Monday, July 23, 2007

America's Secret Weapon

If you live or grew up in or around the town of McKeesport Pennsylvania you probably did not pay much attention to an aging owner of a local air conditioning and plumbing business. He looked pretty much like other men of his generation. Working a lot, loving his family and attending the Lutheran church down the street. A pleasant man who talked little about his past. Like so many World War II veterans who do not consider themselves heros just lucky to have survived. Yet, Glenn Rojohn has a story and amazing story you need to hear.

Captain Glenn Rojohn flew a B-17G Flying Fortress bomber in the 8th Air Force's 100th Bomb Group. On December 31, 1944 he was flying in formation to bomb targets in Hamburg, Germany. They braved heavy flak to reach their target and released their payload. They then turned 180 degrees to head out over the North Sea to their base in England. That is when they were attacked by a squad of German Messerschmitt's. At 22,000 feet mayhem was the order of the day. The Germans were so close, Glenn could see the faces of the pilots. Suddenly the A B-17 ahead of him burst into flames and drooped off toward the earth. Rojohn gunned it to move into the position of the fallen plane. That is when he felt the impact. The entire plan shuttered as Rojohn realized that he had collided with another plane below him also moving to take the lead.

The other plane was piloted by Lt. William G. McNab. It slammed into
Rojohn's A B-17 in such a way that neither planes wings or tail was
damaged. The strange part of the story was that the ball turret broke
through the fuselage of McNapp's plane and his top turret was now
locked in the belly of Rojohn's plane. They were stuck together
piggybacking across the sky. Glenn could feel the massive weight of
both planes begin to pull him out of the air. Three of McNapp's
engines continued to run while all four of Rojohn's engines continued
running although fire is now breaking out onboard both planes.

The the next few panic filled seconds men on board fought to free their friends stuck in the gun turrets. Pilots and copilots fought with their controls. Men who had just months before been farm-boys, soda jerks, students and lifeguards were not falling from 20,000 feet in the midst of explosions, confusion and certain death. Rojohn ordered his crew to jump. McNapps plane was already jumping out. As the two planes, mated together lumber toward the German countryside, Rojohn and his copilot stay at the controls. The earth is moving fast toward them. All of this does not escape the notice of people on the ground. One German manning an anti-aircraft gun stopped firing as he watched in amazement only to record the event in his report for the day. On the ground many wondered if this was a new American secret weapon.

The crew watched while floating to the earth as the two planes
separated just above the ground. Rojohn's plane pushes slightly upward
and crash lands hitting a wooden structure. His cockpit breaks away
and amazingly he and his copilot survive with little injury. Bill Leek
was Glenn's copilot. He unstraps his safely harness and steps out of
the broken plane, takes out a cigarette and starts to light up with a
shaky hand, when he saw a rather frustrated German soldier with a gun
pointed at him. The soldier was yelling at him to stop. Bill lifted
his hands with cigarette in one and lighter in the other. The excited
soldier motioned downward and Bill could see that he was standing in a pool of aviation fuel.

Amazingly only two of the six men who jumped from Rojohn's plane did
not survive. Four men from the other plane did survive including the
turret gunners. They were all taken prisoners and interrogated at
length by the Germans until they were satisfied that they were not
flying a new American secret weapon. Glenn Rojohn did not talk much
about his Distinguished Flying Cross or his Purple Heart he received
for that day. Nor would he ever take credit for the amazing events of
that day. Instead like so many other veterans he credited his comrades
and the bravery of those who did not get to come home.

The Germans got it right, we had a secret weapon flying over the snowy
hillsides of Germany that day. It was not an eight engine double
hulled A B-17. It was the secret weapon of American men, forced into
service by a war not of their own making, toughened by a childhood of
want, strengthened by a terrible resolve and filled with a longing to
go home. Our secret weapon was and still is the heart of the American

Captain Glenn Rojohn, AAF, died a few years ago. Let us give thanks
for men like this.

Monday, July 02, 2007

The Civil War: Honorable Manhood

Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War, does a masterful job of presenting the deep emotion and meaning of Sullivan's letter to Sarah.

Honorable Manhood

In the spring of 1861, Sullivan Ballou was a 32 year Major of the Second Regiment, Rhode Island Volunteers. He was a man who had overcome his own family's poverty and had achieved significant status as a lawyer and state representative in his young life. He married his wife, Sarah, and they had two young boys, Edgar and Willie. When the war between the states became unavoidable, Sullivan volunteered out of a deep sense of love for his country and a unique conviction of honorable manhood.

We know about Sullivan Ballou today because of a letter he wrote to his wife Sarah. He, like many other soldiers, wrote a letter in the event of his death. It was never mailed home but it was found among his things and faithfully and sadly delivered. Soldiers still write these letters. They express his deepest values and his deepest love with the hope, dim as it may be, that it would never need to be read. From the date of its writing, we know that Sullivan penned it just days before the first major engagement of the Civil War, the battle of Bull Run.

The letter, when read, has a haunting beauty. There is a sense that you are reading something ultimately personal and that you should not be reading it. Yet, there is something gloriously inspiring about a man's love for his wife, children and country. People don't speak or write that way anymore, but after reading it, you will wish it was still a practice. Sullivan Ballou could be dismissed as a mere romantic, the product of his gilded age. I rather believe that, hidden in the dusty stack of history, he is an example of honorable manhood and thus worth reading.

Sullivan Ballou wrote this letter on July 14, 1861, waiting for orders to move out to the Virginia town of Manassas, where he and twenty-seven of his men would die one week later. The letter was retrieved from his things by the Governor of Rhode Island and delivered to his wife Sarah.

My very dear Sarah:

The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days -- perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more.

Our movement may be one of a few days duration and full of pleasure -- and it may be one of severe conflict and death to me. Not my will, but thine O God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in, the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans upon the triumph of the Government, and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing -- perfectly willing -- to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt.

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows -- when, after having eaten for long years the bitter fruit of orphanage myself, I must offer it as their only sustenance to my dear little children -- is it weak or dishonorable, while the banner of my purpose floats calmly and proudly in the breeze, that my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, should struggle in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country?

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- and I, suspicious that Death is creeping behind me with his fatal dart, am communing with God, my country, and thee.

I have sought most closely and diligently, and often in my breast, for a wrong motive in thus hazarding the happiness of those I loved and I could not find one. A pure love of my country and of the principles I have often advocated before the people and "the name of honor that I love more than I fear death" have called upon me, and I have obeyed.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield.

The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me -- perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you, while you buffet the storms with your precious little freight, and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours -- always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by.

Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.

As for my little boys, they will grow as I have done, and never know a father's love and care. Little Willie is too young to remember me long, and my blue-eyed Edgar will keep my frolics with him among the dimmest memories of his childhood. Sarah, I have unlimited confidence in your maternal care and your development of their characters. Tell my two mothers his and hers I call God's blessing upon them. O Sarah, I wait for you there! Come to me, and lead thither my children.


If Sullivan's letter is an example of honorable manhood, and it is, then we can benefit from his heartfelt expression. Honorable manhood has these elements: a profound and well nurtured faith in almighty God who is sovereign over the affairs of men, a deep love for a woman that is seen as God's gift to a man, and an overwhelming love for a man's children welded to a profound sense of responsibility to pass honorable manhood on to them. Honorable manhood finds it roots in the soil of God's eternal truth, the Bible. Honorable manhood believes and acts out of conviction. Sullivan Ballou lived what he believed. Honorable men are willing to fight for what is right and die, if need be, for the cause of liberty. Let living men strive to such heights and let us be willing to live what we believe.

Ed Litton