Robert A. Gourley was born on December 14, 1924, in Greer, South Carolina. Bob graduated from Marion High School in 1940, and entered into Davidson College in 1941 as part of the ROTC program. Like many others of his generation, his post-secondary education was put on hold during the time he served his country in World War II.
Not wanting to be placed into the infantry, Bob enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps. He earned wings and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant at Luke Field in Phoenix, Arizona in 1944. In October of that year, 2nd Lieutenant Gourley was assigned to the 462nd Fighter Squadron of the 506th Fighter Group shortly after the group’s activation at Lakeland Army Air Field. At Lakeland, the 506th FG was trained specifically to fly very long range missions.
When deployed to Iwo Jima, half of the squadron’s fighter pilots ferried their brand new P-51D Mustangs to San Francisco, where they were loaded on the escort carrier Kalinin Bay and set out for Tinian. The other half of the pilots, which included 2nd Lieutenant Gourley, took a troop train to Seattle, and then boarded the converted Swedish hospital ship, the Bloemfontein. They sailed from Seattle to Hawaii, Eniwetok Atoll, Tinian, and then finally to Iwo Jima.
Lieutenant Gourley would fly a total of 11 VLR missions to Japan, and would be promoted to the rank of Capitan before being honorably discharged. Upon returning home, Bob re-enrolled in Davidson College and graduated in 1948 with a Bachelor of Arts in Music.
Bob was a recognized community member faithfully contributing to his community in many ways. He was a member of First Presbyterian Church and served as choir director for over three decades. He was also active in the local Kiwanis Club and the Masonic Lodge. Bob played in a community band well into into eighties, and enjoyed playing golf.
On September 4, 2021, we lost another member of the Greatest Generation. Bob was 96, and was the last living fighter pilot of the 462nd Fighter Squadron.
In 2014, Bob gave a video interview as part of the McDowell Legacy Program, “Reflections of the Past”. In his interview, Bob speaks of his entry into the United States Army Air Force, and missions flown from Iwo Jima to Japan. The YouTube video of Bob’s interview can be found here: https://youtu.be/P-HsME_vCKI.