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S/Sgt James Schwoegler
Radio Operator

Schwoegler
1945

This article about James Schwoegler appeared in his hometown in 2001. Thanks to his son in law, Steve Evans for providing this article.



When he left the Madison area to serve in World War II, Jim Schwoegler had never been on an airplane. A year later, flight would be part of his daily routine, and it would almost bring about his early demise.

Schwoegler was born in Madison in Sept. 1922, one of three children in the Schwoegler family. His father, a plumber, had a "very serious ear problem," and was unable to hear. The family made due during the tough times of the late 20s and early 30s, the children attending school in Madison.

While a student at Edgewood High School, Schwoegler had a paper route for the Wisconsin State Journal, and he can still remember the extra editionthey published when England declare war on Germany.

"I carried the extras on my route and hollered 'war,!'" he said, "and I followed it all very closely."

Though he didn't know how it would come about, Schwoegler figured America would be drawn in eventually. In the interim, he graduated from Edgewood High School in 1940 and began work for 25 cents an hour at Gisholt, a machine tool company in East Madison.

Schwoegler's sense proved right on Dec. 7, 1941. He received the news on his car radio in a Madison hospital parking lot where his mother was being treated for tuberculosis.

We knew the Japanese were up to something," he recalled. "They were pretty aggressive in the Pacific." Schwoegler believes the stress of the war, especially knowing her sons would be called upon to fight, led to his mother's death from tuberculosis a short time later.

In time, Schwoegler's sister married and moved to Ohio, and his older brother was an early draftee into the war. Schwoegler at one point made a trip to Milwaukee to enlist, but concern for his widowed father caused him to change his mind.

"I couldn't leave him alone," he said. Instead he stayed in Madison and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin to be by his dad. After a year of school, however, Schwoegler's decision was made for him. He was drafted in Feb. 1943.

"I really wasn't sorry for me," he said. "I was sorry for him."

So, like so many midwestern boys before him, on March 14, 1943, Schwoegler set off for Ft. Sheridan, Ill., the regional induction center.

"We came in dressed in civilian clothes," he recalled, "and all the guys who had been issued uniforms said 'you'll be sorry.' They were vets for all of two days."

Schwoegler was put on a train with no idea as to where he was going, and when he got there he did not know where he was. It turned out to be Ft. Jackson, S.C., where he was placed in the newly organized 106th Infantry Battalion. From the first day, beginning before daylight with roll call and chow, it was an eye opening experience.

"We preceded to get chewed out like you've never been chewed out in your life," he said. "I wondered what I'd gotten myself into." Even that first morning those who were slow getting to the mess tent were literally kicked in the behind. "I thought 'where is that hill they talk about going over,'" he said. "It was the blackest morning of my life."

Despite the stress and confusion, Schwoegler remains proud of his platoon and his basic training experience. He was made a platoon guide for the 3rd platoon, and by November he had received his "buck sergeant" stripes.

A month later Schwoegler found himself in Miami Beach, having been transferred to the Army Air Corp. He did not pass the cadet training for flight, so he would not be a pilot, but he did show aptitude toward being a radio operator. The Army then sent him to Sioux Falls, S.D. for radio training.

While he didn't realize it at the time, the sequence of events proved fortunate. The 106th, his former unit, was later sent to the Battle of the Bulge in Europe.

"The 106th was right in the path of the Panzers," Schwoegler said. "They were pretty much destroyed. There but for Godů"

But while he was not with his old regiment, his new assignment in South Dakota was not certain.

"They told us 'don't settle in here. You're going back to the infantry," Schwoegler said. In fact, he was packed and ready to go when the confirmation came he would be staying in radio school. It was while at radio school that Schwoegler received his first airplane ride "in a noisy little two-engine."

"I didn't mind it," he said. "I guess I didn't think too much about it."

The planes would soon get bigger. In Oct. 1944, Schwoegler was "crewed up" with a B-29 bomber crew at Smoky Hill Army Air Base in Salina, Kan. The Boeing planes had four engines, two on each wing, and were served by a crew of 11.

"The pilot had been a crop duster," Schwoegler recalled. "He was older than most pilots, but he was a hell of a good pilot."

They were assigned a brand new aircraft, and after training flights that included runs over Cuba, the new crew went from Kansas to Mather Field in California. What came next was a mystery.

"We had no idea where we were going," he recalled. "The pilot had sealed orders he opened after we were going." The orders said fly to Guam, with a brief stop in Hawaii and a Pacific atoll called Kwajelein en route. The crew spent short time training in Guam before they were sent on their first combat mission.

"On the 12th of April we made our first flight over Japan," He recalled. "At the time it was the longest flight ever made." It lasted 17 hours and 45 minutes. "People complain about a five hour plane ride. I thought I was born and raised on that aircraft."

The mission was to strike a fuel refinery in Koriyama, north of Tokyo. The radioman's seat was in a windowless area behind the pilot's cabin, so Schwoegler really couldn't see what was going on. Since the bombers maintained radio silence during most of the trip, he didn't have much to do, either.

"We could monitor things coming in, and I had a log," he said, "but must I'd listen."

Two days after their first mission the crew flew a night raid over Tokyo. The captain asked Schwoegler to monitor Tokyo radio stations to see what they did when the bombs began to fall, but about an hour of Japanese music was about all Schwoegler could stand.

"I just told him 'I can't listen to that."

The crew went on missions every three to four days, flying over a number of different targets. One mission was a firebomb raid over Tokyo.

"One hundred-eighty, 200 miles away I could still see that fire in Tokyo," Schwoegler recalled.

During other missions Schwoegler was responsible for throwing "radar rope," packets of tin foil designed to distract Japanese radar, out the back of the plane.

"I threw out more rope than there was plane," he recalled.

Things went well for Schwoegler and his crewmates until June 1, 1945. They had taken off for a daylight raid on Osaka, and while getting into formation the flight engineer said the number-three engine was losing oil. B-29s did not need their full compliment of engines to fly, and the engineer suggested turning the engine off and "feathering" the propeller, turning the blades so they would not spin in the wind, to save the engine from overheating. At that time the pilot saw what Schwoegler described at a "thermal of black smoke from Osaka 50,000 feet high," and determined the plane would need "all the power we could get." He left the engine running.

Before long the B-29 was hit by flak in its number-two engine. Despite the damage, the crew dropped their payload of bombs and went into the thermal.

"It went from daylight to pitch black," Schwoegler said.

After exiting the thermal, the captain feathered the second engine's propeller, but the third engine could not be feathered and it began to seize.

"I've never heard such a squeal," Schwoegler said. "I could see nothing but Japan down below. The only thing I thought about was 'Jim, you'll never see Wisconsin again.'"

And things were about to get worse.

Continued