Only child of Byron Franklin Knolle and Isabel Ehlinger Knolle, Franklin Knolle was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Flying always was his aspiration. Following one year at Texas A&M he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, Class of 1945. He was selected for pilot training while at USMA, had his wings and was commissioned in the Army Air Corps at graduation.
Part of the U.S. Army of Occupation, Knolle was already in Germany when the Russian blockade of Berlin began. The U.S., English and French Airlift supplied Berliners with fuel and food starting in June 1948, continuing through May 1949. It is often referred to as “The first victory of the Cold War,” one of the triumphs of the Greatest Generation. Frank flew 91 missions, not without hazards, as 72 pilots were killed in this humanitarian effort. When Russia realized the Allies won they finally opened the supply canals and autobahns to Berlin and built their infamous Berlin Wall. (Frank’s favorite book about the Air Lift was Richard Reeves’ Daring Young Men, the Heroism and Triumph of the Berlin Airlift. Frank’s many friends know he was modest by nature, but his wife knew this volume looked good on the coffee table.)
During the 60th Airlift Anniversary Frank responded to many organizations’ invitations to speak. Among them: San Marino Historical Society’s “Before the Colors Fade” series by WWII veterans, at Pasadena and San Marino Rotary Clubs with a power point assist from Gene Dryden, and as the Veteran keynoter at a Memorial Day service in Lacy Park. The Goethe Institute, Los Angeles, asked him to join a panel of the then other three remaining Air Lift pilots in Southern California.
His speaking career was launched twelve years ago when Chapman University history professor, Sir Eldon Griffith, invited Frank to address his students. A history buff himself, Frank was pleased. He appeared wearing his flight suit, with room to spare on his lean frame.
It concluded last March at the West Point Society of Los Angeles Founders Day luncheon. As the Oldest Grad in attendance, with two days warning, he had the honor of addressing an audience of cadets, new appointees and alumni. With the help of West Point’s Superintendent he mounted the podium. Emphasis was on Duty, Honor, Country. Frank also regaled them with stories of USMA during the war, including the legendary Blanchard Davis era when Army always beat Navy! He won a standing ovation from an audience of more than 200, with an audible “Well Done!”
Retiring after 27 years in the US Air Force, Colonel Knolle’s experience included service in the Strategic Air Command, as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force base followed by a then secret Special Task Force based in the LA area. During his career he earned a Master of Engineering at the University of Michigan. Following retirement he worked 16 years as an aerospace engineer for Areojet Electro Systems Co.
Involved in his community, Frank enjoyed his memberships in Cal Tech Associates, the Athenaeum, The Huntington Library, San Marino City Club, The Waltz Club and San Marino Rotary where, for several years, he chaired the Military Salute luncheon honoring appointees to all the US Academies. Active in his church, he was a deacon, usher and weekly attendee of Men’s Breakfast and also a member of the Cornerstone Society of San Marino Community Church
Colonel Knolle died July 6, 2012. Cause of death was pneumonia following surgery in May for a broken hip. He leaves his two daughters; Nancy Knolle, Suzanne Wilcox (Ronald), two granddaughters; Emily Wilcox and Kelly Self (Joseph) and a great granddaughter Abigail, his second wife Billie Youngblood-Knolle and her sons; William Youngblood and Charles Youngblood.
Services will be held on Tuesday July 24, 2 pm at San Marino Community Church, 1750 Virginia Road, San Marino with Rev. Jeffery O’Grady presiding. Col. Knolle will be buried next to his first wife, Shirley Black Knolle, at a private family service at Riverside National Cemetery.
No flowers please. In his memory contributions may be made to San Marino Community Church endowment fund or to Huntington Memorial Hospital, Pasadena.
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