This is the story of the life of David Koenig. The information comes from the stories my mother told me about my older brother David and from the 200 plus letters and postcards he sent home during his time in the US Army and Army Air Corps. Reading all his letters has helped me learn more about his life and understand the order of his time in the service, linking events as they happened.
Much of my early childhood was surrounded by sadness in our home because of the death of my older brother David. He was killed on October 18, 1943, in a fierce air battle in the South Pacific. He was the first casualty from New Bremen during World War II. Mom often told me of his love for the farm and activities such as exploring the woods and creek, the dogs, and cats, helping her in the garden, and climbing in the haymow. As time went on, I was thankful for the stories she shared with me as I was only two and a half years old when he died. Thinking back now, I feel she had so many memories of him and needed to share them and it was my job to hear them.
This story is being put to paper as I have a desire to share these stories while I still can. My children and other family also have an interest in hearing about David. As the New Bremen Historic Association Curator, Mike Staton has focused much time and effort in the museum on the military veterans’ display. His interest and encouragement have also helped put this writing into motion.
At the center of this story is an Army trunk which David sent home in July of 1943. He was leaving for the west coast on his way to the southwest Pacific. It contained a few of his personal belongings that he wouldn't need in the war zone. My mom added to it after his death, including all the letters and postcards he wrote home and newspaper clippings about his death. Our family wrote to him several times a week and he always answered. In this story, I will attempt to sprinkle his words from letters that stand out to me.
As a child David loved the farm life, but it became apparent that as he grew older that he began to dislike the drudgery of farm work in the 1930s. Being a farmer was not going to be his life. He began to become interested in amateur radio and set up a radio room upstairs on the north side of the family farmhouse. He had wire strung all through the apple orchard and in the tall trees in the front yard that acted as his antenna. I remember mom telling me he had to learn Morse Code before he could receive his license to operate as ham radio operator, his call letters were W8RXN. He soon learned that he could transmit and receive messages from more distant places when operating at night, even contacting other countries. My father was not pleased as many late-night broadcasts made it difficult to wake him for the morning work that awaited.
Upon graduating from New Bremen High School in the spring of 1938, David enrolled in the Dodge Radio Institute at Valparaiso, Indiana. After finishing there, he took a job as a radioman on a freighter on Lake Erie. He remained at this job for two years until he was drafted in 1941.
The earliest letters in the trunk are from Fort Sill, Oklahoma where David did his basic training and are dated October of 1941. His liking of Army basic training was almost zero. Conditions were far from ideal as the Army was rapidly expanding as war was expected in the future. There were twenty-eight thousand soldiers at Fort Sill, and many were sleeping in tents for the first few months. He never developed any liking for Oklahoma either. These were cold months and the wind never seemed to subside. Troops were also given ground shoveling details known as “fatigue” work. He was soon working with and riding horses which is the last thing he expected to be doing in the Army. He was teaching others to ride and shoot a Springfield rifle.
David wrote about others in the service from New Bremen at this time especially Jim Sunderman, Tom Kuenning, and John Zahn Jr. He also mentions Vernon Fark, Kenneth Fark, Art Heil, Vernon Roediger and Vernon Dickman and where they were serving. This account could very well be about any one of the multiple thousands of families who lost loved ones during the war, I would also like to remember them here.
In a letter dated October 28, 1941, he mentions his folks just getting electricity at the farm and how they could maybe get a refrigerator and a water pump soon. He also gives his younger brother Paul detailed information on repairing things on the farm such as the tractor, water lines and his old motorcycle among other things. His concern for the farm and his family’s well-being is ever present in his letters.
Army life was not of interest to David at this point. He mentions he is paid $17.85 every payday and barely has enough to get by from paycheck to paycheck.
November 29, 1941
All of us here are wondering how we are going to come out on a Christmas furlough. There are lots of rumors floating around and all the boys want to leave pretty bad at Christmas. As I see it, we won't know for quite a while yet if we get a leave or not. We will probably find out about 24 hours before we go for sure. One thing is for sure, that is if a person can't show the commanding officer a round trip bus ticket he can't go. I wonder if you and Everett could arrange for a loan of $20.00 so it is here by about the 15th of December. Then if a furlough is granted, I will be able to take advantage of it. If we do not get the furlough, I will send the money back after the New Year. If money is scarce, just forget about it and it is OK too.
