Robert Worthington Phinney

1923 - 2012

Air Force

Their Story

Robert Worthington Phinney was born on March 2, 1923, to Russell and Lillian Jones Phinney in Council Bluffs, Iowa. In December of 1943, Phinney joined the U.S. Army Air Force to defend his country from the Axis Powers. He attended flight school at Lubbock Texas Air Force Base, and then advanced B-26 bomber training at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.[1] Once he completed his training, Phinney was sent to fly the skies over embattled Europe in order to save the world from fascism of the Axis Powers.

            Phinney served in the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II as a bomber pilot. He flew a B-26 Marauder, a medium bomber, known as the “widowmaker”, for its numerous accidents during development test flights. Many pilots were wary of flying the plane. Able to transport 4,000 pounds of bombs, and loaded with .50-caliber and .30-caliber machine guns, the B-26 became a curse to Axis supply lines:

After a disastrous debut as a low-level bomber in Europe… the B-26 was relegated to relatively short-range, medium-altitude operations with heavy fighter escort and served well in that role. Marauders also played a significant role in the Italian campaign and in bombing bridges and rail yards in preparation for the D-Day landings of the Normandy Invasion.[2]

            Despite the dangerous reputation of the B26, Phinney flew 39 missions with his bomb group.[3] Disaster struck during his 39th mission, however, as Phinney was shot down over Holland.[4] He spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of the Germans at Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany.

            Phinney was subjected to harsh weather conditions and punishments, as well as humiliation, by the Germans at Stalag Luft 1. A speech by fellow prisoner Colonel Henry Russell Spicer gives a sense of some of the suffering that Phinney was subject to at the prisoner of war camp. As a punishment for noncompliance, the Germans threatened to cut off the prisoners’ coal ration, a death sentence in the northern European winter. Another punishment utilized by the Germans was solitary confinement, sometimes for months at a time. Execution was also on the line as an ultimate punishment.

Given this cruel treatment, it is certain that Phinney’s imprisonment consisted of anxiety and discomfort at the very least, and great trauma at the worst. In addition to the physical abuse of the prisoners, the Germans also attempted to humiliate the U.S. troops by making them salute lower-ranking German officers. The Germans wanted to subdue their prisoners in body and pride. Luckily for Phinney and the other prisoners at Stalag Luft 1, the Red Army’s advance into Germany caused the Stalag’s guards to flee the camp, after which the Russians liberated Phinney and his comrades.[5]

            Phinney lived a celebrated and happy life after his liberation. He received a hero’s welcome on his return to France on the way home to America. “After the war ended, he was flown to southern France and boarded the Queen Mary to return to the U.S.A. and was greeted by General Eisenhower. Bob and his Bomb Group were awarded the Croix d’Guerre (Cross of War) by the French government.”[6]

Phinney attended the University of Iowa upon his return home, where he was President of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. He met Jaclyn Fitch while attending the university and won her over with a sly wink across a crowded room that led to their marriage of 63 years. He was a salesman at various companies for 39 years, including Red Jacket Pump, retiring in 1988. He spent his retirement traveling and golfing with his large family and their friends.

Robert passed away at the age of 89 on July 25, 2012, at Clarissa Cook Hospice in Bettendorf, Iowa. His last message to his wife was a wink of the eye, mirroring that of their first encounter, hours before his death.[7] Robert Worthington Phinney leaves behind a legacy of daring bravery for his service as a B26 Bomber pilot, and selfless sacrifice for his suffering as a prisoner of war.

Robert Worthington Phinney (1923-2012) – Find a Grave Memorial

[1]Robert Worthington Phinney,” Find a Grave, July 26, 2012.

[2] John F. Guilmartin, “B-26,” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., July 28, 2013).

[3]Robert Worthington Phinney,” Find a Grave, July 26, 2012.

[4]Robert W Phinney in the U.S., World War II American and Allied Prisoners of War, 1941-1946,” Ancestry, 2005.

[5]Henry Russell Spicer’s Speech given in the North 2 Compound of Stalag Luft I on October 31, 1944 Which Earned Him a Death Sentence by the Germans.,” World War II – Prisoners of War – Stalag Luft I, accessed August 11, 2022.

[6]Robert Worthington Phinney,” Find a Grave, July 26, 2012.

[7]Robert Worthington Phinney,” Find a Grave, July 26, 2012.