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Old 21st March 2013, 15:02
Zachary Zachary is offline
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Col. Robert J. "Shorty" Rankin 10/23/1918 - 3/14/2013

Very sad to report the passing of Col. Robert J. "Shorty" Rankin via his son Rob Rankin. Shorty passed away peacefully at his winter home in Jensen Beach, Florida on Thursday March 14, 2013 with his wife Maree, sons Greg and Rob, and two nieces at his side. His close friend Elmo Johnson wrote the following obituary:

Rankin was one of our nation’s remaining truly distinguished fighter pilots. Robert was born October 23, 1918 in Washington, DC. He was the youngest of six children born to Charles and Edna Rankin. Growing up in Washington, he was witness to many historical events of the time. He played high school football, enjoyed swimming and fishing on the Potomac River.
At the early age of ten, Robert realized he had a natural talent for music which would eventually lead him to a spot with the “President’s Own”, the Marine Band. He was especially gifted with the cello, violin and his favorite, the saxophone. However, for Robert and millions of other Americans, music would have to wait. On March 6, 1941, Robert received a telegram informing he had been drafted.
He reported for duty the following day and was sent to an Army base in El Paso, Texas. There he was trained as Gunner with a triple A unit. The fateful morning of December 7, 1941 saw Rankin very ill with scarlet fever and pneumonia in the base hospital. Later, Rankin was accepted as an Army Air Corps flying cadet.
Rankin attended basic flight school at (as fate would have it) Rankin Aeronautical Academy in Tulare, California. Robert received further flight training at Luke Field in Phoenix, Arizona. Upon graduation, Robert was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and his mother Edna proudly pinned the US Army Air Corps Pilot wings to his uniform.
After receiving training in the P-47 Thunderbolt, Robert reported for duty as a combat fighter pilot in England, August 1943. He was assigned to the 56th Fighter Group, headed by the famous Col. Hubert Zemke. Zemke is recognized as one of the greatest aerial combat leaders of all time. This group of fighter pilots was known as “Zemke’s Wolfpack”. By the end of WWII, the Wolfpack had amassed the record number of enemy aircraft destroyed by any fighter group in the entire 8th Air Force of the European Theatre Operations.
Robert Rankin flew and fought alongside many other great pilots, such as Hub Zemke, Bob Johnson, Jerry Johnson, Francis Gabreski, Walker Mahurin and Dave Schilling, to name but a few. The 56th FG has been credited with turning the tide of the air war in Europe through new tactics and innovations which were adapted for use by the entire 8th Air Force.
While deep on a combat mission over Germany, in the Frankfurt area on May 12, 1944, Rankin shot down five German Me 109 fighters. During the same action, he destroyed an enemy plane attempting to shoot down Col Zemke himself. For this he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (second only to the Medal of Honor). He became the first P-47 pilot to destroy five enemy planes in a single mission in the entire European Theatre of Operations.
By the end of Rankin‘s tour of duty, August 1944, he was credited with ten aerial victories, one probable and two damaged. Robert originally planned on leaving the Army Air Force after WWII. But he then decided to remain in service to his country and became a career officer in the newly established US Air Force.
In 1950, Rankin was once again in combat as the Director of Operations over the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing in Korea. Over the next 11 years, Rankin would command six fighter-interceptor squadrons. He was promoted to Colonel November 9, 1963. In the early 1960’s he served as the Air Attache’ for the USAF in Thailand. He also commanded a Fighter-Interceptor squadron in Ramstein, Germany.
After more than 32 years of dedicated service to his country, he retired as Vice Commander of the 20th Air Division on April 1,1973. Upon his retirement he had moved 38 times and seen much of the world. Colonel Rankin saw foreign service in England, France, Germany, Korea and Thailand. He had flown at least thirty different types of aircraft. Decorations include the Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star with one oak leaf cluster, the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, the Army Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Presidential Unit Citation and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with one oak leaf cluster. These are but a few of his many decorations.
Robert was married to his childhood sweetheart, Louise, for almost 60 years until she passed in 2003. During his retirement years, Robert enjoyed watching his favorite team, the Washington Redskins, playing golf, fishing, hunting and woodworking. He was a member of many organizations including the NRA and served as a Board member of The American Fighter Aces Association. He also spent much of his time speaking at various air shows and aviation events in the US and Europe. He was recently featured on the Military Channel with old friend and former adversary, Gunther Rall of the German Air Force. One of Robert’s favorite poems was “High Flight” by RAF pilot John Magee. Rankin was of the Lutheran faith and was a member of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Brevard, NC.
Robert is survived by his loving and devoted wife of 7 years, Maree Krug Rankin and two sons, Robert of Homewood, IL and Gregory of Tampa, FL. He is also survived by several grandchildren.
Of his many accomplishments, Rankin rated the fact that he never lost a pilot in an aircraft accident at the top of his list. Always cheerful, smiling and personable, Robert did not carry the usual swagger of a double Ace fighter pilot. He was truly a gentleman devoted to God and country. His passing will be heart-felt not only by his family and friends, but the worldwide aviation community. All men die, but few men truly live, Colonel Robert J. Rankin truly lived.
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