David and his fellow soldiers never got their furlough as the events of December 7th, 1941, caused many plans to be changed. There are no mentions of the attack on Pearl Harbor in David’s letters or how he felt about the war beginning. He does mention early on that several of the fellows he is with do not care for President Roosevelt and think that England’s war is not our fight.
David often writes of his interest in radio work of some kind and hopes to be assigned to a job where he can use his knowledge. He claims he is very interested in opening his own radio repair shop near New Bremen.
David at Fort Sill
January 10, 1942
Yesterday morning they called five of us fellows (including me) who had previous radio experience to central headquarters and we were interviewed by Captain Patton of the Personnel Division. They wanted some help or rather needed some help bad in the communications office at the main post because they are swamped with radiograms from the War Department in Washington D.C. They need someone to encode and decode these messages.
When I came back, I put on my work clothes again but they then sent me right back with good clothes again to Major Shallere. There he interviewed me and sent me to the main post in a Jeep to see Colonel Acres. There they really gave me the works. Two Majors and two Colonels asked me all sorts of questions for 20 minutes and they wrote down everything I said. They asked me where I was born, where you were born, your middle names, my nationality, whether I had relatives or knew anyone in Germany, or if I had ever written to anyone there. They asked Everett's education, where he was working, whether he was married and his address. They asked about other brothers and sisters. Then they got my complete life history from graduating high school and Mr. Bendure's name. Then they got every employer's name and address like Porter Belton, Doc Hershman at school, L. M. Kennett. They wanted to know all about my work on the Lakes and just what affiliations I had with labor unions. They wanted to know about your occupation, whether I liked Fort Sill and all about my amateur radio activities.
The reason for this is that the job I may get here is a very important one and all these radiograms contain official war business, and they can't have anyone at that which may give information to the enemy. I think they are checking up on all the references now. I wouldn't be surprised if they looked at my outgoing mail to see just what I was telling other people so if I get the job.
I can't be telling you much information in letters except personal things
By late January 1942 he writes that he and everyone else has developed a toughness about them and they are anxious to get away from Oklahoma. “Life in basic training is hard!” he says he can hardly keep track of things at home anymore because his mind is so filled with the uncertainties of wartime. In a letter dated January 27, he says he is so discouraged (his word is “blue”) because all they do is uninteresting, mundane jobs. He very badly wants to get into something that will utilize his mechanical and technical strengths, but at this point he seems to not have any opportunities.
On February 3 he writes thanking his family for sending him a birthday cake, he had turned 22 the day before. “It is the best thing I have tasted since I left home!” He often lets everyone know how long it takes mail to get to him. He says some come by train and only take a day and a half. He also notes that his brother Everett's letters get there more quickly as he lives close to a good rail line in Venedocia, Ohio.
David and two other men were interviewed for transfers to the Signal Corps and an officer’s commission on February 7th. He felt his previous radio training would help with the process, but the Army wanted officers at this time to have a college degree. This was not the case with the Army Air Corps as they were taking volunteers as Flight Cadets with no college degree. At this time, America did not have an Air Force as it was part of the Department of the Army. Air power was going to be important in the war and pilots were needed... badly.
February 8th, 1942
I went to see our Battery Commander and he is making for me a letter of recommendation for the Air Corps. So, I am putting in my application for Flying Cadet. Then it will be another week or two of waiting until I appear before another board for a rigid physical and mental examination. I think possibly in the Air Corps I will be learning something new and since the subjects are plenty tough, that is what I want. Maybe I would learn something there that will be good in civilian life. From what I can see after studying it quite a bit is that it is lots of hard work from 5 in the morning till 9 at night but I would feel like I was getting somewhere.
In a letter dated March 6th, 1942, he says he passed the aptitude test for being admitted to the Air Corps. The test was 150 questions and to some it was hard but, to David, it was easy. He was soon headed to Houston, Texas to begin training as a Flight Cadet.
Fort Sam Houston was a welcome change for Cadet Koenig after life at Fort Sill. The weather was warmer, the grass is greener and there were trees! It reminded him more of home. On Christmas furlough later that year he would transplant two small oak trees from the woods to the family yard. One of those trees is still there and is very healthy and beautiful!
April 5th, 1942
After the war is over, I still want to get into radio servicing. This is the most difficult of all things to do in the radiobusiness. But a person is on his own then and he can make as much or more than any good paying union job. Radio after the war might include television, FM and a hundred other things we haven't thought of yet. A dealer in washers, refrigerators and radios won't have the background to service anything using vacuum tubes. If I got a good enough start in servicing, I think I could have a service shop like you wouldn't find for a hundred miles around New Bremen.
