Bob Gieger: Air Traffic Controller

Published 1:03 am Sunday, December 9, 2007

After more than 30 years of military service a local resident now volunteers his time to help the community as a member of Picayune’s Senior Patrol.

Robert “Bob” E. Gieger, a native of Laurel, first joined the military in July of 1943 as part of the Army Air Core, which later became known as the Air Force. During his military service he recalls his time in the battles at Iwo Jima during World War II, the Korean war and the Vietnam war.

His primary concern as a precision lander at Iwo Jima, what he described as the most exciting time in his military career, was to guide B-29 bombers back to the runway in thick cloud cover.

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“Most of ‘em wouldn’t see the runway till they touched down,” Gieger said. “They put their faith in us.”

Sometimes Gieger said he would look up in the sky and see nothing but B-29 bombers flying overhead.

Gieger believes the true heroes of that war were the pilots. There were times when bombers would fly in to the base severely damaged from gunfire and the pilot still managed to bring his passengers to safety. One incident Gieger recalls witnessing involved a pilot flying over the island so his crew could parachute out. Then the pilot put the plane on auto pilot so he could parachute out. Even though the pilot aimed the plane to crash into the sea, another of the already damaged engines went out forcing the plane to fly in a circle and head back towards the island. To avoid a possible disaster another fighter plane was forced to shoot the circling bomber down.

Gieger remained a part of the Army Air Core as an air traffic controller until World War II ended, at which time he left the military to pursue an education in radio and television in Kansas City. While in school he opened up a service station, which financially supported him and his education.

In 1949 Gieger returned to service to what is now called the Air Force. When he did so he relinquished ownership of the service station to his father who ran it until his father retired.

During the Korean War Gieger was stationed at a base in Alaska where he worked as an air traffic controller. The base in Alaska worked as a stopping point, where most military personnel on their way to Korea passed.

“We had some kind of experience landing planes in the snow and ice and ice crystals,” Gieger said.

From there Gieger served in other places such as Germany, England, and Washington State only to end up back in Alaska, all as an air traffic controller.

A large earth quake in 1965 proved to be another exciting time for Gieger while in Alaska. Though he could not remember a seismic value for the earthquake he did recall the formation of the tsunami that followed. As the water receded he said he could see a number of oil tankers, trucks and other lost or forgotten items lying on the sea bed, now exposed.

“You could see a mile off with no water, then all the sudden you saw that big wave” Gieger said.

When the 10 to 18 foot wave came ashore it brought the debris on the seabed ashore, he said.

Eventually he took a position in San Francisco where he toured air traffic control stations in the region to ensure operations were going smoothly.

During the Vietnam war he was assigned to Hawaii in 1967 to do the same job he did in San Francisco. Even though his family was living in Hawaii he spent his time in Thailand, Korea and Vietnam overseeing air traffic control operations. In fact he spent so little time in Hawaii that while he could find his way around Bangkok, and Saigon, he would get lost in Honolulu, Gieger said.

In 1971 he took over the training program in Missouri but his father suffered a heart attack, which prompted him to put in for a transfer to the Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. He later retired from that base in 1975.

After retirement he and his family moved to Texas until his first wife passed when he moved back to Mississippi. In 1981 he remarried to Cathy Gieger, whom he has been married to for 26 years.

“She’s the best thing that ever happened to me, she really is,” Gieger said.

After they married the new couple bought a travel trailer and visited every state in the continental United States. They even traveled to Germany, Hawaii, and Austria during that time, Gieger said.

A resident of Picayune since 1993 Gieger now volunteers his time to the Senior Patrol division of the Picayune Police Department. His joining the senior patrol began after he went to talk to Chief Jim Luke and pitched the idea of a senior patrol.

“The next thing I knew I read in the paper that it was starting,” Gieger said.

Gieger said he called Luke to join the division. Now, among other things, he helps the children during the department’s summer camps.