Robert Arnold Newcomb
1917 - 2017
Bob was born in Hawaii and the aloha spirit of the islands permeated his long life. He loved the sea and he offered a joyous yes to life.
Reaching his 100th birthday on February 22nd of this year, Robert Arnold was the first born child of Harry B. Newcomb, a Honolulu life insurance agent, and Emily C. Newcomb, a former school teacher. Although his earliest and fondest childhood memories were of the family home in Manoa Valley, much of his youth was also spent in Carlsbad, California. There the family struggled financially through the early years of the depression before returning to Hawaii in 1933.
After completing high school, Bob attended the University of Hawaii, studying chemistry, before winning an appointment to the US Naval Academy. Those four years in Annapolis brought him not only a deeply fulfilling career, but also friendships that lasted his whole life. He attended class of 1940 reunions into his 90s and served as class editor for Shipmate, the academy alumni periodical. Bob kept in close touch with classmates who survived the war years and never forgot the many who didn’t. Of 456 graduates, 56 were lost in WWII and Korea, historically the greatest loss of any class in the service academies.
Bob’s naval career was exceptionally broad. Following graduation his first assignment was aboard the USS Northampton anchored in Pearl Harbor. Slated to go to gunnery school on the mainland, Bob left Honolulu, aboard the SS Lurline, just two days before the Japanese attack. During the war years he served on destroyers and later as Fire Control (Gunnery) Officer on the aircraft carrier USS Cabot. In November 1944 the Cabot came under attack by kamikaze aircraft and Bob’s able leadership won him a commendation from Admiral Halsey that read, “By battery control and inspiring leadership he contributed substantially to the destruction of three enemy aircraft…. Strafings, bomb explosions, and fire did not deter him in the cool, proficient performance of his duty.”
In 1945, near the end of the war, Bob was sent to Dallas, Texas, for flight training. That summer the US carried out the deadly bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and throughout his life Bob remained deeply troubled by the military’s use of atomic bombs on a civilian population. Bob served the last months of the war at Pensacola, Florida, and in 1946 received his wings as a carrier pilot. In the post-war years Bob commanded torpedo and dive bomber squadrons operating in the seas off China prior to the Communist takeover. During the Korean War he earned a second commendation ribbon as navigator of the aircraft carrier Essex. He received two teaching posts, one at Annapolis and another at Monterey Naval Postgraduate School. The final assignments of his naval career were in Naha, Okinawa, and Corpus Christi, Texas, where he served as Operations Officer of the Naval Air Station. He retired in 1960 with the rank of Commander.
Those years of active military duty were also the years Bob launched his family. In 1945 he married Barbara Peede and they soon welcomed son William (1946) and daughter Dorothy (1950).
Bob pursued a second career in teaching. After receiving his MA in mathematics at Purdue University, he became a tenured math and physical science instructor at Whittier College. In Whittier he was active in civil rights issues, serving as chairman of the Fair Housing Committee, which sought to bring integration to the town.
When Bob retired from college teaching, he and Barbara settled in Santa Barbara, but after several years their marriage ended. Once again Bob returned to life at sea, this time as a math teacher on naval ships under the aegis of Chapman College. During this period Bob became a Unitarian and married (1983) fellow church member Elizabeth Alexander. In 1999 Bob and Betty moved to Santa Barbara’s Valle Verde Retirement Community, where they continued to travel the world and lead an active social life. Bob’s enthusiasms flowed in so many directions. He sang and played the harmonica. He sailed and body surfed. He loved gardening and was particularly proud of his sweet peas. He participated faithfully in his local Rotary Club, tutored at SBCC, and was a student mentor for the Fighting Back Program.
Passing away peacefully on October 3rd, Bob’s loving and boundless spirit is deeply missed by family and friends.
Bob was preceded in death by his younger brother, William Henry; Barbara, the mother of his children; his wife, Betty; and a stepson, Peter Alexander. He is survived by his children Dorothy Newcomb Deacon and William Harry Newcomb; daughter-in-law Carmela Alexander; granddaughters Emily Deacon and Warinthip Newcomb, step-grandsons Nathan Larson-Alexander and Gregory Alexander, and great-grandsons Ben Larson-Alexander and Roan Alexander. A memorial service was conducted earlier at Valle Verde. Interment will be at the Columbarium of the United States Naval Academy. Contributions in Bob’s memory may be sent to the Braille Society of Santa Barbara or charity of your choice.