Robert Joseph Elmore was born on August 26th, 1949 in Rock Island, IL. He was named for his father, Robert Joseph Elmore, Sr. Elmore attended Rock Island High School alongside Gloria Barnes, who he married on September 23rd, 1967. After high school, Elmore worked for some time at Coin Baking Co., Inc., in Rock Island. Elmore entered the Armed Forces at the age of 19, on April 13th 1968. He received basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. Elmore received further training at Ft. Lewis, WA , Ft. Benning, GA, and sergeant’s job training at Ft. Polk, LA. During this time, he wintered with his wife and their young son, Robbie Joe, for Christmas in his native Rock Island.
Elmore would eventually join the esteemed VP-23 Squadron, the renowned ‘Seahawks’. VP-23 earned its fame in the Second World War, being one of the first squadrons to recover from the devastating attack on the US Navy by the Japanese on the December 7th, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. VP-23’s recovery after the attack enabled them to be one of the first squadrons to start engaging in air raids against the Japanese in the Pacific, and a VP-23 Catalina plane was responsible for spotting the Japanese forces preceding the battle of Midway, which turned the tides of the Pacific War in the US’ favor.
VP-23 would continue to fly missions throughout the Korean and Vietnam wars, engaging in some of the most tense moments of the Cold War. VP-23 planes flew surveillance on the Soviet fleet that sailed to Cuba as it crossed the Mediterranean during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and perhaps Elmore’s first mission with the Squadron involved making contacts with 37 Soviet Bloc submarines in the Mediterranean in 1969. The Squadron’s last deployment before Elmore’s death in action was to Spain in 1974 due to the unrest in Cyprus, “13 Jun–Jul 1974: The Seahawks deployed to NS Rota, Spain, with a detachment maintained at NAF Lajes, Azores. Three aircraft were sent to NAF Sigonella, Sicily, during the Cyprus unrest on 20 July in case the need arose to evacuate U.S. citizens. The detachment returned to Rota on 23 July.”
Elmore died alongside six other crew members of a U.S. Navy Orion P-3 Anti-Submarine Patrol Plane off the coast of the Azores Islands. They were reported missing on April 24th, 1978. Their deaths were confirmed on April 26th, 1978. According to a U.S. Air Force spokesman, the patrol plane was engaged in a routine training flight when it crashed into the ocean. The crash in which Elmore lost his life was the second crash from the Brunswick Naval Air Station in four months. Four and a half months earlier, thirteen crewmen died in a P-3 Orion crash when heavy fog caused the vessel to crash into a mountain range on the Canary Islands.
Robert Joseph Elmore was survived by his wife, and his young son to whom he gave his name. Elmore’s career in the United States Navy not only showcases the bravery of our Armed Forces’ elite aviators, but also the dedication to duty shown by our service members as they leave their families for extended periods so that we do not have to. The manner of his death shows that even the most routine of training missions is a matter of life and death for our service members, a fact which highlights and multiplies their courage and sacrifice to our freedoms and liberties.