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WWII Ploesti Veteran and POW , Harry Korger


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I acquired this collection from the Daughter and Grand Daughter of Harry Korger. His Grand Daughter wanted to make sure this group ended up in the hands of someone who understood the signifigance of the items and would take care of it. Part of my promise to her was to do a thread about her Grandfather. I hope this thread will do justice in commemorating his military service and his memory.




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Harry Korger could be described as a “renaissance man”. He was a Bombardier, Navigator, Musician, POW, Author, and most importantly a family man. His life’s journey would take him from Wisconsin, to the Middle East, Romania, Italy, a POW camp in Germany, and back home again. He had to parachute from two airplanes in circumstances where staying on board was not an option. In both cases, he was lucky to have survived. On a third occasion he was a crewman on a bomber that crash landed. He walked away from that too. He survived almost two years in a German POW camp. He experienced more in 3 short years than most of us will ever see in a lifetime.


This is his story


Harold F. Korger was born October 7, 1918 to German American parents in Eau Claire Wisconsin. Growing up, he grew fond of music and it became part of his life until the day he died. He graduated from High School and attended the University of Wisconsin and earned a Bachelors Degree in Music in 1940. He would put that degree to use as the music director of the Eagle River Schools until the war would cut his teaching career short.




In December 1941, Harry made a decision that would change his life forever. He enlisted in the US Army Air Force. He graduated from Bombardier School at Midland Field in 1942 and was commissioned a 2nd Lt. He married his sweetheart Bernice while at Midland in August 1942. He was stationed at various locations in the USA before transferring overseas in February 1943 and was assigned to the 98th Bomb Group, then stationed in the Middle East. They were known as the Pyramiders.

Harry was soon in the thick of the fighting.




The 98th Bomb group left the United States on July 15, 1942 and arrived in Palestine in late July. They flew their first mission to Mersa Metruh on August 1, 1942. The 98th was initially assigned to the USMEAF (United States Middle East Air Force). However, the USMEAF was dissolved on November 12, 1942. At that time, the 98th came under the 9th Air Force. The 98th was under the command of the 12th Air Force in September and October 1943. Then, it was under the 15th Air Force beginning on 1 November 1943.


Harry started flying missions with the 98th shortly after he arrived, bombing mostly targets in Italy. He had 23 missions and almost 300 hours of flying time under his belt while flying as the Bombardier of the B-24 “BIG OPERATOR” when the mission that would define his military career was announced. It was the mission to attack the oil refineries at Ploesti Romania.


Harry was hand picked by Col. John “Killer” Kane to be his Bombardier for the mission. Col Kane earned the Medal of Honor as the Pilot of “Hail Columbia” and as group commander during the raid.


On the Morning of August 1, 1943 “Hail Columbia” took off from their base in Libya, and the rest is history.


In letters Harry wrote home he related that he flew with Colonel John R. Kane, former West Point all-American football player, on the Ploesti mission. "I saw old friends crash to a flaming death before my eyes," he wrote. "The Jerries were throwing up everything at us. Our plane was shot to shreds but, by sheer flying skill, Colonel Kane got us out."

"My bombs hit dead center on my target and we wiped the place out. Then, the fighters jumped us and more of our friends went down, but they took at least four or five Jerries down with them for every one of us."

They reached a friendly airfield, after flying on "a wing and a prayer, mostly prayer," Lieutenant Korger related.

Once the bombs were dropped and they left Ploesti, “Hail Columbia” crash landed on Cyprus and everyone survived thanks to the flying skills of John Kane. The following day the crew spent the day looking over the plane and marveling at the number of bullet and shell holes, each wondering how no one got seriously wounded.


This would not be the only plane Harry flew that would be destroyed. He would get chance number 2 in a month.


On September 3, 1943, Harry would fly what he thought would be his last (30th) mission before going home to his beloved Bernice. He was given the option of flying home and doing a bond tour, but Harry decided he should finish his missions. It was a decision he would later regret. His final mission was supposed to be routine, over Sulmona, Italy. On the way to the target “Big Operator” was attacked by fighters and JU 88’s. His group was attacked by ME-110’s shooting rockets. They were hit several times and went into a flat spin. Harry jumped and earned the first of his 2 Caterpillar Club pins. Four of the crew was killed. Harry was injured but wounded.


