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Published: Tuesday, 3/23/2010

WWII flier took photos of A-bombs' aftermath

BY JIM SIELICKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

World War II reconnaissance navigator Robert S. Gilbert, who guided a B-29 Superfortress over Japan and photographed the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki within an hour of each atomic bomb attack, died of pneumonia Saturday in St. Luke's Hospital.

Mr. Gilbert, 87, took the photos from the bomber named Double Exposure to document the destruction from the world's first use of the atom bomb Aug. 6, 1945, his stepson, Robert Gwin, said Monday. The second bombing occurred three days later.

Double Exposure flew over the destroyed cities about 45 minutes after the Enola Gay and Bockscar, the second bomber, dropped their bombs, Mr. Gwin said.

The plane did not enter the radioactive plume, he said, but the aftermath shook the aircraft.

"He thought he was flying through a thunderhead," Mr. Gwin said, recalling his stepfather's description. "He said the history books probably used some of the photographs he was responsible for taking. He was that close to history."

Mr. Gilbert was born Oct. 23, 1922, in Toledo, and he graduated from DeVilbiss High School.

After the war, he spent 46 years with Bostwick-Braun Co., a Toledo hardware supplier, as a salesman.

His daughter, Nancy Brandon, said her father was a fitness buff who celebrated his 83rd birthday by swimming 83 laps at the South Toledo YMCA. While working out at the West Toledo Y in his younger years, he set a record doing sit-ups, she said.

"His motto was, 'I never have a cold,'•" Mrs. Brandon said. "He was very much a mind-over-matter person."

He loved fast cars, and over his lifetime he owned 39 vehicles. He suffered only one major crash, that as a passenger in a car going 100 miles an hour in Monroe County. The accident left him in a coma for six weeks, his stepson said.

Even in his 80s, Mr. Gilbert "would go looking for kids to race" in the black Grand Prix he bought after he traded in his heavier Buick Roadmaster, Mr. Gwin said. "It looked like something a kid should have," Mr. Gwin said.

Mr. Gwin said he finally pulled the keys from his stepfather just eight weeks ago after Mr. Gilbert ran a stop sign on Parkside Boulevard because he was late for an appointment. Mr. Gwin was a passenger.

Mr. Gilbert was a 32nd degree Mason and a Zenobia Shriner. His skills as a salesman were used to raise money for the Shriners, particularly when the organization sponsored the circus.

"He was a champion fund-raiser for them," and he was always one of the top producers, his stepson said. "Once he believed in a cause he was totally dedicated to it, like he was to my mother."

Mr. Gilbert's parents suffered through the Great Depression, which left a psychological mark on him. "He was tighter than two coats of paint," his stepson said.

Mr. Gilbert married Virginia Gwin, his second wife, in October, 1978, after her husband died.

"He was my dad. He helped my mother through some rough times. He really took care of her," he said.

Mr. Gilbert is survived by his daughter, Nancy Brandon, sons John Gilbert, Donald Gilbert, and Robert Gilbert, Jr., stepson, Robert Gwin, brother, Gordon Gilbert, 20 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. today at the Walter Funeral Home, with a Masonic service at 7:30 p.m. The funeral is at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow at the funeral home.

Memorials are suggested to Hospice of Northwest Ohio or Shriners Children's Hospital.

Contact Jim Sielicki at:

jsielicki@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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