Johnny Got a Zero

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Not many fliers have had a popular song written about them, but an exception was a soft-spoken USAAF enlisted man, John D. Foley. As a skilled typist, Foley was assigned to duty as a company clerk en route to the Southwest Pacific in December 1941. Eager for combat, he secured orders -- some rumored that he forged them -- transferring him to duty as a armorer. Although he had never received any aerial gunnery training, he volunteered as a gunner and was assigned to the crew of a Martin B-26.

On his first mission, his aircraft was attacked by Japanese fighters and Foley shot down at least one enemy aircraft, although he was reluctant to mention his feat since he was not sure he had done the right thing in firing without orders. Other members of the 19th Bomb Squadron confirmed his victory and he was nicknamed "Johnny Zero" by a war correspondent. Corporal Foley became a hero in his home town of Chicago and the subject of a popular song, "Johnny Got a Zero." Other commercial firms capitalized on his fame and produced such items as "Johnny Zero" watches and boots.

During his 31 other Pacific combat missions, Foley shared in the destruction of at least six more enemy aircraft and survived three B-26 crashes. In one such accident, he was the only survivor and was rescued by New Guinea natives. Malaria forced his return to the United States in 1943 where he toured factories promoting war production. He was assigned to duty as a gunnery instructor, but again secured an overseas assignment, this time to the 409th Bomb Squadron flying B-24s out of England. He volunteered to fly whenever he could and was able to complete 31 missions over Europe in only 60 days. He returned to the United States and was preparing for a third overseas tour when World War II ended.

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