By SRO Kjell Michelsen
I have always been interested in history, especially military history. Reading about various armies, conflicts and wars through the centuries gives one an insightful perspective not only on human nature but also on cultures and indeed politics, on a local, national and global scale. So I was a little surprised when I just a few years ago came over a little story I had not heard before, about a U.S. Army Air Corps captain, Robert M. Losey, who is considered to be the first U.S. military casualty of World War II.
Now, that in itself, as tragic as it was for him, his family and loved ones, was not really what caught my eye, but the fact that he was killed in Norway spurred my interest in his story. According to Wikipedia, Robert Losey was born in the small town of Andrew, Iowa, on May 27, 1908. He was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1925 and upon graduation was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the field artillery, but transferred later to the Army Air Corps, the forerunner to today’s Air Force. Losey became a pilot and earned two masters degrees from the California Institute of Technology while also working as a meteorologist.
Professors at the school described him as “perhaps the most brilliant student” whoever had attended the school. In February 1940 Losey was appointed as the air assistant to the military attaché with the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. His primary assignment while there was to report on the war between Finland and Russia, and where the harsh winter weather also gave him a unique opportunity to observe and put into practice his knowledge about meteorology and aeronautics.
On April 9, 1940 Germany invaded Norway. The Norwegian Royal Family and most of the Norwegian Parlament were able to escape. Members of the American legation to Norway was also able to escape from Oslo and headed north. As a result, Captain Losey was ordered to Norway to help evacuate the Americans across the border into Sweden, which was a neutral country. The group of people got separated on their journey, Losey was in the first group that made it across and volunteered to go back in search of the second group.
On April 21, 1940, Captain Losey made it back across the border to Norway and ended up in the mountain town of Dombås just as aircraft from the German Luftwaffe started a bombing raid. Losey and several others took cover inside a tunnel, but a bomb fell near the entrance and Losey was hit with a fragment that killed him instantly. Several days later, the German Luftwaffe commander, Hermann Göring sent a letter to the U.S. Major General Henry Arnold with a message of regret regarding Losey’s death. At that time the U.S. was not yet in a war with Germany, and they wanted to keep it that way for a little longer.
A couple of great historical movies about the German invasion of Norway and the war between Finland and Russia is now available here in the U.S. The first one is the Norwegian movie, “The Kings Choice,” available on Netflix, and the second is the Finnish movie, “The Unknown Soldier,” which can be found on Amazon. I personally think the life and untimely death of Captain Losey also has the right ingredients to make a great historical movie about his life.
Until next time, be safe, be happy and be a student of history.