Above & Beyond: A Bougainville Mystery

Above & Beyond: A Bougainville Mystery

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According to North Dakota’s Velva Journal and other sources, Robert got primary flight training in a Ryan PT-22 Recruit, basic flight training in a Vultee BT-13 Valiant, and advanced flight training in a North American AT-6 Texan. After graduating at Arizona’s Luke Field he was shipped off to March Field in California for training in the P-38. In November, he was sent overseas, and later assigned to the 339th. That squadron sent detachments of fighters to Guadalcanal to escort bombers in attacks on Japanese bases on New Georgia, Bougainville, and the Russell Islands.

Robert flew his first mission from Guadalcanal on January 13, 1943. On February 10, he scored his first kill: a Mitsubishi Ki-21-I “Sally” heavy bomber. Three days later, he was shot down.

Because his body was not recovered, he was declared missing in action. On December 15, 1945, the War Department listed him as “expired.” Robert’s family held a memorial service two and a half months later.

Today, Robert is survived by two of his three sisters: Elizabeth Rist Owren of New Jersey and Ellajane in Minnesota. In her e-mails to me, Ellajane helped bring Robert to life in a way that written archives could not. “So many years ago and his memory is still as indelible,” she wrote. “He was such a sweet, compassionate man.”

The one mystery I never solved concerned the framed assembly of items I’d found at the flea market: Who had preserved them, eventually providing me with a link to the life and death of Robert P. Rist?

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