Soon after graduating from high school in Alton, Illinois, in the spring of 1970, an 18-year-old Teddy Sigite received a letter stating that Uncle Sam had plans to bring him into the military through the draft. Instead, he and two of his friends decided to voluntarily enlist in the United States Marine Corps, thus beginning an adventure that introduced him to a new and innovative aircraft.
“I don’t really know why we decided to join the Marines instead of waiting to be drafted,” Sigite chuckled. “Who knows why you did the things that you did when you were so young.”
After finishing boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, he was sent to Camp Pendleton, California, for additional training in infantry tactics. While there, he recalls his training cycle being extended by several weeks due to an unanticipated medical development.
“We were quarantined twice because of spinal meningitis, so we ended up being there longer than normal,” he said. “I can remember that we had to go to the mess hall to eat after all of the other Marines were finished and then cleaned our own dishes (to keep from exposing others).”
In the early weeks of 1971, the young Marine received orders to report to Millington Naval Air Station in Tennessee, undergoing several months of training to qualify as an aviation machinist mate. While there, he was introduced to the fundamentals of flight and basic maintenance procedures before moving on to advanced training to learn how to work on jet engines. During this timeframe, Sigite recalled, he and other trainees were provided opportunities to work on the turbojet engines of a Douglas A-4 Skyhawk—a light attack aircraft that was initially developed for the Marines and Navy nearly two decades earlier.
From there, he transferred to his first duty assignment with a squadron at the Marine Corps Air Station at Merritt Field in Beaufort, South Carolina. Upon arrival, he soon discovered he would be working on an aircraft that had undergone its first flight only three years earlier—the AV-8A Harrier. Manufactured by Hawker Siddeley in the United Kingdom, the Harrier became the first vertical take-off combat airplane to enter operational service. The Harrier was equipped with angled jet pipes that not only allowed it to take-off and descend vertically, which negated the need for runways, but also had the ability to hover in mid-air.
“The squadron I was with had a very interesting composition,” said Sigite. “I was in the engine department, and there were other departments such as avionics, hydraulics, ordnance. Each department,” he added, “had two Air Force personnel assigned to it, because the Air Force was considering purchasing the Harrier as well.”
Since the aircraft was new and the Marine Corps was becoming familiar with its maintenance requirements, capabilities and limitations, technical representatives from Hawker Siddeley were also assigned to the base. Adding to the unique mix was the Marine, Navy and Royal Air Force pilots working together to learn to pilot the Harrier.
“While I was stationed there, we ended up with 45 planes in about two years,” he said. “They eventually started another squadron and they took 15 of our aircraft right off the bat to get it going.”
The Harriers that were purchased from overseas were crated in sections, which were flown to the United States in Air Force transport planes. The Harriers were then assembled and Sigite assisted in running tests on the engines in addition to performing any scheduled maintenance.
“They put on several air shows because the Harrier was so new and interesting,” explained Sigite. “I can also remember going out to China Lake Naval Air Station in the Mojave Desert with the squadron for about three years in a row, so that we could conduct training exercises.”
Part of the squadron’s training regimen included participating in maneuvers aboard aircraft carriers stationed along the East Coast. Additionally, he completed a four-month training cruise aboard a carrier that traveled to Greenland and Portugal, all the while working to keep the Harriers on board in operational condition.
In early 1974, Sigite’s squadron was preparing to deploy to Japan, but since he had less than six months remaining in his enlistment, he was transferred to Marine Attack Squadron VMA-231 at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina. In September 1974, he received his discharge from the Marine Corps. The following year, he married his fiancée, Carol, and the couple has since raised a son and a daughter. Sigite was employed for 32 years as a machinist for a company in the St. Louis area that produced a bottles, insulation, shingles and associated products. In 2008, he and his wife moved to Holts Summit to be closer to her family.
“Several years ago, I saw an ad in the paper that noted the American Legion in Jefferson City was looking for some part-time help,” he said. “I have been working here for several years as a cook, but I am also a long-time member of the Legion.”
The time spent working with the Harriers was a fascinating experience for a young, mechanically-inclined Marine. Not only did the aircraft inspire a sense of awe through its demonstrated capabilities, but revealed to Sigite the dangers associated with its operation.
“There were about three pilots that were killed while I was stationed at Beaufort,” he said. “It was a dangerous aircraft and there was no flight simulator for training, so the pilots needed to know how to fly.”
