Honoring Robert Dittmer, Travis AFB Legacy 

  • Published
  • By Randall Couch
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

The life of Robert Warren Dittmer was intertwined with the history of Travis Air Force Base in many ways. Born in Oakland, California, on Nov. 11, 1920, he grew up on the family ranch founded by his great-grandmother in 1857 near Cordelia, California. 


He joined the Army Air Corps on Dec. 8, 1942, at age 22. While awaiting his air cadet training at what was then called Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base (now known as Travis Air Force Base), he worked for a contractor weighing inbound truckloads of rock and gravel being used to build the first paved runway there. Dittmer would later watch the first aircraft land on that newly paved runway.   

Dittmer’s grandson-in-law, U.S. Air Force Maj. Robert Carpenter, 47th Fighter Squadron, instructor pilot, said he hoped Team Travis could find the time to honor this local Airman who quite literally provided the foundations for Travis AFB.  

“Perhaps in doing so, some of our youngest Airmen can learn a bit about their heritage and appreciate the sacrifices of those who came before us,” he said.   

Dittmer completed his air cadet training as a B-17 Flying Fortress bombardier before he was assigned to the 398th Bomb Group at Nuthampstead, United Kingdom. During World War II, he successfully completed 35 combat missions over Germany, for which he received an Air Medal and was honorably discharged as a 2nd Lt. on June 9, 1944.  

After returning home from the war, Dittmer applied for a job as a firefighter at Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base and became the assistant fire chief. He was on the initial fire crew that responded to the Aug. 5, 1950, crash of the B-29 Superfortress that killed the current base’s namesake, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert F. Travis, and his crew.   

Upon reaching the crash site, while he and five other firefighters tried to cut a hole in the aircraft fuselage to extract potential survivors, an explosion injured Dittmer and killed the remaining five firefighters.  

“He was severely burned while rescuing Airmen, spending six months in the hospital for skin grafts and surgeries,” Carpenter said. “He carried those scars on his hands and forearms for the remainder of his life.”  

In 1954, he was recognized for entering the burning wreckage of a C-124 Globemaster II and with the help of another man, pulling two of the four surviving crew members to safety.  

After the death of his father in 1957, Dittmer resigned from the fire department to pursue his business interests and run the family cattle ranch for the remainder of his life.  

Dittmer is survived by his children, Jeff and Suzanne. 

“Like many of his generation, he wasn’t the kind of dad to put his arm around you and tell you everything is going to be all right,” said Jeff. “He was more likely to tell you to go out there and get it done...and get it done right!” He added “With dad it was always ‘It’s my way or the highway!’”. 

Robert Dittmer displayed selflessness and sacrifice for the safety of other Airmen and will be remembered for his bravery. He passed away on Feb. 1, 2024, in Fairfield at the age of 103, leaving a legacy of service and courage at Travis Air Force Base.