In a letter dated April 16th David tells the family that he is getting moved to Kelly Field to begin his flight training. The first part will consist of intense classroom work. He is happy to report that his pay will go from $21.00 to $30.00 per month and how much easier that makes things.
I remember my mom telling me how difficult math was for him in high school but how he learned it in the Air Corps. It makes a difference when you need to learn something for a reason. He writes that he has many math tests and scores a 100% on most of them.
On May 30, 1942, he writes that he will soon transfer to Ballenger, Texas to begin actual flight training. He calculates that by making this move he will be 69 miles closer to home. I can sense in many of his letters that he is homesick and misses his family. He arrived in Ballinger on June 2nd and began his flight training as part of a class of 132 cadets. They each went up with an instructor for twenty minutes in their initial training flight in Fairchild PT-19A trainers.
He writes to his sister Joan that he remembers the day she was born on, June 6th, 1929. Their dad, Emil Koenig, was mowing hay with horses in the field south of the woods. He also writes he is surprised that their parents are installing a furnace in the family home. I do not remember the wood burning stove in the living room, but I remember my mother’s Majestic wood burning stove in the kitchen. That stove stayed even after the furnace was installed. Our mother was a very good cook and baker, and she used that Majestic stove for many years.
June 12th, 1942
Dear Folks, This evening I'll just write you a few lines to tell you that something very important happened here today. You might not guess what it is, but I soloed in an airplane today! I took it up and landed it two times and it took 24 minutes.
David' with PT-19A Plane in Texas
First theinstructor and I went up like always and did stalls and then we practiced 5 landings and I don't think I did any of them all alone. I thought he was rather disgusted at me, so we taxied back to the flight line and I thought he was going to cuss me out for poor flying. But he said, "Now this time when you take off the nose will seem a little lighter." Then he climbed out and said, "Good luck." and I was on my own. So, I pointed the plane south and opened up the throttle and took off. It got off the ground much quicker without the instructor in there and I did everything perfect until the landing. He said I came in too slow. But I was watching the other airplanes all around me on the ground. After I landed and was still rolling the tail got away from me and I did a slow ground loop. That is the tail came around to the front and when I stopped, I had done a complete circle. but that is very common and does no damage to the plane. I was the first one out of my class to solo that didn't have previous flight time in civilian life.
After only five hours and thirty-eight minutes he went from never flying in an airplane to taking one up by himself! The Army Air Corps was turning out thousands of pilots in a force-fed, accelerated training as America needed pilots quickly.
A letter dated August 1st, 1942, informs the family that he will be returning to Randolph Field for the next phase of his training. He is one of twenty-one cadets out of ninety-five who were selected to advance to the next phase as they had not failed any check rides. He had acquired 60 hours and 3 minutes of flight time by this point. He also continues to wish for a furlough, but it just seems impossible. He suggests the family should think about coming down to visit him.
His request for visitors was soon granted as his mother and brother Paul made the trip down to San Antonio to see him. He had a half a day off from flying on a Sunday and they had a nice visit. My Dad and Joanne stayed home to do the milking and feeding. I stayed home as well as I was only sixteen months old.
Toward the end of his time at Randolph Field, President Roosevelt came to inspect the flight school. David says he was within 20 feet of the president and noticed the machine guns used by the secret service agents who protect him. It reminds him of the man with a pistol or shotgun when they got paid.
Cadet Koenig begins to ponder what type of aircraft he wants to fly for the Air Corps. Pursuit pilots at the time flew fast, single engine fighter planes while bomber pilots flew multi-engine, large aircraft with additional crew with individual tasks on the plane. He wrote a letter to his NBHS classmate Tom Kuenning asking for his opinion as he had been flying in the Air Corps for a longer time. He received the following letter from Lt. Kuenning.
Sept 12, 1942
Dear Dave, Congratulations on how well you're getting along in flight school.
In regard to what I like best, I would have to say bombardment. I've recently transferred to it and am now flying B-25s, which sure is a sweet ride. I don't think you would like pursuit too well, and you might like observation, but they are a bit skeptical as to what kind of ships they want to use for it. It's really hard for me to tell you just what to do. All I can really say is that I like bombardment best.
I think that the light plane industry back home should have some possibilities, and I think it is worth some serious thought when we get in a position to do something about it. Of course, now we have a tremendous job ahead of us.
