4th February 1944.
Frankfurt - flak.
"We always avoid the Ruhr for this reason unless, of course, there is an
assigned target. It has many nicknames, particularly "Flak Valley" and
"Happy Valley". Well, unfortunately, we "toured the Ruhr"
and it compared with Cognac in many respects. I have to confess that by this time I
was becoming a little "Flak Happy" and frankly hated to even "'watch the
1st Lt. William W. Dolan.
615th Sqdn. Bombardier.
The loss of Lt. J.F. Zitkovic and Crew - sadly, there were no survivors.
"The aircraft, apparently hit by flak, was straggling some 4,000 feet
lower than the formation (about 18,000 feet). All four engines were
turning over and the aircraft seemed to be under control. Flak was
bursting all around the ship when. last seen."
2nd Lt. Clifford C. Bergeson
614th Sqdn. Co-pilot.
The Group chalked up ten more missions in February - one more than the
previous month. The reason for this was a decision reached by USAAF and
RAF officials to hammer the Air Volar home to Germany while the Luftwaffe
and German industrial cities were still reeling from previous blows. Day
and night, the skies over England resounded with the heavy roar of planes
on their way to Occu~ied Europe.
Strategically it was decided to strike at the main barrier in the way
of the invasion of the Western front -- the Luftwaffe. For this reason the
factories and plants manufacturing German fighter planes were struck time
and time again. Whole airfields and airdromes were obliterated in northwestern France and western Germany.
At the time it was impossible to judge the results. staggering blows were
delivered to the German aircraft production plants, but only the skies
over the Second Front could give the true answer.
Captain Dehlyn "Hi Ho" Silver led the Group on its 19th mission, when
Hilhelmshaven, the great port and fighter base on the North Sea coast was
attacked. Over 1,100 fighters and bombers participated. The 401st immerged
unscathed and the bombing results were good. The date was 3rd February.
The next day, the 4th, Lt. Col. Harris E. Rogner, the Air Executive, was
transferred to 94th Combat i;/ing Headquarters and Lt. Col. Burton K. Voorhees arrived from \'/ing to take his place.
Thus departed one of the key figures in the 401st. A great athlete at
West Point, a pilot's pilot and one of the most popular and respected
officers in the Group, his loss was felt keenly by the enlisted men as
well as his fellow officers.
A fellow officer said of him:
IIHe had the knack of handling men because he could do any job just a little bit better than the next fellow whether playing baseball, leading a
formation of Fortresses, breaking records at skeet, handling a billiard
cue, or conducting the myriad executive duties of his office, Colonel
Rogner was tops.
He was 'tlhat they had in mind when the phase "An officer and a gentleman"
On October 11th 1944 Col. Rogner took over as Commanding Officer of the
457th B.G. (H) at Glatton, a member of the 94th Combat Bomb Wing. The
post war years saw Col. Rogner attend staff college and then serve with
NATO. During the Korean War he was given a combat command and led several
B-29 missions. It proved to be his last command because late in 1951, on
his way home in a 3-29, he was killed in the crash of the B-29 as it attempted an instrument landing at Barksdale Field, Louisana.
On 28th July 1945 Col. Rogner and his second in command, Lt. Col. William
F. Smith, flew a B-25 from their Sioux Falls base to Ne\'/"ark, New York,
where Col. Rogner spent the weekend with his family. He allowed Lt. Col.
Smith to go on to Bedford, Massachusetts, with the B-25 so that he could
pick him up at Newark the follo\·ling day. On the following day Lt. Col.
Smith found himself in very bad weather over New York, and, after a zigzag course between the towering building of the city struck the Empire state Building, passing clean through it and out the other side.
On the same day that Col. Rogner moved to Polebrook to join the 94th C.B.
Wing, Major Brooks led the Combat Wing on a mission to Frankfurt. It was
the 20th mission and despite intense flak, the Wing ploughed through a
heavy overcast in 45 below zero weather to successfully bomb the target.
2nd Lt. Frank J. Zitkovic's crew were reported as missing in action after the operation.
The other members of the crew were 2nd Lt. Bascom O. Clifton, 2nd Lt. Wayne R. Goodwin,
2nd Lt. John L. Wenger, S/Sgt. Joseph H. Dippel, Sgt. Burton S. Davidson, Sgt. Charles J. Howard,
Sgt. Max Slotnick, Sgt. Raymond W. Fritzinger and Sgt. James O. Nichols.
Their aircraft, "Nobody's Baby", Serial No. 42-31036, Squadron code IW-X,
had been hit by flak and, when last seen, was 4000 feet below the formation
with all four engines turning and seemed to be under control. It's one of those cases when it
appears that the crew should have survived but didn't. The post war Missing In Action Report
states that the entire crew were killed.
I'm happy to report that on Christmas Eve, 1986, Lt. Russell J. Prechtl,
an F-16 fighter pilot of the 613th Fighter Squadron, 401st T.F.W., and
his crew chief renamed their aircraft "Nobody's Baby" in honor of Lt.
Frank Zitkovic and his crew.