August 15, 2012: Death of Robert Willman, captain of the “City of Duluth”

On this day in 2012, native Duluthian Robert Willman passed away in Wilsonville, Oregon. The 1938 Denfeld grad enlisted in the Army Aviation Cadet program in September 1942, completing flight training the following April, then became a flight instructor himself until 1945 when he was promoted to captain and assigned as a pilot with the 330th Bomber Group of the 314th Bomber Wing. The 314th, as part of the effort to help sell war bonds back in the states, named their bombers for the “City of” the commander or one of his crew. The tradition involved every one of the eleven-member flight crew: each put the name of his home town in a hat, one would be drawn out, and that name would go on the port side of the plane’s fuselage as a logo four feet in diameter, a Navy blue globe with an outline of the United States in orange or yellow and a white flag pole indicating the city’s geographic location, waving a flag emblazoned with the words “City of….” Willman recalled how his crew conspired to name their plane after its commander: “I called my crew together and asked each one to put the name of his hometown on a piece of paper. We’d put all the names in a hat and have one of our mechanics pull one name out of the hat…. I believe there was a conspiracy. Without a doubt, there were eleven pieces of paper in that hat, all with the name ‘Duluth’ on them.”

Captain Robert Willman photographed in front of the “City of Duluth.” (Image: Duluth Veterans’ Memorial Hall)