article about James Schwoegler appeared in his hometown
in 2001. Thanks to his son in law, Steve Evans for providing
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
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.
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.
carried the extras on my route and hollered 'war,!'" he said,
"and I followed it all very closely."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
really wasn't sorry for me," he said. "I was sorry for him."
like so many midwestern boys before him, on March 14, 1943,
Schwoegler set off for Ft. Sheridan, Ill., the regional induction
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."
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
106th was right in the path of the Panzers," Schwoegler said.
"They were pretty much destroyed. There but for Godů"
while he was not with his old regiment, his new assignment in
South Dakota was not certain.
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."
didn't mind it," he said. "I guess I didn't think too much about
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.
pilot had been a crop duster," Schwoegler recalled. "He was
older than most pilots, but he was a hell of a good pilot."
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.
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.
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.
could monitor things coming in, and I had a log," he said, "but
must I'd listen."
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.
just told him 'I can't listen to that."
crew went on missions every three to four days, flying over
a number of different targets. One mission was a firebomb raid
hundred-eighty, 200 miles away I could still see that fire in
Tokyo," Schwoegler recalled.
other missions Schwoegler was responsible for throwing "radar
rope," packets of tin foil designed to distract Japanese radar,
out the back of the plane.
threw out more rope than there was plane," he recalled.
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
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.
went from daylight to pitch black," Schwoegler said.
exiting the thermal, the captain feathered the second engine's
propeller, but the third engine could not be feathered and it
began to seize.
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.'"
things were about to get worse.