Iowa State Memorial Union

Robert Rannells - Staff Sergeant

Rank: Staff Sergeant
Date Of Birth: : Jan 9, 1918
Date Of Death: Apr 1, 1945
War / Conflict: World War II
Hometown: Dunlap, Iowa
Gold Star Hall - Wall Location: West Wall (by Entrance Door)
Service Ribbons Awarded:
  • Air Medal with V (for valor) (Somalia)
  • Purple Heart

Biography

Staff Sergeant Robert Vance Rannells, radio operator on a B-29 bomber the "Joltin' Josie - The Pacific Pioneer", was born January 9, 1918 to W. C. Rannells and Adah Crowe. He had one brother, William C. Rannells, who served aboard a Navy mine-sweeper in the port of Saipan while Robert was stationed there. His two sisters names were Mrs. L. W. Hulsebus and Mrs. C. Y. Vilmont. He married Virginia Lynch, who graduated from Iowa State College in 1941, on March 27, 1943. He father, Captain Lynch of Ames, Iowa, had also seen service.

Robert graduated from high school in Dunlap in 1936.

When he was a senior at Iowa State, he was a member of Pi Kappa Phi Social Fraternity and joined the Arny Air Corps reserve on May 23, 1942. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agronomy that June. 

The Army Air Forces called him to service in November 1942. He extensively trained in radio operations. At Sioux Falls, South Dakota, he was among the top ten percent of his group selected for B-29 radio training. He received further training at air fields at Clovis, New Mexico and Great Bend, Kansas. He left the states aboard the Joltin' Josie in August 1944. The Joltin' Josie was the first B-29 bomber to land on Saipan on October 12, 1944. The bomber was commanded by Major Jack J. Catton of the 498th Bomber Group, 73rd Bombardment Wing, 21st Bomber Command. Robert had shook hands with Admiral Nimitz and his crew received several commendations for their 20 missions over Japan.

Robert died when the bomber crashed in the ocean enroute to Tokyo on Easter Sunday at Sunset, just off the coast of Saipan. When the heavily loaded plan hit the water, it exploded. There were no survivors.

Robert's awards include the Air Medal Oak Leave Cluster, the Purple Heart, and the Citation of Honor, all received posthumously.

A commendation to the 21st Bomber Command, dated November 26, 1944, from General Arnold:

"YOU HAVE SUCCESSFULLY ENGAGED THE ENEMY IN THE VERY HEART OF HIS EMPIRE. THIS MARKS THE BEGINNING OF WHAT I KNOW WHILL BE A MOST DISINGUISHED CAREER FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST BOMBER COMMAND. WE ARE PROUD OF YOU. GOOD LUCK AND GOD BLESS YOU."

 A request for commendation, from Thomas S. Power, Brigadier General, dated February 28, 1945:

"It is desired to commend the following personnnell from the 498th Bombardment Group, 73rd Bombardment Wing, for their sincere diligence in giving all the information and advice at the their disposal to the Lead and Combat Crews of this Wing about to participate in thier first combat mission: Maj Jack J. Cotton, A/C; 1st Lt. W.E. Filbert, P[ilot]; Robert H. Canfield, B[ombardier; 2d Lt John W Campbell, N[avigator], 2nd Lt Warren E. Hansen E[ngineer?]; S Sgt Robert V Rannells, Rad Opr; S Sgt George Hill, CFC [Central Fire Control Gunner]; Richard W Russell, LG [Left Gunner]; Norman T Roberts, TG [Tail Gunner]; Pfc Roger Wyatt RG [Right Gunner]."

Staff Sergeant Rannells' citation for his Air Medal and one Oak Leaf Cluster, received by his wife:

"For Meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flights as a crew member in successful combat missions from bases in the Marianas Islands against the Japanese Empire, from 2 November 1944 to 8 December 1944 and from 18 December 1944 to 10 February 1945. All mission were flown under rapidly chaning and often times adverse weather conditions. The flights were subjected to enemy anti-aircraft fire and fighter opposition. There were constantly present difficult navigation problems, danger of engine failure and consequent ditching many miles at sea. Under prolonged periods of physical and mental strain, and undaunted by many hazards face regularly and continuously, he displayed such courage and skill in the performance of his duty as to reflect great credit on himself and the Army Air Forces."

The Joltin' Josie was featured in the Air Force short "Target Tokyo" and other WWII propaganda films. The B-29 is now on display at the Lackland Air Force base, Texas.

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