For his service up to this point, Harry earned the DFC with 1 OLC, The Air Medal with 4 OLCs, and the Purple Heart. One of his DFCs was earned for Ploesti.


Harry hit the ground fairly hard, and was rounded up by the Italian police. He and other crew members were taken into town to begin almost 2 years in captivity.




In the next few months, Harry was transferred by the Italians to Stalag VIIA to Stalag VA and then OFLAG 64.


Oflag 64 was opened at Shubin Poland as an officer’s camp. It quickly became a model camp that the Germans used for propaganda purposes to show the Red Cross and Swiss authorities how “great“the Reich was treating Allied POWs. The camp had a theater, and published its own newspaper. It was better than the average camp. Harry spent 2 months at Shubin and while he was there was quickly assimilated into the activities of the camp. He joined the band and the glee club. He participated in some of the plays put on in the camp theater.


In January 1944, all the AAF officers who where held at Oflag 64 were given orders to move to Stalag Luft 1 located at Barth Germany. Harry and his fellow prisoners packed their bags and got on the train.


While at Oflag 64, Harry began to send coded messages to MIS in the United States. He had been trained in a fairly simple code my MIS before he even left the United States. These code writers where instrumental in passing on information and requesting specific escape items sent in special parcels to the camp by MIS. Even items such as guns were sent in these parcels.




Stalag Luft 1 would be the final POW camp Harry would be held in until liberation. As in Oflag 64, Harry quickly became an active member of a number of camp activities.


Throughout his days as a POW, Harry kept a detailed diary of his capture and of the functions participated in camp. He pasted photos of his wife Bernie in it, letters and parcel labels from boxes, and other items.


Harry’s number one love was MUSIC.

The following is a portion of an article, written by Lowell Bennett, International News Service correspondent, who was a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft I and articles from Harry’s home town newspapers. Lowell Bennett was shot down in an RAF raid over Berlin on December 2, 1942. These articles give a good indication of how involved Harry was in the camp.


"Under the professional directorship of First Lieutenant Harry F. Korger (whose family lives at Eau Claire, WI), our Kriege Glee Club has expanded into one of the most important entertainment and morale factors in camp. The club began in April, with a double quartet, and now is 36 men strong and has put on five king-size shows.

The club, which incorporates the Catholic choir, handles all types of music--from Negro spirituals through military medleys to popular dance songs. Korger, who was a high school band director in Eagle River before the war, does all the arrangements from memory, with the help of First Lieutenant Marshall E. Tyler of Indian Falls Road, Corfu, New York, who studied music at the Eastman School of Music and who is the club's accompanist.

"Korger, an old-timer here—he was shot down September 3, 1943— has written a ballad, which he calls All Through the Night, and a march, Kriegies on Parade, both of which were enthusiastically received here. Korger also plays the third saxophone in our Round the Benders Swing Band.

A copy of the ballad, All Through the Night, dedicated to his wife, Bernice, who lives in Eagle River, was received by her February 5. In a letter dated October 20, Lieutenant Korger wrote: "My show On the Air is making a big hit with all the fellows, and I'm very happy about it. I made arrangements for the glee club for a medley from This Is the Army, Sleep Song, Battle of Jericho, and Marching Along. The orchestra played Smoke Rings, Kalamazoo, Silent Love, Slow Swing (written by our tenor man, Eddie Edwards), Sentimental Over You, etc. Several comedy skits round out the program. Emcee is Lieutenant Simms."

In a letter of September 3, 1944, Lieutenant Korger wrote: "My choir sings High Mass every other Sunday and really do a nice job--eighteen voices and the whole thing is A Capella. I've also written and arranged a few hymns that we sing. The glee club of 36 voices will put on another concert soon. Our orchestra, now augmented to 12 pieces, plays for chow every other night. We have 4 saxes (and clarinets), 3 trumpets, guitar, bass fiddle, piano, drums, and a trombone. Several of the boys have played with big name bands in the states. Our biggest drawback here is the lack of music—we have to arrange most of our own and it becomes a job at times.

