HORNELL – Robert Charles Rose, a lifelong Hornell resident, passed away peacefully on May 3, 2017 at the age of 96.
He was predeceased in 2004 by his loving wife, Mary Jean Rose.
He is survived by his children, Judith Ann (James) Pugsley, Diane Virginia Light and Robert Charles (Brenda) Rose II; and by his grandchildren, Leland James, Lisa Light, Jason Light and Jennifer, Michael and Christine Rose; and by his great-grandchildren, Marty and Emme James. He is also survived by many loving nieces and nephews among the Deebs, Damrath and Weber families.
From a young age, Robert demonstrated an intense fascination with airplanes and flying, but thought he would never be able to fly due to the expense of pilot training. However, at the outset of World War II, he had the opportunity to join the Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet. Following successful completion of Basic and Advanced training courses, he became a pilot, and on Dec. 24, 1943, he flew his B-24 bomber and crew from Mitchell Field, Long Island to Natal, Brazil, then to Dakar, West Africa, and then to Tunis, Tunisia, and then on to his final destination, Cerignola, Italy, his European airbase.
From Cerignola he flew 50 combat missions over Europe, targeting some of the most heavily fortified strategic targets of Hitler’s “Fortress Europe,” including a major oil refinery installation located in Ploesti, Romania. Known by his crew members as “Wing in the Window Rosie” he was able to fly such tight formation with other B-24 bombers that his crew often returned to base without having had to fire their weapons. He was the last surviving member of his crew.
Following the conclusion of hostilities in Europe, Robert returned to Hornell to a career as a passenger train engineer for the Erie Railroad. Although he truly enjoyed that position, his excellent knowledge of railroad operations soon led to positions of ever-increasing responsibilities in management. He first served as Road Foreman of Engines in Meadville, Pa., followed by a return to Hornell as Chief Road Foreman of Engines, followed by appointment as system-wide Rules Examiner and Head of the Safety Department, followed by appointment to the position of Director of Labor Relations for the Northeast Region of Consolidated Rail Corporation (ConRail), from which he retired in 1981. Just prior to his appointment as Head of the Safety Department, the Erie-Lackawanna railroad found itself in last place among the nation’s 13 Class A railroad companies for safety. Within a one-year period, he dramatically turned that situation around to bring the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad to first place in safety among the nation’s railroads. Based largely on his efforts, in 1972 the Erie-Lackawanna Railway Company was awarded the E.H. Harriman Award for Railroad Safety.
Following his retirement in 1981, he relocated to Florida, where he enjoyed many years of Florida sunshine and golf, and playing the banjo in various string bands. He often remarked in his later years that he had had a wonderful life, and that he had no regrets, and had been able to do everything he had ever wanted to do in life.
A loving husband, father, grandfather and uncle, he will long be remembered by those he loved and by those who loved him in return.
At his request there will be a private family service at the Bishop & Johnson Funeral Home, Inc., 285 Main St., Hornell, with Deacon Robert McCormick officiating. Committal prayers and interment, with military honors, will follow at Rural Cemetery, Hornell.
In lieu of flowers a memorial donation to hospice would be very much appreciated.