This story was written by Robin Janton for Motts Military Museum and is reprinted here with permission.
Turning the corner into the museum’s WWII section, the first thing one sees is a large oil painting of a man and seven B24 aircraft; next to the painting is an awards and ribbon display belonging to the same man.
The man is Master Sergeant Robert Carl Janton, who became the most decorated Crew Chief in the entire 8th Air Force, England WWII. In the display, among the European and American Theater awards are the Good Conduct and Victory Medals. A French Croix de Guerre, and the coveted Normandy Invasion Medal, awarded by France in 1995. But it is the TRIPLE BRONZE STAR award that set M/SGT Janton apart from his peers serving in England, WWII.
M/SGT Janton amassed a total of (189) missions from his B24s WITHOUT EVEN ONE MECHANICAL ABORT. This is an incredible record, and UNEQUALLED.
THREE BRONZE STARS!
by Robin C Janton
ROBERT CARL JANTON was born in Columbus, Ohio on 27 APR 1922. He was the only son of Fritz Janton and the former Josephine Houchins, his wife, both of Columbus. After attending North High School and graduating from Culver Military Academy of Indiana, Bob married MARCIA ROBERTA OVERBECK of Upper Arlington, a suburb of Northwest Columbus. They were blessed with a son, ROBIN C JANTON, on 22 SEP 1942 before Bob enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943. After training at Pensacola, Florida, he went to Maxwell AFB, Alabama, where he graduated at the top of his class as a B-24 Flight Engineer and Crew Chief.
Bob’s first duty station was Alamogordo, NM, where a new B-24 group was being assembled. When he was assigned an aircraft, he immediately named it “Super Wolf” and painted a wolf with a bomb and machine gun on the nose. Then, a big surprise; the crew assigned to his plane was the Elmer “Tug” Smiley crew #910. “Tug” and Bob were friends from the high school era, and things were looking up. After many practice flights, and switching of flight crews, the group was finally ready for shipment overseas.
The southern route across the Atlantic encompassed stops at Puerto Rico (where “Super Wolf” received a new engine from Miami) and Fortaleza, Brazil; then the flight across the Atlantic to Marrakesh, Morocco. The UK was the final stop for Smileys crew and “Super Wolf”.
After arriving in England as part of the 492nd Bomb Group (H), the Smiley Crew came to its first station, #143 at North Pickenham in Norfolk. The air war over Europe was raging and very real now.
U.S. Forces had effectively been in the air war since early 1943 with heavy losses, and by the summer of 1944 the struggle for air supremacy against Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” was still at its peak and undecided. Against this backdrop, the 492nd Bomb Group (H) began daily “precision daylight bombing” missions over enemy held territory in France, Germany and Belgium. The 492nd was among the last B-24 units to arrive in England, and was the first to have “no camoulflage” (unpainted) aircraft. This shiny metal finish, unseen before on American aircraft, seemed like a “neon sign” that attracted the enemy Luftwaffe fighters.
The losses for the 492nd were horrendous… 442 casualties were recorded for every one thousand combatants. (the U.S. Marines in all of WWII listed 29 casualties per 1000). (read this carefully, again…)
Nineteen gruesome and danger-filled missions later, on 4 JULY 1944, “Super Wolf” was shot down in flames over Bernberg, Germany by a flotilla of over 400 Luftwaffe fighter planes. Seven of the nine crew members were KIA (Killed In Action) including Bob’s buddy, “Tug” Smiley… This was a tremendous psychological blow for my dad.
Janton’s second assigned aircraft was a B-24 H model and would be named, “Broad and High” for the two main intersecting streets in Janton’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio.
Then a change of station occurred when the daily bombing missions of the 492nd were summarily discontinued due to heavy losses (more aircraft and men were lost by the 492nd in a shorter period of time than any other unit in the history of the U.S. Air Force - that record still stands).
Bob Janton’s new station was #145 Rackheath, also in Norfolk, home of the 467th BG (H). Here, Master Sergeant Robert C. Janton would set an all-time record for B-24 missions. By the end of the war in June 1945, Janton was assigned an incredible FIVE aircraft, SIMULTANEOUSLY, due to his expert knowledge and consummate dedication to duty with his new unit, the 467th Bomb Group.
One peer said, “Bob was all business when it came to his planes…” Warren Roseborough (pilot, Crew #919) said, “I always asked to fly Bob Janton’s plane; I knew it was properly prepared…” Art Scaramuzzo, a close friend and Flight Engineer said, “Nobody knew more about the B-24 than your dad…”
“Broad and High” successfully completed 11 missions for the 467th Bomb Group before being shot up on 18 AUG 1944. Roger Leister (pilot, Crew #908) on his second mission, with a heavily battle-damaged plane that was short on fuel, managed a crash landing at Kirby-Bedon, Norfolk. Four crew members were KIA and two were critically injured, including Leister. Thus ended “Broad and High”.
