Memorial Day and Captain Losey
Posted May 29, 2006
In the meantime, as we finish off the long Memorial Day weekend, just a hope that we all take a moment to reflect on its reason for being. In that vein, I thought I would relate the little known story that the first American military death in World War II actually occurred in Europe more than a year and a half prior to Pearl Harbor, and involved an Army Air Corps weather officer.
Captain Robert Losey was a meteorological officer who graduated from West Point and later obtained two advanced degrees from Cal Tech prior to being named the first Chief of the Weather Section (equivalent to today's "Director of Weather" on the Air Staff at the Pentagon, a position filled by full colonels during WW II and by an Air Force Brigadier General today) within the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps. He filled that position from 1937 through 1940, then was dispatched to serve as an Air Attache in Norway and Sweden at a time when the German invasion of Norway was just gaining momentum.
While assisting Ambassador Florence Harriman with evacuation of American dependents from Norway, Captain Losey was in the highly strategic central rail and highway hub of Dombas when it was attacked in a Luftwaffe air raid on April 21st, 1940. Although he and a number of others were able to retreat to the relative safety of a railroad tunnel, he felt it was his duty to remain close enough to the entrance to observe the attack, presumably to gather information on German tactics and techniques, and a bomb that struck near the entrance ended his life. It would be the first of some 407,000 military lives lost in that war by U.S. personnel. A monument to Captain Losey stands in Dombas today, erected by the Norwegian government in his honor in 1987.
For a couple of photos, and more details on his mission in Norway, see this essay from the Foreign Service Journal, this link (scroll down to a section called "Lest We Forget") from a publication called Norwaves, and this one. A yearly scientific achievement honor, the Losey Atmospheric Sciences Award, is still presented yearly in the Captain's name.