Major Robert L. Faurot

Robert L. (Bob) Faurot was born on the 19th of August 1917, the youngest son of eight children - four boys and four girls - that blessed the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Faurot. Bob was born in Columbia and grew up in Mountain Grove, Missouri where his father was Director of the Missouri State Fruit Experimental Station. The family later moved back to Columbia where Bob graduated from Hickman High School. Bob attended the University of Missouri and was an outstanding blocking back for their football team in 1937, ‘38, ’39. He played with the team at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida in 1939.

After the football season of his senior year, he joined the Army Air Corps in March 1940. Many news media articles have stated that Bob was from Cape Girardeau, MO, but that is not accurate. Though none of the Faurot children ever lived there, Bob’s parents moved to Cape Girardeau and he used that as a home address while in the service. He was sent to Tulsa, OK for his primary training with Spartan Aircraft Company, a civilian contractor training pilots for the U.S. Army. After graduating in the Cadet Class of 40-G, he received his Basic and Advanced Training at Randolph and Kelly Fields, San Antonio, Texas.

His first assignment was with the 31st Pursuit Group, 39th Pursuit Squadron at Selfridge Field, Michigan. Lt. Robert Faurot was chosen as one of a small group of volunteer American Air Officers to go to England and fly as observers with the Royal Air Force during the critical stages of the Battle of Britain. While in England he flew Spitfire and Hurricane fighters with the 303rd and 306th Polish RAF Squadrons from Northolt Base, just west of London. In July 1941, Bob was ordered back to the United States, but before his return the Polish Government in Exile awarded him the Polish Combat Medal.

Returning to the US and back again with the 39th Pursuit Squadron, Bob flew many hours in the new P-39 Bell Airacobra during the military maneuvers held that summer and fall in the Southeastern US. With his flying experience he was soon appointed the flight leader of “A” Flight in the squadron and excelled. An anecdote written by Col. Charles W. King reflects Bob’s skill. It was late November 1941 when the 39th Squadron received orders to “return to our new home base at Fort Wayne, Indiana, named Baer Field” wrote Col. King. “So on 1 December “A” Flight made the first leg toward home, landing first at Charlotte. There the December weather kept us
grounded for four days. It was boring ---“ “On the fifth weather got a little better and we made it to Knoxville. The weather ahead didn’t look very good, but Bob was getting impatient and decided we could sneak into Cincinnati. It meant considerable hedge hopping midst the hills of Kentucky and I was very happy when finally the broad Ohio River came into view. We used a short runway at Luken Field with an approach base leg that put us low over a residential area on a high ridge. But following Bob made it seem easy.”

Arriving at Baer Field on Saturday, 6 Dec, many of the pilots rushed to see loved ones they had not seen for months, only to be called back on Sunday when news came that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Lt. Bob Faurot was soon in the air leading his flight toward the West Coast and into the War. The 39th Squadron was quickly sent to Australia and from there entered combat with the Japanese in New Guinea in June 1942. Bob was to be married at Christmas, but obviously that had to be deferred until he got home again. Combating the Japs in the skies over New Guinea during June and July proved Bob to be a skilled and daring pilot, always leading his flight aggressively, yet being protective of the men that flew with him.
On 21 September 1942 the 39th Squadron began operations in their new P-38 Lightnings. General George Kenny, Commander of the Fifth Air Force, made a statement that he would personally present an Air Medal to the pilot that downed the first Jap in combat while flying a P-38. According to records, one day a gentleman from Missouri by the name of Faurot was on a mission over the Japanese Air Base at Lae, New Guinea. For days previous the American pilots had been radioing insults at the Japanese, trying to make them engage in combat. Faurot was leading a flight of four P-38s loaded with 500-pound bombs to be dropped on the airstrip at Lae. As the flight approached Lae, the insults to the Japs began again and Faurot observed a Zero starting to take off. He dived to intercept. Faurot remembered that he still had two bombs under his wings and could not engage the Jap Zero with them, so he quickly released the bombs and pulled back hard on the control yoke to escape the blast of the bombs. He then swung back around to engage the Zero. As he watched, the bombs hit the water and exploded just as the Zero passed over them. The Zero lurched crazily, “winged-over” and crashed into the ocean.

At a "medals" ceremony some time after reading Faurot’s submitted mission report, General Kenny (in his memoirs) had this to say, “I asked Faurot if he was going to claim the "FIRST NIP" in air combat in this theater by a P-38. Bob just grinned and asked if he was going to get the Air Medal for his official victory. I answered, “I want you to shoot them down, not splash water on them”. General Kenny, whose relationship with “his kids" was marked by the humor of a crusty father, presented Faurot with the Air Medal and whispered in Bob's ear as he pinned it on, “You had better keep this whole matter quiet."
March 3, 1943 was a very sad day for the 39th Fighter Squadron. During what became known as The Battle of the Bismarck Sea, the P-38s of the 39th Squadron were assigned the roll of “top cover” for a flight of B-17s. The bombers were “jumped” by about 30 Zeros and the 39th dove into the fray to protect them. In the ensuing aerial battle three P-38s and one B-17 did not return to their bases. Those missing from the 39th Squadron were Capt. Robert L. Faurot, Lt. Hoyt A. Eason and Lt. Fred B. Shifflet. In an interview with Bob McMahon, who lead one of the other flights of the 39th Squadron into that battle, McMahon said that at one point he saw Bob and his flight diving to engage the Zeros that were attacking a B-17. McMahon saw two flights of Zeros diving to engage Bob. McMahon radioed Bob to warn him and got confirmation, “Got ‘em!” McMahon
saw yet another flight of Zeros headed for Bob’s flight and shouted another warning just as he himself was attacked. After taking evasive action and having time to look around, McMahon saw three P-38s spinning down. The entire 39th Squadron, officers and enlisted personnel alike, were shocked and saddened by the loss of three experienced and respected combat pilots. It especially hurt to lose Bob Faurot; the man that shepherded many of the green young pilots through their earliest combat encounters with the Japs; the man who would drum up a baseball game when things got quiet and time dragged, pulling enlisted men and officers together to make up teams. He was respected and loved. He was truly a hero.

In January of 1944 the US Army Air Force presented Mr. and Mrs. Frederick W. Faurot with the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and the Purple Heart awarded posthumously to Captain Robert L. Faurot. Fate had robbed the 39th Squadron of a great leader of men, and a pilot and friend that will always be remembered.

For the record, three other sons of Frederick Winslow (F.W.) and Charlotte Burrows Faurot served their country with distinction. Lt. Commander Donald B. Faurot, US Navy; Lt. Commander Frederick W. Faurot Jr., US Navy; Captain Jay Lyle Faurot, US Marine Corps. The contribution to America by the Faurot family is exceptional.