfires from the 309th to fly north from Termini to a position west of Naples. We were to intercept an Italian 3 engine bomber and escort it back to Termini with VIP on board. We we arrived back at Termini there was a crowd of American, British, and French Generals and Admirals including Gen. Mark Clark, George Patton, (pearl handle pistols and swagger stick) and tagalong news people. The Italian VIP was Field Marshall Bidolio, Chief of the Italian Arm. The purpose was to surrender the Italian Army on the morning of the invasion of Italy. Unfortunately, the Italians left their defense positions at midnight and the Germans took over. The positions overlooking the coast were waiting for our troops when we landed.
Champs-Élysées, Paris 1949
 

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.

My grandmother and grandfather with aunt Joann and dad 1950, stationed in Munich, Germany
The mission of the German fighters (ME-109s and FW 190s) we to attack our troops and not to engage in "dog fights" with our fighters, so air combat was rather sporatic. If they saw us first their orders (issued by German General Kessilring) was to turn tail and run back north. I got into a couple of tangles and lived to talk about it. It was not all gravy, we were constantly dodging anti-aircraft fire. What the Germans lacked in aircraft they made up with 88mm AA guns.

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.

Volendam, Netherlands 1949
The beach head was a piece of land 8 miles long and 4 miles deep surrounded by large numbers of heavy artillery pieces. This route was very precisely flown at exactly 1000 ft. I accepted the challenge on two occasions, worried more about some trigger happy navy gunner who was tracking me with a 50 caliber machine gun. I was on the ground for less than an hour and stayed in an underground  bunker the entire time. Having survived that, I agreed to a second trip about a week later. On this trip, I had a stop at a RAF base a few miles north of us for a mission to arrest and bring back an RAF non-flying mantainance officer who had gone to Anzio (with a stolen RAF aircraft to repair some of his groups aircraft that had been force landed at Anzio. After officially arresting (haha) the Leutenant we took off and returned to our appropriate bases.
On the way to Paris, my grandmother on the left. 1949
The last espisode completed my WWII combat experience.

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.

Eisenhower visit to Beibiberg with Air Force 1 "columbine".

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.

A view of Zurich from the lake 1950
There were many "tears in beers" by many pilots who would now be flying planes with cameras instead of machine guns. Thirteen months later this group of airplanes which already crossed the Atlantic four times with a tour of Panama in between, crossed the Pacific to do duty in korea, were now headed back across the Atlantic for a fifth time and eventually a sixth time.

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.

Koln Cathedral 1949

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.

Rhine Bridge at Koln,Germany 1949
I decided flying was more important to my Air Force career.

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.

Grandma 1950

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.

Volemdam, Netherlands 1949
Unfortunately, this put quite a strain on our engines (it was not unusual to come home with one engine shut down) but, we always managed to make it home without further problems.

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.

Dad, aunt Joann, and Grandma in the Black Forest, Germany 1953
It turned out that I was over qualified for their type of operation. They wanted a pilot that they could call on short notice to fly a party to Las Vegas for fun and games. They were afraid I wold not be ready to jump into a plane without checking weather or aircraft condition. I agreed with their conclusion and walked away from the job. My military experience was not in great demand and my $400 a month retirement pay was about 1/4 of my active duty pay. Going from steak to hamburger overnight would be no easy task but, I am not one for giving up the fight.

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.

Joann, the Peterson girls, and dad
I made an effort for about 2 years before deciding that I was going no place fast. My wife and I decided to return to Maine. My high school training in mechanical drawing finally found me a job with Automatic Sprinkler Corporation designing fire protection systems. This eventually led to the engineering reproduction business which I founded and ran for 25 years before retiring for a second time and selling the business to my employees. The business continues to prosper and grow with technology that was unheard of when it started.

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.

Oldsmobile rebuilt German style
Unable to chew or swallow she passed away in January 2003. As a result I became very interested in alternative medical pratices, vitamins, and dietary supplements.

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.

My aunt joann, my grandmother, an unknown woman, and my father. 1949 Koln Cathedral

He will be missed greatly!

 

 