Have been quite busy, Dave, hunting down subs but would sort of like to see what's going on the other side of the ocean. Well, Dave, I doubt if I answered your question thoroughly but it's really a hard thing to advise you on. Let me hear from you soon as to how you're getting along.
Your Friend and Classmate, Tom
David ended up choosing single engine pursuit when he was asked for his preference. He was selected to go to Ellington Field for training in multi-engine planes for Advanced Flight School. This decision was done for one of two reasons. Either his instructor thought multi-engine was better suited for him or the Air Corps needed more bomber pilots at the time. At Ellington he flies in Beechcraft AT-10s, which are much more comfortable to fly than the “trucks” back at Randolph.
Paul got some advice from his older brother at this time as David explained that he may be getting drafted soon. He explains that if he would enlist, he could choose the Air Corps and use screwdrivers and wrenches as opposed to a Bayonet. He advises him to go with Everett to see the Air Corps recruiting officer in Dayton to see what his options could be.
Jim Sunderman was in flight school at Lubbock, Texas at this same time. Jim was not only David’s first cousin but also a close friend. David states that one of his classmates was sent there and it would have been nice to be close to his friend. Jim Sunderman would later go on to write several books for the Air Force detailing the history of the branch in the Second World War. He would dedicate the Pacific War book to David.
David went to church at the end of October in Houston where the Pastor was Herbert Schowe originally from New Bremen. A young lady named Irene Sanders took charge of him during his visit and stayed with him all day. They had dinner in a restaurant with the pastor and Mrs. Schowe. Irene became a very good friend to David and for years after his death my parents and sister Joan corresponded with her.
As the country remembered the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor, my father and sister Joan boarded a train in Sidney to head south and see David get his wings pinned on. He was now an Army Air Corps pilot! He would also be granted a furlough during Christmas of 1942, his first since entering the service 14 months before. He often wrote how badly he would like to come home as was the feeling of every man there. The entire set of conditions and the atmosphere of how things were in the Army were almost always disagreeable.
After his visit home, David reported to Greenville Army Air Base in South Carolina. In a letter dated January 6, 1943, he says that he is to be trained in B-25s. It is a light bomber which weighs 15 tons when fully loaded with fuel. He also writes about a Japanese Zero fighter plane which we had captured and how the fact that they fly it there reduces the morale of some of the men because of its outstanding performance and speed.
The Koenig Family
Standing: David, Bertha, Emil, Paul, Everett
Seated: Daryl and Joanne
January 20th, 1943
Dear Dad, News here is very scarce. Still going to school every day and flying 2 to 8 hours per day, 7 days a week. A person never hardly knows when Sunday has come and gone!
January 31st, 1943
Dear Mother, Dad, Paul, Joanne, and Daryl, The very fine birthday cake came in fine shape today. That was sure thoughtful of you to send it. I guess you never have missed a birthday of mine yet since I have been away from home.
They have taken my crew away and assigned those fellows to other pilots and I'm sure they are making an instructor out of me now. I don't know where I stand but the way they are giving me flying time I’m sure I'll be riding with students just out of advanced flying school and breaking them in on B-25s in about a week. I don't want to brag but this is a compliment to ones flying ability when they keep a person as instructor. Every day they have been giving me a little more responsibility.
In a letter dated February 9th he wrote that he had beengiven the choice of staying in Greenville as an instructor or being assigned a crew and going overseas. He says since most everyone he knows is going overseas, he might as well, too.
He is now an instructor pilot and is flying with students all day which is much more tiring than flying the plane himself. But there would soon be a payoff as he was going to get to fly over home! He had to make a trip to Dayton and then on to Baer Field in Fort Wayne. All he would have to do was “bend” a little to the east and descend from 8,000 feet. He must have called the family as they were all outside waving as he flew over. Everyone but Joan, as she was in school at the time.
About this time David buys a 1930 Model A Ford for $100. He explains that he has been missing two meals a day because he can’t get to the mess hall before it closes as it is too far away. When his Model A needs gas, he takes it out to where they are refueling his B-25 and they fill it. “When the B-25 takes 500 gallons, the 5 gallons that goes in the Ford won’t be missed!” The fuel is 100-octane, and his Ford runs real good on it. His B-25 consumes 120 gallons per hour, which is a gallon a minute per motor.
