A Soldier’s Story

Family Discovers Father's Journal a Half Century after World War II

By Guy Fletcher | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 11.21.16 – Feature, History

At first glance, the red, leather-bound journal Kenneth Fogle kept with him in his tank during World War II leaves one impression: It’s so small, not much bigger than an old bank passbook.

It also shows its age. Six decades after Fogle used proportionately small handwriting—roughly equal to 10-point script—to carefully record the details of his time in the war’s European theater, the journal is worn and fragile. Its cover is cracked and the thin pages inside could easily tear at touch.

It is in this small, delicate book that Fogle carefully recorded his path across Europe —noting activities ordinary and extraordinary—as Allied forces liberated millions and brought an end to Nazi tyranny. He also wrote of his service in a free, occupied German and the friends he made with local citizens—relationships he would carry for decades.

After the war ended, Fogle returned to his native Frederick in early 1946, went to work, first as a salesman and then as a bank teller, and also raised a family. Unless he was asked, he rarely talked about his service in the war, and he never talked about the journal. It wasn’t until after his death in 1999 that his family discovered the book among other keepsakes from the war.

One of his sons, Jerry Fogle, recalls finally reading the entries and seeing for the first time the stories of his father’s experiences during the war. It was a revelation. “Just to see what he went through each day. It would vary from the mundane, everyday activities, and then the next thing they are in a battle, there is shelling all around and they are afraid to go to the latrine.”

In recent years, Fogle, 69, decided to explore the book more deeply. With research assistance from his twin brother, Lerry, he spent hundreds of hours over some three months painstakingly transcribing the journal onto a computer.

“I really became more interested in it later on, as I was nearing retirement. I had the time, and once I had a good look at it again I decided it really should be saved. The book is deteriorating. I wanted to save what was said there and get that story down,” he says. Now, if anything ever happens to the frail book, their father’s story remains secure.

“Homesick and lonely”

Kenneth Fogle was a draftee who entered the U.S. Army on March 9, 1944, for basic training and tank school. He was stationed at Camp Shanks near Orangetown, N.Y., before being deployed overseas on Sept. 10 of that year, starting the journey he detailed in the little red book. The journal itself is something of a mystery—a German datebook from 1940 that Jerry Fogle speculates his father picked up shortly after arriving in Europe, perhaps in France.

But once Pvt. Fogle started using the journal, he couldn’t stop, noting everyday occurrences like the ample flow of letters he wrote and received (especially to and from his wife, Elaine, whom he called “Lainey”), the many movies he watched and the friends he made, as well as not-so-everyday combat in the cold forests of Belgium and Germany.

“We’ve always wondered, of all the guys who went over in World War II, how many of them would have even kept a journal, and even the ones that did, how many of [the journals] would be left and still be preserved?” says Lerry Fogle. “Not that many.”

“And be that complete and be that detailed?” Jerry says. “That’s what we were wondering.”

To fit his entries into the tiny journal, Kenneth Fogle shelved flowery prose and kept to the pertinent details of the day. This entry from Dec. 8, 1944, is an example: “Up at 7:30. Sleepy from guard [duty] last nite. Quiet day. Scootin & patrolin with Rob! Got 9 older letters from Lainey & 1 from Mother. Rob. on guard. Bed 10.”

One theme from the journal that comes through to Jerry Fogle is how difficult it must have been for his father—and mother—to be away for nearly two years. She was back in Frederick, raising a toddler daughter. The distance is palpable on the pages. “You realize how much they sacrificed,” he says.

Kenneth Fogle saw action as a tank gunner in at least three combat engagements. During the Battle of the Bulge he wrote about the extreme cold, the many nights sleeping in his tank, being repeatedly harassed by German aircraft and firing thousands of rounds of ammunition.

On Christmas Eve, 1944, he wrote: “Up 8. Breakfast. Planes around today. Church — Major Propst — prayer interrupted by planes. Rob & I put up pup tent for tonight. Guard tomorrow. A.M. — 6:30-8. Wrote letters. In tanks tonite w/tears running down. Homesick and lonely.”

As the Fogle brothers delved more deeply into the details of their father’s journal, they also researched history books, websites and other materials that discussed the battles in which their father had fought. They were stunned at the accuracy of the journal. “When you look into a date or timeline of events in those books, you go to this [journal] and it’s spot-on,” Jerry Fogle says. “It talks about the same thing.”

Kenneth Fogle continued writing in the journal even after suffering a hand wound in his tank on April 17, 1945, that earned him a Purple Heart and effectively ended his tour of combat duty: “I got right hand caught between case and tank. [Turret] traversed. Hand cut bad in palm & index finger. Medic fixed it. Got sick. … In hosp. tent tonite.”  Two days later he was in a real hospital in Paris, where his hand was stitched and placed in a cast.

Because of the injury, entries in the journal during this period, until May 2, are very difficult to read. The handwriting is poor and faded. These six days of entries took Jerry Fogle hours to interpret, understand and document.

Kenneth Fogle rejoined his tank battalion in June 1945, almost a month after V-E Day, with the Army taking on a new role as an occupation force.  He spent most of the remainder of his deployment in southern German towns. And while most of his entries during this period were pleasant, discussing routine military matters, meals, movies, letters and friendships he made with locals, they weren’t without drama.

On June 18, he wrote: “EXCITING DAY! Arsenal caught on fire today. Thought everything would burn up. Everybody out in the fields. Powder burning and ammo. going off! Jerry Fire Depts. out.  Quite an excitement. Back in eve. Decided not to stay — stuff still going off. Slept in fields tonite out in open.”

Pfc. Fogle was promoted to corporal on Aug. 21 and would remain in Europe until shipping out for the states on New Year’s Eve—completing a journey that included six different countries and some 11,000 miles.

In his final journal entry on Jan. 1, 1946, he wrote: “Welcome to 1946. Was up when ’46 came in last night. To bed late. Nice day. Got along nicely w/ship paper. Plenty nice New Years’ dinner — dessert: pie ala mode!!! Saw Rock of Gibraltar rather well tonight at 11:00. Also saw coast of Africa! What a tow! 3200 miles from home! Almost to Atlantic. To bed late again. Homeward Bound! Sky & water from now on. ‘See ship Newspaper’ for further details.”

“It’s a history book”

The Fogle brothers can only speculate now why their father kept the journal, and why he never mentioned its existence. Was it to preserve his legacy? Was it intended for the family to see? “I’m surprised he didn’t share it more while he was with us, but I’m glad he did it because it tells us his whole story when he was gone,” Jerry Fogle says.

One thing is clear: The journal must have been important to their father because he not only kept it in his collection of war memorabilia, he would also go back and look at it himself. The brothers know this because the book includes Post-It notes added many years later when their father had some new information to add.

The brothers say they will continue the search for more information about their father’s time in Europe. Jerry Fogle has also considered writing a narrative around the journal to give the dates and entries greater context.

As for the little red book itself, the brothers say they are considering donating it to a war museum or history organization, so it could be seen but not handled and be preserved for generations to come.

“It’s a history book, really,” Jerry Fogle says. “As you read through it, it tells a history.”