He added, “But it was always so interesting to work with something that was new. The time I spent working on the Harrier opened up my ability to learn and I soaked it all up like a sponge.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Born in 1917 and later attending school in the Missouri communities of Mountain Grove and Chillicothe, a six-feet-tall, strapping young Robert L. Faurot made the decision to attend the University of Missouri-Columbia. During the late 1930s, he established himself as a star halfback in the university’s football program under the guidance of his brother, legendary college head coach Don Faurot. Robert played as part of the Big Six Conference team in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1940. A few weeks later, with war on the horizon, he left college during his senior year to volunteer to train as an aviator. This decision would result in a shocking sacrifice that later inspired his older brother to enlist.
Faurot completed his primary flight training at Tulsa, Oklahoma, and underwent his basic aviation training at Randolph Field, Texas, in the weeks following his enlistment. He and his fellow Air Corps cadets learned to pilot their 450-horsepower training airplanes under the guidance of seasoned instructor pilots, which included an introduction to night flying. In early September 1940, he qualified to transfer to Advanced Flying School.
“Robert L. Faurot … is now a lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve Air Corps according to announcements reaching his friends in Chillicothe this week,” reported the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune on November 16, 1940. The newspaper added, “Lieut. Faurot … received his commission yesterday in graduation exercises held at Kelly Field, San Antonio, Texas. He has completed the course of training for the Army pilots and has taken his place in the reserves.”
The young aviator was assigned to the 39th Pursuit Squadron of the 31st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan. While there, he was among a small group of pilots selected to travel to England and fly as observers with the Royal Air Force during the Battle of Britain, gaining flight experience in fighter planes such as the Supermarine Spitfire and Hawker Hurricane.
“Returning to the U.S. and back again with the 39th Pursuit Squadron, (Faurot) flew many hours in the new P-39 Bell Airacobra during the military maneuvers held (during the summer and fall of 1941) in the southeastern U.S.,” explained the website of the 39th Fighter Squadron Association.
Briefly assigned to Baer Field at Fort Wayne, Indiana, the association’s website noted that following the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), Faurot and the crews of the 39th Fighter Squadron received orders to report to the West Coast. From there, they transferred to Australia to prepare to enter the war. Records reveal that Faurot was soon flying the Lockheed P-38 Lightning—a single-seat American fighter with distinctive twin tails. By June 1942, he and his fellow airmen were engaged in combat with Japanese aircraft.
The Kansas City Times reported of Faurot on January 13, 1943, “For several weeks he has been in action on the New Guinea front, where he is deputy commander of his squadron. He became an ace in his first fourteen days of action there …”
“Lieutenant Robert Faurot was credited with a bizarre kill of a Zero fighter at Lae Aerodrome in New Guinea,” wrote Martin Caidin in his book Fork-Tailed Devil: The P-38. He added, “As far as we know, it turned out to be the first Zero kill made by the P-38; and my logs and diaries indicated the date was November 26, 1942.”
Sadly, the twenty-five-year-old ace pilot from Missouri was killed on March 23, 1943, during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea after engaging Japanese Zeroes. The enemy aircraft were strafing U.S. airmen parachuting from a B-17 bomber that had just been shot from the sky.
Faurot and two of his fellow P-38 pilots embraced the element of surprise when shooting down the Zeroes that attacked their comrades, but subsequently revealed their presence to a larger group of Zeroes in the area. They were quickly overwhelmed and shot down; Faurot's aircraft crashed into the Bismarck Sea off the coast of New Guinea and his remains were not recovered. Initially, the pilot was considered missing in action, but it was eventually determined he was either killed in attack or died because he was wounded and unable to escape his sinking aircraft. Captain Faurot was posthumously promoted to the rank of major in January 1944.
During a ceremony held at Harris Field in Cape Girardeau (an area used as a training site for military pilots in World War II) on February 5, 1944, Faurot’s parents were presented with his awards, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal and Purple Heart.
His loss inspired his older brother, Don Faurot, to temporarily abandon his position as head coach at MU to enlist in the U.S. Navy. Eventually, all three of Robert Faurot’s brothers would serve in the military during the war. His family’s legacy of service aside, the young aviator did not live to witness yet another honor bestowed upon him.
Faurot's close friend and fellow pilot, Maj. Horace S. Carswell Jr., was killed in action October 26, 1944, while participating in a bombing run in China aboard a B-24 bomber. Months earlier, while mourning the loss of Capt. Faurot, Carswell sought to ensure the memory of his departed friend would not be erased from history.
