Robert Carver SearsJanuary 23, 1916 ~ November 18, 2017 (age 101)
Col. Robert Carver “Bob” Sears, USAF (Ret.), died peacefully Nov. 18, 2017, at the age of 101.
The son of Col. Robert and Marguerite Hume Sears, he was born Jan. 23, 1916, in Honolulu, Hawaii, where his father was stationed. During his adolescence, the family lived at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and Bob spent much of his time exploring the Chesapeake Bay, developing a love of nature and animals that would become a legacy for all his children.
Bob followed his father’s path, graduating from West Point Military Academy in 1939. A gifted athlete, he was a three‑time gymnastics National Champion and helped lead Army to runner‑up honors at NCAA championships in 1939. He was inducted into Army West Point Athletics Hall of Fame in its inaugural class of 2004.
After graduation, he entered the U.S. Army Air Corps, later the U.S. Air Force. While training at Randolph Field, Texas, he met Mary Hoch, of Atlanta, whom he married in 1941. His first assignment was instructing other pilots, but he was quickly promoted to commandant of Hicks Field, Texas, and at age 24 was the Air Corps’ youngest commanding officer. He asked for active duty overseas and was assigned to the 8th USAAF, the “Mighty Bombers,” 389th Bombardment Group, flying B‑24 Liberators. Their headquarters were at Old Buckenham Airfield, England. Bob was a squadron commander and then Deputy Group Commander.
On April 29, 1944, he was shot down by a German Messerschmitt while returning from a successful mission to Berlin. He was lead pilot in a raid that involved 1,200 planes; 64 were lost that day. Bob and eight members of the crew bailed out. His harrowing escape proved that a highly motivated pilot wearing a parachute could exit the inspection hatch above his seat. He was taken prisoner by German home guard and sent as a POW to Stalag Luft 3. He remained there until he escaped during a forced march near the end of the war.
Following the war, he obtained a masters in engineering from the University of Illinois – Champaign‑Urbana. His career included a year as a base commander in Korea after the conflict there; a tour of duty with the Armed Forces Security Agency (now NSA); and service as Deputy Commander of Air and Airways Communications Service in Wiesbaden, Germany. He retired on Sept. 29, 1962, with the rank of Colonel.
After his retirement, Bob and family settled in Atlanta, where he worked for Lockheed Martin until a second retirement. In the mid‑1970s, Mary and he built a home in Jones Creek community, Franklin, North Carolina, and spent the last decades of their retirement there. Their home was a center of hospitality for friends and family. Bob filled his time playing squash and golf into his eighties; caring for his property and his beloved dogs; exploring the mountains; making furniture; studying languages; and traveling to visit children and grandchildren. In his nineties, he bought a new tractor and delighted in using it to maintain his land. He celebrated his 100th birthday by taking the tractor for a spin.
He was a no‑nonsense man, blunt but kind‑hearted and generous. He faced life with courage, never shrinking from adversity and always maintaining his unique sense of humor. He had a great store of memorized poetry. One week before his death, he gave a stirring rendition of Henley’s “Invictus,” but said Robert Louis Stephenson’s “Requiem” was his favorite. A line from that poem sums up his philosophy: “Gladly I lived and gladly die, and I lay me down with a will.”
Bob was predeceased by his parents; his two brothers, Roderick H. Sears and David H. Sears; and his beloved wife Mary, who died in 2012. He is survived by his four children: Barbara Sears McRae, of Franklin; Robert Carver Sears Jr., of Crane, Texas; Margaret Elayne Sears, of Crown Point, New York; and James Walter Sears (and wife Debra), of Missoula, Montana. He also leaves many grandchildren, great‑grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, who will remember him with affection and gratitude for the example of his extraordinary life.
The family thanks the staff of Grandview Manor and Care Partners Hospice for the loving care they gave Bob during his final illness. Family and friends will gather later this spring for a memorial.
Online condolences are available at bryantgrantfuneralhome.com. Bryant‑Grant Funeral Home and Crematory is serving the Sears family.