This is the patch of the 524th Squadron. ----->
We lived in a battle damaged "worker's apartment building",
three or four to a room. I roomed with ********** and one other whose name I have forgotten. I
think ***** was a First Lt.
He seemed "rank happy" to me. One day he had his foot locker open and he showed me a set of Captain's bars and a set of Major's oak leaves. This did surprise me a little.
Much later, when I was promoted to Captain, at Serragia on Corsica,
my first bars were cut out of a sheet of aluminum by one of the mechanics. I considered that an
honor and was proud of them. I wish I still had them!! One of the mechanics came up to me and
said, "Finally someone got them that deserved them.!" I was of course flattered.
I got my second set of bars (We had no PX!) from our engineering officer, Capt. Joe Glover. He gave me one of his extras, well worn, looking like copper because the silver had been blitzed off. (The polishing cloths were called Blitz Cloths.)
Back to the apartment. We had an ingenious way of heating them. We
would get a 5 gallon gas can and install a valve toward the bottom and then a length of probably
1/4 inch copper tube. This tube led into the side of a five gallon can about halfway up. A half of
a small can filled with sand was placed in the bottom and the valve was adjusted to where aviation
gasoline would just drip slowly into the sand. When lit, it produced a good quantity of heat,
regulated of course by the position of the valve.
Most of us were smart enough to place the reservoir can of gasoline on the windowsill, just outside the room. One room however had it inside the room. Yes, the reservoir tipped over once, spilling the 125 octane aviation fuel. A fire occurred and while no one was hurt they lost everything they had in the room. I remember seeing what was left of a fleece lined flying suit. It had shrivelled down to about a five-year old size!
Speaking of fleece-lined flying suits, they were very welcome on cold days. But they were useless in a fighter plane. One cold day I thought I would wear mine. I think it was just a local flight, not a mission. I was really afraid I was going to crash. I had great trouble moving in that small cockpit with that fat jacket.
I remember about ten of us one night in one of the rooms, shooting the breeze. Someone had a bottle of gin, no chaser! The bottle made its rounds and everybody took a swig when it came their turn, me included. I remember thinking that it was the vilest beverage I ever had! I don't remember much else about these apartments because we spent most of our waking time down at the field.
Sometimes learning can be a dangerous game and if we're lucky
we will survive to make use of the lesson. I was landing in my A-36 one day and when I touched
down, the right wheel strut started stuttering. The wheel wasn't turning. Instinctively, I hit the
left brake and simultaneously gave a blast to the engine and had the stick all the way back.
Hitting the left brake would tend to raise the tail and I was trying to blow it back down with the
engine and the elevator. I did it in several short bursts and finally the wheel broke loose and
started rolling. When I told the others about it, someone asked me if I tapped the brakes on
takeoff to stop the rotation of the wheel before it retracted into the well. I agreed that I had
and they said, "Never do that! The brakes are a disk type with 23 disks, 12 steel and 11 bronze.
If you tap them, the sudden heating can actually weld some of these discs together." The reason I
tapped them was a habit left over from the P-40. The P-40 had canvas liners in the wheel well and
no fairing doors. If you retracted the wheels without tapping the brake, the rotating wheel would
eventually tear the canvas up and let dirt etc get into the wing.
It was nice to have a concrete runway. We took off in two ship formations. The leading pair would fly south for several minutes then make a slow 180 degree turn to the left and the rest of us would form up into the four ship flights. We usually sent eight airplanes, occasionally twelve.
One day, about 5 February, we were on a straffing mission,
flying low, cruising around and looking for targets of opportunity. I was flying number 4 and the
element leader was Truman Forbis, from Oregon. When flying this type of mission, we
characteristically flew at about 200 feet in a regular formation but spread out so we could look
around for targets.
We were flying down a wide valley and I was looking around for targets, occasionally looking back to make sure I was in position on Forbis's wing. Then one time I looked back and he was in a 60 degree dive. In about one second he covered the 200 feet at 300 mph and exploded! I couldn't believe it. I circled several times, calling him on the radio with no answer. I finally accepted that he wasn't going to be there and returned to base.
