• Lieutenant Colonel Austin A. Straubel

    Posted on July 4th, 2011 John Dorcey No comments

    Austin Straubel’s grandfather, H. August Straubel, was among the early settlers of Brown County, Wisconsin. His family put down roots in 1846, later he would join the army and fight in the Civil War. History would repeat itself in Austin’s life.

    Austin was born to Carl A. and Alice C. (Van Dycke) Straubel on September 14, 1904, one of four children and the couple’s only son. Austin played tackle on the Green Bay East High School’s football team. He attended the University of Wisconsin (Madison) where he continued playing football. After graduating in 1927, he returned to Green Bay and worked at his father’s business, Midwest Cold Storage.

    “He went to Oshkosh to take flying lessons,” his sister, Florence, revealed in an interview. “He didn’t exactly sneak off to learn to fly, but he didn’t broadcast it to our parents.” Steve Wittman may have been Straubel’s flight instructor as Wittman had recently been hired to operate the airport in Oshkosh.

    Straubel joined the Army Air Corps in 1928 and completed military pilot training in Texas and March Field, California. Among other postings, Straubel spent time in the Philippines during the 1930s before returning to the states for additional training.

    7th Bombardment Group

    7th Bombardment Group

    It was December 7, 1941, and Major Straubel was commanding the 11th Bombardment Squadron, part of the 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy), and things had just gotten crazy. The group was stationed at Hamilton Field, California, and their ground support troops had sailed on November 21 for the Philippines. Straubel’s squadron was preparing for their flight to the Philippines. Confusion continued and amazingly, orders called for some aircraft to fly west while others flew east.

    Joined by the eight others in his crew, Straubel flew Consolidated LB-30 (B-24) AL-609, via the African route, arriving at Singasori Field, Malang, Java, at 1130 on January 11, 1942. They were part of a mixed group of B-17s and LB-30s, some of which flew the Pacific while others, like Straubel, flew the Atlantic. Immediately after arriving each crew went to work removing their aircraft’s long-range fuel tanks and correcting maintenance discrepancies.

    Five aircraft were assigned the group’s first mission on January 16. Straubel would lead three LB-30s and two B-17s. The Liberators were to bomb the airfield at Langoan while the Fortresses were to attack ships in Manado Bay. Straubel would earn the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts that day.

    Douglas B-18 "Bolo"
    Douglas B-18 “Bolo”

    On February 2, 1941, Major Straubel was joined by 2nd Lieutenant Russell M. Smith, copilot, and Staff Sergeant George W. Pickett, flight engineer. The three were flying a Douglas B-18 “Bolo” (36-338) to Bandung. Straubel, unhappy with the relationship between 5th Bomber Command and his 7th Bomb Group, had decided to meet with Major General Brereton, Deputy Chief of Staff. After meeting with Brereton, he departed for Malang with three passengers the next day. While flying through a pass near Surabaya, Straubel’s aircraft was attacked by Japanese Zeros and shot down. All aboard were killed in the crash or died shortly afterwards at a nearby hospital.

    Straubel was the first Brown County aviator to lose his life in World War II. The Brown County Airport Committee, in a March 20, 1946 letter, asked the Brown County Board of Supervisors to “consider naming the new Brown County Airport in memory of Austin Straubel.” The facility is widely known today as Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB). Straubel, buried in Java, was reinterred at Green Bay’s Woodlawn Cemetery on January 8, 1949.