This month we had the great opportunity and pleasure to interview Post 522 member John (Sonny) Fogl. John will turn 90 in November. He lives at his long-time home on 51st Street in Milwaukee, where he has been for a long, long time. During our visit, we delivered John’s award for 60 years of continuous American Legion Membership. John’s reaction? “60 years? Holy S**t”. We thanked John for being our longest-serving member, and for his loyalty to the Legion and Post 522.
We enjoyed talking with John who is a warm, friendly man, quick with the wit. He has many memories that he willingly shares. His disappointment is that his legs are not holding up and he needs a walker to get around. Overall, he is doing fine and still drives a bit. He has folks stopping in to help him quite often.
John reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Theatta (Kitty), after his military service had ended. Kitty had been divorced with a daughter, Diane, and 2 sons, Mike and Randy. John and Kitty were soon married. Kitty was a long-time active member of our ALA, and daughter Diane Hogancontinues to carry on the family tradition. After 54 happy years together, Kitty passed away. He recollected that was about 5 years ago.
John also had a brother and a sister, who have both passed away.
John’s military career started when he joined the National Guard in 1948. “Then, in 1952 they turned us into the Army. They told us they drafted the whole unit. While in the Guard, we were a field artillery outfit from the Whitefish Bay Armory”. John said that each man was given the opportunity to enlist in any branch they wanted.
“My brother went airborne and I said, I ain’t jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. No way. A good friend of mine says ‘you and I should go into the Air Force’. I know at least we’ll have a bed there. Remembering our mud training with the National Guard, I said that sounds good. So I spent the next 4 years in the Air Force. Yeah.”
“ I was an aircraft mechanic. I went to electrical school. I went to aircraft mechanic school and powertrain school”.
Before that, John experienced one of his boot camps in San Antonio. He recalled the snakes there (not fondly) , and how his buddies were always scamming him with claims that there snakes in the tent at night.
John worked on T-33’s, F-94’s, 86-D’s, and F-896H’s.
Overseas, John was stationed in southern Japan, a jump-off for Korea. “We were supposed to go to Okinawa, but we never got there.”
Fortunately he did not see active combat. We were alerted quite a bit. We had our Fighters all sitting there.
He says that the only casualties in his unit were “a couple of drunks. That’s about all.”
John talked about one of the crashes he had observed. “I saw a B-29 come in with one engine out and you don’t bank it up with that engine, because there’s no power no pull. He hit the ground and it tore right over our heads. I think we could of reached up and touched it. They crashed and lost quite a few guys on the plane. They burned to death. We heard them screaming ‘get me out, get me out,’ but we could do nothing. The ammunition was popping off and we were in a ditch. The plane was burning and I think they had about eight hours fuel on board.
John flew quite a bit as a crew chief, or radar operator. Not as a pilot.
Returning from Japan, he was stationed in New Mexico; Clovis AF Base, not far from the Texas border.
John told us that the most memorable experience he had was getting out. “I wasn’t going to stay. I had thought about going for 20 years, but then I thought I’d rather come home. And then I met my wife again, and we got married.”
After leaving the Air Force, John came back to Milwaukee and went to work as a machinist at Cherry Burrell, at 30th and Burleigh. He then switched to Oil Gear at 51st and Lincoln, where he worked until his retirement.
He did leave Post 522 for a brief time, transferring back and forth between 522 and Milwaukee Post 400 on 30th and North Ave a few times. John (Sonny) liked to tend bar at Post 400, but there were some argumentative people there.
His wife said “we’re going back out there (Hubertus) tomorrow”. “Wherever the wife goes I had to follow. Never had any arguments at Gib and Rosie Schmitt’s post”.
He has always enjoyed hunting, fishing, and tending bar. He tended bar at several different establishments for over 40 years.
Asked if he would do anything different, he said “I don’t know. I sometimes think I would have liked to stay in the Air Force. I enjoyed working on the planes
If a young person came up to him and asked “What should I do to get through life?” John would tell them “Work every day”. Then he asked us why we weren’t working today. He seemed to be accepting of fellow “retired bums”.
He is interested in coming to see Post 522 one of these days, to see if it has changed. He remembers it as just a shack years ago.
In his nearly 90 years, what is John Fogl most proud of? “Living this long”.
What person has influenced you the most in life? His parents. His mom “was a good woman. She took care of us and made us step on the right foot. My dad, he was a musician. He played and he worked in a foundry. He was a foreman at Motor Casting. He played the bass, and he tended bar a lot. When I was younger and started tending bar, he stopped. He figured one drunk in the family’s was enough.”
His military memories,? Besides the snakes of Texas? John graphically described his boat ride to Japan. “We were aboard ship. I don’t know how many days we spent crashing through a hurricane. Oh didn’t like that, It was like a submarine. They locked all the doors and said we can’t go on deck. After we were in board maybe 15 days, we got to go out before we hit Japan. We were allowed to sit on the back end of the ship. I was hanging onto a flagpole when a wave came over. And I was flapping in the air when the wave was gone. Then I fell to the ground. I went back downstairs and jumped in bed. Enough of this s—t. Puke all over the place. Everybody, was puking from the bunks above me . I felt sorry them Navy boys. Oh God that ship. Like I said, we were like a submarine; was under water most of the time from when we left Frisco.” And that’s why he wanted the Air Force. “They fly”.
John has traveled to Alaska twice and didn’t much care for it. Nice area, but just not for him. He and Kitty spent a lot of time at his son’s farm near Iron River. That was John’s hunting ground. He shot quite a few deer there.
Post 522 is proud to have John Fogl as a member and a friend. Although he cannot get to meetings, he watches us with interest through our mailings. Someday we might be lucky enough to get him to the Post, for a visit. Until then , thank you John for being one of us!!
Interviewed by Mark Rostagno and Mike Grimm