Later, when the area had been captured, Captain Washburn of 522nd
Headquarters drove to the area and talked to the people. He said that they had buried the pilot.
They also told him there was a bullet hole in the canopy. It would appear that some rifleman down
below shot ahead of us somewhere and without realizing it his bullet must have hit Truman in the
head, he slumped over the stick and pushed the plane into the ground. Two hundred feet can
disappear very fast at almost 300 mph. He never knew what hit him.
A few days ago I had an idea. I wondered if there were
any Forbises left in Oregon. So I went to a search engine and found six. I sent six letters and
four of them were returned as undeliverable. But one went to Gary Forbis and he said that Truman
was his uncle. Not only that, he had some pictures and the letter I sent his grandmother, Mrs.
Rosa C. Forbis after I returned from oversea. I thought it would be an interesting test of memory
to reproduce that letter here and let you compare it with the description I gave above, written
from memory within the last few weeks.
It has not been very nice of me not to have written sooner; as a
matter of fact it's been rather cruel of me. I left Fargo sooner than I expected and received your
letter some time later. There really is no excuse, however, for my not writing sooner. We'll just
have to put it down to unfeeling stupidity and reluctance.
To get to the point:--------
I shall tell you all I know of the circumstances of your son's death. It happened on the sixth (sic) of February. Four of us were out on a straffing mission flying A-36's. We started straffing north of Rome and worked our way down towards Cassino. We were almost done when the leader decided to strafe a valley leading from Avezzano down to Sora, Italy. At the time we were at about nine thousand feet. We turned right and dove in formation down to about two hundred feet going south down this valley to Sora. I was flying Truman's wing and was a little higher, to the right side and a little in back of him. We had just gotten to the end of the valley, absolutely uneventfully, when it happened. The valley opened onto a small plain. The town of Sora was at the foot of the last mountain of the righthand range of mountains. I was pretty well engrossed in looking where I was going, and looking for something to strafe, and also looking around for enemy aircraft. As the leader reached the end of the valley he made a shallow turn to the left and therefore neither he nor his wingman saw what happened. I was the only Allied witness. We would check our formation position only periodically in the midst of our other functions. As we got to the end of the valley he seemed alright. We were doing about 300 mph at the time. I looked around then looked back and he had changed from straight and level to a rather steep dive of about 50 degrees. I skidded out to the right to cover him as my first thought was that he had seen something to strafe, although his angle of dive made me wonder a little. His airplane had all its major parts, at least I could see nothing wrong. This all happened in about one second so I really had no time for close observation or too much thought. He made no attempt to recover from the dive and crashed, exploding immediately. It is difficult to explain my reaction. I was horrorstricken to say the least. I immediately started to circle the spot looking hopefully for a parachute. We had seen no enemy fire up until I'd circled the spot once, then Jerry cut loose with everything he had. I circled three times calling on the radio, hoping against hope that somehow my eyes had misled me. By the time I'd finished the third circle at about three hundred feet the sky was so full of "flak" that I couldn't have seen a chute had there been one, so I had to give up and get out of there while my own skin was intact. We went home and I reported the circumstances and he was listed as missing in action because I could not guarantee that he'd been killed nor could I guarantee that he had been in the plane when it crashed. Funny things happen in combat, and one cannot be sure at times.
After our troops had taken the locality our intelligence officer went to the spot to find the wreck. He found the wreck and talked to the Italians in the locality. Truman was buried about ten feet from where the plane crashed. The Italians had been keeping the grave very nicely. They had been putting flowers on it often. I believe it's still located in the same place. It's possible that the Army has moved it to a military cemetery but probably not. On inspection of the wreck a hole was found in one part of the canopy. This led us to believe that he had been shot probably right through the head, and killed instantly, at which time he probably slumped over the stick pushing the plane into the ground. If that guess of ours was correct then he felt no pain at all. The most he could have had would be about one second of pain. He undoubtedly never really knew what happened. I hope his lack of pain will ease you some. It was probably due to enemy rifle fire. We don't know for certain however. It happened through no fault of his or anyone else. It is one of those misfortunes of war.
