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November 23, 2010     The Ortonville Independent
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Arlo Robertson (Continued from the Nov. 16, 2010, Independent) Jan. 20, 1945. The men of the 485th Bomb Group were awake before 5:00 a.m., dressed, and on their way to breakfast. The pilot, co-pilot, and nav- igator headed for the briefing room im- mediately after eating. They watched as the big drape was pulled back, re- vealing the map of southern Europe. A route was drawn on the map from their base in Italy to Linz, Austria. Their target was the marshalling yards there. The response was immediate - a mix- ture of groans and curse words worked its way through the room. Men looked at one another as if to say, "Here we go again". Others put both arms, fists clenched, above their heads and leaned back, eyes closed, slowly shaking their heads. Linz was a very dangerous tar- get. Up on the stage, the colonel was ex- plaining the importance of the target and how its destruction would help bring the war closer to an end. The men were not interested. They were more concerned about how much flak and how many enemy fighters they would be facing. Bombing marshalling yards did not have the movie glamour of raiding oil fields at Ploesti or unloading bombs on aircraft factories at Regensberg, but it was a vital and necessary task of the Army Air Corps during WWII. Rail transportation was crucial to the Axis war effort. Almost everything in Germany was shipped by rail. Bomb- ing marshalling yards had a dual ef- fect. First, rolling stock and engines were destroyed by the bombing. In ad- dition to that, whatever goods were in the boxcars - ammunition, arms, and even soldiers - were prevented from reaching the front. After the war, a re- port by the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey showed, "The attack on trans- portation .... the weakest link .... was a decisive factor in the collapse of the German economy and the German Army." At 8:24, 28 B-24s took off from their base at Venosa, Italy. During takeoff, the crew sat behind the bulkhead be- tween the bomb bay and cockpit. The flight engineer stood between the pilot and co-pilot, calling off the speed as the B-24 rumbled down the landing strip, approaching the take-off. After they had reached speed and altitude, the crew assumed their individual sta- tions to remain in place until they reached the Adriatic coast on the return flight. The B-24 was officially known as "The Liberator." Among the many pi- lots and crews it had earned several nicknames: "The Flying Box Car", because of its slab-sided fuselage. It was also known as "The Flying Ron- son", because of its tendency to burst into flames when hit by enemy fire. The Ronson cigarette lighter was a very popular pocket item in those days; evidently very popular, because the Sherman tanks were known as "Ronsons" among American front-line troops. Finally, the B-24 was called "The Flying Coffin." The last nick- name was given to the B-24 because the only entrance and exit door was at the rear of the aircraft. This made it very difficult for crewmembers to ex- tract themselves from a damaged flane. ORTONVILLE BRANCH Virgil (known to everyone as Arlo) was the nose gunner in Yankee Doodle Dandy, aircraft serial number 42- 52718. As in his previous missions, from his position at nose gunner, Arlo would have a clear, unobstructed view of the- land below and the sky in every direction. His was a very vulnerable position in the aircraft. The plexi-glass surrounding him was all that was be- tween him and enemy fire, either from the ground or fighters from the Ger- man Luftwaffe. The pilot of Yankee Doodle Dandy was Henry Kogelschatz from Okla- homa City, and the co-pilot was Robert L. Ross of Dayton, OH. The other six crewmembers with Ado that day were navigator Duwane Eggleston, waist gunner Chester Bailey, waist gunner #2 George Feeny, turret gunner Ed- ward Jacobs, tail gunner Benjamin Weisser, and ball gunner Roy Winslow. They were young men. At 24, Ko- gelschatz was the oldest on board. Ado, 19 years and three months, was the youngest. He was barely out of high school. He had volunteered for service less than a year before this day. The day's mission, to bomb the mar- shalling yards at Linz, was Arlo's 16th. They had been to Linz before and they knew it would not be an easy mission. Vienna/Linz was one of the most heav- ily defended targets in Europe. The bombers of the 485th formed up over the home base and proceeded northward at 10,000 feet. At 9:20 they were joined by B-24s from the 460th Bomb Group. Thirteen minutes later, the rest of the wing joined them at 10,0if0 feet over Spinazzola. The bombing order of flight would be 460th, 485th, 465th and 464th, each bomb group flying behind the other. The 460th was the pathfinder on this mission. It had the radar equipment to determine when to release the bombs. The rest would follow, marking the pathfinder's point of release so that the following bombers would know when to do the same. At 11:45, the wing was joined by 30 P-38 fighters. The