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Longboater Robert Craft takes final flight

STEVE REID
Editor & Publisher
sreid@lbknews.com

No one loved his country, his wife, Alycia, and Longboat Key more than long-time Emerald Harbor resident Robert Donald Craft.

Married 35 years, his dedication to Alycia is matched with two tours in Vietnam piloting 1,172 missions in a C 130s, earning the Distinguished Flying Medal and then flying for Delta in a 30-year piloting career.

At home, retired to his Emerald Harbor sanctuary, Bob Craft could be seen working his property and showing up at Commission meetings often making smart and direct comments in a respectful and still humorous manner.

Others would chat with him outside the Lazy Lobster or in the Village — he loved to talk and tell war stories and enter discussions.

Alycia and Bob Craft.

And for a man who stopped counting when his plane took on 200 bullet holes, Craft was a highly sensitive man who said he started reading the Bible for the first time in Vietnam and was forced to reconcile what at first blush seemed irreconcilable, valuing life while shooting at the enemy.

That experience turned Craft into the man he became, the man who married Alycia, and the man who slipped into death by her side last Wednesday, April 10 at exactly 4 p.m. in the afternoon.

Last Monday morning, only two days before his passing, Bob’s mind was lucid, his spirit strong and he found in his heart the will to talk.

“I wanted to be a pilot from the first day I saw an airplane,” Craft said. It turns out that flying was part of Craft’s family life from his earliest memories, flying and the Air Force was his life.

In fact, the Craft family served the country over many generations — five generations served in the military dating back to the Revolutionary war.

Bob’s father, Robert Craft, joined the Air Corps in 1939 and ended up as Master Sergeant in charge of training. He served 32 ½ years.

Bob recalls his father was part of the development of Tyndall  Air Force Base, which is where the troops came back from their tours overseas.  He recalls when he was a Cub Scout and was chosen to attend a troop inspection performed by then visiting Brigadier General Curtis LeMay.

“When he got to me, I popped him a salute. I told him I intended to be an officer in the military.”

His route to that achievement was straight through the heart of the Vietnam War from 1967-1969.

 

Transformation

After flying 1,172 missions, Craft said he grew to question, resent and grow troubled by the way soldiers were treated as much by the government as anyone else.

Craft said he grew up with the attitude and practice of treating military people and those who served with respect.

“My dad taught me we have to treat military people well, and to hold them close to you and protect them. You make sure they eat first and you eat second. In World War II, they threw everything at the soldiers, but in Vietnam, they just used us up,” said Craft.

a C-130. Craft flew more than 1,100 missions in Vietnam.

Craft said he has not cried much in his life, but he is always sad when he recalls those “he could not save but should have saved.”

Craft said just before the end of his first tour he realized he had learned how to keep himself alive.

“I learned I could get killed real easy and the reason I was alive was due to 5 or 6 things I do before starting in a dangerous situation. If something goes wrong, I shift and do something differently,” Craft said.

And dangerous was a daily event; in fact moment-by-moment violence surrounded the young pilot.

In the C130s he and his 4 airmen would deliver ammo, fuel and supplies to remote bases. Often the landing strips and area was cleared in advance with helicopter fire.

“You got guys out front shooting and I am 31 feet in the air in a C130; dirt flying everywhere.”

And then after dropping supplies he would return with body parts and body bags. He did this trip after trip for two years.

Craft said it was the mortar fire and 50 caliber machine guns he feared the most.

“The only way to survive is to realize you are already dead,” said Craft reflecting some 45 years later.

As his second tour started, Craft started to read the Bible — the New Testament — through and through.

“I picked it up and it did not make any sense. I had to read the Old Testament and then it started making sense. I decided we had Buddhists fighting Christians fighting all these different people and the reality of these religions did not make sense. There cannot be a God so spiteful that he has to take you out,” said Craft.

Craft said soon his thinking made the military unclear and these ideas of God unclear.

“I found a different way of life,” he said.

When Craft left the military in 1973 he was on target to enter the military elite. Among his achievements was the Distinguished Flying Cross for gallantry and airmanship.

Craft said he recalls a full Colonel telling him, “You are not going to leave my sight…General Craft. The first thing we are going to do is send you to Brazil — that is going to be our next battle ground.”

Craft’s father wanted nothing more than the clear path ahead. But Bob was compelled by his heart to go another route.

Craft said at the time he thought: “The God I believe in is not a violent God. The God I believe in is a peaceful, loving God — but I cannot find him in my life.”

Bob left the military after his 7 and ½ years and captained as a pilot for Delta for 30 more. He met the love of his life, Alicyia, and said he has “absolutely no regrets in his long an exciting life.”

