U.S. Army Staff Sgt. John Hogan was killed in action. But not recently, and not in Afghanistan. He died almost 70 years ago, a young gunner in a B-17 flying over Germany on a bombing mission.
The small, tight-knit town of West Plains, Mo., was knocked to its knees when one of its brightest and promising young men went missing overseas in 1944.
Finally, Hogan is scheduled to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in August with full military honors.
Hogan was a dashing 20-year-old, gifted and popular, the ambitious son of one of the doctors in West Plains. Jack McNevin worked with Hogan’s mother in the local post office.
“She never did really recover … completely from not knowing where [her] boy [was],” he says.
McNevin also went to high school with Hogan. Their senior year, McNevin was a halfback on the football team, Hogan a left guard.
“I’m not even sure that we ever scored a touchdown — I don’t even remember. But we were bad. We were really bad,” he says.
Hogan and McNevin graduated five months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hogan dreamed of becoming a field biologist. Instead, he found himself fighting off frostbite with his hands on a machine gun, flying nearly 27,000 feet above Europe.
Hogan’s B-17 fell out of formation after coming under anti-aircraft fire over Germany.
“I assumed all these years that his plane just crashed into the mountains, or somewhere, and they couldn’t even find it,” McNevin says.
After the war, the Army wrote Hogan’s parents.
“It is regretted that there is no grave at which to pay homage,” the note said. “May the knowledge of your son’s honorable service to his country be a source of sustaining comfort to you.”
Hogan’s parents and two brothers passed away without ever knowing what happened to his body.
“In 1991, a German citizen was digging a grave in a cemetery for one of his own family members,” says Jessica Pierno, spokeswoman for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office. “And as he was doing his work, he discovered a metal identification tag that was from a U.S. soldier.”
It took 17 years for the U.S. government to get permission from Germany to excavate that site. Investigators turned up the remains of the B-17’s crewmembers.
Ed Hogan, a neurologist in St. Louis, never got to meet his uncle, John.
“I’m very appreciative that things have come up, and that we know, and that they’ve brought his remains back. I just really wish it would have happened when my dad was still alive,” Ed Hogan says.