fighters would fly cover for the bombers, protecting them from German fighters should they at- tack the formation. Bob Pflueger was flying with the fighter cover. Bob knew Arlo and Ado knew Bob. They didn't know each other was there that day. At about 30 miles out over the sea, weather began to build. Clouding con- ditions and rain forced the formation to climb higher than the morning's briefing had indicated. Two of the bombers turned back before reaching the Italian/Austrian border because of engine problems. After jettisoning their bombs over the Adriatic, they re- turned to base. Arlo, in Yankee Doo- dle Dandy, and the rest of the bombers continued on their mission to Linz. As the bombers approached German air space, the formation spread out so that gunners could load and test their 50 cal. machine guns. There were usu- ally one or two live rounds extracted from the ammunition belts during the loading and these rounds would pose a hazard to the crew if left on board. Live rounds were dumped overboard, thus providing the need for the bombers to spread out so as not to be hit by discarded flying ammunition. After charging their machine guns, the gunners would test fire them to be sure they were ready when enemy aircraft made an attack. Providing a little more space for the gunners to test their hard- ware was another good reason for spreading out. The formation proceeded northward. After crossing the Alps, weather cleared and remained clear the rest of the way to the target. Visibility was 30 miles. The formations tightened up for defensive purposes. The gunners scanned the sky in every direction for enemy fighters. From his nose gunner position, Arlo could see the land below him as Yan- kee Doodle Dandy plodded towards Linz at a speed somewhere between 140 and 160 mph. Below him, civil- ians looked upward at the formation. They had seen this before and they knew where the bombers were going. The German military knew where the bombers were going, as well. Preparations were already being made to defend Linz. The flak crews were veterans of many raids. They knew how to lay down a carpet of death for the American bombers. It makes one wonder if it were safer to be on the ground or in the air. Ado now would be remembering previous missions. He had seen flak, black and murderous, before. He had seen other B-24s explode and crumple in the sky. He had seen parachutes from some, but not all. He was a reli- gious man. He knew he was in God's hands now. His body tense, his nerves becoming hot, he would find time to pray. Perhaps, he even prayed for for- giveness for the civilians who would die from the bombs the Allies would drop that day. One worry was relieved. There were no enemy fighters ahead and above them. This would make it easier. The Germans had optical range find- ers which they used to determine the altitude of attacking bombers. Some- times, one of their fighters would fly alongside the bomber formation, out- side of gun range, to better determine the altitude, course, and speed of the attackers. The pilot of the fighter would radio this information down to the ground crews in order that they may better define where to fire their anti-aircraft guns. Sometimes, the Germans even used captured Ameri- can fighters for this task. Ahead, Arlo could see the flak burst- ing in black puffs. These were the pre- dictor rounds. The German ground crews were finding the range and pre- dicting the time needed to lead the bombers in order to find their mark. He knew, that in a few moments, the black predictors would be replaced with killing flak, the ones that ex- ploded block with red and orange cen- ters. Those were the bursts that sprayedthe sky with hot metal that peppered the bombers as they moved forward, unable to change their course. The bombers had to fly straight and level in order to be able to drop their payload effectively. The German flak crews knew this, too. They would be ready. What follows is one aircrew's de- scription of what it was like to be in flak: "The guns fired in batteries of four, (and) a burst would go off in front of us. We instantly flew through the black smoke. A second burst would be a little closer; a third would be almost on our nose. I was sure the next would blow us to kingdom come but by the grace of God would go off at our tail. 1 was almost frozen with fear by the time the third had exploded." By now, Ado would have put on his flak jacket and helmet. The flak hel- met wag a standard GI steel helmet, modified by attaching hinged ear flaps that fit over the crewmember's'head - phones. The flak jacket was a cloth jacket into which were sewn overlap- ping steel plates that covered the man's torso, front and back. While the two described items did, in fact, provide some protection, they also provided psychological comfort to a crew oper- ating in an extremely nervous state of mind. The greatest danger to aircrews was from flak that exploded below or alongside the aircraft. The AA shells were designed to send the shrapnel up- wards, spreading outwards in a cone shape as the pattern rose. For this rea- son, it was not