|The C.E. Daniel Collection
|Ens. Robert W. Bice
M.I.A. - February 22, 1944
| Robert William Bice (serial #O-263482) was born on December 7th, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bice
family would eventually move to a home built in 1935, located at 2030 W. Atlantic Avenue in Philadelphia. Bice
graduated from Northeast High School and attended the University of Pennsylvania for two years, before joining the
United States Naval Reserve in May of 1942. On August 4th, 1942, Bice's Navy rating changed to that of Aviation
Cadet. On April 29th, 1943, Bice terminated his enlistment in order to accept an appointment as an Ensign in the
United States Naval Reserve. On April 30th, 1943, Bice reported to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida for active duty
Bice began his training as a Naval aviator on May 6th at the Naval Air Station in Melbourne, Florida. On June 23rd,
Bice was re-assigned to the Atlantic Fleet for duty "involving flying." On July 19th, Bice reported to Fleet Air, Quonset
Point, Rhode Island, for "duty involving flying in connection with the fitting out of Fighting Squadron 76" and for duty
flying with that squadron once it is put into operation. On July 20th, Bice was ordered to report for duty with Fighting
| On April 30th, 1943, Bice married his long time love, Mildred. The two were married by Naval Chaplain John Cummings at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Their marriage coincided
with Bice's assignment to Fighter Squadron 76 (VF-76) as an aviator. Like many wartime couples, the war and Bice's assignment to a combat squadron most likely accelerated their
decision to enter into matrimony.
|Left: A modern view of 2030 W. Atlantic Avenue,
Philadelphia, Bice's home while attending grade
school and high school. As the photo shows, the Bice
home, built in 1935, is still present.
|Bice's official United States Navy Photo.
|Bice and Mildred, on the far right, with two other Navy couples.
|On March 6th, 1944, at 4:13 pm, Bice's wife Mildred received the Western Union telegram above,
advising her that her husband was missing in action. As was common with these war time notices, very
little detail is provided to help in comforting the recipient of this telegram.
|Above, left, a letter sent to Bice's widow by pilots of VF(N)-76, expressing their condolence at the loss of Ens. Bice, or "Bitsy" as he was known to the other pilots in his squadron.
Above, right, is the picture frame that is mentioned in the above letter, which was made on behalf of the pilots to be sent to Mildred, in memory of Ens. Bice, with a close-up of the
inscribed placard on the bottom of the frame.
The letter is hand signed by 12 pilots of NF(N)-76: most notably by Lt. Cmdr. Pete Aurand (Commander of the squadron) and Fred L. "Buck" Dungan, who became a 7 victory ace
during WWII. As an active combat unit for approximately one year, VF(N)-76 would achieve the highest kill ratio of any night fighter squadron in the Navy, with 26 airvictories,
Dungan being responsible for nearly a third of all those victories. Lt. Cmdr. Aurand would go on to be awarded the Navy Cross and retire from the Navy as a Vice-Admiral.
|Aviation cadets in front of an F4F-3 Wildcat. From left to right in the back
row are: Lt. Mac Brayer, Ens. T. Thune, Ens. R. Ullery, Lt. Kay Du Val.
From left to right in the front row are: Ens. G. Loth, Ens. R. Beatley, Ens.
R. Bice and Ens. C. Roberts.
|Bice in the cockpit of an unidentified F6F Hellcat.
|VF(N)-76 Night Fighter Squadron
VF(N)-76 was first established on July 15th, 1943. The squadron would remain an active squadron until being disbanded in November of 1944. Due to the scarcity of night fighter
pilots during the war, pilots of VF(N)-76 would be split up into small detachments and assigned to various carriers throughout the fleet. Bice was part of a detachment (Det. A)
assigned to the U.S.S. Bunker Hill (CV-17). During this time, the pilots of VF(N)-76 were equipped with F6F-3N Hellcats, which had been outfitted with the newly developed APS-6
radar. The APS-6 was attached to the starboard wing of the fighter aicraft in a bulbous housing, and had a range of approximately five miles. A terrific, technological advance in
Bice's log book shows he flew numerous combat air patrols off of the U.S.S. Bunker Hill, starting January 18th, 1944. On February 13th, 1944, Bice flew a 3.3 hour combat air
patrol mission in F6F Bu.#40528. On February 15th, he flew another 3.6 hour combat air patrol mission in F6F Bu.#26104. On February 21st, Bice flew a 3.0 hour test flight,
again in F6F Bu.#26104. These missions were carried out while the U.S.S. Bunker Hill and its support ships, sailed toward the combat zone.
The war diary of the U.S.S. Bunker Hill records that on February 22nd, 1944, VF(N)-76 Detachment A, flew its first combat mission. After making four strafing runs on a Japanese
airfield, Bice became separated from the other members of his flight. All of the VF(N)-76 pilots returned to the U.S.S. Bunker Hill, except Ens. Bice. Although none of the members
of his squadron saw his aircraft go down, it is believed that his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire and was downed. The exact location of Ens. Bice's aircraft and final resting place
is still unknown. U.S.S. Bunker Hill war diary records that at the time of his loss, he was flying F6F-3N Bu.#26011.
At the time of his loss, Bice had 181.5 hours experience flying the F6F, had performed 19 carrier landings and had 581.4 hours of flight time in total. During his career as an
aviator, Bice would fly numerous aircraft including N2S-4, FM-1, F4F-3, SNJ, SNB-2 and the F6F-3 and F6F-4 variants. A rating sheet from his time as a cadet showed he had
"excellent" qualities in mental toughness, reliability, and formation flying. In all, he was rated as a "very good" pilot.
|Above, a section of the war diary from the U.S.S. Bunker Hill from February 22, 1944, depicting the events of early morning
|Above: A portion of an original correspondence received by Bice's widow in mid 1945, awarding Bice the Purple Heart posthumously. Bice's widow would also receive similar
correspondence posthumously awarding him an Air Medal for his actions related to his last mission (see below). Of interest among his awards is the official, government
engraving of his name on the back of the Purple Hear and the Air Medal. The Purple Heart itself is the more rare, early version of the Navy Purple Heart, which was issued with
the seldom seen purple box, as was the Air Medal, which was issued in the marked, green box shown above. (Bice's Purple Heart ribbon fell victim to a mouse before his items
arrived in my private collection.)
|This page is dedicated to Ensign Robert William Bice who selflessly gave his life in the defense of our great nation on February 22, 1944. The page is also dedicated
to the men of VF(N)-76, for their service and sacrifice as Naval aviators in WWII, and to the men of the U.S.S. Bunker Hill for their brave service while achieving an
outstanding service record.
This page provides a glimpse into some of the items from Ens. Bice's grouping. If anyone has any additional information about Ens. Bice or VF(N)-76, I would enjoy
hearing from you.
Starting on January 6th, 1944, Ens. Bice, having left with his squadron to make a cross country flight to the west coast before shipping out to the war zone, began writing letters to
his wife Mildred. Having been newly married, he confides to his wife that he wept in the cockpit of his aircraft before leaving, thinking of being away from her and the life they had
The majority of the letters are void of war news, with Ens. Bice strictly adhering to the guidelines set forth by Navy censors during the war, not disclosing where he is, what ship he
is on, or what missions if any he has flown. With his squadron aboard ship and sailing into the Pacific to join the fight, Ens. Bice relates how much down time the pilots have.
Often times, they spend the nights playing hearts of watching a movie on the ship. During the cruise to the war zone, Bice began reading Tolstoy's War and Peace, and seemed to
be enjoying it. Just days before entering combat, he writes to his wife that his tan is getting better, he and his squadron mates are enjoying their time together, and he has
finished War and Peace.
On January 28th, Ens. Bice writes the letter all pilots wrote before heading into combat, hoping their squadron mates never have to send it. While most of his letters to his wife are
somewhat upbeat, this particular letter is straight forward and direct. Ens. Bice clearly expresses his love for his wife and asks her not to mourn him if he fails to return, but to find
a nice man and go on with her life and to re-marry. Ens. Bice gives direction of how to handle his personal items including his Navy issued wings, which he asks his wife to keep to
remember him by. Mrs. Bice followed his request and Ens. Bice's wings can be seen below.
Along with the letters written by Ens. Bice to his wife are two additional letters written to Mrs. Bice. One is from a fellow pilot of distinction, Jack Bertie, who would claim three
Japanese Zeros shot down on Ens. Bice's last mission. Bertie describes how he and Bice were abreast of each other as they made another strafing run on an airfield on Tinian. As
they climbed away from the attack, Bertie said he no longer saw Bice's aircraft and found that he was suddenly in the middle of a number of Japanese Zeros. As indicated above,
Bertie would shoot down three Zeros and return to the U.S.S. Essex severely wounded for his efforts.
The other handwritten letter is from the commander of VF(N)-76, Lt. Cdr. Evan Pete Aurand. Aurand's letter also expressed his condolences to Mrs. Bice, offering words of kindness
and wisdom, and his offer to assist her in any way possible. Aurand would described Bice as one of the best pilots in the squadron and indicated he was a determined fighter, who
gave his life for his country. Aurand would serve in the United States Navy from 1938 to 1972, retiring as a Vice Admiral.
In all, Ens. Bice wrote 16 letters to his wife upon leaving her side in Rhode Island and his last letter, just a week before his last mission. Each of his letters expresses his love to
his new bride and asks her to send along his best wishes to mom and dad.
|Above, an excerpt from Ens. Bice's letter from January 28th, asking his wife to retain his wings in case he fails to return. The passage reads: "However, if its possible and you don't
mind doing it, take at least my wings from my greens and keep them. I sort of feel that they belong with you." As requested, Mrs. Bice would keep his wings and other items for
70+ years until her passing.
|A tattered war time photo and Ens. Bice's wings shown together, lovingly kept as requested
when Ens. Bice failed to return from the war. Above, Ens. Bice's United States Navy cap