ROBERT KEITH NELSON
Branch: Army Air Corps
Rank: 2nd Lieutenant
Status: Killed in action
Date of Service: WWII
Home Town: Itasca
Robert Nelson’s headstone in Fort Snelling
Robert Keith Nelson was born December 10, 1920 in Canby, Minnesota to Walter W. and Freda H. Paulson Nelson. Walter and Freda had both grown up in Yellow Medicine County, Minnesota and married in 1916. They moved to Eddy Township in Clearwater County where Walter managed the general store. Robert had a brother William who was five years younger than he was. By 1930 the Nelson family had moved down to Itasca State Park where Walter began caretaking the Forestry School.
Robert attended and graduated from high school, then when the war started he traveled to California to work in the defense industry. When he registered for the draft on February 14, 1942 he was working for Consolidated Steep Corporation in Wilmington, California, a seaport suburb of Los Angeles. Consolidated Steel had been awarded a Maritime Commission contract from the U. S. Navy to build ships for the war effort. (By the end of the war, the company had delivered 500 vessels.) Robert was age 21, 6’ tall, 150 pounds with blue eyes and blond hair.
Robert enlisted in the Army Air Corps on October 8, 1942. After training, he received an officer’s commission and was sent to the 490th Army Air Force Bomb Squadron, part of the 341st Bomb Group (Medium). The “Medium” designation meant that the bombers they flew were B-25 Mitchells and B-26 Marauders as opposed to the heavy B-17 Flying Fortresses or the light A-20 Havocs.
The 341st Bombardment Group was activated in September of 1942 and entered the front line early in 1943, operating out of India against Japanese ground targets in central Burma (now Myanmar.) they bombed bridges, locomotives, rail yards and other targets to delay movement of supplies to the Japanese troops fighting in northern Burma.
While in Los Angeles Robert had met and fell in love with a woman named Jean Carol Bertelson, daughter of a nursery salesman from Arcadia, another suburb of California. They were married on October 30, 1943 in California when Robert was home on leave.
In January of 1944 the Group was transferred to the Fourteenth Air Force which was based in China. There the Group concentrated on anti-shipping strikes at sea and on China’s inland waterways, and earned a Distinguished Unit Citation for developing a bombing technique for use against bridges. They also dropped leaflets for the U. S. Office of War Information.
There isn’t much information available as to how Lt. Robert K. Nelson lost his life, but he was reported as killed on February 10, 1945 on a bombing mission over Burma. His body was recovered and shipped home in July of 1949 to be buried with military rites in Section C-22 of Fort Snelling in Minneapolis. He was 24 years old.