unusual for a crewman to place the flak jacket under him rather than put it on. Again, in the words of another air- man, we can see how affected the crew was during their time over the target: "When the action got hot and heavy, even though it was 40 degrees below zero or more, I would always perspire so heavily that sweat would come out from under my flight helmet and freeze along my forehead. I would pick the ice off with my fingers when the action was over. In spite of the flight helmet with ear phones and the flak helmet and the roar of the motors, I could hear the flak hitting the plane. It sounded like gravel on a tin roof." He also gives us this visual: "... sud- denly daylight would be showing through holes in the fuselage where 1 was standing. I knew the vicious hunks of metal were ripping through the plane. [I] expected the next burst to go right through me." The bomb run for Arlo's B-24 was begun on PFF (radar), but was switched to visual when the pathfind- ers identified the target. The regularly used Norden bomb sight would be more reliable today. Radar and elec- tronics had their quirks and failings and were used only if the cloud cover over the target prevented visual bomb- ing. While clear skies meant better conditions for a bomb drop; at the same time, it allowed for more accu- rate fire from the flak crews below. The mission report describes the flak Arlo and the rest flew into that day as IAH, Intense, Accurate and Heavy cal- iber - probably the famous 88 mm gun the Germans had developed. The fear Arlo and the others felt was different from the fear of a fighter at- tack. When German fighters attacked the formation, the gunners concen- trated on shooting them down. They had something to focus their attention on. While flying through flak, there was nothing to shoot back at. Control of the aircraft was in the hands of the bombardier and there was only one way to drop the bombs effectively. The bombardier had to fly a straight, level course. His eye was in the bomb sight, tracking the target. Nothing else mattered. Flak would be exploding everywhere around the B-24. The flak barrage was so intense, it was like being in a vio- lent thunderstorm when thunder and flashes of lightning roar and blaze in never-ending succession. Ahead of him, Ado witnessed the destruction. Wings of planes would be ripped off. Hits on engines caused a stream of fire and smoke to trail behind the wing. Some would lazily spin to earth, al- most in slow motion. One hit is de- scribed by another airman this way: "I saw a plane explode before my very eyes in the formation ahead of us from a direct flak hit. Fear gripped me, I did not want to fly over that [same] spot which we would do in another minute or so." Ado could very well have witnessed a similar event. The report on the 461st Bomb Group which was there the same day states, "Twenty-one of the twenty-five airplanes over the tar- get were hit. Two of these were ex- tremely hard hit and exploded before they could completely roll out of the formation on the bomb run." If Ado saw anything like this in front of him, he knew that he and the rest of the men would have to fly over the same spot. All they could do was sit and ride it out. And hope. And pray. Yankee Doodle Dandy was heaving and shaking from the unrelenting flak that pounded her from all sides. The ship pitched and yawed from the con- cussion blasts; shrapnel rained through the thin skin of the B-24, peppering everything inside with red-hot metal. The men sat in silence through all this, some with their heads down and eyes closed, hoping and praying they would somehow get through this. Ahead of them, the pathfinder B-24 had locked its Norden on the target. At the proper moment, the pathfinder's bombsight would automatically release the bomb load. The following aircraft would cue on the pathfinder's release point and, in turn, drop their bombs when their B-24 was given the com- mand by the pathfinder. This 'Master Bomber' tactic had im- proved Allied bombing accuracy when it was adopted in 1944, but it had one drawback. Control of all the bombers in the group was given to one bom- bardier and his attention was focused on the target through the bombsight. Wind and other factors would some- times push the pathfinder off course, which would cause one group of bombers to drift into the adjacent group. This made the second group move over, causing a ripple effect throughout the entire wing. If course corrections weren't coordinated, mid- air collisions were inevitable. It was a deadly, delicate dance that required steel nerves and a bit of luck, some- times. Twice during the bomb run, the 485th had to move over to allow space between them and encroaching aircraft from another wing. Finally, the order came. "BOMBS AWAY!" The crew felt Yankee Doo- dle Dandy leap upward as it was re- lieved of its eight-ton load. There was a sense of relief at this moment. The crucial part of the mission had been completed, but, better still, as the air- craft lifted upward, it became less vul- nerable to the flak which was fused to explode at the altitude of the bomb