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.