Charles H. Latrobe III, highly decorated Navy fighter pilot
By By Frederick N. Rasmussen and The Baltimore Sun
Feb 23, 2013 at 2:51 PM
Charles H. Latrobe III, a retired Koppers Co. executive who was a highly decorated World War II Navy night fighter pilot, died Feb. 16 of complications from pneumonia at Roland Park Place. He was 90.
"He was a very private person who had the highest level of integrity possible and was intolerant of those who did not," said Joseph M. Coale III, a political adviser, Baltimore County preservationist and former head of Historic Annapolis.
Born in Buffalo, N.Y., Charles Hazlehurst Latrobe III was 3 when he moved to a home on Ridgewood Road in Roland Park with his family in 1926.
Mr. Latrobe was a member of the distinguished Latrobe family of Baltimore, whose roots in the city date to the late 1790s.
Benjamin Henry Latrobe, his great-great-great-grandfather, designed the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Assumption and the U.S. Capitol in Washington. His great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Henry Latrobe Jr., was chief engineer for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and designed the landmark Thomas Viaduct in Relay.
Charles Hazlehurst Latrobe, his great-grandfather, for whom he was named, was a world-famous bridge designer and had designed all of the original bridges that spanned the Jones Falls. He also designed the whimsical pagoda in Patterson Park.
After graduating from Gilman School in 1941, Mr. Latrobe began studying mechanical engineering at Cornell University.
"I had poor grades from the prior semesters, and the grades were so poor from the eight weeks course, I was asked not to return to the School of Engineering at Cornell," Mr. Latrobe wrote in an unpublished memoir, "Batmen: Night Air Group 90."
"The war had broken out the previous year and some of my fraternity brothers were discussing their service plans," he wrote. After leaving Cornell, Mr. Latrobe traveled to Norfolk, Va., where a friend who was a lieutenant in the Navy talked him out of joining the Army Air Corps.
"He had a friend in the Navy recruitment office there and took me down to met him the next day," he wrote. "I think I was in the Navy that day! I think it was Oct. 8, 1942."
Mr. Latrobe completed flight training at Anacostia and Pensacola naval air stations, and later at Vero Beach, Fla., where he learned to fly F6F Hellcat fighter planes.
In the late summer of 1944, Mr. Latrobe shipped out for Pearl Harbor, where on Christmas Eve he and his air group, Night Air Group 90, joined the carrier USS Enterprise, which would become the most decorated naval vessel of the war.
Mr. Latrobe's first mission was a night raid on Jan. 6, 1945, on Clark Field in the Philippines. It nearly ended in disaster after his plane was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire as he and his wing mate, Dee Young, passed over the target for a third time.
Mr. Latrobe radioed to his partner, "Dee, I've been hit!" as he pulled up and cut the throttle to minimize vibration that shook the Hellcat.
Mr. Latrobe nursed the badly damaged plane on a 250-mile flight and landed safely on the Enterprise to cheering crewmen and with only 10 gallons of fuel left in his tank.
In February 1945, the task group sailed north to Japan from the South China Sea, where they had been flying raids.
On a raid on the Yokosuka airfield at the northern end of Tokyo Bay, they endured extensive anti-aircraft action as they strafed the airfield, factories, a radio tower and three steam locomotives.
"The trains stopped and we could see people getting out of the cars and huddling on the side away from our attack. The steam engines did not blow up," he wrote. "I later found out that some of the other pilots strafed the people."
Mr. Latrobe flew combat air patrols during the invasion of Iwo Jima and the Okinawa campaign.
Mr. Latrobe survived a May 14, 1945, Japanese kamikaze attack on the Enterprise that killed 14 and wounded 34.
"When each attack came and the guns started firing, all of us dove to get under the ward room tables! I got a large lump on my right elbow from making these dives under the tables," he wrote.
After the attack, the damaged ship sailed to the Puget Sound Naval Yard.
Mr. Latrobe, who attained the rank of lieutenant, was credited with 21/2 kills, and his wartime exploits of 25 sorties resulted in his being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times and five Air Medals.
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His wife of 49 years, the former Barbara Caffee, died in 2009.
He is survived by a son, Charles H. Latrobe IV of Monkton; a daughter, Caroline L. Prout of Monkton; three granddaughters; and four great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Caroline Ellicott Boyce ended in divorce.