Home | About | Pre WWI | WWI | WWII | Korea | Vietnam | Post Vietnam | Non Wartime | Contact Us | Search

Jim Robertson

 

Date and Place of Birth: August 31, 1919 Albany, OR
Date and Place of Death:    April 20, 1944 off Green Island, Pacific Ocean
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Catcher
Rank: First Lieutenant
Military Unit: VMB-413 U.S. Marine Corps
Area Served: Pacific Theater of Operations

James G. Robertson, the son of Robert and Lola Robertson, was born on August 31, 1919, in Albany, Oregon about 30 miles south of Salem. He attended Albany High School where, as a catcher, he led the Bulldogs to three consecutive championships and was named to the county all-star team each year. In his senior year the Bulldogs lost to Eugene in the district finals and won the Strawberry Fair championship. He also played football and was an all-star basketball player; a league high scorer his senior year and recipient of the school’s outstanding all-around athlete award.

Beginning in 1938, Robertson continued his high profile athletic pursuits at Willamette University in Salem. Under the guidance of coach Roy “Spec” Keene (Oregon Sports Hall of Fame inductee 1982), Robertson was the Bearcats’ starting catcher for four years. In 1940 he caught every inning of the team’s 22 games as they clinched the Northwest Conference championship for the first time since 1931. Among his teammates at Willamette were pitchers Bill Hanauska and Earl Toolson, and infielders Clint Cameron and Lee Shinn, who all went on to play minor league ball.

Robertson finished his collegiate catching days in the spring of 1941 and played summer ball for the Silverton Red Sox of the Oregon State League – the same team Boston Red Sox infielder Johnny Pesky had played for two years earlier (many of the Silverton Red Sox players worked for the Silver Falls Timber Company which was owned by Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey). The Red Sox were state semi-pro champions that year and clinched the league title in September with a 14-5 win over Medford. The Silverton line-up of 1941 featured Willamette teammates Toolson and Shinn, future PCL outfielder Bill Carney and big leaguer Dick Whitman.

Robertson completed his basketball competition at Willamette in the winter – where he was named to the Northwest Conference all-star team - and signed with the Salem Senators of the Class B Western International League in February 1942. One of his first games for the Senators was against his alma mater on April 23 at George E. Waters Park – home of both the Senators and Bearcats. In a close fought contest it was Robertson’s infield dribbler that scored the only run of the game in the bottom of the ninth.

Playing for first year manager Charlie Petersen, Robertson held his own behind the plate and with the bat for the Senators. He had a three hit game against the Spokane Indians in May and was batting .250 in 21 games when military service beckoned in June.

Jim Robertson initially served with the U.S. Navy but transferred to the Marine Corps after completing pre-flight training at St. Mary's, California, NAS Pasco, Washington and NAS Corpus Christi, Texas. After earning his wings, Robertson joined VMB-413 – the Marine Corps’ first medium bomber squadron. With 1st Lieutenant Jim Robertson as pilot and squadron athletic officer, VMB-413 deployed to Hawaii in January 1944. The squadron flew North American PBJ-1s; the U.S. Navy’s equivalent of the famous B-25 twin-engine Mitchell bomber, and the flight echelon flew to the island of Espiritu Santo, part of the New Hebrides, at the end of the month. Following a brief training period, the squadron then moved northward to Stirling Island (part of the Treasury Islands) from where it flew night-time missions against Japanese forces at Rabaul and neighboring islands.

Shortly before midnight on April 20, 1944, Robertson, with the squadron’s executive officer Major Douglas E. Keeler at the controls of the PBJ-1D, was returning from a mission over the Japanese stronghold of Kavieng on the island of New Ireland. The bomber had been damaged by Japanese anti-aircraft fire and was attempting a landing in heavy rain at the Allied airstrip on Green Island when it overshot the runway and crashed into the lagoon killing all on board. In addition to Jim Robertson and Major Keeler, other crew members were Second Lieutenant Charles F. Leidberg from Chicago; Staff Sergeant Gilbert V. Enck of Portland, Oregon; Sergeant Aaron S. Johnson Jr. of Pluckemin, New Jersey; and Sergeant Robert C. Hubbell of Philadelphia.

“'Robbie,' as he was affectionately known by friends and athletic foes alike, was . . . one of Willamette’s best baseball players,” recalled the Willamette Collegian newspaper upon news of his tragic death.

Jim Robertson, who was about to receive a captain's commission, was survived by his wife and a one month old daughter named Dotty Ann, whom he had never seen. He is buried at Willamette Memorial Park in Albany, Oregon.

 

Team

League

Class

G

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

AVG

1942 Salem Western Int'l B 21 64 8 16 1 0 0 6 .250

 

Jim Robertson

Jim Robertson's grave at Willamette Memorial Park in Albany, Oregon

Thank you to Rose Marie Walter, Archivist at Willamette University and Diane Moody, Reference Librarian at Albany Public Library, Oregon, for help with this article. Information was also obtained from the VMB-413 website at www.vmb413.com.

Date Added February 12, 2012 Updated June 7, 2014

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice is associated with Baseball Almanac

Baseball's Greatest Sacrifice is proud to be sponsored by

Big League Chew