Fogg in the Cockpit
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 11 May 2012
Full Title: Fogg in the Cockpit: Howard Fogg-Master Railroad Artist, World War II Fighter Pilot
When Howard Fogg graduated from an Ivy League college in 1938 and then an art school in 1939, he, with professional interest in art and a hobby in locomotives, probably did not think of himself as a warrior even though war had already broken out in Asia and the European tensions escalated. Drafted into the military in 1941, he ended up becoming a fighter pilot flying P-47 Thunderbolt and later P-51 Mustang fighters. Fogg in the Cockpit, posthumously published in 2011, was a collection of Fogg's war time diary entries that gave the readers a glimpse into the life of an American pilot in the European theater of war, penned by this Renaissance Man of sorts whose mind was geared toward the arts as much as tuned to identifying friend or foe in a dogfight.
What I thought was valuable, if a bit inconsequential, was the very fact that Fogg did not always focus on the war. He did mention how impressed he was when he first flew a P-51 Mustang fighter and how tough it was to notice when one of his comrades failed to return to the airfield after a mission, but it was the little things that gave me an insight, trivial things that sometimes others often did not bother to note. The diarist dutifully noted when the weather was poor, which kept his squadron on the ground, wasting time presenting each other with mock medals or simply chatting the boredom away. While he talked about the nerve wracking experiences of flying through anti-aircraft bursts, he spent an equal amount of time talking about the movies he had seen, restaurants he had visited, and the different models of trains he had traveled aboard and painted. Some of the facts were, admittedly, mundane and mattered little in the grand scheme of things, but nevertheless, this book provided a personal perspective on a war that was often written so facelessly.
Throughout the book, editors Richard Fogg and Janet Fogg, the diarist's children, inserted various elements to enhance the readers' experience. I had particularly enjoyed the generous additions of period photographs, many of which seemed to be coming from the archives of the Fogg family and various veterans' associations, thus infrequently seen by outsiders like myself. At the end of certain entries, the editors had inserted major events of the European War on those particular days; while the intention of providing the larger picture was clear, I felt that these facts failed to plug Howard Fogg into the overall landscape of the war, thus these additions formed a distraction from the diary entries, especially that most of the them the world events did not seem to factor into the mindset of the diarist. Finally, for those who appreciate locomotive art and perhaps knew Fogg as a professional artist, a small collection of paintings printed in color in the final pages of the book might be of interest.
Memoirs and diaries, by definition, could not be considered works of history, but books such as Fogg in the Cockpit contained valuable insight on the reactions and thoughts of individuals who lived through and experienced the war, providing us the little pieces of hints that, collectively, told of how and why history was shaped.
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939