Thursday, October 23, 2014
FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Base namesake Gen. Travis was tough, beloved

By
From page TRA25 | January 31, 2014 |

Brig Gen Robert F. Travis.  (USAF photo)

Brig Gen Robert F. Travis

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — Brig. Gen. Robert Falligant Travis was a leader who didn’t like coming in second in anything, according to one officer who served under him in the skies over Europe during World War II.

Like other exacting commanders, Travis’ ire could take on a form akin to the wrath of God, but his ability to push men to do their best distinguished him and helped get him his star.

It made him one of the more successful bomber wing commanders in Europe and brought him to command of what was then the Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base.

Travis was born Dec. 26, 1904, in Savannah, Ga., with military roots that included 19th century lawyer and soldier William Barrett Travis, who commanded the regulars at the Alamo and died with his men when Mexican leader Santa Ana stormed the mission in 1836.

Travis graduated from West Point in 1928 and received a commission as a second lieutenant in the field artillery. His flying career started not long after, when he entered Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, Texas. A year later, he graduated as a pilot from the Air Corps Advanced School at Kelly Field, Texas.

After graduating from the Air Corps engineering school at Wright Field, Ohio, Travis was sent to Seattle to supervise construction at the Boeing Airplane Co. plant for the fledgling B-17 Flying Fortress, according to a family history.

The performance of the first two prototype B-17s did not bode well for the heavy bomber’s production when both crashed in flight tests. Travis was asked to fly a third one from Seattle to the Presidio in San Francisco and he completed the flight.

A procession of commands led him to take command of the 72nd Bombardment Squadron at Hickam Field in Hawaii in July 1939, where he stayed for a year before moving on to serve as material officer for the 5th Bombardment Group. In July 1943, he assumed command of the First Bomber Command at El Paso, Texas.

Travis soon joined the 8h Air Force, heading up the 41st Combat Bombardment Wing, personally leading his air crews in 35 missions over Nazi-occupied Europe.

“Gen. Travis distinguished himself by personally choosing to lead bombardment elements on combat missions in which it was known that heavy and extremely hazardous opposition would be met,” his Distinguished Service Cross citation stated. “This officer exhibited great courage, coolness and determination in carrying out operations as planned.”

In England, Travis was considered a hard driver who felt the nature of combat command was to achieve victory. He sacked any squadron commander who didn’t live up to his standards.

Retired Maj. Gen. Dame Smith, a B-17 group commander under Travis who later wrote the memoir “Screaming Eagle,” described Travis as a man “who never liked to finish second at anything.”

Few subordinates wanted to cross their exacting commander, but Smith had to do so on an April 1944 mission over Germany.

Travis made it a point to take the lead formation on missions he flew. Inadequate planning, reinforced by several turns the multi-group formation took to the target, forced Smith’s bomber to cut off Travis’ lead formation as it closed on target, Smith wrote.

Turning off the radio saved Smith from Travis’ irate airborne tirade, which was loud enough to cut through German radio jamming but it could not save Smith from the inevitable showdown after both landed back in England.

“Gen. Travis was steaming with anger when I reported and saluted, but he was compassionate enough to direct me toward a chair,” Smith wrote.

Smith silently endured Travis’ verbal barrage and then took advantage of the silence that followed to explain the reason for his insubordination.

“Bob Travis listened to it all,” Smith wrote. “I have to hand it to him; he was fair and reasonable and didn’t hold a grudge. He evidently decided it wasn’t my fault and I took the only reasonable action.”

Travis’ expression softened “and for a long moment, he regarded the pencil with which he was taking notes,” Smith wrote.

Travis then told Smith to put himself in for a Silver Star. Smith replied that was Travis’ responsibility, only to have Travis thunder back, “Do it!”

Smith quietly let the award drop, but not Travis. Shortly after, Smith’s command received a Presidential Unit Citation.

Travis’ sterling combat performance not only earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the French Croix de Guerre, and the Legion d’honneur, but also a brigadier general’s star in September 1944.

After the war’s end, Travis returned to Hickam Air Force Base as the 7th Air Force chief of staff and then commander. In September 1948, he was appointed commanding general of the Pacific Air Command.

On June 17, 1949, Travis arrived in Solano County to take command of both the Fairfield-Suisun Air Force Base and Strategic Air Command’s 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, which was activated a month before he arrived.

Tailor Phil Zumpano, who ran a shop at the base altering and repairing uniforms, remembered Travis “as a prince of a guy.”

When the Air Force tried to move Zumpano from his shop in the passenger terminal, Travis stepped in and stopped the move.

“He said since the terminal was built with MATS funds and I did work for MATS, I could stay,” Zumpano said.

The next year, the 9th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing became the 9th Bombardment Wing. With the start of the Korean War, it undertook increased practice bombing runs to be ready for deployment to Korea.

On the night of Aug. 5, 1950, Travis got on a B-29 Superfortress bomber as an observer to accompany the aircraft on its mission to carry an atomic bomb casing to the Pacific.

A propeller malfunction after liftoff, combined with the failure of the landing gear to retract, forced the pilot to try to attempt to make a crash landing near the end of the base’s runway. He didn’t make it.

