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CoPilot Lt William Leek described the Piggyback Flight as the grinding of two huge planes together like “breeding dragonflies”. The two planes had become one. He was referring to the B17s Little Skipper and Nine Lives collision over the North Sea on December 31, 1944 during the Battle of The Bulge. The top turret guns of Lt William MacNab’s B17 Nine Lives pierced through the aluminum skin on the bottom of Lt Glenn H Rojohn’s and Leek’s B17 Little Skipper. Rojohn’s outboard prop bent into the nacelle of MacNabs engine. Two planes pick-a-back.
Did the collision occur because of the weather; Rojohn and MacNab moving into an open spot in the formation at the same time; or MacNab and his CoPilot Lt Nelson Vaughn loosing control due to injury. Since MacNab and Vaughn didn’t survive the collision no one will ever know the answer.
Most who survived the collision bailed out of the B17s. Rojohn ordered Leek to bail but he refused the order to stay with his friend. Before Lt. Robert Washington left the plane, he saw Rojohn’s and Leek’s feet propped against the instrument panel and wheels against their stomach fighting for their life. Rojohn was determined to keep the planes from plunging into the North Seato keep both of them alive.
Leek helped Rojohn miraculously land the two planes, still stuck together like “breeding dragonflies” near Wilhelmshaven Germany. Both were only injured slightly. For their efforts, each were awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart and Air Medal for that PiggyBack Flight.
After decades of searching for each other, Leek and Rojohn reunited with crew members Bob Washington, Ed Neuhaus and Herman Horencamp in 1987 during a 100th Bomb Group reunion. They were able to swap stories of what happened on December 31, 1944 for the first time.
Glenn Rojohn and Bob Washington also had an opportunity to visit the landing sight and meet the Germans who witnessed the incident.
Gordon Hilderbrand, a neighbor of the Macnabs, saw an article that explained what happened to Lt Bill Macnab to solve the mystery of what happened to their relative in the war. In 1997 Rojohn had the honor of meeting Bill Macnab’s family in Oregon to provide details of what happened to their loved one.
Because of Glenn H Rojohn’s help organizing a B17 event at the Allegheny County Airport in 1988, the PiggyBack Flight story became public. That event launched a nationwide campaign to tell the story of the Piggyback Flight and its crews for decades. During that campaign, Glenn H Rojohn had the opportunity to meet and talk with a witness of the collision, Grant Fuller, at a Dayton Air Show.
Neither Leek or Rojohn thought of themselves as heroes … just two pilots doing their jobs in as John R Nilsson put it “The Story of the Century”.
In the Spring of 2014 daughter of Glenn h Rojohn, Cyndi, decided to contact the families of the Piggyback Flight and two witnesses-Grant Fuller and Ralph Christensen. The 2nd generation of the Piggyback Flight family was born. At that time, widows Marlene Leek, Pearl Neuhaus, and Edith Berkowitz were alive as were Pauline and Herman Horencamp.
Thank you Terry Flatley for creating a wonderful story of this historic event.
Thank you Gregg Thompson for the amazing painting of this flight hanging in the 8th AirForce Museum in Savannah, Georgia.
See www.piggybackflight.com for more information on this flight.