run. They were 100 feet higher and a little bit safer now. They would continue forward and soon make the turn to- wards home. Aerial photos show that the bombers were on target with good results. Somewhere in all this, Yankee Doo- dle Dandy took a hit that crippled her. We don't know where she was hit or at what point of the mission it occurred - the MACR does not have that infor- mation. Perhaps, one or more of the crew were already injured. We don't know if that is true or not. We do know that pilot Kogelschatz had made the turn with the group and headed for their base at Venosa. We know Yankee Doodle Dandy made it over the Alps, even though it was, by now, struggling to keep up with the rest of the group. To reach their home base at Venosa, Yankee Doodle Dandy would have to cross the Adriatic. By the time they reached the coastline of the Adriatic, they had evidently lost enough altitude so that crewmembers could not bail out over land. Yet, still, perhaps Lt. Kogelschatz believed they could make it to Vis, a forward base on a Yugoslavian island where they could land or bail out. The water in the Adri- atic held a temperature of approxi- mately 50 degrees. Survival time in the water for aviators was very short. Shock and hypothermia could kill them in a matter of minutes. Vis was a better place to bail out if it came to that. Vis had a 3500 foot crash landing strip made by laying interlocking steel mesh on the ground. There were less than a dozen ground crews on Vis. Their job was to assist or take care of the aircrews that made it to the island. The men at Vis also had the task of re- moving damaged aircraft that re- mained on the air strip. The B-24 was not an easy plane to fly, even when it was undamaged. It tended to drift and yaw which required the pilot to be in firm and constant con- trol of the yoke. An Air Corps joke at the time delivered this line, "You could always tell a Liberator pilot by the bulging biceps muscle in his left arm, from hauling on that yoke for long stretches." One pilot described the air- craft this way, "Where the B- 17 was an airplane, the B-24 was a truck." Given that the plane was damaged, Ko- gelschatz, probably with the help of the co-pilot, was struggling hard with the controls to keep Yankee Doodle Dandy in the air. 11-Lt. Wayne Yankee, flying with the 828th Bomb Squadron, filed this report: "On the return trip (from Linz) I lost two engines and tuned my radio into 'Big Fence' (emergency radio grid). They said that three planes were calling for an emergency and that all others should clear the air. Then I heard Red A, the aircraft piloted by Henry Kogelschatz come in once. Then I went off the air. Our approxi- mate location at the time was over the Adriatic Sea just off the coast of Yu- goslavia." Kogelschatz was definitely heading for Vis. The crew aboard, by now, knew they were dangerously close to not making it home. For safety rea- sons, they would have assumed crash positions behind the bulkhead. Their heads were down by their knees, which were drawn up close, and their hands would be clasped behind their heads. Most certainly, Arlo would have moved to the bulkhead. The nose tur- ret was no place to be during a crash landing. Kogelschatz would have in- formed the crew where they were headed. It wasn't far now. Maybe they would make it to Vis. The design of the B-24 made it a par- ticularly dangerous aircraft to crash land. It had a high wing and this place- ment on the fuselage caused extra stress on the fuselage upon impact The wings would be literally ripped off, tearing the fuselage apart. Gaso- line tanks were located in the walls of the fuselage as well as the wings. This gave the B-24 extra fuel beyond what the B-17 could carry. This meant longer range for the B-24, but it came at a price in terms of danger for the crew. The thin skin of the aircraft made the 24 lighter and therefore gave it a longer range than the B-17. This came at a price, as well. The nose would buckle under the fuselage or break off and be flung into or over the cockpit, depending on the angle of entry. Yankee Doodle Dandy could not make it to Vis. From the coordinates reported where she went into the Adri- atic, they had almost made it. They were less than 20 miles - about eight minutes flying time - from the island. An air-sea rescue aircraft flew to the area where Kogelschatz ditched his plane Nothing was found. Later, the bodies of Lt. Robert Ross, Sgt. George Feeny, and Sgt. Benjamin Weisser were recovered by Italian fisherman and interred at the military cemetery at Nettuno, Italy. These three may have actually survived the crash and suc- cumbed to the icy waters of the Adri- atic. Then, too, they may have been killed on impact, their bodies being thrown from the crash before the air- craft sunk. Army Graves Registration conducted an extensive search of the Italian and Yugoslavian coasts. Their search in- cluded interviews of civilians. Noth- ing was determined by this search. Ado Robertson and the remaining un- accounted for five crewmembers were officially placed on 'Missing in Action' status until such time