Robert Joseph Andrews was welcomed into the world by Agnes Cecilia and Roger Raynor Andrews on November 5, 1925. Robert, who usually went by his nick name ‘Andy’, grew up in Royal Oak, a small town in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, with his older sister Kathleen. During World War I, Andy’s father joined the US Army, and the town got all their war stories and news from their bosses at Henry Ford’s plant. When men like Roger returned from war, Royal Oaks celebrated with an official holiday and everyone rallied together to remember the fallen and embrace the men who returned home. However, excitement turned to fear as Michigan was hit with the Great Depression. Unemployment rates in Michigan were double compared to the rest of the nation. As such the Andrews family struggled to feed their two children; Andy loved when they got chicken pot pie though! The Andrews family was not alone in their struggle; Royal Oak almost went bankrupt as the city could not collect taxes and workers went unpaid as banks and factories shut down. Luckily, the Andrews family was able to persevere and Andy was raised with a strong work ethic and desire to better the world. The start of World War II gave rise to Roosevelt’s Arsenal of Democracy. President Roosevelt declared the United States would not enter the war; instead it would lift the embargo and provide weapons and material to Europe. This declaration brought life back to Royal Oak and the Andrews family. When all automotive factories in Detroit switched from civilian to military production, the economy began to turn around, and when the United States entered the war, Andy knew it was time to follow in his father’s footsteps.
After talking with a neighborhood friend who was home on leave, Andy knew he wanted to be a pilot. The Air Force turned the seventeen-year-old boy away and Andy waited impatiently for his eighteenth birthday. Sure enough, in November the Air Force contacted Andy and sent him to pilot school. In 1945, Andy earned his silver wings at just nineteen years old. Young Andy was full of enthusiasm and excitement to fight the German Air Force he had heard rumors about. However, to Andy they would remain rumors because WWII ended before he completed training. Everybody in his cohort from pilot school was sent home except for him. He stayed with the Air Force and continued serving by escorting the remains of fallen veterans. Desperate for jet pilots, the Air Force sent Andy to jet pilot training in 1949. The Korean War was in full swing as Andy finished his training.
It wasn’t long before Andy was deployed to Korea. He flew sixty-one missions in the war before he had to return home to the United States because he fell ill with malaria. While back home, Andy met his wife, Judy (Hansen) Andrews. The story of how they met is quite romantic. In 1952 there was a girl in Chicago dating one of Andy’s friends and she planned a double date. Stationed at Selfridge AFB in Michigan, Andy and his buddy drove to Chicago where Judy and Andy fell in love. They married a year later and in 1956 had their son Brian. Now almost twenty-five years into his Air Force career, Andy was once again deployed.
In 1968 Andy headed to Vietnam where he remained for a year. 10 Somehow through all the violence and pain Andy managed to keep his sense of humor. His son, Brian, recalls humorous stories that Andy told about his friend Matt Hendrikson, whom he fought with in Vietnam. Andy’s favorite jet was the Phantom F-4, a two-seater jet, and Matt was his ‘GIB’ or “guy in back.” At 43 years old Andy flew his last mission for the USAF and returned home to his family. Upon return Andy achieved the highest rank he could within the Air Force, Air Defense Command, and NORAD. He could not achieve any higher ranks because he had never received a college degree. After thirty years with the USAF Andy retired with over thirty honors and recognitions. Andy’s awards include, “two Distinguished Flying Crosses, eight Air Medals, the Bronze Star Medal, a Joint Services Commendation Medal, two Meritorious Service Medals, and four Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards.”
Andy had a creative side that he shared with his son in a short story he wrote about his A2 pilot fighter jacket. Andy dedicated the jacket to his son with a summary of his career written from the point of view of the jacket: “Well, my day arrived on October 16, 1945; my brand new warrior took me off the hanger and put me on – we looked in a mirror and we were so proud of each other…We were at Moore Field, Mission, Texas, where my warrior (I’ll call him Andy or Pop from here on) had just graduated from pilot training.” 14 Andy brilliantly lays out his military career from the eyes of his side kick: his jacket. Even after Andy passed on, his memory lives on through this beloved artifact. Although the story is enough to make one cry, it is the purpose of the story that is most beautiful. Andy dedicated the jacket to his son and daughter-in-law, Brian and Lisa, and gave them a story they can pass on for generations. “I am quite valuable, but from a sentimental standpoint I’m much more valuable because my warrior Pop and I have been together for 50 years. So, Andy says that I may not be sold nor ever given away – I will remain with my two new young warriors – Brian and Lisa Andrews.” The stunning pilot jacket is sported by young Andy and is pictured to the right.
When Andy retired from the Air Force he continued to implement his attitude of hard work and appreciation for his country. He drove passenger vans for disabled veterans in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for eighteen years, while he was also a practicing real estate agent He soon needed an oxygen tank to breathe in the thin Colorado air and changes needed to be made. Brian was living in Huntsville, Alabama, and encouraged his mom and dad to get an apartment close by to him and his wife Lisa. All the Andrews gave a lot of care to ensure the apartment would be perfect for Andy. Andy was looking forward to the vibrant community of other veterans he would be introduced to in Huntsville. Unfortunately, a week after moving into his apartment in Huntsville, Brian and Lisa were bringing chicken pot pie for dinner when tragedy struck. While trying to open the door to his apartment, Andy fell and broke his hip. His health declined rapidly after the emergency surgery and he did not make it through the week. Robert Joseph Andrews passed on August 3, 2013. Brian, Lisa, and Judy were devastated and left with a fully furnished, but completely empty apartment. Rather than sell all of Andy’s belongings the Andrews decided to donate them through Still Serving Veterans. Even after his death Andy was still able to make a significant impact on the community.
Robert Joseph Andrews had an amazing career with the Air Force. He earned over thirty decorations and awards and flew hundreds of missions. He was a pilot for thirty-one years and continued to serve his country long into retirement. His family will remember him as “a walking encyclopedia of military aviation” and continue to honor his memory. A service was held in Huntsville after his passing but he was not buried there. Andy qualified for burial at the Arlington National Cemetery but Brian believed he would be better suited and closer to family in the Black Hills. Robert ‘Andy’ Andrews is buried in the Black Hills National Cemetery where Lisa’s father is also buried. To this day Andy’s memory is carried on through his family’s donations and his dedication to this country.
Written by Sidney May