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East Texas Heroes: Gene Rogers

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EAST TEXAS (KYTX) - Pilots during world war two flew dangerous missions that helped secure a victory for the allied powers.
But it took skilled crews on the ground to keep those planes in the air under the most extreme conditions.
CBS 19's Justin Earley shares 92-year-old Gene Roger's story in tonight's East Texas Heroes....


On July fourth, 1944 -- Staff Sergeant Gene Rogers experienced a different kind of  
light display in the sky..
"the fireworks were something else. You couldn't believe how much it was lit up. They were dropping flares."
He was walking guard duty outside Saint Lo France, less than a month after D-Day.
There was a fierce battle raging dangerously close, but that was one of several brushes with danger for Rogers.

Thomas Eugene Rogers, Gene for short, was drafted into the Army at the age of 21 in 1941.  
But the Leonard, Texas native volunteered to become part of the Army Air Corps - and went to mechanic school in Biloxi, Mississippi.
"While I was there Pearl Harbor came across. I was going to school 5 days a week and they changed it to 7."

Before he knew it he was headed to England on the Queen Elizabeth, and it wasn't the smooth, luxurious ride you might expect as the captain used evasive maneuvers to keep Japanese subs off his tail..

"I wouldn't eat the food because it would make every guy so sick. You  never seen anybody as sick as some of them got."
When he arrived in England -- he was stationed at middle wallop air base.

He and his crew  took care of Spitfires andP-51 fighter planes. "I was crew chief, had 200 airplanes that flew 145 missions."

Missions that were vital to turning the tide in world war two. "My pilot, the captain, Major Robert Thomas, he flew three missions on D-Day."

Staff Sergeant Rogers and his crew maintained and repaired planes on the front lines across Europe, moving from England to France, Belgium and Germany.

And they did it all under extreme conditions, it was bitterly cold and they were frequently understaffed. But the men learned the true meaning of team work. "I changed engines three times in Germany in 30 days and those boys they fell in there and helped me, nothing to it, you know? We just work together and get it done."


And they found themselves coming under fire. Hitting the foxhole in the middle of the night.
"There'd be shrapnel come through the tent."
He and his crew were even left stranded, for weeks, in the middle of the winter in Europe because their vehicles were needed elsewhere.

But he credits his faith in god for his survival. "He'll take care of you if you do right. I found that out."
And he is grateful to the U.S. Military for equipping him with the skills he needed for his career as mechanic and his life with his wife Florence.

He says he wouldn't blink an eye if asked to put himself in harms way again for his country. "That's home...Home."

If you know of a veteran from any war or era of service and you'd like to see him or her featured as an East Texas Hero, you can contact Justin at j-earley@cbs19.tv.

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