By this time the hierarchy of the 467th recognized Janton’s skill and began to assign him more aircraft… FIVE at ONE TIME by the end of the war. (students of aircraft history know that ONE Crew Chief normally served ONE aircraft…)
Master Sergeant Janton ended the war with a credited (189) “no abort” mission flown from North Pickenham and Rackheath; not one of his aircraft EVER returned to home base because of a mechanical failure!
During the war years, many occasions arose where the ground crews received their aircraft back in such poor condition due to battle damage, that they sometimes spent as much as three days and nights outdoors and without sleep, preparing them for the next “maximum effort” during the coldest winter in England’s history…
Most of these men, including Bob Janton, were unaware at the time, of their importance… but the Air Crews knew, and were thankful… The Air Crews were the “heroes” in this conflict in the eyes of the American people. But, after a mission or after a tour, or even after the war’s end, when asked, “How was it?”… their answers were invariably the same, “I owe my life and that of my whole crew to the men who made our aircraft safe”… they made them not only “flight worthy”, but an airborne “home away from home”…
The return from overseas was uneventful except for one remarkable incident…
During the summer of 1944, the 8th Air Force performed what was known then as “trucking missions” where every available container, including “Jerry” cans and aircraft disposable wing tanks, was filled with gasoline for Patton’s tanks. Many flights across the channel to deliver this fuel resulted in a large collection of war trophies obtained from Infantry personnel on leave from the front lines… American Whiskey was the accredited barter instrument for these trades. Bob collected a pile of German hardware including, Lugers, P38’s, Schmeisser machine pistols and scads of other uniform items. This hoard was carefully placed in duffel bags and put in storage in the aircraft bomb-bay, for extraction when the plane landed in the U.S.
However, as in all well-planned schemes, these items were dropped in the North Atlantic when one of the officers “tested” the bomb bay doors without warning… “cie la guerre”… A disappointment, surely, BUT “we were home”.
Before the war the Janton Company was Ohio’s largest Janitorial Supply store. My dads 30% ownership in this company was worth over one million (pre-war) dollars. While still overseas and unbeknownst to him, a group of unscrupulous men gained control of the stock block, then took control of the company, and bled it dry, leaving my dad’s share at somewhere near fifteen hundred dollars. This was not an isolated incident… it was happening all over the United States during the war…
(note: it has always amazed me how evil some men are, especially robbing someone that is making America safe from enemy takeover.)
This incident was “hit number two” psychologically for my dad. Then his father died at 46 years of age… “hit number three”.
After the war, Bob and Marcia had a second son, MICHAEL M. JANTON, on 20 JAN 1946, who is now a high school teacher in Findlay, Ohio. Robert worked as a salesman and part-time architect; all the while being plagued by excessive drinking.
It was during this period in the mid 1960’s that Providence moved him to Chicago, where his mother had resided for some time. He found himself at a place called Pacific Garden Mission on South Canal Street. It was here, that GOD brought him Salvation and final purpose to his life, which he willingly gave to Jesus Christ (John 3:16).
Robert C. Janton died in June 1967 of a heart attack at the age of 45.
On April 12, 2005, the United States Department of the Air Force authorized the posthumous presentation of THREE BRONZE STAR MEDALS (one for each 50 consecutive missions without abort) to Master Sergeant Janton for his outstanding dedication and service to his country during 1944/1945.
This award made Master Sergeant Janton the most decorated Crew Chief in the entire “Mighty Eighth” Air Force, England WWII. Overlooked due to the confusion that exists during wartime, these medals were never recommended or presented in 1945.
So, sixty years later, Master Sergeant Janton’s Squadron Commander, John J. Taylor presented this award of the BRONZE STAR MEDAL with TWO OAK LEAF CLUSTERS to his sons, ROBIN C. JANTON of Laurelville, Ohio and MICHAEL M. JANTON of Findlay, Ohio at the 492ND Bomb Group Reunion (2005) in Tucson, Arizona.
I have compiled and edited a book based on the men and experiences of the two Groups of which my father was part during WWII. “The TWO SQUADRONS THAT WERE ONE”Ó 2003 details the incredible history of these two units.
I also participated with my father’s story on a WOUB-TV PBS special in conjunction with their presentation of Ken Burns’ documentary, “The War” in 2007.
Unbeknownst to Robin, a friend commissioned an oil painting of his father and his seven aircraft, including recognition of his THREE BRONZE STARS. Done by Kevin Weber of Denver, Colorado, the painting depicts the man and his aircraft in an elegant manner and was presented to Mr. Janton in 2008... “and I was speechless!”
Note: A few copies of the book “The TWO SQUADRONS THAT WERE ONE” are still available at publisher’s cost to veterans and their families.