Saturday, July 11, 2009


A Pacific Ace

We buried Bob Shuler yesterday. By military standards he was an "ace." He was a handsome and shy man who never liked to talk very much about his war experiences. Maybe the number of planes with people inside of them wasn’t as important as others might think. Bob Shuler died last Friday. He, like the fictional John Miller in "Saving Private Ryan," was an American school teacher who left the school room to save lives, not to take them. Unlike Captain Miller, he returned to serve his country for many decades to come.

Lucien Bob Shuler was born on the 3rd day of January in 1920 in Griffin, Georgia. He attended Griffin public schools and Young Harris College. Shuler was principal of the grammar school, taught 7th grade home room and coached the six-man football at Cadwell High School in the years before World War II. His basketball and football teams won county championships and Sixth District championships.

Shuler began his military career on August 4, 1941 and became an Army-Air Force aviation cadet on December 7, 1941, the first day of our country’s entry into World War II. Just over six months later, Shuler was commissioned a Second Lieutenant upon his graduation from flight school at Stockton Air Force Base in California. After a two day respite, Shuler reported to Morris Field, North Carolina to train as a fighter pilot with the 20th Fighter Group. On August 16, 1942, Lt. Shuler was transferred to the 15th Fighter Group stationed at Wheeler Field, Hawaii. On the 1st day of February, 1943, Shuler was reassigned, this time to the 44th Fighter Squadron, 18th Fighter Group, which was then assigned to the strategic military island of Guadalcanal.

While flying on a routine patrol with Lt. Doug Curry on the afternoon of June 16, 1943, Lt. Shuler shot down his first enemy plane. The two pilots encountered two Japanese Vals, one of which Shuler’s fire sent plummeting into the ocean. On August 1st, twenty five to thirty Japanese Zeros encountered Shuler’s flight from behind and above. In a head-on attack, Shuler destroyed a Zero over the island of Gizo.

Three days later, nine P-40 American fighters were scrambled to meet a flight of twenty five Zeros. The planes met at twelve thousand feet above the ocean. Shuler, in a high speed attack, downed one enemy plane. " I picked out one that had passed under us in a dive. I thought at first that he might be a dive bomber, but later saw that he was a Zero. Firing a few bursts in the dive, I really got him as he pulled out. I let him have another burst as I pulled out. I saw him hit the beach and explode," Shuler said. After climbing back up to the remainder of the flight, Shuler made two additional attacks, downing two more Japanese fighters. "Using my speed, I gained back my altitude and was back in the fight. I leveled off and found another Zero in my sights. A long burst from my guns caused him to flame and explode in midair. Turning to the left, I found myself in a similar position as before; another Zero appeared at close range. I opened fire and saw my tracers converging on the Nip. His wings began to rock, and he fell off into a vertical roll. I followed him down, firing all the way long. The plane, blazing from the cockpit, came out of the roll and went into a slight dive. The canopy came off, and the pilot stood up with one leg on the wing and the other inside the plane. Pulling the parachute ripcord before he had left the plane, both the plane and chute went down in the flames," Shuler later reported. After spotting a lone Zero, Shuler downed it for his fourth victory of the day. "As I turned off onto the fourth Zero that passed about five hundred feet above me, I closed in and opened fire. Although I seemed to have been getting hits, the Zero didn’t want to burn, but I continued firing until his left wing and cockpit flamed. I tagged onto another Zero, but my guns were out of ammunition after the first burst," Lt. Shuler recalled. His seventh and final victory occurred on August 10 over western New Georgia.

Bob Shuler's P-40, 68th Fighter Squadron

For his extraordinary achievement in the air battle, Lt. Shuler was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army Air Force. That day, an important one in the war in the Pacific, was the day when American forces captured the Munda Air Field. In one hundred and thirty eight missions, Lt. Shuler was officially credited with the destruction of seven enemy planes and the probable destruction of seven more.

Shuler himself was once forced into the water. He was drowning, being pulled down by the weight of his equipment, when a sailor pulled him out of the water. "The worst thing that ever happened to me during the war was the two weeks on that Navy ship until I was able to return to duty," Shuler commented.

Lt. Shuler continued to serve as a flight commander and squadron operations officer in the South Pacific until January 18, 1944. He was then transferred to Pinellas Air force Base in St. Petersburg, Florida, where he served as a pilot and aerial gunnery officer until the end of the war in September 1945. During the war, Shuler, piloting P-40 Warhawks and P-38 Lightnings, was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Army Air Medal with eleven Oak Leaf Clusters, a Distinguished Unit Citation, and various other medals, which he always kept in a drawer and never said much about them.

Before the end of the war, Lt. Shuler returned to Dublin to marry a Barbara Fay Bedingfield, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bennett Bedingfield, in a wedding service held in the First Methodist Church. The wedding announcement, along with highlights of Shuler’s aerial exploits, made the front page of the Atlanta papers, with the caption under Shuler’s photograph reading "Pacific Ace Downed by Cupid."

After the war, Shuler continued his education at Mercer University in Macon, where he obtained he B.A. in English in 1948, all the time remaining on the inactive reserve list. While at Mercer, Shuler served as President of the "M" Athletic Club and was a member of the student government, Kappa Phi Kappa fraternity, Blue Key National Collegiate Honor Society, Sigma Nu, and was named as "Who’s Who" in national social fraternities. Shuler returned to active military service in September of 1949 as an instructor at Craig Air Force Base, Alabama.

When the Korean war broke out in the summer of 1950, Shuler was assigned to combat duty as a fight commander. Shuler served for three hundred and sixty three days in Korea. While he was not engaged in aerial combat as he had been in World War II, Shuler flew one hundred close in combat support missions in Korea. On one occasion, Shuler was called upon to destroy a train. Shuler’s guns struck a bull’s-eye just as the train began to exit an underground tunnel. In over five hundred hours of combat missions, Shuler was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses, twenty three Air Medals, Presidential Unit Citations in both wars, and Campaign Medals with three stars in both wars.

Shuler was transferred from active combat duty to Scott Air Force Base Illinois, where he served until July 1952. He served for three years as Assistant PAS at Oklahoma State University. Shuler returned to the Pacific in October 1955, where he served in Japan until June of 1958. As the Cold War began to really heat up, Shuler was assigned to duty as Chief of Flying Safety of the 1st Missile Division at Vandenberg Force Base in California. In March of 1959, he was transferred to Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, where he served for nearly five years. Shuler served in the Strategic Air Command as Commandant of the 8th Air Force NCO Academy, as Commander of the 99th Air Refueling Sqdn., attended the War College at Maxwell Air Force base, and as a member of the Silk Purse Group in Manchester, England. Col. Shuler concluded his thirty- year Air Force career with a three year stint as head of the Air Force R.O.T.C. at Virginia Tech University. Shuler retired in 1973, and his family came back home to live in Dublin, where he resided until his death on March 9, 2001.

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