Susan Vaughan here. Veterans Day and the D-Day anniversary have passed, but I’d like to pay tribute to that Greatest Generation, and specifically to my father, Arthur N. Hofstetter. He died in 1993 at age 80 without having really shared his World War II experiences with the family. I think that was a trait many World War II veterans shared. An entire generation had gone to war, so they all knew the horrors and triumphs and wanted to move on and make a life in the safer world they’d helped create.
I knew growing up my father had been a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the precursor to the air force, and that he flew a Piper Cub Grasshopper. This image is a postcard that was tucked in with his medals. He was the pilot, and the spotter, also called an observer, sat in the rear seat. The missions were to locate Nazi troop and munitions trains and radio the coordinates back to the U.S. artillery. In those light and agile aircraft, the two men’s only weapons were pistols.
He told me he’d earned medals, the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross, but described only in general terms the reason. After his passing, my stepmother gave me those medals and the other items that accompanied them. I tucked them away and dug them out only recently after watching a program on the war. What I learned by reading the recommendation by his observer and the commendation by the general amazed me, humbled me, and brought tears to my eyes. I salute the many, many soldiers and sailors who fought bravely and the many, many who died in World War II. Here is my tribute to my father’s service, the story of the daring flight that earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
I don’t know where their base was or how far they had to fly for the mission. This is an adaptation of the May 1945 letter his spotter, 1st Lt. Francis E. Randle, wrote recommending my father for commendation. Randle was the observer in the plane piloted by 1st Lieutenant Arthur N. Hofstetter. During the flight, Randle reported information by radio on the movement of two enemy troop trains in the vicinity of south of the Elbe and east of Wittenberg.
“Shortly after the adjustment of fire had begun, two enemy planes were sighted by Lt Hofstetter. These planes were Messerschmitt 109’s; they flew toward our plane to attack it by banking around us to get ‘on our tail.’ I had not seen the enemy planes, as my attention was focused on the adjustment on the target. Lt Hofstetter went into a steep dive and performed evasive action with his plane trying to shake off the faster enemy planes. Having missed us on the first run, the two enemy planes circled and came for us again. Lt Hofstetter turned to me and with calm confidence urged me: ‘You watch that train and forget everything else, I’ll take care of these planes.’ Lt Hofstetter thus chose to continue to carry out the firing mission even though the enemy planes were continuing to attack and at the same time that radio messages told us two more unidentified planes were heading into our sector. The two enemy planes made two more passes at us, but the evasive action taken by Lt Hofstetter made it impossible for them to line us up and destroy us by fire.”
During a fifteen minute period, three artillery liaison planes (spotter planes) were shot down not far away. The plane flown by my father was the only one remaining in the air. They had begun directing fire on a second enemy locomotive when they were ordered to return to base.
Randle concluded his certificate of recommendation by saying, “Lt Hofstetter at all times conducted himself with courage and coolness; his handling of the plane in evasive action was so skillful as to cause the enemy planes to pass on and attack other Allied planes nearby.” The effect of the fire was to destroy one train composed of twenty-five cars, including the locomotive, sending personnel in “wild flight” from the train, and to effect considerable damage to another. A recommendation similar to that of Lt. Randle came from the 549th Field Artillery Battalion. The commendation and medal award process took until February 1946 to go through. At that same time, he was awarded the Air Medal for “meritorious achievement,” 35 sorties completed.
After the war, he remained in Germany for a few years, serving with the occupation forces. My mother and I joined him for a year, but I remember little because I was so young. He then served in the army reserves, teaching at a flight school for his two-week annual service, until 1961, when he retired as a lieutenant colonel. It occurs to me now that this coolness under pressure and skill at evading an enemy may have been developed in his early training as a high school and college football quarterback in his (and my) home state of West Virginia.
I’m proud to have the safe keeping of his medals and the commendations of his bravery and skill. I have no children to pass them to, so I’m hoping to find a home for them with a veterans’ organization.