From the Author
"Is not God in the height of heaven? And behold the height of the stars, how high they are! And thou sayest, How doth God know? Can he judge through the dark cloud? Thick clouds are a covering to him that he seeth not; and he walketh in the circuit of heaven." Job 22:12
"For a long time we hated the idea of the heavy bomber...We now know that the champion, that the backbone of air power is the heavy bomber." - John Steinbeck, 1942
While writing a non-fiction book review about the Battle of Britain, I stumbled across newspaper articles, books, and military web sites which categorically stated that Nazi Luftwaffe head Herman W. Goering, Adolf Hitler's legal successor, had American relatives including a nephew, Werner G. Goering, who was a WWII bomber pilot in the European Theater.
Army records confirmed that Werner, a twenty-one year old "Mighty Eighth" Army Air Force captain in early 1945, commanded forty-nine "Flying Fortress" combat missions over Nazi-occupied Europe, well beyond the 30 sorties which then constituted a squadron lead-pilot's tour of duty. He could have gone home by Christmas of 1944 as most of his original crewmates did, but at the peak of the bloody air war, Werner signed on for a second tour with the British based 303rd Bombardment Group, famed as The Hell's Angels, one of America's most storied warrior fraternities and the single most active bomber group in the Army Air Force. He fought until the bitter end - the Nazi surrender on May 8, 1945. Among a fistful of other medals, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the nations's highest military decorations.
Gary Moncur, the 303rd Bombardment Group's historian and son of Captain Vern Moncur, a WWII Hell's Angels pilot, features Werner's story on the unit's web site where a page is devoted to the irony of the Goering Crew fighting against the Luftwaffe led by Werner's infamous Uncle Herman. When I contacted him for information about Werner, Gary's reply was "Good luck, I've never met, corresponded, nor spoken with him." Werner would have been 85 and Gary thought he was still alive.
During the sixty-five years following the Nazi capitulation, Werner attended only one annual reunion of The Hell's Angels, in 1992 in Boise, Idaho - the hometown of his co-pilot Lt. Jack Rencher. Goering's appearance was a singular tribute to his lifelong friend. He is the unit's reclusive, legendary specter and prodigal son who served his country well beyond a full measure and then seemed to vanish.
It took months to reach Werner for a brief phone call. Taciturn and wary- - he hated reporters - and didn't want to talk about the war or his family with a stranger yet consented to meet if I was willing to come to Tucson. But, he warned "It will be a waste of your time and money, since I didn't do anything special and left the war behind a long time ago."
Days later, while flying to meet the reclusive Goering who avoided the spotlight for nearly seven decades, it hit me that it was the chronological equivalent of meeting a Civil War veteran in 1930. He is among the very last of his peers - a man who saw and did things the world had never previously experienced, and never will again.
He quietly carried the burden of his blood-soaked surname throughout the war and beyond; battled the Nazi war machine in the war's longest and deadliest battle for Americans, and was nearly assassinated by a suspicious U.S. government as the Luftwaffe was killing his comrades by the tens of thousands.
Being an aloof, quiet, loner and non-drinker didn't help. He avoided the officer's club, the center of WWII military social life, which just heightened the mystery surrounding the "damn reservist" American pilot with the infamous surname. "What the hell was Werner Goering doing piloting an American heavy bomber over Germany?" It was a question military and civilian intelligence had struggled with and prepared for, with extreme prejudice, if and when the need arose.
Narragansett, Rhode Island
June 24, 2011