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When Glenn H. Rojohn enlisted in the service, he never imagined he would be part of one of the most bizarre events in aviation and military history. He and his co-pilot landed two connected B17s at the same time on New Year’s Eve of 1944. Following is the story of the pilot of the “Piggyback Flight”.
World War II was raging in the Pacific and in Germany. At age 20, Glenn H. Rojohn decided to leave his bank teller job in McKeesport, PA to enlist in the Armed Forces. Recommendation letters were written, swearing in ceremonies conducted, and goodbyes said. He left his home in Greenock, PA for basic training at Camp Meade. His first assignment was in the recruitment office in Pittsburgh, PA. He received reassignment to Tennessee. That is where he made a decision that would change his life and place him in the annals of history forever.
His first historic event occurred at flight school in Stuttgart Army Air Field where he trained with his brother, Leonard E. Rojohn. There were training classes, visits from loved ones, dinner invitations from town residents and new friendships formed. Then came their assignment to the war against Germany. While home on leave before reporting to Thorp Abbot in England, Glenn H. Rojohn told his sweetheart, Jane McCormick, and his family there would be no wedding before his deployment. The chance of bomber pilots returning was slim, so he didn’t want to create any more hardships and heartaches than necessary.
1st Lt. Glenn H. Rojohn‘s B17 350 bomb crew changed several times, but the guys that were his constant force were William G. Leek, Ed Neuhaus, Herman Horencamp, and Orville Elkin. He flew 21 missions as part of the Army Air Force’s Bloody Hundredth. It was the 22nd mission, the last mission, which would create history over the North Sea.
The mission started differently on New Years Eve in 1944. They were scheduled for time off but there was a decision for an all-out offensive. His dear friend, Herman Horencamp, had frost bite and had to stay on the ground. And, Glenn H. Rojohn was flying The Little Skipper for the first time. The attack target was part of the German refinery network in Hamburg. The route was to be over the
North Sea toward Denmark, then south to Hamburg. The Germans were ready with ground fire and fighter planes. 25 planes in his formation went down that day. One of those planes was to the right of the Little Skipper, and its void set of a series of events, starting with a mid-air collision described in “Contrails, My War Record 1947” as pick-a-back and ending with the landing described by Major Cruver and eyewitness Paul Zak as in piggy-back fashion. What transpired afterward has come to be called the Piggyback Flight.
What caused the collision, no one will ever know for sure. 1st Lt. Glenn H. Rojohn radioed that he was making a move … no response from the plane below, so he assumed it was also downed. He maneuvered his plane to fill in the empty spot in the formation. Unknown to him, Nine Lives piloted by Lt. Bill MacNab was also moving into the same empty spot from the lower right. Crew members in other planes in that formation watched in horror. Crash, grinding noises, smoke, and fire … The Little Skipper and Nine Lives were stuck together like “breeding dragonflies”, as Leek later described. 1st Lt. Rojohn tried to separate the planes with maneuvers. Having no luck, he ordered everyone in both planes to bail out. His co-pilot and friend, Lt. William G. Leek, refused the bail out order. He knew his pilot couldn’t fly the planes himself.
After deciding to try to get the plane closer to land instead of the two planes dropping into the water, they saw land in the form of a field ahead, but they were quickly losing altitude. The two planes, the two pilots, and one of their trapped crew members (Joseph Russo) hit the frozen ground of the Island of Wangerooge near Tettans field. The Little Skipper slid off the Nine Lives, crashed into a building, and came to a stop a football field’s length away.
Miraculously, there were survivors. Lt. William Leek climbed out on the wing first. Lt. Glenn H. Rojohn climbed out behind him. But the danger wasn’t over. They could see people coming to meet them. Were they friend or foe? Initially, they were citizens who lived on the island since there was not a major Germany Army presence there. That’s when a boy saved their life. When Lt. Leek started to light a cigarette, the boy frantically tried to tell them there was fuel everywhere, including on the wing where they stood. Fortunately, he was successful, but Leek had to wait to have that cigarette. The capture came soon.
German officials came from everywhere to interrogate Rojohn and Leek to find out all they could about this 8-engine “super jet” that America had in its arsenal. All that was left was the nose and seats of The Little Skipper after it slid off MacNab’s plane across the farm field. When the Germans were satisfied the “super jet” was actually two planes together, they went to Hamburg to be processed as POWs at Stalag Luft #1, where they stayed until the end of the war.
