A Sketch of the life of the late
Lieut. Col. Robert Henry Willis, Jr.
Lieut. Col. Robert Henry Willis, Jr., son of R.H. and Jessie G. Willis, was born near Williston,
Barnwell County, South Carolina, September 7, 1886. He received hiws elementary education in various common schools of which
his Father was principal. In the autumn of 1904, he entered the Citadel, Charleston, South Carolina, the West Point of the South, as a
benefidiary cadet, the place having been won by him in a competitive examination. As a student he was a plodder and faithful to his
Having spent four years at the Citadel, he was the first honor graduate of the class of 1908.
In consequence of his being the first honor man, he was commissioned by the President of the United States as second lieutenant in the Sixth Infantry, United States Army.
After graduation, having spent the summer at Simpsonville, South Carolina, then the home of his parents, he joined his unit, the Sixth Infantry, at Fort William Henry Harrison, Helena, Montana, the latter part of October, 1908. Here he remained till January 1, 1910, when the Sixth Infantry was ordered to the Philippine Islands. The regiment was in the Philippine Islands about two and a half years, by far the greatest part of the time being spent on the island of Mindanao. The first few months of his soujourn on that island, Lieut. Willis was engaged in surveying a route from an interior point to the sea, his only companions being another American soldier and two members of that fierce savage tribe, the Moros.
In the summer of 1912, the Sixth Infantry, on their return to the United States, landed in San Francisco.
While stationed at San Francisco, Lieut. Willis took a flight over the bay with an aviator, and becoming fascinated with flying, he soon joined the aviation section of the United States signal service, and went down to San Diego, California, to learn to fly.
In October, 1912, Lieut. Willis, not having seen his home folks in four long years, obtained a four months furlough, much the greater part of which he spent with his parents, who still made their home at Simpsonville, South Carolina. While at home he seemed never to wish to be idle. Being accustomed to doing things with exactness in the army and to having things in good order, he soon saw that a number of improvements might be made for the comfort and convenience of his men and others of his homefolk as well; and he did not hesitate to use the saw and the hammer himself and on his own account. The many jobs he did eight years ago - stand today as monuments to his thoughfulness, industry, and efficiency.
His furlough being over, he returned to San Diego, to resume the study and practice of aviation.
In 1914, he spent a few months at El Paso, Texas, with the Sixth Infantry, which was sent with other units to guard various points on the border to prevent ammunitions from being carried into Mexico. While at El Paso, he wrote in one of his letters to his home people: "Since about October 20, 1914, I have been busy day and night, when I wasn't busy with some of my regular duties, studying for an examination next January, I have nine subjects and they cover a big field. It is the regular examinations for promotion."
The result of his industry and ambition was that in about a year he was promoted to a captaincy. A good while after this, while studying for another promotion, he wrote that he had not gone to bed before one o'clock in five weeks and at times he studied much later.
Some time during the summer of 1915, the aero squadron to which Captain Willis belonged, was sent from San Diego to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Later he was at different times at Fort Brown, Brownsville, Texas, and Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas.
After the notorious Villa's raid at Columbus, New Mexico, we find Capt. Willis at that place. While he was at Columbus, in 1916, a squadron of eight aeroplanes was ordered to proceed to Gen Pershing's camp at Casas Grandes, Mexico, about three hundred miles from Columbus. The squadron left Columbus about 5:30 p.m., Capt. Willis being at the wheel of one of its machines. The approach of night found Capt. Willis and other aviator flying about a mile high. As night was coming on, he thought he could follow better if the lights were between him and the sky. So he lowered himself to where he thought the six machines were flying and they were not to be seen. It happened that they had dropped at the same time. He lost not only the six machines that were flying below him, but also the one that was above him. So he had to fly on alone at night over a strange country full of enemies: but ere long the friendly moon rose and cheered him with light. The understanding was that the squadron was guided by a bonfire at the camp. Having flown some time, Capt. Willis saw a light at a distance ahead of him. On approaching the light, he found it a circle of fire, which he thought had probably caught out from the bonfire, and that the camp was nearby. So he landed, but the ground being