Robert M. Losey, the first U.S. serviceman killed in World War II

As the U.S. space program blossomed in the 1960s, NASA officials settled on a certain profile as they screened astronaut candidates.

First and foremost, they needed elite pilots — those who had proven in combat or in testing new aircraft that they could handle any scenario that might arise miles above the earth. But they also preferred men whose aviation skills came with strong scientific underpinnings, ideally including advanced academic degrees.

Losey pilot headshotHad he been born a quarter-century later, Robert M. Losey might have had a resume that stacked up well against any of the men who became household names to future generations.

A West Point graduate who later earned two master’s degrees from Caltech, Losey was clearly on the fast track in the Army Air Corps as the political situation in Europe deteriorated in the late 1930s. Already under the wing of Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold as a staffer in Washington, Losey seemed destined to play a critical role in the inevitable conflict over the horizon.

If given a chance, we might know his name decades later for his impact on the war, rather than the historical footnote he became: the first American service member killed in World War II.

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Elmer Gedeon, a big leaguer who sacrificed everything

Editor’s note: I originally wrote this story as a Memorial Day piece for The Washington Times in 2014.

As flames filled his B-26 Marauder over northern France, 1st Lt. James Taaffe scrambled through the bailout checklist.The bomber had taken a direct hit from German flak under the pilot’s compartment, and flames enveloped the aircraft from that point back, rendering the bomb bay doors useless as an escape route.

Capt. Elmer Gedeon fought to keep the plane aloft. It had just dropped its payload on a German V-1 rocket site from about 12,000 feet but had not cleared the target area — and its accompanying anti-aircraft defenses — by the moment of impact. It was around 7:30 p.m. on April 20, 1944.

Taaffe reached to open the escape hatches above the pilot’s and co-pilot’s seats. Below, he could see his bombardier, Pvt. Charles Atkinson, clawing toward the pilot’s compartment from his station in the nose of the plane. The navigator-bombardier, 2nd Lt. Jack Marsh, was close behind. Taaffe couldn’t see the other three members of the crew, whose stations were to the rear of the plane: Staff Sgt. Joseph Kobret, the tail gunner; Sgt. John Felker, the engineer and top turret gunner; and Sgt. Ira Thomas, the radio operator and waist gunner.

Watching from a neighboring plane, 2nd Lt. Herschel Lockett estimated that Gedeon’s Marauder managed to hold course for only five seconds or so after taking the hit before peeling toward the ground. It was time for the crew to escape.

Glancing to his left, Taaffe saw Gedeon still conscious and at the controls. The hatch above his head open, Taaffe jumped clear of the plane and blacked out. He came to several seconds later, suspended by parachute, floating through the air.

“I recovered consciousness about 7,000 feet later and before I landed, saw the plane spin by me and go in,” Taaffe said in an Army Air Forces report completed after the war. “Was engaged with small arms fire and wounds until captured and saw no other chutes.”

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Robert Parker took a Zero with him when he went

Robert Parker couldn’t be certain when he enlisted in the Army in November of 1941 that the war that had raged around the world for more than two years would touch the United States. But he knew what he wanted to be doing if it did.

The allure of joining the air corps was enough to persuade him to leave the business administration program at Michigan State College (now University) after two years and get ahead of the draft board. He and three friends from Lansing all set their sights on pilot training, and a month after Pearl Harbor they were doing exactly that.


Lt. Robert Parker

Parker, Bruce Boylan, H.H. Holloway and Clarice Randall found themselves at Kelly Field, near San Antonio, as the Army Air Forces rushed to get as many new pilots into the air as it could in the months following the December 7 attack. After five weeks of basic military training at Kelly, the newly minted aviation cadets of Class 42-F moved on to flight training. Parker was sent to Corsicana, Texas, the week before Christmas and finally got his chance to take to the air.

Pilot training wasn’t all that occupied the 22-year-old Parker’s mind in the early months of 1942. That February, as noted in the Lansing State Journal, he played host in Corsicana to Miss Margaret Ellen Davies, a former classmate at Central High School who now worked as a typist at the Reo Motor Car Company office in Lansing. By the following summer, the pair would announce their engagement.

Her departure allowed Parker to return to the task at hand, and by July he had earned his wings, finishing pilot training alongside Boylan at Foster Field in Victoria, Texas. Holloway and Randall also graduated with their class and all were commissioned into the Army Air Forces.

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