Major Austin A. Straubel (September 4, 1904–February 3, 1942) was commander of the 11th Bombardment Squadron and acting commander of the 7th Bombardment Group when he died from burns received, when he was attacked by Japanese Zero Planes, and shot down, from the resulting crash of a B-18 Bolo near Surabaya, Java. Austin Straubel International Airport, near Green Bay, Wisconsin, is named after him.
On February 3, 1942, Major Straubel was joined by 2nd Lieutenant Russell M. Smith, copilot, and Staff Sergeant George W. Pickett, flight engineer. The three were flying a Douglas B-18 “Bolo” (36-338) to Bandung, Indonesia. Straubel, unhappy with the relationship between 5th Bomber Command and his 7th Bomb Group, had decided to meet with Major General, Lewis H. Brereton Deputy Chief of Staff. After meeting with Brereton, he departed for Malang Indonesia with three passengers the next day. While flying through a pass near Surabaya, Straubel’s aircraft was attacked by Japanese Zeros and shot down. All aboard were killed in the crash or died shortly afterwards at a nearby hospital.
Straubel was the first Brown County aviator to lose his life in World War II. The Brown County Airport Committee, in a March 20, 1946, letter, asked the Brown County Board of Supervisors to “consider naming the new Brown County Airport in memory of Austin Straubel.” The facility is widely known today as Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB). Straubel, buried in Java, was reinterred at Green Bay’s Woodlawn Cemetery on January 8, 1949.
Austin was born to Carl A. and Alice C. (Van Dycke) Straubel on September 14, 1904, one of four children and the couple’s only son. Austin played tackle on the Green Bay East High School’s football team. He attended the University of Wisconsin (Madison) where he continued playing football. After graduating in 1927, he returned to Green Bay and worked at his father’s business, Midwest Cold Storage.
Austin Straubel’s grandfather, H. August Straubel, was among the early settlers of Brown County, Wisconsin. His family put down roots in 1846, later he would join the army and fight in the Civil War.
7th & 11th Bombardment Group
It was December 7, 1941, and Major Straubel was commanding the 11th Bombardment Squadron, part of the 7th Bombardment Group (Heavy), and things had just gotten crazy. The group was stationed at Hamilton Field, Hamilton Air Force Base California, and their ground support troops had sailed on November 21 for the Philippines. Straubel’s squadron was preparing for their flight to the Philippines. Confusion continued and amazingly, orders called for some aircraft to fly west while others flew east.
Joined by the eight others in his crew, Straubel flew Consolidated LB-30 (B-24) AL-609, via the African route, arriving at Singasori Field, Malang, Java, at 1130 on January 11, 1942. They were part of a mixed group of B-17s and LB-30s, some of which flew the Pacific while others, like Straubel, flew the Atlantic.
Five aircraft were assigned the group’s first mission on January 16. Straubel would lead three LB-30s and two B-17s. The Liberators were to bomb the airfield at Langoan while the Fortresses were to attack ships in Manado Bay. Straubel would earn the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts that day.
Lt. Col. Austin Straubel was the first aviator from Brown County to lose his life in his Country’s service, February 3, 1942, while on a bombing mission over Makassar Strait, after having served in the United States Air Corp. for 13 years.
Lt. Col. Straubel was the grandson of one of Brown County’s first families that settled here in the year 1846 and his grandfather served the North for four years during the Civil War.
On March 20, 1946, the Brown County Board of Supervisors signed a resolution to name their new airport “Austin Straubel Field” after Lt. Col. Austin Straubel for his dauntless courage, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice, and that he be recognized and honored in a memorable manner.