JCHA NEWSLETTER –APRIL 2013

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Dr. Robert Steadham Hogan

Was He the Real Hogan’s Hero?

—by: Judy Haise


Lt. Hogan

Lt. Hogan (far left) and some of his flying buddies
on a World War II training plane.


D

r. Robert Steadham Hogan was a well-known Birmingham internist and rheumatologist.

He was well into his successful medical career for 20 years before his "namesake" Col. Bob Hogan (actor Robert Crane) starred in Hogan’s Heroes, a popular CBS-TV sitcom from 1965–71. It fictionalized accounts of life in Stalag 13, a German prisoner of war camp. Ten years earlier William Holden had starred in its 1953 predecessor, Billy Wilder’s somber movie "Stalag 17."

Did the show’s writer/creators Albert Ruddy and the late Bernard Fein know about Birmingham’s POW Bob Hogan?

The year was 1942 when the real Bob Hogan left his initial engineering studies at Auburn University to serve in the Army Air Force, "feeling it was his duty," says Bob’s son Richard Hardin Hogan, a medical administrator in Wytheville, Virginia.

In November of 1944, 2nd Lt. Robert Hogan, assigned to the 450th Bombardment Group of the Army Air Force, began his flight log for seven and eight hour combat missions out of a home base in Italy. His targets were railroad bridges, troop concentrations and oil refineries near Vienna, Austria, northern Italy and Yugoslavia. He and his usual 10‑11‑crew members often encountered enemy fighters, gas leaks and almost always riddling flak. When they lost oxygen, they had to suck emergency bottles.

On one trip Bob thought would be a "milk run," he neglected to wear his flak suit and helmet. He vowed "Never again." It was freezing cold -46 C. at 22,000‑feet. Just as they hit one of their two target bridges, they were hit with flak, started losing speed, probably due to a gas vapor lock, and were ordered to abandon ship. They regained control, but were taking heavy flak when plexiglass sprayed over his face, cutting the bridge of his nose. As was often the case, the bomb bay doors wouldn’t shut.

"Thank God we pulled through that one alive," he wrote, "32 more to go."

Even more perilous was Lt. Hogan’s 12th sortie Jan. 19, 1945, piloting the aircraft No. 404 "Daisy‑Mae." He was in formation with 25 other B‑24 type aircraft that "caused great damage to the enemy’s railway system in Brod, Yugoslavia." There were no enemy fighters this time, but "flak at the target was accurate and heavy."

Although four aircraft had minor damage, all returned safely except "Daisy‑Mae". She received a direct hit between No. 1 and No. 2 engines, caught on fire, and her left wing fell off. She went into a flat spin, then was spotted spiraling downward and exploding into snowy mountains. Again, the bomb bay doors hadn’t shut, but this was a Godsend, as Bob and his flight navigator Chester Zukowski fell out the hole, as parachutes were always attached to their backpacks. Hogan knocked out a few of his teeth hitting the instrument panel in his haste getting out.

World War II Prisoner of War

Not a paratrooper, Bob dropped too hard on his back and knees. Found alone, he was captured by the Germans and spent six months at Stalag 13, a prison camp for fliers near Nuremberg, Germany.

Back in Birmingham, Kathleen Steadham Hogan thought Bob was dead after she got a Western Union telegram Feb. 3, from the Adjutant General saying "the Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son 2nd Lt. Robert S. Hogan has been reported missing in action (MIA)." His acting commanding brigadier general then sent her a letter noting his personal effects would be sent to her via St. Louis.

Six weeks later, there was hope, when Kathleen learned that Bob was a prisoner of war of the German government.

"My dad didn’t talk much about it, but said they shot at him coming down," says Richard. "There were only three things he ever talked about: His hunger and starvation, their secret radio (which got better results than the prison guards) and a teenage girl from a nearby town, who sneaked fresh fruit to them. "He was in camp for six months before he was rescued by allied soldiers."

After he came home to Birmingham, Bob learned that only Chester was home in Buffalo, N.Y., after serving in a different prison camp. Bob immediately took to the road to personally express his sympathy to each of his remaining nine crew members’ families in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Massachusetts and Maine. The trip became tougher, when he found out the families still thought their soldiers were MIA. Only one of his crew was married, 2nd Lt. John J. Rau of Westfield, N.J., and he had a 1‑year‑old son Bill.

House calls of a different kind were part of Dr. Hogan and his internist group’s routine. He chastised at least one patient who smoked, although he had smoked when prison guards occasionally gave him a puff, and his wife smoked.

