BOULDER CITY, Nev. — Robert J. Shirkey died Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012, at the age of 89, after a prolonged seven-year illness with Alzheimer’s disease. He passed away without distress in his sleep in the superb care of the Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder City. He was preceded in death by his wife of 49 years Joan Savage Shirkey, of Roswell, N.M., in November, 1999. Mr. Shirkey is survived by his son Dan, 60, and his wife Karel Czanderna; a daughter Roberta, 57, and her husband Fred Huelsmann; and first son John, 62, and his granddaughters, Lauren Shearer and Alexandra Frias.
Mr. Shirkey was born in Schenectady, N.Y., to policeman William J. Shirkey and registered nurse Lela Johnson Shirkey and attended Nott Terrace High School. He attended the University of Michigan as an engineering student for one year before enlisting in Army Air Force OCS and pilot training during World War II. He earned his pilot’s wings and flew B17s, B24s, B25s, and B29s. He was stationed in diverse locales including Roswell, Rapid City, S.D., Formosa (now Taiwan), and the Philippines. He also spent 18 months in Karachi, Pakistan, and Basra, Iraq, as part of the State Department’s Point Four program, teaching crop dusting techniques. Mr. Shirkey was one of the last surviving officers of the 509th Bomb Group, 8th Army Air Force, who actually witnessed the famous July 1947 Roswell event.
Mr. Shirkey spent 17 years as a scout executive in the Boy Scouts of America, retiring in 1971 after living in Peru, N.Y., Buffalo, N.Y., and Canton, N.Y. He and Joan then returned to Joan’s hometown of Roswell, where they lived together for 25 years until Joan’s death. He worked for 14 years with Armstrong & Armstrong, and Armstrong Construction Co., two associated highway contractors as safety officer. He also taught safety courses at Eastern New Mexico University’s Roswell campus. He and Joan were very active in the First Presbyterian Church of Roswell as elders and ordained deacons. Mr. Shirkey also authored the privately published book I Was There about his experiences on the Roswell Army Air Force Base in July 1947.
A memorial service will be held on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, at 10 a.m., at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery. The family respectfully requests any donations be made to the Veterans Administration Hospital of your choice, or Alzheimer’s research. Family and friends can sign an online memorial guestbook at bouldercityfamilymortuary.com.