Robert W. Crosley - 1st Lieutenant

Rank: 1st Lieutenant
Date Of Birth: Jun 19, 1921
Date Of Death: Apr 28, 1952
War / Conflict: Korea
Hometown: Ames, Iowa
Gold Star Hall - Wall Location: Northwest Corner (by Entrance Door)
Class Year: 1943
Service Branch: Air Force
ISU Major: Civil Engineering


Died: Virginia

Reason: Air crash

On June 19, 1921, Robert Wayne Crosley became part of the Iowa State community as he was born nearby on 113 South Russell. His parents were Raymond Douglas Crosley and Edna Marie Nelson. He graduated Ames High in 1939 and managed to pick up the nickname “Bob” that would stick for many years. Growing up, Robert never played any sports as he had no interest, but he became fascinated with flying at a young age. He was known to be a very talented and ambitious child. He taught himself how to fly a plane in his upper levels of school at Ames High. Robert was friends with a local in Ames that owned a plane and let him tinker around with it. Ultimately, he had a passion for flying and wanted to make a career out of the Army Air Force.

Immediately after high school Robert attended Iowa State to study Civil Engineering. He was well immersed into the community through all four years up to 1943 just prior to enlistment. While attending he found himself as an active member of the Sigma Delta Chi fraternity and even held an Officer position in 1939. He grew close to his fraternity brothers and even developed a bond with the fraternity dog at the time. Another one of his many feats in the community was Robert’s involvement with the Bomb’s Student Publication Board. The gold watch was presented annually to the person with the most outstanding work and Robert had been awarded the prize in 1939.

Aside from himself, his parents had one other child—Jacqueline Kay Crosley. She also graduated from Ames High but attended Drake University. She studied voice and piano. Jacqueline married William “Bill” Lardizable of Long Beach, California, and together they had two children—Bobby and Sandy. It is said that he was named after Robert. As a matter of fact, Robert was close to his sister Kay, as she was called growing up. They would spend quality family time together quite frequently over the years after they stopped residing at home with their parents. Robert and Bill also kindled a connection together as they both had a passion for music. Not just listening to it, but actively playing it. He was a musician and a big band musician for that matter before joining the military. It was just one of the other many talents that Robert held.

As listed under the Iowa State Alumni Association, Crosley’s Civilian occupation was a musician. Music ran a long line in his family and he kept up with the natural talent that he inherited. He played the drums, piano, and sang. Robert started with a band called Eddie Allen. Prior to the year of enlistment, Crosley played the drums for Ray Pearl’s Orchestra in Chicago. He had a devoted passion for music and held many positions with various music companies throughout the years. There were even stories that he sang to his wife, which embarrassed her at times, but ultimately it was an act of love and romance that connected them. In Ames Robert was a contested member of the First Congressional Church in Ames and a drummer with the Skippy Anderson Orchestra and the Eddie Allen Orchestra.

Robert met the love of his life, Maxine Rose Engel, and married her in Ames on July 25, 1940. Together they had two children– one passed as an infant. To keep his family history homed in town, the child was buried as ‘Baby Crosley’ in the local Ames cemetery. The other child they had was Jerry Crosley. Jerry lived a successful life and lives in Idaho today. He served as a medic for the Air Force, played in a rock band, and had an early career in Nuclear Medicine, then spent 31 years in law enforcement. The musical talent never ran short tin the Crosley family.  Jerry was about nine and a half when his father died in a military aircraft accident. Jerry states that “he would never let go of his music.” A later realization came about, and Jerry acknowledged that Robert was a military hero for both the country and his family. After Robert’s death in 1952, Maxine remarried in 1964 to Allan Nipper Jr.

It was May 18, 1943, just after graduation when Robert had entered services in Des Moines. He served with the Army Air Forces as a pilot in the European Theatre of Operations. Ordinally, he had enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a flying Cadet. Training began for him at the Sheppard field in Texas. This field was opened in October of 1941 as a formal training center for aviation mechanics and basics. A total of 887 buildings were constructed here during the war. These included enlisted barracks and officer’s quarters, training facilities, administrative buildings, a dozen mess halls, a dozen post exchanges, three service clubs, a large outdoor amphitheater, motor pool, laundry, and cold storage warehouse. He eventually transferred to Utah. Here he kept up with one of his many talents and became the editor of the 318th Air Scoop military paper. This is where his writing background from his time involved with the Bomb at Iowa State came in handy.

Thereout Crosley had begun pilot training at a school in Santa Ann, California. He rose quickly in the game and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant by September 1944. While stationed at Santa Ann, he was able to keep up with his musical passion and play the drums with the Army Air Force Orchestra. A great opportunity struck through this too; he was fortunate enough to be able to play on the “Wings of Victory” broadcast that occurred Thanksgiving Day. Nonetheless, he successfully completed his flight training at the Army Air Forces Advanced Flying School located in Luke Field, Arizona, near the very end of 1944. Through the final part of his training his wife had moved to Arizona to support him. She was even able to be there to pin his wings on his coat at the ceremony. He then became the pilot of the “Flying Fortress,” as the B-17 was commonly called.

In World War II, he was first stationed in England and later stationed in Florida until being honorably released from 2 years of active duty to return to civilian life. This was on November 5, 1945. Thereafter, he became an accountant before enlisting again as a private in the Army National Guard in 1949. He sought out to continue his growth within the U.S. Military himself. When the new “Air Force” formed a reserve unit at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, he joined immediately and was reinstated as a 2nd Lieutenant. Within a matter of a few months, his reserve unit was activated to full duty, and he was certified to fly the P-51 Mustang fighter. In the Army Air Forces, the P-51 was an incredible aircraft. The Mustang was quick and fierce in its ability to bring down enemy aircraft because to its acrobatic and aerodynamic maneuverability. It entered World War II rather late, seeing its first combat over Europe around the end of 1943. His squadron was transferred to Dow AFB in Bangor, Maine, and transitioned into F-84 jets. These were defined as straight-wing fighter-bomber. Crosley was honored and promoted to 1st Lieutenant. When the transition was complete, his unit was transferred to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and was trained as a rapid response unit and the fighter-bomber unit in the Air Force, capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

1st Lt. Crosley found himself back in the states piloting a jet airplane in a training flight in Virginia over the Chesapeake Bay in 1952. The plane had suddenly disappeared. He was the lone occupant of the plane. Just moments before this he had landed at Patrick Air Force, Cocoa, Florida due to inclement weather conditions.  It was in the evening when he and one other pilot had elected to fly back to their home base– Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. The other pilot landed safely but lost contact with Lt. Crosley’s plane southwest of Langley, over the swamps of the Chesapeake Bay. Crosley was reported as missing. Searching patrols were able to find the engine of his plane on May 5, 1952. However, his body was never recovered. An empty casket was buried in Fremont, Nebraska. Lt. Crosley was 31 years old at the time of his death. Today he is remembered for his great ambition. For the love of music he had and his constant pursuit of Military advancement. 1st Lt. Crosley was a brilliant man, aerodynamically talented and devoted to everything that he did.