"He told me if I didn’t quit my cigarettes, he’d drop me as a patient, and he meant it," recalls Una Coleman, who still lives across the street from the Hogan family’s home for nearly 20 years now on Canterbury Road in Mountain Brook. "I was sick with bronchitis for about six months, before I stopped smoking. He told me if I didn’t, I’d never live to raise Tom Coleman Jr."

"We were all crazy about him, Una recalls. "He was one of the nicest people and really a good doctor. My children played with the Hogan kids and went to their lake with them."

When Dr. Hogan eventually became one of Birmingham’s first full‑time rheumatologists, his family was glad he didn’t have to spend so much time away from home and had more time for family vacations.

As a rheumatologist, Bob could empathize with his new patients, as he suffered with many of the same arthritic and disk problems, a direct result of his World War II injuries.

Medical credentials

Born into a family with several generations of medical doctors in the Birmingham area, Bob also sought a medical career after the war. His father Marian Elias Hogan had five brothers and four of them were physicians.

In 1910, Bob’s uncle Edgar Poe Hogan, a renown physician, became superintendent of Hillman Hospital for 19 years, helping serve indigents. Edgar and his brother Dr. George A. Hogan established their medical clinic (in Edgar’s second floor home) in a Queen Anne mansion on 20th Street near Five Points South. It was built in 1888 by Col. Robert H. Pearson. The land is now a UAB parking lot leased by members of the Hogan family.

Dr. Hogan, son Richard and Bob Crane

Dr. Hogan, son Richard and Bob Crane of TV's Hogan's Heroes
at Airport Inn, 1966.

Bob’s grandfather Archibald Hogan’s Bibb County cabin, built in 1834, stands just inside the gate at Tannehill Ironworks State Park.

Bob finished his undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 1947, graduated from Medical College of Alabama in 1951, took an internship at University Hospital in 1951‑52 and residency in internal medicine at University and the Veterans Hospitals in 1952‑54. He became a trainee in rheumatic diseases at the National Institutes of Health in 1954‑55 and was chief resident in internal medicine at University and Veterans Administration Hospitals from 1955‑56.

He became certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 1958 and was a clinical associate professor of internal medicine at the UAB School of Medicine. Through the years, he also studied at New York University, Cornell University Medical School, Harvard Medical School and many more medical institutions.

Bob, who graduated from Ramsay High School, and Birmingham native Alice Katherine “Kitty” Hardin married in June of 1949. A Shades Valley High School graduate, Kitty moved from Cahaba Heights three years ago to an independent living home in North Carolina, to be nearer the Hogans’ daughter Nelle Lindsay Hogan Stout and son Robert S. Hogan Jr. The youngest son James Baker Hogan, lives in Iowa City, Iowa.

"Mom’s 88 now, and still smokes," laughs Richard.

Dr. Hogan and his family couldn’t help noticing that the popular TV show "Hogans’ Heroes" ascribed his name plus many scenes identical to Hogan’s own military past to the cast.

The show’s Col. Robert Hogan was a tall congenial guy like Dr. Hogan, whose Stalag 13 Komandant wore a monocle like the show’s Col. Klink and both had a secret radio in camp.

There were disparities. "The ground was so hard, and the men so hungry at Dad’s camp, there was no energy to dig a way out like the TV show," says Richard. "He only remembered eating a couple of leaves of cabbage in warm water and sharing one loaf of bread with his group each day." The Red Cross came in about once a week with a little more food, but it disagreed with many of the prisoners.

Dr. Hogan loved Hogan’s Heroes, says Richard. He didn’t tell his family about sending a fan letter to Bob Crane telling him of their uncanny similarities. The show’s producers wrote back noting that Hogan’s Heroes was totally based on a fictional World War II stalag, as were the characters. However, after thinking it over for a couple of weeks in 1966, they took up Dr. Hogan’s invitation to visit Birmingham, setting up a press conference at the Airport Motel with Crane, Dr. Hogan and his sons Richard and Jim. Afterward the Hogans entertained Crane with lunch at the Country Club of Birmingham.

Several web sites say that a new Hogan’s Heroes movie might be in the making. Actor Russell Crowe once expressed an interest as did A Beautiful Mind Oscar winning producer Brian Grazer.

Who knows? The movie could even be the true story of the 2nd Lt. Robert Hogan who was awarded the Purple Heart and Air Medal with two Oak Leaf clusters, as well as the Distinguished Service Award from the Alabama chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, which he served as charter president.

"Dad was married to his work," says Richard. "He never realized he couldn’t be the best doctor, the best husband and the best father." Bob passed away in 1981 at age 58.

50th anniversary of events in 1963

 
 

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