In July 1943, in all the US charts, the funny foxtrot “Comin 'in on a Wing and a Prayer” about a bomber trying to return to the airfield in the UK “with prayer and on one wing” took off. Quickly picked up by Soviet singer Leonid Utesov, this song is still popular in Russia. The reverse side of the same 1943 single by the American Studio of the British company «Decca records» contained another hit performed by that group the Song Spinners, which became terribly popular in the United States, but not at all known in the USSR and among the post-Soviet countries.
A song by composer Vee Lawnhurst based on the words of poet Mack David was called ”Johnny Zero”, or “Johnny got a zero”. It was about a boy who had a hard time going to school — he couldn’t multiply two by two, and he was in the clouds. Peers constantly teased him and shouted cheerfully after another failure: “Johnny got zero again!”.
The guy grew up, became a fighter pilot (all the illustrations for the notes and plates depicted a deck pilot, a fighter pilot of the F6F Hellcat) and became a national hero, who constantly increases the score of his victories over the Japanese A6M Zero. Now all the pilots proudly say: «Johnny got zero! Johnny got another zero!».
Leave out the probability of selection into combat (especially deck) aviation of a cadet not capable of elementary arithmetic. We can say that by the beginning of 1943 when the song was written, the joy of American pilots who learned to resist the Japanese aces and received equipment that is not only able to resist «zero», but also superior to it, is quite understandable — perhaps this contributed to the popularity of the song «Johnny zero». Curious the song ace had a prototype that was not a fighter pilot, nor a pilot at all.
Drafted into the army shortly before the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, a 23-year-old office clerk from Chicago, John D. Foley was assigned to the position of clerk on an infantry company. The boy did not like this job and managed to transfer to the 19th Squadron of the 22nd Air Force Bomber Group of the United States Army as a gunsmith. Soon the air group armed with B-26 Marauder relocated to Australia. Soon, the frail corporal, carefully tending to the machine guns, was spotted by the crew commander, Lieutenant Walter Krell, and when his top gunner was out of action due to injury, Foley took a seat in the bomber turrel with the name “Kansas Comet”.
The first battle mission of Corporal Fowley took place on May 24, 1942, when two four “Marauders” of the 22nd air group flew to bomb the Japanese ships in the Rabaul (New Guinea) region. Despite only one fact-finding flight and complete device not knowing of the rifle scope, Fowley managed to shoot down two Zeros, aiming machine guns along the highway. Upon returning to the airfield, Lieutenant Krell was asked if his crew had any requests for downed fighters, but he replied negatively.
Then another pilot said that he had seen the shooter of the «Kansas Comets» knocked down two Zeros, which fell burning into the sea. John Foley admitted that he could bring them down, and did not report it, because he believed that he should not shoot without a command: “These Zeros shot me, and I thought it would be better for me to shoot them myself.” This story was enough to get on the pages of American newspapers, looking for optimistic stories in the most difficult time for the country, and get the nickname «Johnny Zero».
In a short time, John Foley managed to take part in 31 combat missions and participate in a total of 6 aerial victories. It is believed that he survived three accidents and catastrophes, and in one of the cases the only one of the crew survived, but soon he was knocked down by malaria. After treatment, Foley returned to the United States for a traditional tour of the country advertising defense loans, and afterward became an aerial shooting instructor at a flight school. At the end of 1944, Fowley went again to the front and, as a shooter of the B-24 Libereitor heavy bomber, of the 409th squadron of the 93rd bomber air group, made another 31st sortie over Europe. He volunteered for the third «combat round», but then the war ended. «Johnny Zero» left the army in 1946 and lived in Chicago and died on December 21, 1999 in the town of Bunning in California.
It must be said that until the death of John Fowley, the legend of Johnny Zero became more and more colorful — the number of awards and accidents mentioned in the publications grew, and, of course, the downed Zero sprang up. As a result, their number reached the beautiful mark of 15 personal victories, although the surviving documents allow us to speak confidently about only 8 claimed by the crew of the “Kansas Comet“ fighters and one personal Foley request. However, the USA needed heroes, and «Johnny-Zero» became him. Who will remember any inaccuracies if a personal song is dedicated to you — even with other distortions?