I accidentally came across this on TruthorFiction.com while searching for something else. This is quite an account. It’s a little lengthy, but very well worth reading.
Published in the Fall 2003 edition of the National WWII Memorial Society’s newsletter.
by Ralph Kinney Bennett
Tomorrow morning they’ll lay the remains of Glenn Rojohn to rest in the Peace Lutheran Cemetery in the little town of Greenock, Pa., just southeast of Pittsburgh. He was 81, and had been in the air conditioning and plumbing business in nearby McKeesport. If you had seen him on the street he would probably have looked to you like so many other graying, bespectacled old World War II veterans whose names appear so often now on obituary pages.
But like so many of them, though he seldom talked about it, he could have told you one hell of a story. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart all in one fell swoop in the skies over Germany on December 31, 1944.
Fell swoop indeed.
Capt. Glenn Rojohn, of the 8th Air Force’s 100th Bomb Group, was flying his B-17G Flying Fortress bomber on a raid over Hamburg. His formation had braved heavy flak to drop their bombs, then turned 180 degrees to head out over the North Sea.
They had finally turned northwest, headed back to England, when they were jumped by German fighters at 22,000 feet. The Messerschmitt Me-109s pressed their attack so closely that Capt. Rojohn could see the faces of the German pilots.
He and other pilots fought to remain in formation so they could use each other’s guns to defend the group. Rojohn saw a B-17 ahead of him burst into flames and slide sickeningly toward the earth. He gunned his ship forward to fill in the gap.
He felt a huge impact. The big bomber shuddered, felt suddenly very heavy and began losing altitude. Rojohn grasped almost immediately that he had collided with another plane.
A B-17 below him, piloted by Lt. William G. McNab, had slammed the top of its fuselage into the bottom of Rojohn’s. The top turret gun of McNab’s plane was now locked in the
belly of Rojohn’s plane and the ball turret in the belly of Rojohn’s had smashed through the top of McNab’s. The two bombers were almost perfectly aligned – the tail of the lower plane was slightly to the left of Rojohn’s tailpiece. They were stuck together, as a crewman later recalled, “like mating dragon flies.”
Fearing a fire, Rojohn cuts his engines and rang the bailout bell. If his crew had any chance of parachuting, he had to keep the plane under control somehow.
Once inside the plane’s belly Woodall saw a chilling sight, the ball turret of the other bomber protruding through the top of the fuselage. In that turret, hopelessly trapped, was Staff Sgt. Joseph Russo. Several crewmembers on Rojohn’s plane tried frantically to crank Russo’s turret around so he could escape. But, jammed into the fuselage of the lower
plane, the turret would not budge.
Up in the cockpit, Capt. Rojohn and his co-pilot, 2nd Lt. William G. Leek, Jr., had propped their feet against the instrument panel so they could pull back on their controls with a ll their strength, trying to prevent their plane from going into a spinning dive that would prevent the crew from jumping out.
Capt. Rojohn ordered Lieut. Leek to bail out. Leek knew that without him helping keep the controls back, the plane would drop in a flaming spiral and the centrifugal force would prevent Rojohn from bailing. He refused the order.
Meanwhile, German soldiers and civilians on the ground that afternoon looked up in wonder. Some of them thought they were seeing a new Allied secret weapon – a strange eight-engined double bomber. But anti-aircraft gunners on the North Sea coastal island of Wangerooge had seen the collision. A German battery captain wrote in his logbook at 2:47 p.m.: “Two fortresses collided in a formation in the NE. The planes flew hooked together and flew 20 miles south. The two planes were unable to fight anymore. The crash could be awaited so I stopped the firing at these two planes.”
Two of the six men who parachuted from Rojohn’s plane did not survive the jump. But the other four and, amazingly, four men from the other bomber, including ball turret gunner Woodall, survived. All were taken prisoner. Several of them were interrogated at lengt h by the Germans until they were satisfied that what had crashed was not a new American secret weapon.
Rojohn, typically, didn’t talk much about his Distinguished Flying Cross. Of Leek, he said, “In all fairness to my co-pilot, he’s the reason I’m alive today.”
A great story. I wonder how many more stories like this one are lost each day as members of the Greatest Generation pass on.
When I read this, I simply could not let this story fade into the past. I had to pass it on.
Like so many veterans, Rojohn got back to life unsentimentally after the war, marrying and raising a son and daughter. For many years, though, he tried to link back up with Leek, going through government records to try to track him down. It took him 40 years, but in 1986, he found the number of Leek’s mother, in Washington State.
Yes, her son Bill was visiting from California. Would Rojohn like to speak with him? Two old men on a phone line, trying to pick up some familiar timbre of youth in each other’s voice. One can imagine that first conversation between the two men who had shared that wild ride in the cockpit of a B-17.
A year later, the two were re-united at a reunion of the 100th Bomb Group in Long Beach, Calif. Bill Leek died the following year.
Glenn Rojohn was the last survivor of the remarkable piggyback flight. He was like thousands upon thousands of men — soda jerks and lumberjacks, teachers and dentists, students and lawyers and service station attendants and store clerks and farm boys — who in the prime of their lives went to war in World War II. They sometimes did incredible things, endured awful things, and for the most part most of them pretty much kept it to themselves and just faded back into the fabric of civilian life.
Capt. Glenn Rojohn, AAF, died last Saturday after a long siege of illness. But he apparently faced that fina l battle with the same grim aplomb he displayed that remarkable day over Germany so long ago. Let us be thankful for such men.