Agronomy student remembered in Veterans Day Gold Star Hall Ceremony

November 12, 2018

An agronomy student will be one of three Iowa Staters honored during the Gold Star Hall Ceremony this afternoon in the Memorial Union. Robert Vance Rannells of Dunlap, Iowa, enrolled at Iowa State in 1936, studying agronomy. A month before receiving his degree, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He died in April 1945 when his B-29 bomber went down in the Pacific Ocean near Japan.

Rannells was born Dec. 9, 1918, to William and Adah Rannells. Growing up in Dunlap, Rannells worked the family farm like so many other Iowa farm boys. They raised cattle and harvested corn, soybeans and alfalfa.

He trained in radio operations in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and ranked in the top 10 percent of his class. Before leaving for active duty in the Pacific Theater, Rannells married his college sweetheart, Virginia Lynch, in March 1943.

Rannells became a radio operator on a B-29 bomber, called “Joltin’ Josie, The Pacific Pioneer,” of the 498th Bombardment Group, 73rd Bombardment Wing, 21st Bomber Command. A radio operator was essential to a B-29’s mission, as they were intended to disrupt the enemy’s war economy. According to the training manual, “In the event of an emergency, the lives of all fellow crew members may depend on” the radio operator’s abilities.

Rannells’ skills helped guide his crew through many successful bombings, including strategic routes that liberated the Philippines from Japanese forces in December 1944.

He completed 20 successful missions in the Pacific, but tragedy befell his bomber command on their 21st mission. On a mission to bomb Tokyo on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, Rannells’ B-29 took off from the U.S. Air Force Base at Saipan, but came under distress and crashed in the Pacific Ocean, exploding upon impact.

More about Robert Vance Rannels

Rannells is one of three students honored in today's ceremony. Also remembered will be:

  • William Howard Butler, Indianola, studied agricultural engineering at Iowa State in the 1940s. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, in 1942. He was killed when his plane crashed shortly after takeoff in China in July 1945.
  • Richard Wayne Suesens, Burlington, came to Iowa State in 1937 to study mechanical engineering. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1938. He was announced missing in action during the Battle of Midway in June 1942, and a year later was declared killed in action.

Iowa State’s annual Gold Star Hall ceremony honors Iowa Staters who lost their lives in war. Former students’ names are engraved on the Gold Star Hall walls if they attended Iowa State full-time for one or more semesters and died while in military service in a war zone. As names become known, they are added to the wall and the service members are honored in the university’s Veterans Day observance.

This year’s Gold Star Hall ceremony will begin at 3:15 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12, in the Memorial Union Great Hall. Today, Gold Star Hall includes the names of the nearly 600 Iowa Staters who have died in war: in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Somalia and in the Global War on Terrorism.

This ceremony begins a week of events on campus dedicated to honoring veterans.