Our speakers this week are unique in that they both flew B-25's at different times, Art Kimber during WWII in North Africa, Italy, and more, while his friend, Bob Benja, flew 25s in training only. Later he flew B-29s and C-97s, followed by the C-119 here at Hamilton Field in the Reserves.
Bob Benja, the 11th child in his family, was born in March 1931. His father was a laborer. Bob attended Public High School in Yonkers and then entered and graduated from Syracuse University in 1953. He participated in Air Force ROTC and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant with a five-year service commitment.
After graduation from Pilot Training Class 56-F, he married Dorothy Deiso. He then was trained in B-25's for multi-engine, dropping a total of 25,000 pounds of bombs during training flights over Texas.
Bob’s operational missions were flown in:
-- B-29 Superfortesses in Korea.
-- C-97 Stratofreighters in Europe including transport flights into Hungary during the 1956 Revolution.
-- C-119 Flying Boxcars in the Reserves at Hamilton Air Force Base in the Bay Area.
Upon completion of his his five-year commitment, Bob left the Air Force in 1958 and enrolled at Hastings Law School. After graduation in 1961, he practiced law, specializing in "If you are hurt or need help, call me." types of cases. He became a Rotarian and retired in 1998.
Bob and Dorothy live in Fremont. They have three children: one lives in the Bay Area, one in Texas, and one in Arkansas.
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Art Kimber was born in 1924 in Santa Barbara, California. His parents John and Alice Kimber were high school teachers in Fremont. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Art was a student at Fremont’s Washington Union High School. After graduation in June 1942, he went into defense work in Sunnyvale machining parts for Victory ships.
On 31 March 1943, Art enlisted in the US Army to accompany a friend who was drafted. Art qualified for pilot training; after Army Basic training in Fresno, he completed:
â€’ Preflight Training in Santa Ana, California
â€’ Primary Training at Thunderbird Field, Glendale, Arizona
â€’ Basic Training at War Eagle Field, Lancaster, California
â€’ Advanced Training at Pecos, Texas.
Art was awarded his pilot wings on 27 June 1944 and completed Instructor School at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas on 18 August 1944.
He was then sent to Columbia, South Carolina for B-25 training. On 10 December 1944 he was assigned to a crew to fly a new B-25-J from Miami, Florida to Italy with en route stops in Brazil, Ascension Island, Liberia, and Tunisia. His next assignment was at a base on Corsica and later at a base near Rimini, Italy.
Art’s outfit was the 489th Bomb Squadron, 340th Bomb Group, 12th Air Force. The mission was bombing bridges on the transportation route for supplies going from Italy to Germany via the Brenner Pass. ”Because we specialized in bridgework, we were sometimes called the Dental Squadron.”
He flew 39 combat missions, sometimes as co-pilot, sometimes first pilot. This was late in the war and by then, fighter aircraft opposition was virtually non-existent. But anti-aircraft fire from the ground was fairly intense and accurate. Art was not wounded but others were not always so fortunate.
On 30 April 1945, Adolph Hitler committed suicide. VE Day was declared on 8 May 1945.
Art was selected to train in A-26 aircraft for planned duty in the Pacific theater. On 17 July 1945 he was assigned to Greensboro, North Carolina for 30 days recuperation leave. He traveled to the USA as a passenger on a B-17. From Greensboro, he went home to Fremont, CA. On 6 and 9 August 1945, the US Army Air Corps atom-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On 15 August, Japan surrendered.
After returning to Greensboro, on 3 September 1945 Art left Greensboro for Camp Beale in California for out-processing. He was officially discharged from military service as a First Lieutenant on 30 October 1945.
After separation, Art worked for his father’s poultry breeding and supply business for 25 years including marketing in Belgium for ten years. Thereafter, he began selling life insurance with Equitable and later as an independent agent.
Art lives in Fremont with his wife, Joan. He has two sons and two daughters by prior marriage.
Bob and Art have a finely tuned routine in which they ask each other questions about their time in B-25s, comparing the differences in combat with training.