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Flat feet kept Navy veteran out of World War II’s hottest spots

Robert G. Mueller, 92

Hometown: Buffalo

Residence: Hamburg

Branch: Navy

Rank: Aviation machinist mate, 2nd class

War zone: World War II, American Theater

Years of service: Oct. 24, 1942 – Dec. 2, 1945

Most prominent honors: WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal

Specialty: Airplane maintenance mechanic

By Lou Michel

News Staff Reporter

At 18 years old, Robert G. Mueller worked at Curtiss-Wright aircraft helping build P-40 War Hawk fighter planes to battle the Japanese and Germans in World War II.

But two years later, facing the draft, Mueller decided he wanted a say in his future and sought out the Marine Corps. The corps’ sharp-looking dress uniform, he said, was his sole criteria for selecting that branch of the Armed Forces.

To his dismay, he was rejected.

“They’d made me walk around barefooted and told me I had flat feet. They said, ‘We can’t take you, try the Navy.’ ”

Mueller took the advice and was soon donning a sailor’s outfit.

To this day, he says he remains grateful the Marines rejected him.

“I probably wouldn’t be here if I’d gone into the Marines. I would have been island hopping in the South Pacific and you better believe there were a lot of casualties,” the 92-year-old Mueller said.

Robert C. Mueller, his son, says he, too, is glad the Leathernecks said no.

“I might have a different father today if the Marines had taken dad,” the son said.

Mueller’s primary job was to maintain the twin-engine bombers assigned to the Navy’s Patrol Bombing Squadron 141, which flew missions up and down the Atlantic Ocean along the East Coast and above the Caribbean Sea in search of German submarines.

The planes, he said, were loaded with depth charges intended to blow subs out of the water.

During his first flight above the Caribbean, Mueller said, he almost ended up in the drink.

“We blew a cylinder on one of the plane’s two engines, the port engine. There were 19 of us and our gear and the plane’s crew. The pilot came over the radio and said to throw out gear and hammocks to lighten the plane. We were headed to Trinidad from Puerto Rico and we made an emergency landing in St. Lucia,” he said. “It was a rough landing but we made it.”

Another time when he was flying at night above New York City, he noticed how the Manhattan skyline was ablaze with light. For tactical reasons, the sight disturbed him.

“The city was lit up like a Christmas tree. German subs could use that to pick up ships on the horizon. You know the German submarines sunk about 1,000 ships during World War II,” Mueller said. “We were told that the city was allowed to keep the lights on for tourism.”

While he was stationed in Beaufort, S.C., Mueller flew in a PV-1 Ventura while the pilot practiced flying with one of the two engines off.

“After he shut down the engine, he began feathering the propeller to prevent it from windmilling and throwing the plane out of balance. But when he went to unfeather the prop, it would not and we had to make an emergency landing with the one working engine. I knew we could fly on one engine because that’s what happened the first time I ever went up. This time we landed smoothly and I told the pilot he did a very nice job.”

At other times, Mueller put aside his tools to assist pilots in training missions that simulated dropping depth charges on submarines.

“We would lie down in the tail of the plane and watch as the pilot dropped a water bomb at a raft being towed by a speedboat in a river and we’d mark how close he came to his target,” Mueller said. “We were so low I felt I could reach out and pull cattails.”

When the war ended in Europe, he was shifted to the West Coast, where he served with a carrier aircraft service unit, repairing fighter planes.

He says he served a total of three years, one month and 11 days before being honorably discharged.

The mechanical skills he’d honed in the Navy proved valuable as a civilian.

“I worked for five years at Niagara Machine and Tool, then I got hired at Ford and retired after nearly 30 years, many of them spent as a superintendent in the plant’s tool and die department,” Mueller said.

Mueller was married for 63 years to the former Dorothy Shoup, who passed away in 2007. He and his wife raised their son and a daughter, Dianne Agate. Mueller also served many years with the Scranton Volunteer Fire Company and remains active at St. James United Church of Christ in Hamburg.

Humble about his wartime service, he said, “I like to describe it as a Caribbean cruise.”