lebslahha says:
In 1950 he had a night flight in a F-80 Shooting Star, the first production jet fighter. When he came in on his final approach he forgot one thing...he didn't put his landing gear down. He landed wheels up and skidded to a halt without event. Fire trucks came out and sprayed the plane down but all was well...plane even flew again. After this his CO asked him to give up the fighters. Grandpa then started flying the venerable old C-47 Skytrain. He said it didn't bother him at all, he had done all the fighting he wanted. Was stationed in Copenhagen with a Photo Reconnaissance unit that photographed fjords in Norway for military purposes also photographed a good part of Belgian, Holland, Germany, Madrid and SAC Bases that were being Constructed. The F-84F reconnaissance version took the pics and Grandpa flew the C-47 to pick up the film. There is a lot more that I have about his time in the war...he didn't detail it all in this memoir but I talked to him about it and I filled in a lot of blanks. When I finish I'll send it to you
Posted on: Apr 25, 2009
cmyjuse says:
My condolences on your granfathers passing. His story is one that I'm sure many of our grandparents have, but we never seem to hear about them. Is it that we don't ask the right questions, or is it that they don't want to share some of the (painful) memories? We usually hear about the happy ones, and I'm glad your grandfather shared his. I can picture some of the places that he wrote about in Canada. I grew up in the Edmonton area so I'm sure he was at CFB Edmonton (Namao) when he spent his time there. Regards, Cory.
Posted on: Apr 11, 2009
RobMeetsWorld says:
Honey you did a wonderful job with this. I am so proud to have your Grandfather added to my family tree.
Posted on: Apr 06, 2009
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Dad, Grandpa, and Joann Germany 19…
Dad, Grandpa, and Joann Germany 1…
The friendly people of Volendam, N…
The friendly people of Volendam, …
Grandpa and dad preparing for skii…
Grandpa and dad preparing for ski…
My grandfather and granmother at t…
My grandfather and granmother at …
City center Antwerp, Belgium 1949
City center Antwerp, Belgium 1949
Castle on Rhine River 1949
Castle on Rhine River 1949
Castle above terraced hillside alo…
Castle above terraced hillside al…
Town with large church and castle …
Town with large church and castle…
Home and garden in Volendam flying…
Home and garden in Volendam flyin…
Champs-Élysées, Paris 1949
Champs-Élysées, Paris 1949
My grandmother and grandfather wit…
My grandmother and grandfather wi…
Volendam, Netherlands 1949
Volendam, Netherlands 1949
On the way to Paris, my grandmothe…
On the way to Paris, my grandmoth…
Eisenhower visit to Beibiberg with…
Eisenhower visit to Beibiberg wit…
A view of Zurich from the lake 1950
A view of Zurich from the lake 1950
Koln Cathedral 1949
Koln Cathedral 1949
Rhine Bridge at Koln,Germany 1949
Rhine Bridge at Koln,Germany 1949
Grandma 1950
Grandma 1950
Volemdam, Netherlands 1949
Volemdam, Netherlands 1949
Dad, aunt Joann, and Grandma in th…
Dad, aunt Joann, and Grandma in t…
Joann, the Peterson girls, and dad
Joann, the Peterson girls, and dad
Oldsmobile rebuilt German style
Oldsmobile rebuilt German style
My aunt joann, my grandmother, an …
My aunt joann, my grandmother, an…
Koln Cathedral 1949. You can see t…
Koln Cathedral 1949. You can see …
Country house in Belgium 1949
Country house in Belgium 1949
City center Antwerp, Belgium 1949
City center Antwerp, Belgium 1949
Arch de Triumphe Paris 1949
Arch de Triumphe Paris 1949
Castle lookout Germany 1949
Castle lookout Germany 1949
My granmother trying to get my gra…
My granmother trying to get my gr…
Grandma dining on the lake Zurich …
Grandma dining on the lake Zurich…
Notre Dame Paris 1949
Notre Dame Paris 1949
View looking north from Eiffel Tow…
View looking north from Eiffel To…
A view of Paris from the Eiffel To…
A view of Paris from the Eiffel T…
My grandparents
My grandparents
A little fun - Ottobrun Social Clu…
A little fun - Ottobrun Social Cl…
My dad (Munich 1950)
My dad (Munich 1950)
The gang all gets together- Office…
The gang all gets together- Offic…
Munich, Germany 1950 - Angel of Pe…
Munich, Germany 1950 - Angel of P…
86th Wing HQ Neubiberg AFB
86th Wing HQ Neubiberg AFB
My grandmother skating on open pon…
My grandmother skating on open po…
Ski lodge in Bavarian Alps 1950
Ski lodge in Bavarian Alps 1950
Bavarian Alps 1950
Bavarian Alps 1950
Grandpa - Zurich 1950
Grandpa - Zurich 1950
Grandma - Zurich 1950
Grandma - Zurich 1950
Swiss guard at government building…
Swiss guard at government buildin…
Grandma at museum in Zurich 1950
Grandma at museum in Zurich 1950
Swiss church 1950
Swiss church 1950
A view of Zurich from the lake 1950
A view of Zurich from the lake 1950
Tour boat dock - Zurich 1950
Tour boat dock - Zurich 1950
Small lakeside village on lake nea…
Small lakeside village on lake ne…
Village on lake near Zurich 1950
Village on lake near Zurich 1950
Resort on lake near Zurich 1950
Resort on lake near Zurich 1950
Granda dining on the lake Zurich 1…
Granda dining on the lake Zurich …
Bremerhaven, Germany - leaving for…
Bremerhaven, Germany - leaving fo…
Entering the North Sea 1950
Entering the North Sea 1950
The North Sea at sunset 1950
The North Sea at sunset 1950
First sighting of coast of England…
First sighting of coast of Englan…
White cliffs of the east coast of …
White cliffs of the east coast of…
Southern tip of white cliffs 1950.
Southern tip of white cliffs 1950.
Dad and his new puppy (Peppie) whi…
Dad and his new puppy (Peppie) wh…
Aunt Joann and dad easter 1953
Aunt Joann and dad easter 1953
School bus 1953 Germany
School bus 1953 Germany
Dad on ski lift, Germany 1953
Dad on ski lift, Germany 1953
Snow covered monument in Black For…
Snow covered monument in Black Fo…
Temporary housing for Air Force Pe…
Temporary housing for Air Force P…
Typical Tegensee House 1950
Typical Tegensee House 1950
Scenery along the river in Tegense…
Scenery along the river in Tegens…
Grandma and aunt Joann playing dre…
Grandma and aunt Joann playing dr…
Dad and Aunt Joann Tegensee, Germa…
Dad and Aunt Joann Tegensee, Germ…
Dad at Easter 1950
Dad at Easter 1950
Dad and his new bike Germany 1951
Dad and his new bike Germany 1951
Dad looks upset....and his friend.…
Dad looks upset....and his friend…
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