Navigator Robert Washington said of Rojohn that day “Glenn said that he doesn’t consider himself a hero that day, but I do! I will never forget his calm, matter of
fact response as I paused at the flight deck on my way out through the bomb bay and waist door. He may have said, ‘Get out Wash’ or merely motioned with his head, but I knew he and Bill Leek had made their decision and several of us who jumped over land probably owed our lives to their courage.”
Not all crew members made it that day. Joseph Russo was trapped in the Little Skipper when it hit the ground and died. Roy Little died trying to get ashore. Francis Chase, Henry Ethridge, Duane French, and Francis Seyfried died in the water. Pilot Lt. Bill MacNab and his co-pilot, Lt. Nelson Vaughn, were killed in the collision.
Lts. Glenn and Leonard Rojohn were scheduled to meet and spend New Years Eve together since both were supposed to have time off. When Leonard contacted the base to make those arrangements with his brother, he was notified that his brother’s plane had gone down but the messenger did not give him any of the details that he could share with their family. Back home in Greenock, PA, the Rojohn family was notified their son was Missing in Action. The family was devastated, and some say Selma, Glenn’s mother, really never recovered from her two sons being in war time.
Fortunately, the war would soon end, and another chapter began. Lieutenants Rojohn and Leek were always bothered that there were casualties and didn’t think of themselves as heroes… just men doing their jobs. They each received an Air Medal, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross for their effort on that New Year’s Eve flight. The Pick-a-Back/Piggyback Flight account was written in not only “Contrails, My War Record in 1947” but also “The Story of the Century” in 1946 as an historical event.
Glenn H. Rojohn married his sweetheart, had two children, doted on three grandchildren, and formed a heating & air conditioning business with his father (Harry) and his brother. He planned on living a normal life out of the limelight. That was not his destiny.
Into retirement age and a with few health scares, Glenn H. Rojohn decided that he wanted to reconnect with his crew. He searched and searched for them, especially William G. Leek, his co-pilot, his friend, and Piggyback Flight partner. Unknown to him, Bill Leek was also searching for him. Remember that this was before Google, so it was a difficult process. As fate would have it, they made that important connection. Glenn Rojohn finally found the number of Bill’s mother. Luck was with them again…Bill was visiting his mother at the same time Glenn was on the phone. Then there was a 100th Bomb Group Reunion in California in 1987. Glenn Rojohn, Bill Leek, Ed Neuhaus, Bob Washington, and Herman Horencamp had great moments reuniting, swapping war stories, sharing family photos, and telling the Piggyback Flight story to anyone who asked. The next part of the Journey of the Piggyback Flight Pilot was the key to the path Glenn H. Rojohn was about to follow.
The reunion brought him the truth. You see, he always thought all the deaths were his fault, because he was trained his plane was not to move down into position. Bill Leek and the crew convinced him otherwise. They knew they wouldn’t have survived without him. And he knew he would not have survived if his co-pilot Bill Leek would not have been his guardian angel. A story had come out that it was possible MacNab and Vaughn could have been incapacitated because of all the fire power that day. Or more probable, it was postulated later that, if MacNab and Rojohn were talking on their radio at the same time to tell their course of action or if any of the other frantic crews witnessing what was about to happen were trying to radio the Nine Lives and The Little Skipper, no connection could be made.
Sadly, the reunion for Pilot and Co-Pilot was short lived. Bill Leek died the following year. Glenn H. Rojohn, who was awarded the status of Captain by that time, mourned his friend and the time of friendship they lost.
Next has 1988 as a pivotal year for Glenn H. Rojohn. The reconnection of his old buddies and traveling to air shows to raise money for a variety of foundations and WWII plane reconstruction gave him an idea. Glenn was a member of the Mon Yough Chamber of Commerce. They helped to organize an air show of a B17 and B24 at the Allegheny County Airport in August 1988. His brother Leonard, wife Jane, daughter Cyndi, son Dave and friends Rip and Joan Meier joined him to be reunited with a Flying Fortress B17. There, Captain Glenn H. Rojohn got to sit in the pilot seat at the controls of the B17, close his eyes and recall where his crew sat, and take a fly-by over the area he called home. Since his brother was also was at the event that day, they were able to tell their story of training together and keeping in touch with each other through the war.
But most importantly, he finally told his story to the newspapers and television. It was the first time his friends and family heard the story that made history…the Piggyback Flight. Prior to that all his children knew was he that was in the war; they never ate rutabagas, watched war movies, or celebrated New Year’s Eve; and all the lights had to be on in the house after dark. The next step took Glenn H. Rojohn on a path as part of the Journey of the Piggyback Flight Pilot he never could have imagined.
