Laguna Beach

 Volume 11, Issue 92  | November 15, 2019

Bob Mosier, Biscuit Bomber: From World War II to the World Wide Web


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

At a time when our world would most benefit from the wisdom of the Greatest Generation, we’re rapidly losing them. Men and women born into the Depression, who endured the atrocities of the Second World War with stoic patriotism, have something to teach us youngsters. They returned with resilience, a strong work ethic, and an unwavering sense of responsibility. They don’t view themselves as heroes, but merely as people called upon to do a job, and do it well.

For those who remain from that generation, time often takes its toll on the mind. Even if their memories are intact, many who fought in WWII feel reluctant to talk about their time overseas. 

All of this makes one gentleman in our midst a particular treasure. Bob Mosier, 93, eagerly shares his tales. Not only did he fight in WWII, he volunteered for the draft at the tender age of 19 and became a “Biscuit Bomber” by the time he turned twenty. His stories are legends, documented in his memoir, Flying with Biscuit Bomber Bob: The Untold Story of WWII Air Transport in the Pacific and a nearly three-hour film stored in the archives of the Palm Springs Air Museum.

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Bob Mosier at home with his book

War has a way of making men out of boys, and heroes out of commoners. Bob is no exception. He saw Hiroshima and Nagasaki first hand. He delivered food, ammunition and supplies to thousands, and transported hundreds of prisoners of war. A Japanese officer surrendered his sword at the sight of him. Risking his life became a daily decision for over two years. Those experiences can’t help but have a profound effect on a young man coming of age.

As George Santayana famously reminds us: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Bob Mosier (or Papa Bob as he’s affectionately known by family and friends) has much to teach, and stories to tell. These are but a few of them.

An early fascination with flight

Bob’s introduction to flight was the sight of the German Graf Zeppelin when it completed its ambitious around-the-world adventure in 1929. Bob was only five when his father took him to see it. His gaze remained high, watching the barnstorming bi-planes doing stunts over Mines Field in Los Angeles. That’s when Bob first seized on his dream of becoming a pilot. 

But tragedy struck when Bob began high school. His father contracted meningitis and was admitted to the hospital one day, never to return home. “The family was so suddenly deprived of his love, help and guidance that we suffered from both his loss and our own bewildering future plight,” Bob says in his memoir. 

Whether it was that early exposure to the world’s most epic flight, or the sudden surprise of his father’s passing, Bob went headlong after his dream. He applied, and was accepted, for flight training in the U.S. Army Air Force. Bob was off to New Guinea, to fight in the world’s greatest war, while still only a teen. 

The Biscuit Bomber

Bob celebrated his 20th birthday on a troopship sailing to New Guinea. Once in the South Pacific, he joined the 57th Squadron, 375th Troop Carrier Group, known as the “Biscuit Bombers.” Flying C-46 and C-47s (called by General Dwight Eisenhower “one of the most important weapons of World War II”) Bob and his troop delivered ammunition, rations, and other supplies to forces on the ground, and transported wounded soldiers, army nurses, and POWs back to safety. Their planes were unarmed, often landing in the midst of enemy fire on inadequate patches of dirt carved out of the jungle, often not stable enough to hold the weight of a plane. 

Flying in the South Pacific meant Bob was over water more often than land, making navigation difficult and forced landings impossible. As Bob proved time after time, a meticulous mind combined with bottomless bravery makes an effective pilot.

Finding freedom in mortality

Bob went to war believing he wouldn’t come home. Embracing his own mortality, while retaining an optimist’s sense of adventure, allowed Bob to take even more risks than most – in an environment where risk was an inherent way of life. He adopted a philosophy that he was going to have fun, doing what he loved, for as long as he could do it. That attitude – along with tremendous flight skills, an outstanding sense of navigation, and a lot of luck – helped Bob survive. He never hesitated, and his bravery paid dividends.

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Bob with two-year-old Blackjack, a Pomeranian

On one notable occasion, Bob barely got his C-47 off the ground, not knowing the plane exceeded the maximum cargo weight by 2,500 pounds. A tall jungle surrounded the short runway. With only a few feet of altitude, and too much speed to back down, Bob spotted a small slot in the forest. He banked his wings, scalping several trees, but made it up and out. He was still a young pilot, without a lot of flight hours. Most of his experience was under extreme circumstances that looked more like scenes from action films than real life.

“I suppose you could say we had a steep learning curve,” Bob says in his memoir. “It is not an exaggeration to say that you either learned fast, or died trying.” 

