Robert J. Shoens was the pilot of the B-17 Flying Fortress Our Gal Sal, assigned to the 351st Bomb Squadron, 100th Bomb Group based at Royal Air Force Station Thorpe Abbotts in England. Born in Detroit, Michigan, he benefitted from his parents’ military legacy. His father served in the Navy during World War I and his mother volunteered on the World War II draft board. His love for aviation was cemented when, as a young boy, he saw the Dare Devils perform. In 1941, during his second year of junior college, he decided that he wanted to serve and become a pilot, considering it his patriotic duty. Denied by the Navy recruiter, he walked down the hall to the Army Air Corps recruiter’s office and enlisted as a private in the United States Army. At the age of 20, Shoens began training to serve in World War II, after which he received his commission. The unit to which he was assigned, the 100th Bomb Group, would soon become infamous for its high combat casualty rate. Shoens, when speaking about the European Theater said, “We knew Berlin would happen. We had attacked everything else. It was only a matter of time.” That time came on Shoens’ 17th mission, a 6 March 1944 raid on Berlin. The weather that day was clear enough that crews recalled being able to nearly see Berlin from over England. The sky was soon filled with Luftwaffe fighters who downed or damaged over 50 of the 100th’s B-17s. Losing contact with the lead aircraft, Shoens made a command decision to attach his B-17 to another group. On this mission, Shoens’ B-17, Our Gal Sal, was the only bomber out of 15 in the 351st squadron to return to base at Thorpe Abbotts. Though Shoens’ crew was credited with shooting down two enemy aircraft, the high losses contributed to the group’s nickname, the “Bloody Hundredth.” Shoens flew missions against heavily defended targets in Berlin, Regensburg, Frankfurt, and Munich, including his 28th and final mission on 1 May 1944 in Our Gal Sal. This B-17 received its moniker when the crew placed suggested names in a hat. When My Gal Sal, the name of a popular song, was chosen, the crew agreed to change the word “my” to “our” and named the aircraft Our Gal Sal, stating that it belonged to all of them. Our Gal Sal completed 125 missions during her wartime service. Shoens completed his tour in Europe and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by order of Major General Curtis LeMay. His other medals include the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, American Defense Medal, American Campaign Medal, and the European Theater of Operations Medal. He presently resides in Northville, Michigan where he remains active on the speaking circuit sharing his story and educating others with humility, stating, “I just did my job.” He has three children and six grandchildren.
Years Honored: 2015
Aircraft/Specialty: B-17G Flying Fortress
Robert "Bob" Shoens pilots the B-17 Flying Fortress Our Gal Sal on a 6 March 1944 raid against Berlin. Shoens' B-17 was the only one out 15 in his squadron to return to base that fateful day, contributing to the group's nickname, the "Bloody Hundredth."