 

Biogarphivcal Background…

Bob was born in Louisville, KY on January 21, 1943, but attended Winter Park High School in Florida. After moving to Okinawa he graduated from Kubasaki High School in Okinawa, Japan in 1961. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1965.

He was active in the ROTC program and created The Capt. Bob Craft Scholarship Fund. Bob was a member of the (Pike) Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity.

He returned to Langley AFB and served as an Instructor Pilot until 1973, when he began his career with Delta Air Lines. Throughout his life he stayed very active in many patriotic veteran associations.

Captain Craft had a 30-year career with Delta Air Lines, hired February 26, 1973 and retired at mandatory age of 60 in 2003. Captain Craft was based in Miami. Florida, Atlanta, Georgia, and Portland, Oregon.

Captain Craft flew International the majority of his 30-year career crossing the Atlantic to Europe, the Pacific to Asia and many Delta Routes to South America.

One of his most memorable days in Commercial Flying was on September 11, 2001, when two planes hit the World Trade Center and one hit the Pentagon. He was the Captain of Delta Flight 109, originating in Madrid, Spain bound for Atlanta, Georgia. He and his fellow pilots together made the decision to make the difficult landing of their B-767ER in the Azores at Santa Maria Island on a WWII Runway to ensure the safety of their passengers and crew.

Bob met Alycia, the love of his life, and married in August 1977 at the Ernest Hemingway Home in Key West Florida. Alycia flew with Pan American World Airways as a Flight Attendant and Purser from 1965 until 1991.

After Pan American went into bankruptcy, Alycia was hired by Delta Air Lines, and together Alycia and Bob flew many overseas trips together until 2002 when Alycia retired. Bob’s retirement trip was Delta Flight from Milan, Italy to Atlanta in Jan. 2003.

In 1979 Bob and Alycia purchased 150 Acres, with creeks and a 14 Acres Lake, in Fayetteville, Georgia.

During the 34 years they built a large barn, fenced all the land, then purchased beef cattle. They built more ponds, stocked them and filled them with a variety of Koi. In 1987, The Craft’s built their dream home, planning never to leave. When they approached retirement age, however, the Craft’s purchased a second home on Longboat Key.

After retirement, their decision was to move full time to Florida and have the best of both worlds, The Gulf of Mexico and the serenity of their beautiful farm — Environ.

Bob is survived by his devoted wife of 35 years, Alycia Araneo Craft formerly of Charleston, S.C. His sister, Barbara Jarvis and her husband Dennis Jarvis; brother, John Craft and his wife, Linda Craft; nieces, Angela Bowman and Vallerie Becker; nephews, Matthew and Michael Craft.

Memorial Service will be at a later date. Brown & Sons Funeral Homes & Crematory 43rd Street Chapel.

In lieu of flowers please send donations to The Wounded Warrior Project in Jacksonville, Florida, website: http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/

Condolences www.brownandsonsfuneral.com.

 

 

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6 Responses for “Longboater Robert Craft takes final flight”

  1. Bart herndon says:

    I knew Bob & Alycia since the 70’s, great people, always flying here & there, we had a few parties at my old mans beach house in new smyrna beach, always alot if laughs & fun. Sorry to see Bob go, the agent Orange finally got its way. Bob always wanted me to go in the air force, but after Vietnam, the military was not really a good option. I wish Alycia the best, you both were lovely people.

  2. Morris Steen says:

    Bob and I were fraternity brothers and lived in the Pike House at the same time while at the University of Florida. I ran into him in Bangkok in Dec 1967 while I was on leave. He was flying C-130s for the USAF and I was flying helicopter gunships for the navy. We would occasionally see each other at the Langley AFB Officer’s Cub following Vietnam. We had similar backgrounds in that each of our fathers were career enlisted. His father was USAF and my father was US Army. RIP.

  3. Patricia Johnson says:

    Alicia, my heart goes out to you in the loss of your wonderful husband, I hope that you may find comfort with God and your many friends. We are all here for you.

  4. John Wild says:

    Bob Craft kept the pressure on the town to put town owned property in front of Emerald Harbor in a proper land classification to protect his neighborhood. It’s mostly scrub trees like Brazilian Pepper. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to clear that land and make a “pocket park” there, and name it in his honor?

  5. Peter O'Connor says:

    We were likely in Vietnam at the same time. I rode many C-130 aircraft in my service around that troubled land. A true American Patriot is gone. Bravo Zulu (Well Done).

  6. William Kary says:

    After reading both articles, a REAL American Hero…

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