Colonel Jacob J. Brogger

Editors note: This is from a story printed in the Tampa Tribune, written by Bentley Orrick

Memories of D-Day
Fifty-two years later, the Allied invasion of Normandy remains vivid for those who were there, including one pilot from MacDill

Jacob J. Brogger was elated by the news that Operation Overlord was finally on.

The baby-faced brogger, a full colonel at 29, was more than ready to lead the entire 8th Air Force in support of the troops landing on the Normandy beaches at dawn and the paratroopers who had dropped inland in the dark hours before.

"All we wanted was to get that damn war over and stop the losses," said Brogger, looking back 52 years to June 6, 1944.

It was only one mission of many and a surprisingly easy one at that, but Brogger will always remember it because it was D-day, the climactic event of World War II - at least until the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 14 months later.

On that day the allies launched the invasion of Europe from the west across the English Channel to sweep the Nazi occupiers from France, putting Hitler's Germany in a fatal pincers with the Soviet armies coming from the east.

Then, Brogger drove war planes. Now, it's more likely to be a golf cart, as he tends to the H&H Driving Range at Hoover Boulevard and West Hillsborough Avenue.

As the First World War was breaking out, Brogger was born August 14, 1914, in Butterfield Minn., a town with a population of 400 and a doctor who attended home births for $2.50 a delivery.

His father was a banker, but in the Great Depression money became a problem for even a banker's son. Brogger wanted to learn to fly, but only the government would pay for it.

So, he enlisted as a cadet when he turned 21 and trained for a year in Texas before getting his wings and a commission in the Army Air Corps flying pursuit planes, as fighters were then called.

Brogger loved the maneuverable pursuit planes, particularly the Curtis P6. He was disappointed when transferred to the giant bombers that were thought to be invulnerable.

With the change of planes came a change in latitude and a reassignment to MacDill Air Base which was still having it's runways carved out of the palmetto scrub at Catfish Point.

Soon, four engine B-17's - dubbed Flying Fortresses - became his airplane, the daredevil days of loops and rolls almost forgotten.

There was another consolation. "A lot of those Tampa girls were infatuated with second lieutenants," Brogger said. One of them was Mary Williams, whose brother Henry would serve for many years as Tampa city attorney.

They were married 2 months before Pearl Harbor. By chance, Brogger, en route by Pan American Clipper across the Pacific and Asia to Cairo for a Royal Air Force inspection tour, was there December 7, 1941. The Japanese attack changed his plans and those of lots of others.

After seeing action in 1943 in the skies over occupied Europe, he was sent back stateside to shape up a B-24 Liberator group and lead it to Britain as the buildup for the cross-channel invasion continued.

By mid-1944 it was a veteran outfit with Brogger's insistence on good formation flying to repel enemy fighters with interlocking 360-degree firepower paying off.

"We took off at 2:30 in the morning" from Flixton Air Base in East Anglia. "It was still dark when we took off and we weren't used to it. Almost all of our missions were in daylight. The most dangerous thing about that mission was all the damn airplanes in the sky," Brogger said.

Brogger was leading because it was his 446th Bomb Group's turn, "which came up about once a month."

"A lot of men weren't happy to see me on board," he said, since his presence meant the 10-man crew and their B-24 would be in the lead and "a lot of German fighter opposition was expected."

Getting 20 groups of 50 planes each - a 1000 plane armada of B-17's and B-24's - lined up after they took off in the dark from a dozen air bases took so much time and space that some elements were almost in Scotland before the force turned south and east toward Normandy.

Brogger, as the group leader, sat in a co-pilot's right-hand seat, concerned with organizing the strike and getting it there on time and target while somebody else did the actual flying.

"It was the shortest mission we were ever on" and completed "just after daylight" as plane after plane dropped it's sticks of 2 dozen 500-pound bombs "about 10 miles inland" of the invasion beaches.

"It was one of the few missions when we didn't see a German fighter," Brogger said. "Considering all the fighter cover we had, I don't blame the Germans."

Brogger kept leading his group until September when he was ordered to go in at 1,000 feet and drop supplies to American paratroops at Nijmegen in support of the British attempt to cross the Rhine at Arnhem.

The bold airborne attempt to leapfrog across the Netherlands failed in an operation that was memorialized in the book and movie "A Bridge Too Far."

Brogger was injured in the mission and was back in Tampa training B-29 crews when the war ended. Even though he "was never a gung-ho military guy," he "loved to fly" and stayed in while the Army Air Corps became the US Air Force and piston engines gave way to jets.

Orders for yet another stint of desk duty at the pentagon convinced him to retire in 1958.

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