One of those aboard the B-29 at the time was 1st Lt. William Braz, the last known surviving member of the B-29 crew who was interviewed for a 2013 Travis Heritage Center story.

Braz said in the interview that the B-29 was halfway down the runway when the No. 2 engine propeller started running away. The pilot, Capt. Eugene Steffes, turned the aircraft back toward the base to put it back down. The B-29 lost airspeed and Steffes told the co-pilot to tell everyone to prepare for a crash landing. Braz was almost out of his seat when someone said something was wrong with the No. 3 engine.

“It looked like things were getting difficult,” Braz said in the interview. “I ran toward the back to get into a crash landing position and started to pull down the crash crossbar. Just then, Gen. Travis told me, ‘Get back, get ready. There’s no time for that’.” Travis then pulled Braz down just before the plane hit.

At the base’s bakery, Sgt. Lewis Sequeria and four others heard the aircraft’s agony and looked up to see it pass over, then plow into the ground near the base’s present Main Gate, according to a Solano Republican article.

Sequeria and his men took off after it.

“We saw it coming down, hit and start skidding,” Sequeria said later. “It was skidding and we were actually chasing the plane.”

Sgt. Paul Ramoneda reached the aircraft first, followed by Sequeria and the others. They skirted the rear of the burning B-29 to get to the cockpit. Hearing cries, they helped Steffes out. The co-pilot got stuck, but Braz gave him a push and followed after.

“He (the pilot) told us to get away before the tanks blew. About that time, .50-caliber ammo and flares started going off and help started arriving,” Sequeria said.

Travis was still alive when rescuers pulled him from the wreckage, but the general died on the way to the base hospital. Eight of the 18 people on the bomber survived.

Flaming aviation fuel quickly engulfed the aircraft despite the best efforts of base firefighters. Sequeria ordered his men back and all but Ramoneda followed. Ramoneda turned back, yelling that he intended to save more men trapped in the bomber.

“The last time I saw him, he had wrapped his apron around his head and face, and was starting into the airplane,” Sequeria said.

Then the 8,000 gallons of aviation fuel and the explosives in the bomb casing went up “in a blanket of flame,” the Solano Republican article said.

It engulfed the base’s firefighting equipment, killing Ramoneda and five other airmen, injuring 60 airmen and local firefighters, and setting fire to the base trailer park. The death toll would have been higher if not for an unknown lieutenant who cleared out the trailers before the explosion.

Ray Hosley, commander of the 9th Bomb Wing, said in a later statement on the crash that the aircraft “made a kind of crackling sound and that’s when she went.”

“We, old Dan (Smith) and I, we hit the ground, and I remember just seeing lights, the fire and seeing this stuff flying,” said Hosley, who escaped without a scratch but was deaf for six weeks from the blast.

The blast dug a 6-foot-deep, 30-foot-wide crater, damaged almost every building on base, shattered glass windows as far away as downtown Fairfield, and was heard in Vallejo.

It also destroyed the base fire department and the call went out to nearby fire departments to bring in more men and equipment to put out the burning wreckage and stop a blaze that fanned out of control into nearby grasslands.

Robert Dittmer, then the base fire chief, said in a later Daily Republic interview that he was the closest person to the blast to survive. It picked him up and threw him through the air.

“I came to lying in a hole and kept trying to crawl out,” Dittmer said.

Fairfield resident Warren Levy said in a 2000 interview that his first warning of the disaster was a flicker in his car’s rear view mirror seconds before, “the concussion shoved me up against the car and it looked like the entire base had gone up.”

The 19 bodies were taken to the McCune Garden Chapel in Vacaville and Travis was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Even as cleanup was underway, the combination of Travis’ local popularity and his sudden death prompted base officers and local community leaders to lobby to rename the base in his honor.

Officials at the Pentagon agreed and on Oct. 20, 1950, an Air Force special order renamed the base. A formal dedication ceremony took place on April 20, 1950.

Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or ithompson@dailyrepublic.net. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson has worked for the Daily Republic longer than he cares to remember. A native of Oregon and a graduate of the University of Oregon, he pines for the motherland still. He covers Vacaville and Travis Air Force Base for the Daily Republic. He is an avid military history buff, wargamer and loves the great outdoors.
LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 1 comment

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • Rich GiddensJanuary 31, 2014 - 12:01 pm

    General Officers like General Travis, General Curtis Lemay or even the ficticious "General Savage'' from Hollywood's ''12 O'Clock High'' wouldn't last very long in today's scandal plagued US Air Force of political correctness, lying and denials, falsification and cover up.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

Solano News

Children run for the sake of running

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Suisun City streets: Better than Vallejo, worse than Dixon

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Day of Remembrance focuses on domestic violence prevention

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
 
60th Air Mobility Wing gets outstanding unit award

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A3

 
Real McCoy ferry to shut down Thursday

By Ian Thompson | From Page: A3

Nairobi, oldest giraffe at Six Flags, dies

By Amy Maginnis-Honey | From Page: A3 | Gallery

 
Audubon group to offer wetlands walk, bird workshop

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A4

 
 
Trailer rolls, knocks down pole, damages roadway

By Susan Winlow | From Page: A4

 
Bridge to Life gets extension for temporary kitchen

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A5

Pumpkin bob set at Fairfield city pool

By Ryan McCarthy | From Page: A5

 
Fairfield police log: Oct. 21, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

Suisun City police log: Oct. 21, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A12

 
.