"An amusing note was this: We received some glee club music but, to our astonishment, it was all arranged for mixed voices (female and male)."


In the book “Not as Briefed”, C. Ross Greening, a Fellow POW who also participated in the Doolittle Raid, dedicated a painting to Harry. Greening was an accomplished painter who published the book after the war including many of his works that he completed while in Stalag Luft I. The painting of Harry features him holding his music conductor’s baton. Harry was given the painting by Ross and was later used in the book. The painting was also incorporated into the travelling “POW EXPOSITION” that Greening put together featuring simulated POW camp rooms, POW art, and items made in the camp. It travelled to many of the largest Department Stores in the country in 1946.


A song written by Harry in Stalag Luft 1 called “All Through the Night” was recorded and sold by RCA records in conjunction with Greening’s travelling POW exhibit.




On May 1, 1945 the Russians liberated Stalag Luft 1. It was a joyous day for Harry. In his diary he detailed the next few days’ events. He and his buddies went to the camp office and recovered their POW ID cards. Harry took a portrait photo of Herman Goering off the wall of the commandant’s office.


Once negotiations were completed with the Russians, the POWs of Stalag Luft 1 were flow to France to Camp Lucky strike and some time off in Paris.


In his letters, Harry complained about having to sit and wait for transportation home. After 2 years he was DONE with spending time in Europe. He was ready to go home.


He finally got his wish and docked in the US in August 1945 into the waiting arms of his wife Bernice.




Harry made the decision to stay in the USAF and made it a career. He retired in 1971 as a Colonel.


In the years between WWII and his retirement, he never again saw combat, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t risk his life.


On Feb 16, 1956 he was the Navigator of a B-52 on a mission Near Tracy, CA. The plane caught on fire after an alternator failed, and exploded. Harry earned his 2nd Caterpillar Club pin. He ejected from the B-52 at 36,000 feet breaking his arm. He and 3 other crewmen survived, 4 did not. His B-52 was the first to be lost by the USAF.


He became a Senior Navigator after WWII, designing a navigation computer and writing articles for journals. He was well known in the navigation community.


He continued to enjoy music by being a Choir Director at a number of Catholic churches near bases where he served.


After his retirement from the USAF in 1971, he eventually settled in Oregon where he lived with his wife and family until he passed away in 1995 at the age of 77.


For his service Harry was awarded the following decorations: DFC + 1 OLC, Air Medal 4 OLC, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal and the Joint Services Commendation Medal.


When I think of the “Greatest Generation”, I think of men like Harry Korger.

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This is the painting C. Ross Greening did of Harry while in Stalag Luft 1 . This image of Harry holding his Baton is how he would have liked to be remembered.





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Harry Medals , Wings , Caterpillar Club Pins, and ribbon bars .




Harry's DFC and Air Medal are in a style that is a variant of the typical Rank/Name/AC style . I have seen enough of these in multiple groups to believe the engraving is official. Forum Support posted a POW group a while back with medals engraved in the same hand and style . His DFC is a US Mint contract piece like you normally associate to USN issues, but I have seen a few awarded to AAF men. Coming from the family, I have ZERO doubts concerning it's authenticity.


Here is forum supports thread:







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Harry's Purple Heart awarded for the injuries he sustained when he bailed out. The engraving appears to have been " corrected " by the government engraver.





His minature medals



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Harry's Caterpillar Club Pins . His first was earned when he became a POW , the second in 1956 when he ejected from an exploding B-52 .







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Before I start posting Harrys POW diary, letters, and photos, I thought you should read about his experiences in his own words. The following came from the 98th BG unit history




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Kurt - An outstanding tribute and grouping to an American hero. :twothumbup: Glad you get to preserve it!


Always thought Kane's crew received DSCs as he received the MOH. If I can find my copy of "Ploesti" by Duggan & Stewart (?) I'll probably find out the answer.

Keep 'em Flying! Bob

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Once Harry began combat operations with the 98th Bomb Group , he began to keep a small diary to keep track of his missions and types of bombs dropped. It was mailed home to his wife after he became a POW




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Photos of " Hail Columbia " taken the day after the Ploesti mission on Cyprus . Notice the cannon hole in the prop!



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