YAM Notes: January/February 2022

By Marty Snapp

Only a few months until our 55th reunion, and after this interminable lockdown I can hardly wait to see you all in New Haven! But before then, we must still deal with more sad news.

Bob Blankmann passed away peacefully last February 10, a few weeks short of his 75th birthday, and joined his beloved wife Joan, his sweetheart since college days, who predeceased him in 2013. They are survived by their daughters, Dearing and Meghan, and two granddaughters.

After marrying Joan in 1967 and beginning his graduate work at Indiana University, Bob joined the Air Force in 1969 and subsequently spent a 24-year career serving his country, including active duty through the Vietnam War, the Cold War and Desert Storm. As navigator of B-52 bombers, he flew countless missions as part of the 441 Bomb Squadron during Vietnam. His contribution in the Strategic Air command mission in Southeast Asia was described as “immeasurable” as he demonstrated “outstanding professionalism, judgement, initiative and ingenuity” in the performance of his combat roles. Meanwhile, he completed his master’s degree at Indiana, which was quickly followed by completion of Squadron Officer School by correspondence and then enrollment in Air Command and Staff College.?

Over the course of his Air Force career Bob was recognized as a soldier-scholar. His tenure as an Assistant Professor at West Point in the Department of Social Sciences and as the department’s Equal Opportunity Officer (1975-1978) was marked by numerous publications and presentations of his work both within the military and the civilian academic community. Following West Point, Bob joined the 79th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Upper Heyford, England. While functioning as the Wing Radar Systems Staff Officer and advisor to the Deputy Commander for Operations matters, he remained combat ready as both a Navigator and as a Weapons Systems Officer in F-111 fighter-bombers. He also went on to work with Allied Command Europe (ACE) and Strike (ASF) as the Wing/Base ACE Strike Executive Manager.

In 1984 Bob, under the Office of Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security, completed researching and writing The Politics of Paradox: The Controversy Surrounding Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces in Europe at the University of Illinois. It was this work which enabled the ultimately successful negotiation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the Soviet Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1987. Bob considered this his single most important professional achievement.

Returning to Europe after the completion of the text, he held a variety of posts, notably within the Joint Staff and attached to the Defense Logistics Agency as a Strategic Planner. Upon his retirement from the Air Force Bob took a position with UNISYS, which continued to leverage his military experience, top-secret clearance level and academic training. He built battlefield command & control systems that ultimately became standard across theaters of operation and remain in use today, albeit in updated form.

It was repeatedly stated in his military assessments that Bob was “a credit to himself, his country and his command;” but most importantly, he will be remembered as a devoted and loving husband, father, father-in-law and grandfather.
“Bob and I traveled out from St. Louis to Yale in 1963 on the train,” says John Collodi. “Neither of us had been to New Haven before. We had met in 1959 in the Mark Twain Summer Institute, a program of 10-week courses for ‘gifted’ students from St. Louis-area high schools. During one break, we happened to notice that we were both reading 1984. We two loners became friends, and attended the Genetics course together the next summer.

“Bob was always the most intrepid guy I knew, long before extreme sports were invented. In high school we were involved in cycling in a small way. Then one week I learned that Bob had ridden his bike to Chicago over the weekend! Motion was a constant theme. We had motorcycles, and Bob built himself a fiberglass hydrofoil.

“At Yale, were we clueless freshmen from St. Louis? When Thanksgiving came around, we had managed our cash-on-hand poorly and forgot that Freshman Commons was closed. We shared a jar of CheezWhiz for the big meal – and probably never told another soul about it.

“We had the same Draft Board, which was overloaded with student deferments and pretty rapacious. They caught up with me and I did a stint in the Navy. They drafted Bob, now married, right out of a PhD program in anthropology and he – in for a dime, in for a dollar – opted for a career of flying for the Air Force. He once told me about the distinctive noise your radar makes when you’re ‘locked in’ by an incoming surface-to-air missile. Or about the day only two teams out of the five in his group returned from the mission. And he knew more about weather than anyone. He was also proud of a study he compiled at the University of Illinois that was a key to the NATO-Soviet Union Intermediate-Range Missile Treaty of 1987. He considered this his single most important professional achievement.

“Bob’s family got to share the adventure through residences in England and Italy. One wintry week in the UK, Bob, who was not a sailor, crewed on an icy circumnavigation of the Isle of Man – more motion and lots of weather. He spent the latter days of his career in and around the Pentagon, riding his motorcycle to work. A few weeks after Joan died he was diagnosed with a rare degenerative myopathy. He was a model of prescience and gutsiness to the end. We talked regularly on the phone, and I miss those long Saturday calls with my sixty-year friend.”

In lieu of flowers, Bob’s family requests donations be made to the Wounded Warrior Project and the World Wildlife Fund.