“Robert Ede, the son, was born while Major Carswell was stationed at Clovis Army Airfield,” reported the Forth Worth Star-Telegram on November 24, 1944. “He was named for Carswell’s closest friend, Capt. Robert Faurot … fighter pilot who was shot down in the Battle of Bismarck.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
In the early 1940s, Don Faurot was enjoying a successful career as the head football coach at the University of Missouri-Columbia. During the call that came for recruits to serve in World War II, he easily could have avoided military service because of his age and a physical impairment. But, only a few months after his younger brother, Robert, went missing (and was later declared killed in action) while serving with the U.S. Army Air Forces in the South Pacific, he resolved to serve his country in uniform.
“While he was growing up in Mountain Grove (Missouri), he lost two fingers on his right hand in a farming accident,” said his son-in-law, Dick Hazell. “The Navy was hesitant to take him, but he was persistent and somewhere down the line they relented.”
Commissioned a lieutenant in the Naval Reserve in St. Louis on June 18, 1943, Faurot soon said his goodbyes to his wife and three young daughters before reporting to the University of Iowa (Iowa City) as head coach for the “Seahawks”—the football team for the U.S. Navy pre-flight school. Faurot quickly embraced a game schedule that was as challenging as many he endured in previous coaching years at the University of Missouri. It did not take long for him to usher his Seahawks team to victory by utilizing many of the effective plays he had developed and refined, such as the “Split-T” formation.
“The man who removed the patches from Missouri’s football pants and guided the school into the best society is coming back,” reported the Minneapolis Star in their October 15, 1943 edition. “Last year the Tigers beat the Seahawks 7-0 on Bob Steuber’s long touchdown dash. That places Faurot in a unique position of seeking revenge for a setback he engineered himself.”
The skills he demonstrated when leading Missouri to conference titles in 1941 and 1942 helped Faurot lead the U.S. Navy Seahawks to a defeat of the Missouri Tigers with a score of 28-7. Losing only to Notre Dame by a single point, Faurot assisted the Seahawks in earning the ranking of second in the nation in 1943. A few weeks following his loss to Notre Dame, Faurot praised the Irish as the greatest team to play football and maintained their coach was the best in the game.
After Faurot’s successful season came to an end in Iowa, he received a transfer to Monmouth College in Illinois. The Johnson City Press (Johnson City, Tennessee) wrote on January 19, 1944 that he “will have charge of physical training at the Monmouth (Navy) Pre-Flight School.”
At the time of his appointment at Monmouth College, it remained uncertain whether Faurot would return to coach the Iowa Seahawks in the fall. However, in late summer 1944, the Navy announced Faurot’s transfer to Jacksonville, Florida, to coach the football team for the naval air station located there. Sometime during this period, Faurot received the disheartening news that his younger brother, Major Robert Faurot, was no longer considered missing in action and was now presumed dead by the War Department.
By early summer 1944, the Navy officially announced that Faurot would not be returning to Iowa Pre-flight; instead, the position was given Lt. Commander Jack Meagher—a former Notre Dame player who had played a year of professional football for the Chicago Bears and, more recently, was head coach for Auburn. Several weeks later, a Naval release stated “Faurot (will) soon take charge of the Jacksonville (Florida) naval air station team,” reported the Tampa Tribune on August 31, 1944. The naval station team, known as the “Jacksonville Fliers,” played admirably, but did not enjoy the success that their coach had delivered the previous year, ending the season with four wins and three losses.
The following year, the war came to an end and Faurot was assigned to the commissioning detail as the athletic officer aboard the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat noted that Faurot would remain in the Navy for a short time to accrue enough points to qualify for discharge.
Dick Hazell, who later married Faurot’s oldest daughter, Jane, explained, “While on the Roosevelt, he would take the sailors out on deck of the ship to do their calisthenics.”
News of his release from the U.S. Navy was not long in coming when he returned to Columbia in late November 1945 to take back the reigns of coaching the Missouri Tigers. Shortly after his return from the service, tragedy struck when his newborn son died on December 27, 1945.
The former sailor was head football coach for MU until 1956, followed by several years as the university’s athletic director. He received induction into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 1953 and the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame in 1961. Perhaps his greatest moment was having Faurot Field at the university named in his honor in 1972. In 1995, Faurot passed away at the esteemed age of 93 and lies at rest alongside his wife and son in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Hannibal. Dick Hazell explained that his father-in-law, though known for his football career, was proud of the opportunity to have served his country in a time of war.
“He and all three of his brothers served during the war,” said Hazell. “And his patriotism shows by the fact that although he did not have to serve because of the loss of his fingers, he wanted to do his part … especially after the loss of his younger brother.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.