Robert Webb Tribolet – Colonel, United States Air Force

Courtesy of his classmates, United States Military Academy, Class of 1946

Published Assembly July 1991

Robert Webb Tribolet No.15703 Class of 1946
Died 25 January 1989 in Sarasota, Florida, aged 63 years. Interment: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.


Early afternoon of a cool, misty February day in 1989, a truly patriotic American, who loved his family, his country, and the US Air Force, was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery; his wife, Barbara; his children, Susan, David, Sally, Dick; six of his nine grandchildren; and a group of classmates came to bid him farewell.

Robert Webb Tribolet was born on 27 February 1925 in Bangor, Maine to Hervey Aldrich Tribolet and Mary Eloise Webb Tribolet. Trib's dad was a career Army Infantry officer; thus Trib was raised in a military environment, moving from base to base in the US and including a tour at Fort Clayton in Panama.

Trib attended Staunton Military Academy in Virginia for his senior year of high school while his dad was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Trib graduated from Staunton and had his heart set on getting into West Point; however, his appointment by Senator Brewster did not come through as expected.

Since he had a full year to wait for another appointment, Trib decided to enroll at Texas A&M, thereby gaining more military school experience. This turned out to be a disaster and after missing some exams, he was placed on academic probation. He volunteered for the draft in May 1943 and was given a call up date of 16 May. Finally, all his efforts paid off: on the evening of 15 May, he was notified that he was accepted as a cadet to USMA, to report on 1 July 1943. As far as academics were concerned, our Howitzer says that Trib believed in the old saying, “a tenth pro, is a tenth wasted.” Mathematics was the real bane of his existence, but through diligent perseverance, he conquered this worthy foe.

During this time his dad, Colonel Tribolet, was in the middle of the war on the Normandy beachhead. He did survive, but naturally Trib was greatly distracted and unable to place full concentration on the demanding curriculum at West Point. Trib would readily admit that the main reason he chose to take flying as a cadet was to avoid the last few months of the year of mathematics. This decision was never regretted because he came to dearly love being a pilot in the US Air Force.

Trib spotted Barbara one day at the Astor Hotel in New York City while on a three day pass from Stewart AFB during basic flying training. She was with a group of girls from the University of Connecticut, and was in the lobby when Trib approached her and invited her to lunch. That proved to be the beginning of Trib's relationship with “Tud,” as he affectionately came to call her, that lasted for over 43 years until his death.

His early assignments were at Enid AFB, Oklahoma; Salina AFB, Kansas; and Biggs AFB, Texas; flying B-25's and then B-29's. He was at Clark Field, the Philippines, when the Korean War broke out, and soon found himself as a wing maintenance officer in Tachikawa, Japan. Later he served as an intelligence officer in Korea.

After the war, Barbara, with three small children now, joined Trib in Japan for a two year tour. As Trib relates in his memoirs, these were two of the most interesting years of his entire military career. He served in the Air Technical Intelligence section.

Later he served in KB-29 refueling units, both in the States and in England. This was followed by a tour as ROTC instructor and later PAS at the University of Rochester in New York. Sandwiched in between, Trib completed an eight week jet qualification course at Randolph AFB, San Antonio, Texas.

He received his master's in education in June 1961 and went on to the Air Force Command and Staff School at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. Later he became an instructor pilot in T-33's and T-38's.

Then his family, which now consisted of Barbara and their four children, Susan, David, Sally, and Dick, accompanied him to Buenos Aires, Argentina for a three year tour in the Air Force Mission as training advisor to the Argentine Air Force. There he joined B-2 classmate Charlie Ruggiero and family for a year. This turned out to be an enjoyable and rewarding experience for the entire family.

As a staff education and training officer, Trib felt certain that upon completion of his tour in Buenos Aires he was slated for assignment to ROTC or in the training area. He was not enthusiastic about having to train people to participate in the war in Vietnam, at least not until he had been there himself, so he volunteered for duty in Vietnam. Barbara was not particularly overjoyed by this decision, but she knew Trib felt strongly that he would be best able to train others if he had firsthand experience himself.

Trib was assigned to the 4th Air Commando Squadron to fly the AC-47, an attack model of the C-47. Trib, miraculously, flew 250 night combat missions, about 600 combat hours, and neither he nor any member of his crew was ever wounded! What an accomplishment!

After his combat tour, Trib was assigned to the Pentagon in October 1968. After serving four years in various departments such as Global Policy, Western Hemisphere Branch, Europe NATO Branch, Joint Chiefs of Staff Department, etc., Colonel Tribolet retired from active duty on 1 July 1972 after having served proudly and successfully for over 26 years in the US Air Force.

He and his family moved to Florida and lived on Siesta Key, near Sarasota. He kept busy during his 16 plus years of retirement by continuing one of his favorite pastimes, reading, dabbling in real estate and doing lots of community work on Siesta Key. He developed the disaster and the evacuation plan for the county of Sarasota, among other accomplishments.

The Tribolets made many friends wherever they went, due in no small measure to Barbara's dedication to support Trib in every way possible, and always being there to help others throughout their military careers and in retirement.

One of Trib's admirable characteristics was that he would never say or write anything until all the data was absorbed, passed through the intricate thought process of his active mind; then the words flowed out in an impressive, deliberate manner.

No one could have been prouder to have been a cadet, a West Point graduate and a pilot in the United States Air Force than Robert Webb Tribolet.

The Long Gray Line is enriched by your presence, Trib, you who served so admirably. Your family and friends will miss you but we will always have fond memories of you, and thank God for having shared life with you.


Charlie Ruggiero '46


Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment