Robert J. Hymel was a young Air Force pilot when his B-52 was shot down by a North Vietnamese surface-to-air missile during Operation Linebacker II, an 11-day offensive in December 1972. Another American pilot cut Hymel from the wreckage after the bomber crash-landed near Hanoi.
They escaped before it burst into flames. Only two members of the five-man crew survived, said his wife, Beatriz "Pat" Hymel.
"He was administered last rites, and the doctors said they didn't even know why he lived," Beatriz Hymel said. "They thought maybe it was because he had never met his daughter," then only 2 months old.
"I feel like God gave us another 29 years," she added, noting that some of her friends lost their husbands in Vietnam. "Our daughter got to know her father and his granddaughter got to know her grandfather. When I really needed him in my life, he was there."
Robert Hymel was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and the Purple Heart for his Vietnam service.
His wife, an elementary school principal, said she served as a foil to her husband, whom she called "a bad little boy." In his younger days, she said he partied with military buddies on Friday and Saturday evenings, though still managed to attend church on Sundays.
He received a bachelor's degree in 1969 in industrial engineering from Southwestern Louisiana University and later obtained a master's degree in business administration from New England College.
Hymel, 55, of Woodbridge, Va., retired in the early 1990s as a lieutenant colonel after more than 20 years in the Air Force. He was working as a management analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon when it was attacked.
He was in the basement of the building and was preparing to move to a new workstation when the building was struck, his wife said. The new desk, which he was to occupy the following day, was in an area spared from destruction.
A daughter, Natalie Conner, also survives him.
Profile courtesy of THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.