Avionics have come a long way since 1944. Planes took off into thick clouds, heading out over the Pacific, with little more than maps and slide-rules to guide them. Navigating was done with TLAR (“That looks about right”) technology. As Bob tried explaining the complicated, yet primitive, calculation methods he used to determine his flight path, my head started to swim. What I understood was this: Bob flew a C-47 over endless expanses of water with limited fuel supplies, in inclement weather, and unreliable navigation systems. Even minor mistakes couldn’t be tolerated because landing wasn’t an option. His passengers were often prisoners of war, wounded soldiers, or army nurses headed to the battlefields. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

“A hero,” Tom Hanks once said, “is someone who voluntarily walks into the unknown.” Flying into the unknown is a whole other matter.

Unforeseen enemies of war

Weather was often Bob’s worst adversary. Storms and typhoons could be as dangerous as enemy fire to an aircraft. Forced landings had grave and unknowable consequences, and Bob’s position close to the equator put him in the center of several storms. 

In September of 1945 (after the signing of the peace treaty), while transporting British POWs from Hokkaido, Bob found himself flying into the eye of a typhoon. Lacking the fuel to turn around, he spotted a strip of dirt 150 miles from Tokyo and landed. As his crew looked around, a single Japanese captain came toward them, removed his sword, and planted it into the ground. The captain assumed Americans had come to capture him, and he signaled his surrender. Once Bob’s team explained they’d been forced to land, and had plans to leave once the storm passed, they were offered a hearty meal of rice – five pounds per person. Even for starving soldiers and POWs, five pounds apiece proved more than they could chew.

As the war wound down, and the weather heated up, Bob made several attempts for Okinawa, each time thwarted by a storm. Deciding he’d had enough, he soldiered through a dangerous squall and was the first plane to land in more than a week. A colonel came running out of control to greet him. Before Bob knew it, they were airborne again, headed for northern Okinawa. Little did he know, but Bob was delivering the colonel to the site of Japan’s surrender.

Comedy is tragedy’s twin sister

Often it’s the moments of greatest intensity that require a lighthearted attitude. War and peace are two sides of the same coin. So are comedy and tragedy. Bob has the heart of a comic. He’s quick to laugh, eager to seek out fun, and has the disposition of an optimist. His memoir is peppered with tales of good times. 

Bob and best friend Cliff made a secret map between them, a grid of random numbers scrawled across an axis overlaid on a map they each squirreled away in their gear. With this method, they could always find each other by communicating their location in code. And they did. Cliff sought out Bob for off-duty adventures whenever he could. 

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Bob Mosier signs his book

Who else but Bob would laugh while fishing a dropped flashlight from the foul muck of a latrine? Or play poker for 48 straight hours on a sleep-starved ship bound for New Guinea? But one of my favorite themes of Bob’s memoir was his internal radar primed to locate beautiful nurses. Based on the twinkle that remains in his eye, and the bikini-dotted beach below his home in Fisherman’s Cove, I’d say that radar is still intact.

I’m convinced his infectious optimism and fun spirit are largely responsible for his success, as well as his long life. Survival requires both instinct and attitude, and Bob is no defeatist. 

From World War II to the World Wide Web
(A line borrowed from Bob’s memoir)

Once Bob returned home, he went on to a storied career as an electronic engineer, working first for Collins Radio Company (which supplied much of the equipment in his C-47).  Bob’s work in digital communication paved the way for 4G broadband cellular technology still being developed today. His efforts aided in the creation of Navy Tactical Data Systems (NTDS) used to keep track of warships. He worked on the California Digital Computer (CALDIC), now on display at the Smithsonian. He was also an early pioneer of voice recognition software. Bob developed code for missiles used against Russia, cryptographic equipment, and frequency standards used in worldwide clocks. His efforts laid the technological foundations for cell phones, email, and the internet. The list goes on. 

Keeping family close and conversations interesting

Before Facebook, there was BOBNET, a computer network system Bob developed to keep over 1,500 family members and friends updated on life events. His daughter, Nancy, already spotted the potential privacy issues involved. But Bob’s motives were clear – family and friends always come first.

Bob’s passion for technology, unquenchable curiosity, and infectious love for learning kept his family dinners active. Meals were educational opportunities. A given night’s topic might be Morse code. His daughters learned not to ask passing questions unless they were ready for a dissertation from Dad.

Family, Bob says, is his greatest achievement. “Family is the best. If there’s anything worth preserving, it’s a happy family.” To them, Bob leaves the legacy of flight. Three of his children and two of his grandchildren are pilots. One grandson is a lieutenant colonel and professor in the Air Force. 

One day at a time

I call Bob up after our initial interview to ask for more advice. I want to know his secret to a happy and successful life. He laughs. “Well,” he says, “people always ask how I stayed married for 68 years. The answer is: one day at a time.” 

I think back on Bob’s time in the war, losing his dad, loving one woman for 68 years, raising four children, and his successful career as an engineer. Maybe that’s the answer to all of it – one day at a time.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut is our Chief Photographer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists. Scott Brashier is our photographer.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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