By Janet Fogg
In observance of Memorial Day, the day we honor Americans who have died while in military service to the United States, an excerpt from Fogg in the Cockpit, Howard Fogg – Master Railroad Artist, World War II Fighter Pilot, by Richard and Janet Fogg.
From the June 1944 Informal Report of Morale for the 359th Fighter Group, submitted by Wilbur C. “Chappie” Ziegler, to Captain Maurice F. X. Donahue, Headquarters.
“The month of June 1944 is one that will never be forgotten by any man in the group. The one big memory we will have of this month is D-Day. For weeks, rumors had been flying thick and fast as to when the invasion would start and what part we would play in it. These rumors kept morale high for a time, but then as the days dragged on a new and more persistent rumor crept into the picture. You heard it on the line, in the messes, in the Red Cross Club, wherever men gathered. So much good weather had been ignored that many were thinking that the invasion had been put off for another year. A man’s morale went pretty low as he thought of another year away from home without any substantial gain toward victory. Things went along in that vein until midnight of June 5th, when everybody seemed to sense that “this was it!” Something electric went through the air with the news that the invasion was about to start. As in America, there was no great hilarity or celebration. Everyone knew this was going to cost many lives, but it was as if a load had been lifted. As a group we were like a fighter who had trained for his big fight. He had fought his way up through the ranks and earned a shot at the championship. He is nervous and tense as he awaits the bell for the first round. Then suddenly it rings and the tenseness leaves him. He’s relaxed and confident. He knows he’ll take some pretty stiff punches, but more than that he knows he can win. Well, I think that’s the way we all felt. We didn’t relish, in fact we hated the thought of the losses we would suffer. However, we knew if we were to win this fight we had to take it some time and the sooner we got in there the sooner we’d win and get out again.
“Briefing for the first invasion mission was called at about 0200 hours on 6 June. Naturally it was a very secret briefing, so I cannot report on the reaction of our pilots when they heard the news. When they came out they were full of life, buoyed up with the nervous excitement of the realization that the greatest invasion in history was about to start and they were an integral part of it. I remember when they went into the briefing it was pitch dark outside and if I remember correctly it was even drizzling. In all, it looked like a poor send-off as far as weather was concerned. Then, just as the pilots came out to their trucks, the clouds parted and a bright cold moon lit up the whole field. The men stood gathered around the trucks for the regular post-briefing prayer. It was a moment that I for one will never forget. There wasn’t a sound anywhere on the field or in the air. It was one of the holiest moments I have ever felt as I led those men in prayer. I remember Howie Fogg remarked about the same thing later on in the day. That was group “A”. An hour later group “B” met for briefing and again we had that same experience of a holy moment. I’m a chaplain and yet I can’t explain it. Perhaps it was the knowledge of the invasion, or the sudden clearing of the sky, or the knowledge that some of these men wouldn’t live through the week, whatever it was in those two early morning briefings, we were at a holy moment in the history of our individual lives, our group, and our nation.
“Most of my time was spent with the pilots this month, but I can’t close this report without recording the effect of D-Day on our ground personnel. It was a “shot-in-the-arm” to us all. All gripes, beefs, ill feeling seemed to have been momentarily forgotten, and they worked together as a team more successfully than ever before. They couldn’t fly. They couldn’t share the danger and risk their lives, but what they could do they did, and did it well. Our ground crews went without sleep hours on end. They stayed up night after night, stayed on the job hour after hour, to keep those planes in the air. Working with eyes red from lack of sleep, stomachs upset from irregular eating periods, bodies fatigued from lack of rest, the number of planes they kept in the air and the small number of abortions due to mechanical failure is proof of the magnificent job they did.
“It has been an expensive month. It has been referred to as a magnificent gamble. This is no gamble. If it is we had better quit now. This must be a transaction. We have paid the full price with lives, pre-aged youth, and great sorrow. We who live on must now carry on and finish the task that they so magnificently have started. We must obtain full value for their sacrifice in peace, security, justice, and freedom.”