their fate could be determined. It was still early. Some, or maybe all had survived and been captured by the German forces in Yugoslavia. According to Lorraine Nolting, the family held on to hope for a year, hop- ing that, somehow, Arlo had survived. In June of 1946, the family accepted the inevitable. On Sunday, June 23rd, a memorial service was held for him at the Artichoke Baptist Church. Lois Pflueger was there to bid her classmate goodbye. In July of 1949, the Army sent a let- ter to Earle Bailey, father of Chester Bailey, one of the waist gunners who went down in the Adriatic with Arlo. Arlo's parents would have gotten the same letter. It reads, in part: "Almost four years have passed since the cessation of hostilities of World War II which cost the life of your son." It continues, "... the Department of the Army is forced to conclude that your son's remains are not recoverable. Realizing the extent of your grief and anxiety, it is not easy to express con- dolence to you who gave your loved one under circumstances so difficult that there is no grave at which to pay homage." Arlo died in service to his country 65 years ago. He was nine months short of his 20th birthday. He was too .young to have died, but he did. There s no grave at which to pay homage to Ado. It is important that we, as a na- tion, remember Arlo and all the others who served in our wars. This is the greatest homage we can give to our soldiers. Expanded statewide health care quality report published Minnesotans will be able to see quality measures for clinics and hospi- tals across-the state in a new report: published by the Minnesota Depart- ment of Health (MDH) on Nov. 18. The report, a part of Minnesota's 2008 health reform law, is a significant building block toward value-based health care in the state. "When consumers are armed with information about their health care, they will make better choices about their providers and the services they use," Governor Tim Pawlenty said. "The information in this report will help to turn the tide from just paying for procedures and instead, move to- ward health care that rewards quality. This report is a market-driven, patient- centered, quality-focused, and common sense tool for consumers that didn't come from Washington." The quality report lays the founda- tion for provider peer grouping, which will compare providers on both risk-ad- justed quality and cost in an effort to both improve quality and contain spi- raling health care costs. "This report is an important stepping stone toward providing information about health care value to Min- nesotans," said Commissioner of Health Dr. Sanne Magnan. "The next step is provider peer grouping, which will offer information on both health care quality and costs and make it pos- sible for consumers to make decisions on their health care based on value." The report is part of Minnesota's 2008 health reform law, which requires MDH to publish a standardized set of quality measures for hospitals and physician clinics across the state and to report on health care quality. The report builds on the efforts of MN Community Measurement (MNCM), a non-profit organization fo- cused on improving the quality of health care in Minnesota by publicly reporting quality results. ,This work builds on the rich history of collabora- tion in Minnesota's health care com- munity; it reflects the efforts of many community members," said Jim Chase, president of MNCM. "We have been seein.g significant improvements in care in the state on the measures we have been reporting. The state's in- volvement in the qualit report has al- lowed us to have a greater impact by addressing more conditions and in- cluding more providers." Clinic quality measures are pre- sented in the report and include meas- ures such as the best care for adults with diabetes and the best care for chil- dren with a sore throat; hospital qual- ity measures include measures such as the best care for heart attack patients and the best infection prevention after surgery The report expands the public reporting in two ways. First, MDH has increased the statewide scope of the re- port by bringing together measures from 520 clinics, as well as more than 40 quality measures submitted by hos- pitals. Second, it has also increased the depth of information through risk ad- justment, which makes the results from providers more comparable, regardless of their patient population. "We now have a more complete pic- ture of health care in urban and rural areas," Magnan said. MDH has organized the statewide report by region-Northwest/West Cen- tral, Northeast/Central, Twin Cities Metro and Southwest/Southeast/South Central. The 2010 Minnesota Health Care Quality Report is available online at http://www.health.state.mn.us/healthre- form/measurement/report/index.html. Roger Ste phens, State of MN certified hearing instrument dispenser Serving the Ortonville area on the 2nd Friday of every month 9 12 224 NW 2nd Street- Ortonville 1-800-447-7244 " I Better Heanng Guaranteed. Page 8 .; .......... 7.. , INDEPENDENT Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010