US / World

Canada’s PM says shooting rampage was terrorism

By The Associated Press | From Page: A1

 
California malpractice cap generates big spending

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Huge gold nugget going up for sale in California

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

 
Healdsburg bans tobacco sales to anyone under 21

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5

Davis votes to return armored vehicle

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Study looks at lane splitting in California

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

125 San Francisco inmates to get computer tablets

By The Associated Press | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Social Security benefits get another tiny increase

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6, 1 Comment

US to track everyone coming from Ebola nations

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Teens’ travel renews concerns about terror appeal

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Blackwater guards found guilty in Iraq shootings

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Methodist panel hears appeal over gay wedding

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

AP-GfK Poll: Public wants tighter Ebola screening

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Key features of rigorous new US Ebola monitoring

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

Goofy dinosaur blends Barney and Jar Jar Binks

By The Associated Press | From Page: A6

 
Mexico: Mayor linked to deadly attack on students

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Nigeria truce is shaky, no news of abducted girls

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers OK fighters for Syria

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Analysis: Fowle was North Korea’s easiest US case

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
UK man faked coma for 2 years to avoid court

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

Missile, fire from Egypt wounds 2 Israeli troops

By The Associated Press | From Page: A10

 
Prisons agree to end race policy

By The Associated Press | From Page: A12

.

Opinion

Don’t make this mistake after voting

By Kelvin Wade | From Page: A11, 1 Comment

 
Editorial Cartoons: Oct. 23, 2014

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A11

Living a Democrat PC nightmare

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11, 2 Comments

 
Real reason to vote yes on 46

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11

Keck did good job researching issue

By Letter to the Editor | From Page: A11

 
.

Living

Today in History: Oct. 23, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Community Calendar: Oct. 23, 2014

By Susan Hiland | From Page: A2

 
Horoscopes: Oct. 23, 2014

By Holiday Mathis | From Page: A9

My husband visits dating sites, stays out until 3 or 4 a.m.

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar | From Page: A9

 
.

Entertainment

TVGrid

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: B6

 
NBC promoting Weir, Lipinski to top skating team

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Annie Lennox embraces jazzy ‘Nostalgia’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
Renee Zellweger: ‘People don’t know me in my 40s’

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

Sax player behind ‘Baker Street’ solo dies at 60

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

 
‘SNL’ adds black woman to cast from writers room

By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

.

Sports

Carr confident despite Raiders’ winless start

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
AP source: Goodell told to testify in Rice appeal

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Kings measuring success on ‘wins and losses’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

 
Giants’ bullpen melts down in 7-2 loss to Royals

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1

Warriors hoping Kerr is final piece for title run

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Local Report: Armijo XC teams finish MEL 10-0

By Daily Republic staff | From Page: B1

World Series rating for opener drops to low

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Beaten Giants fan shows significant progress

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Polian, Wolf nominated for Pro Football Hall of Fame

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Slumping Bears hope to slow No. 6 Oregon, Mariota

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Stanford picked to win Pac-12 regular-season crown

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
NBA owners fail to pass lottery reform

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Leafs-Senators game postponed after shootings

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Phony World Series tickets, merchandise seized

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Request denied to remove judge on Peterson case

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

 
Probe: UNC academic fraud was ‘shadow curriculum’

By The Associated Press | From Page: B2

Brad Keselowski not concerned with popularity

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
SHR swaps crews for Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch

By The Associated Press | From Page: B3 | Gallery

From Mexico to the World Series, Petit Giants’ shines

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4 | Gallery

 
’85 World Series Royals relishing playoff run

By The Associated Press | From Page: B4 | Gallery

 
This date in sports history for Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014

By The Associated Press | From Page: B5

.

Business

FedEx, UPS make plans for a better holiday season

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
The top 20 US cities for tech startup funding

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

‘Silicon Beach’ brings tech boom to Los Angeles

By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

 
Google unveils app for managing Gmail inboxes

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

Government ups air bag warning to 7.8M vehicles

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
Camel maker Reynolds snuffs out workplace smoking

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

BofA to refund Apple Pay customers charged twice

By The Associated Press | From Page: B7

 
.

Obituaries

Mark Dean Lindsay

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Keith Bowen

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4, 1 Comment

Blanche Stevens

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

 
Dr. Robert M. Takamoto

By Nancy Green | From Page: A4

.

Comics

Baby Blues

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Garfield

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

For Better or Worse

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Blondie

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Pickles

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Get Fuzzy

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Wizard of Id

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
B.C.

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Sally Forth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Zits

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Baldo

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Beetle Bailey

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Dilbert

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Peanuts

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Frank and Ernest

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

 
Rose is Rose

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A8

Crossword

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Sudoku

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Word Sleuth

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

 
Cryptoquote

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9

Bridge

By Daily Republic Syndicated Content | From Page: A9