Skip to main content


Rodney Gould '44, on Dresden air raid with Vonnegut below, dies

Rodney S. Gould '44, J.D. '48

Rodney S. Gould '44, J.D. '48.

Rodney S. Gould '44, J.D. '48, who served as a B-17 Flying Fortress navigator during two sorties in the historic bombing of Dresden, Germany, in February 1945 – not knowing that his Delta Upsilon fraternity brother Kurt Vonnegut Jr. '44, a prisoner of war, sheltered in a Nazi meat locker at a slaughterhouse below – died July 19 of heart failure in Pittsburgh. He was 93.

"… Neither Kurt nor I ever dreamed he would be a prisoner of war below in Dresden while I was above," Gould wrote Feb. 28, 2005, in a letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Gould and Vonnegut were friends throughout their Cornell years, as both lived in the Delta Upsilon fraternity house and Vonnegut served as editor of The Cornell Daily Sun student newspaper while Gould was on the newspaper's news board.

Both men left Cornell early to join the United States war effort in 1943.

Days before Christmas 1944, Vonnegut was captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge and was shipped via prisoner train to Dresden. Meanwhile, Gould at age 22 was flying European missions with the 305th Bombardment Group of the 422nd Bomb Squadron.

While the B-17 planes were slow and ponderous, making the missions quite dangerous, Gould participated in daylight raids Feb. 14 and 15, 1945, at Dresden. "There were specific military objectives in the American raids, but they also had grisly collateral effects. Quibbling over details leaves the horrors … untouched," Gould wrote in private correspondence. "… After three back-to-back preceding missions to other targets, the two successive, ten-hour missions to Dresden and back – with their deadly effects on the refugees in the station and marshalling yards -- etched a feeling in me that still leaves me with a heavy heart."

It was not until after the war that Gould and Vonnegut realized they had crossed paths in history. Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five," a fictionalized account of the Dresden bombing, was published in 1969.

"Kurt knew that as a B-17 navigator I participated in bombing Dresden two days in a row while he was directly below in an underground storage room that saved his life – an unpleasant but amazing coincidence," Gould wrote.

Gould and Vonnegut reconnected in the late 1990s, mostly by letter and a few phone calls, but they never met in person again.

"My last letter to Kurt was January 31, 2007. Among other things after referring to that eleven-man [Delta Upsilon] initiate [pledge] class, I wrote, 'Now Kurt, old boy, you and I are the only survivors of that group!' His Feb. 8 reply was the last word from him," Gould wrote. "He said some complimentary things – which on rereading seemed to hint of an awareness his time was running out."

Vonnegut died April 11, 2007.

Rodney Sylvester Gould was born Aug. 17, 1922, at Red Bank, New Jersey. He was raised at Huntington, Long Island, New York and graduated from Huntington High School.

After the war, Gould returned to Cornell, where he simultaneously earned his bachelor's degree in English and a law degree. He became an attorney in New York City and later moved to Pittsburgh. He worked for the Dravo Corp., a shipbuilding company, where he retired as senior vice president for corporate affairs and acquisitions assistant to the chairman and chief executive officer.

Gould had chaired the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, and he was a board member of the Allegheny County American Red Cross and the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. He had a strong interest in automobiles, and he fully restored a 1924 Ford Model T Roadster.

Surviving him are his wife, Joanne, three children and four grandchildren.

Rodney Gould and Kurt Vonnegut with Delta Upsilon fraternity brothers

Before heading off to war, Rodney Gould, in the middle row, far left, and Kurt Vonnegut, fourth row, far right, pose with their Delta Upsilon fraternity brothers at Cornell University in 1943.

Back to top