The publicity bash continued. Glenn and Jane Rojohn didn’t miss another 100th Bomb Group reunion after the 1987 reunion. He was able to share his story with his fellow veterans, spreading the word. A 1995 painting of The Piggyback Flight by artist Gregg M. Thompson now hangs in the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum and was commissioned to the Air Force in 2008. That painting now has gone viral as a result of the stories on the internet.
Terry Flatley wrote a short story about the details of the flight that was published in World War II magazine after meeting Captain Glenn H. Rojohn at the
Pittsburgh VA Hospital while interviewing veterans as a freelance writer. That article can also be found on the internet along with pictures of the artist rendition and stats of Rojohn’s and MacNabs’s missions attracting more fans of the Piggyback Flight.
Not a week went by after that when the phone didn’t ring asking to talk to Captain Rojohn about the Piggyback Flight. He talked to them all. But, there were three calls that meant most to him.
The first was a call from Gordon Hilderbrand, who had seen the article in World War II magazine and was the neighbor of the MacNab family in Oregon. Another reunion for Captain Glenn H. Rojohn to attend was born. He was the Master of Ceremonies in a parade to honor him in Sherman County, Oregon on Memorial Day 1997. He met with the MacNab family and the town to tell them the Piggyback Flight story and the fate of their loved one. A long time mystery was solved…what happened to their brother Lt. William MacNab in the war? Until that article, all they knew was that he was missing in action. He met the MacNabs and Gordon Hilderbrand once again in 1999 at a meeting of the Western Wing of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society, of which Glenn H. Rojohn was a lifetime member. There, he was honored by them with a plaque commemorating him and the fateful crash that brought them together. Not only was Captain Rojohn a hero of the Piggyback Flight, he was also a hero to them. Meeting with the MacNabs was another important step in the journey of the Piggyback Flight.
The second call was from the students of Butler High School in Butler County PA. They were doing a book of a collaboration of stories about war heroes, “Silent Heroes Among Us”. Would Captain Rojohn agree to being a feature story and agree to having Gregg Thompson’s rendition of the Piggyback Flight as the cover of their book? He would be proud to know the book is in its third printing and still being donated in school libraries across the USA. This experience spawned a series of talks he would give to students at various schools around the Western Pennsylvania area.
The third call was when he was closer to his death. Ross Guidotti, a KDKA-TV reporter in Pittsburgh, was interviewing for his piece on The Greatest Generation. He wanted to do a piece on the Piggyback Flight Pilot for more people to hear his story and recognize the stories of the heroes of his generation. This wasn’t Ross’s last involvement.
There was one call his family regrets that he didn’t get the opportunity to answer. Glenn H. Rojohn bought Pittsburgh Steelers season tickets in 1946. He attended the games of his beloved Steelers until they moved to Heinz Field, where he had difficulty climbing the steps to his new seat near the top of the stadium. He had contacted the owner of the Steelers, Dan Rooney, after his own crash landing in 2002. After Glenn died, his family found out that Steelers players visited homes
of ailing fans, especially veterans. The call to set up such a visit would have resulted in one of the highlights of his life.
Other accolades poured in while he was still alive. He was honored by his alma mater, McKeesport High School. An invitation was received from the Queen of England to attend the grand opening of the American Air Museum. An invitation he proudly accepted. Captain Rojohn was inducted into Soldiers and Sailors Hall of Valor on January 26, 2002 in Pittsburgh by those who had heard his story. Local schools and organizations called him to speak about the Piggyback Flight and his time as a POW. His daughter, a retired teacher, was nervous that the students would misbehave, which would have disappointed and embarrassed him. But the children were spellbound and asked the kind of questions kids would ask… what did you eat in prison camp and were you scared? A Commendation of heroism was awarded on June 2, 1997 from Elizabeth Township, PA, where his family settled in the mid-1800s and he lived his entire life. This truly was a journey of a lifetime.
One of Glenn H. Rojohn’s passions was telling his story to fellow veterans, WWII fanatics, and WWII plane lovers. He attended air shows all over the country. At a Dayton Air Show he was selling lithographs of The Piggyback Flight for the artist. A gentleman came up to him and asked…”Do you know anything about this Piggyback Flight?” “Yes, I was in the plane” Captain Rojohn answered. That gentleman was Grant Fuller, a co-pilot in the same formation as The Little Skipper and Nine Lives. His reply to Captain Rojohn was “I witnessed the collision.” They became lifelong friends at that moment and became an important part of the Journey of the Piggyback Flight Pilot.
