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Decorated WWII fighter pilot Robert VanDeVelde dies at 94

Folded flag resting on a headstone. (MaxPixel/Released/TNS)

Robert J. “Bob” VanDeVelde, longtime Democratic Whiteside County Board member and co-founder of the local Honor Flight chapter, died Tuesday at Rock River Hospice and Home.

The decorated World War II bomber pilot, who died the day after Veterans Day, was 94.

VanDeVelde, who served District 1, first was elected in 2008.

“Bob was a member of my finance committee,” fellow Democratic board member Glen Truesdell said Tuesday afternoon. “He was always dedicated and always well-prepared. He was an excellent member of the county board.”

Republican board member Kurt Glazier also remembers VanDeVelde fondly.

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“He was a kind man,” Glazier said. “He was just a good, wise man. Sometimes he didn’t have a whole lot to say, but when he did, it was to the point. He had a lot of fiscal common sense.

“He will be missed.”

VanDeVelde’s replacement on the 27-member board also must be a Democrat from District 1. Chairman James Duffy will make a recommendation, and whoever is appointed will serve the remainder of the term, which ends in December 2020.

VanDeVelde was an 18-year-old Tampico High School senior when he enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1943. He served 2 years with the 313th Bombardment Wing, flying sorties in a B-29 Superfortress called “The Silver Lady.”

“I said if I was going to go, I wanted to be in the Air Force. I wanted to fly fighter planes. I decided to get to basic training to become a pilot,” he told Sauk Valley Media in October 2015, in an interview for “Tales of Valor,” an SVM book that told the stories of local war heroes.

The 313th was part of the Twentieth Air Force, created in 1944 to engage in heavy bombardment operations against Japan. He completed 30 missions while based at Tinian Island in the South Pacific.

For his service, Tech. Sgt. VanDeVelde was awarded the Air Medal, given for meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a medal given to those who distinguish themselves in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.

He married Rita Callahan on Aug. 5,1950; they were married 61 years, until her death on Sept. 10, 2011, and they had four children.

After his discharge, VanDeVelde he attended Illinois State University, then worked for Hardware Products Co., a distribution company in Sterling, as a sales representative, rising through sales and management to become its president and partial owner.

After 30 years, in 1980, he left to found his own company, Velde Distributing in Des Moines, Iowa. He sold the company and returned to Sterling in 1998.

He also co-founded Crosley Corp., an international marketing organization in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and was its chairman for 8 years. He retired in 2006.

In 2008, he was elected to the county board, and in 2009, he and former Sterling attorney Dave Murray founded the Whiteside County chapter of Honor Flight, a program that sends veterans on a 1-day trip to Washington, D.C., free of charge, to visit memorials dedicated to their service. He was an active chapter organizer up to his death.

He also was involved with numerous Catholic charities.

Arrangements are pending at McDonald Funeral Homes.

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© 2019 the Daily Gazette