In a letter dated May 20, he says that he recently flew to Louisville, Kentucky where he got to visit with his cousin Jim Sunderman. Then on June 23rd he writes that he has been training in a brand-new B-25G with a 75mm cannon fixed in the nose. “It is accurate enough to knock a pumpkin off a fence post at 1/3 a mile away!”
In early July, David got a second furlough home. This was to be his last time to see home. On July 17, 1943, he writes that he has been alerted that he and quite a few others will be leaving there around the end of the month after 12 days of special training. He got his combat crew and sounds confident that he has a good crew. He knows the co-pilot, navigator and radio man but hasn’t flown with the gunner or engineer yet.
In preparation for overseas duty, he takes part in surviving and escaping in enemy territory. He also talks about making a will and having an allotment of $100 sent home from his pay each month.
A six-day train ride takes David and the men travelling with him to California. Most of the train is full of sailors, 11 cars full. There are 3 cars of Air Corps men. He writes that it may be a while until they hear from him again. The group made their way to Hawaii for a short stay and then on to Australia, arriving around August 23rd.
On September 30th David says he is at his final destination but cannot reveal where that is. He is assigned to the 500th Bomber Squadron of the 345th Bomber Group stationed in New Guinea. Many of his letters are censored, with sections blacked out or totally cut out of the paper
Dear Dad, All I can say is I'm "somewhere in the southwest Pacific." Newspaper reports of the way things are here are quite accurate. You can be sure that I'm not in the rear lines either. I'll always get to see the main show. But that's no special privilege because it is no fun getting shot at. As my news is about gone now, I'll stop for this time. Hope everything is going well at home. Love, David
October 16, 1943
Dear Folks, Flying isn't so bad, as some days are worse than others. In the past week I have been chased by zeroes but we sure are knocking down plenty too. If you ever get one of those "missing in action" reports from the War Department, please don't worry because there will be a very good chance that I'm living the good life with the natives as they are definitely on our side. Many of the boys are coming out of the jungle and are in good health but have no contact with the outside world for fourteen months. Just remember that if anyone can take care of themself in a pinch, I can.
Dear Folks, I just want to write enough to let you know that I'm OK, well, and happy. Hope you can say the same for yourself. You must have frosty mornings now already, quite different from the 100 degrees in the shade weather here. I'm still busy with the Jap here and I wish I could write you a good letter, but I have zeroes and ack-ack on my mind. Haven't any more news right now, so maybe I'll write more tonight or tomorrow. Love, David
We are so grateful that Daryl has shared this article. We thank the Koenig family for preserving the items in the trunk and the many memories they evoke. The amount of research and reflection that has gone into “David’s Trunk” makes David Koenig’s legacy meaningful, 80 years since his life tragically ended. It shows his love for his family, his country, and the making of a hero.
This was his last letter home. David was co-pilot on a mission the next day. After a bombing run over the harbor at Rabaul, the three B-25s from the 500th Bomber Squadron were jumped by many Japanese fighter planes. Two of the planes were lost after a fierce battle in the sky. The plane that carried Lt. David Koenig made an emergency water landing ten miles offshore. Two of the crew survived the landing and made it to shore. The other four, including David, perished.
In a letter from a Major in his squadron dated October 18th, 1943, his family was told that he was missing in action. His mother didn’t know what had happened until the following spring. In that letter dated April 1, 1944, they learned that he never survived the landing. The delay in news of his death was due to the surviving crew members having to make their way from the hostile island back to American forces. This ordeal took several months.
I cannot imagine the anguish of that long wait. As I come to the end of this story, having read every letter and postcard that he wrote which were stored in his trunk for all these years, I have come to know him better than I ever have. Reading his concerns for his home from the time they were able to have electricity and all that brought to country life. To his detailed explanations how to repair anything mechanical around the home and farm I could easily see how interested he was in his Ohio farm home and family. Including many mentions of his concern and care for me and my life. His love for his family was unmistakable.
The Army Air Corps took thousands of young men out of their normal family lives and turned them into Airmen in a relatively short time and sent them, toughened, and hardened into an immense war that would consume many of them. It was the only option America had, at that time. Thousands of airplanes, guns, and equipment of all kinds. And men’s lives.
In a final story my mother shared with me, she baked David a fruit cake for Christmas 1943 and mailed it to him because she knew how much he loved it. He had already been killed but my parents didn’t know. In the spring, the package came back… the fruitcake spoiled. She told me she buried the cake somewhere in the orchard.