Talk about a small world? In 1981 Glenn H. Rojohn bought into the Native Sun, a timeshare in what is now Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida. Because he became the President of the condo association, a lithograph of The Piggyback Flight painting hung in the office. One day in 1995, a guest saw the painting and asked the office staff if anyone knew about this painting. The answer was “yes, the pilot of the top plane is our Association President… you will probably find him shelling on the beach right now”. That guest was Freddie Feix, who was a German fighter pilot. Glenn Rojohn showed him a letter from Hans-Jurgen Jurgens written in German. That letter was to Ed Neuhaus, radio operator of The Little Skipper… Neuhaus was the only name the people on the Island of Wangerooge knew. Jurgens was a writer doing a book about the island’s history and needed more information about the Piggyback Flight. The day Rojohn and Feix met, calls were made to Jurgens, and plans began for a reunion of Rojohn and those who witnessed the crash of the two B17 planes stuck together.
In September 1996, Jane and Glenn Rojohn flew to Germany, courtesy of flight passes from US Air pilots Mitchell Cowan and Jordan Brown. The Rojohns and Feixes were the guests of Jurgens and Bruno Abers, a witness of the Piggyback Flight. American flags flew everywhere in honor of Rojohn. The townspeople
gathered in the townhall to celebrate the history of the island, Tettans Field, and their role in WWII history. What they didn’t know was a special guest was about to arrive to meet them- Captain Glenn H. Rojohn, the pilot who survived the December 31, 1944 flight that crashed in their neighborhood.
Starting that day, he was called “Mr. Glenn”. During that celebration, the Rojohns met with two lady witnesses who scurried to pick up the parachutes to use in their home. The townsfolk who met Neuhaus when he hit the ground were also introduced to the honored guests. The dignitaries presented him with a very special gift… his personal Colt .25 caliber automatic pistol that was confiscated upon his capture. Most importantly, they also met Adolf Bruns and Johann Tjarks, the boys who came to meet the soldiers climbing out of the plane. Glenn Rojohn also got the answer to a question that haunted him… did any townspeople die when the planes exploded hitting the frozen solid field or building? The answer to his relief was “NO”. What the crews of the Piggyback Flight didn’t know was that every year on New Year’s Eve, the collision and the activities that occurred in their community was a big part of the town’s celebration welcoming the New Year. This was a very special day for everyone.
On the third day of his visit, Captain Glenn H. Rojohn was interviewed by German newspapers and TV crews. They took him to the crash site so he could reflect on that day in history when a plane with 8 engines crashed near Tettans Field. Volker Urbansky has found bullets and plane fragments from MacNab’s plane since that visit. Ferry Harreman also has adopted MacNab’s gravesite in the Netherlands so it is taken care of. Before the third day of the visit ended, Captain Glenn H Rojohn was flown between Wangerooge and Helgaland. It was the same course he flew December 31, 1944. The Journey of the Piggyback Flight Pilot had come full circle.
Captain Glenn H. Rojohn died August 9, 2003 after his second battle with melanoma. Ross Guidotti was so touched by his interview with this hero that he did another piece the day he died. That interview went viral … once again telling the story of Glenn H. Rojohn heroic efforts.
Not every story has an ending. Glenn H. Rojohn’s story continues.
When his wife died in February 2009, his children and grandchildren found the treasures he and his mother Selma tucked away over 60 years before. Telegrams and post cards sent from ham radio operators to tell Mrs. Rojohn they just heard her son from prison camp say “please contact my mother to let her know “I’m OK”; newspaper articles and books accounting his journey; POW records; enlistment and discharge papers; scrapbooks from his trip to Germany; medals; pictures of his adventures and reunions; mission logs; training manuals; diaries; class books from training; and his beloved 100th Bomb Group cap with all his pins attached that told his story and the Journey of the Piggyback Flight Pilot.
Captain Glenn H. Rojohn’s children and grandchildren decided to develop a website, Facebook page, and blog to tell the story so that current and future generations know The Glenn H. Rojohn Story, Journey of the Piggyback Flight Pilot
Glenn H. Rojohn Story
Journey of the Piggyback Flight Pilot
Attachments (sent electronically with copyright application):
· PDF file of this story
· JPG file of the painting by Mr. Thompson (painting not part of copyright), with caption amended
· 3 segments of a speech given by Glenn H. Rojohn describing the Piggyback Flight particulars
The Glenn H. Rojohn Story
Journey of the Piggyback Flight Pilot
Pictures and copies of documents sent via USPS as a follow-up package to the copyright application: