It took less than three months of World War II action for Robert J. "Bob" Goebel to become a Double Ace flying the North American P-51 Mustang. Goebel, the youngest of seven children, was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin. At age 19, he entered the U.S. Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet, earning his wings and his commission in May 1943. After graduation, Goebel was assigned to the Panama Canal Zone flying the Bell P-39 Airacobra and the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk. In early 1944, he was reassigned to the 31st Fighter Group in the Mediterranean Theater flying the Supermarine Mark V Spitfire.
Soon after joining the Group in Italy as a member of the 308th Fighter Squadron, Goebel transitioned to the North American P-51 Mustang with the mission of fighter escort for 15th Air Force heavy bombers. While in the 308th, he flew 61 long-range missions from San Severo, Italy, supporting the bomber offensive in Southern Europe. During his combat tour, he destroyed 11 enemy fighters in the air over a 91-day period from 29 May 1944 to 28 August 1944. By the time he completed his first tour in September of 1944, he was 21 years old, had been promoted to captain, had led his squadron of 16 Mustangs into combat 7 times, and twice led an entire group of 48 aircraft into combat.
Captain Goebel resigned his commission in 1946 to attend the University of Wisconsin where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics in 1948. He served in the Wisconsin Air National Guard as Commander of the 126th Fighter Squadron flying the P-51D and the Lockheed F-80A Shooting Star until he returned to active duty in May 1950. However, instead of flying, he served in the Atomic Energy and Space Programs, with assignments in England, the Pentagon, and Albuquerque, New Mexico as a liaison in the Office of the Atomic Energy Commission. After attending the Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, Virginia, he was assigned to the Gemini Launch Vehicle Directorate charged with procuring 12 Titan II vehicles and reconfiguring them as boosters for the Gemini Space Program. After the launch of Gemini VII in 1966, at the end of a completely successful program, Lieutenant Colonel Goebel retired from the United States Air Force.
He has flown nine different aircraft, accumulating over 2700 flying hours, over 300 of which have been in combat. In 1991 he published a book covering his early years and his combat experiences entitled MUSTANG ACE, Memoirs of a P-51 Fighter Pilot. His decorations include the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 oak leaf cluster, and the Air Medal with 17 oak leaf clusters. He and his wife, June, of 58 years, live in Torrance, California, and have 9 children and 27 grandchildren.
On 18 August 1944, Robert J. Goebel was leading a two-ship of Mustangs when he spotted a group of Messerschmitt Bf-109s threatening the bomber formation he was escorting. He immediately attacked and destroyed two Bf-109s. As the second enemy pilot was bailing out, Goebel noticed two other Bf-109s closing rapidly. After some wild maneuvering, and with his few remaining rounds and only two of his six guns still firing, Goebel opened up on his third target, which crashed into the ground. Goebel's three confirmed kills earned him the Silver Star.