I have told you about everything that I know about it. I have spared no details and have not resisted my better judgement in mentioning localites. I, therefore, ask of you but one favor. Please keep this letter as much a secret as possible till after the war, as I have perhaps violated a few regulations to give you the complete picture.
You have my sincere sympathy and my earnest hope that this has brought some comfort to you.
Capt. Charles E. Dills, 301 Valencia Way, Fort Myers, Florida.
This picture of an A-36 with bombs looks like it was
photographed at Pomigliano. The mountain in the background may be Mt. Vesuvius.
I like to think that this was my airplane. It had a series of bombs representing missions on the side of the cowl. And below it was the word "Judy". Unfortunately this name cannot be read.
On the 17th, as I was taking off, my engine just about quit on
me. I had two 500 pound bombs and a full load of gas and ammunition. I could just maintain 150
feet, full throttle with the wheels up. I was so low I had trouble locating the runway. There were
buildings below so I didn't want to jettison the bombs. I came around to the left until I saw the
runway and then turned away and set up for a landing. I didn't dare put the wheels down until the
last moment because I would immediately start losing altitude and I might not make the runway! I
finally got lined up for the final and everybody on the ground thought I was going to belly in on
At this point I should explain the landing gear. There were two fairing doors that came down first, then the landing gear would come down and then the fairing doors would come back up and lock.
When I was sure I was going to make it to the runway, I put the gear down. The fairing doors came down, the gear came down, I hit the ground and then the fairing doors came up. At least that's what they told me. It was that close! This was 17th February, a date that will live in feardom!
Our instructors back in the States were on the lookout for
pilots that might be prone to do stupid things. They would then save that boy's life by washing
him out. I suspect the washed out pilot didn't look at it that way but it was true. Occasionally,
they failed to wash out someone who would later be killed.
One of the other squadrons had a pilot whose name I have forgotten. I had landed at another field one day due to a small malfunction. While I was waiting for it to be fixed, this pilot came in for a landing. He was about to touch ground when the tower shot him a red flare because his gear wasn't down. He immediately poured the coal to it and went around and landed properly.
Some time later he got back to our concrete runway with his bombs and pulled the same trick again. However, this time the bombs pulled him down and he landed on them and slid down the concrete runway and finally stopped. My crewchief said he watched it and wondered why it took him so long to get out of the plane. While he was watching, the tail wheel came down. Obviously he had forgotten the gear again and was trying to cover it up by putting the handle down after he was stopped. He then got out and when he got back by the tail, one of the bombs erupted. It had apparently cracked during the landing so it didn't explode but geysered out of the crack. He got burned and went to the hosptal.
Later, he had a problem on a mission that prevented his gear from coming down. The tower cleared the field for a belly landing. He tried six times but could not get himself to set it down. He told the tower that he had changed his mind and was going to bail out of the plane over the Mediterranean instead. That was his decision to make.
Apparently he went out to the shore west of Naples, called MayDay and bailed out. They found his chute twenty miles out to sea but no sign of him. He had gas, he had control, he should not have bailed out until the rescue craft was there. He had had his three strikes!
I have had breathing problems all my life. I have already
explained the origin, an accident when I was about three. When my nose would get "stuffed up" a
bit more than usual, my Eustachian tube would not allow passage of air fast enough when changing
altitude. It seemed to be worse when decending. It resulted in aerotitus media seven times, a
stretching of the eardrum and breaking of blood vessels.
Coming back from a mission one day I started to feel pain around six thousand feet. I finally had to pull out of formation and go back up to 6000'. I kept a benzedrine inhaler and a handkerchief in the right shin pocket of my flying suit and I worked at it until it opened up.
At 4000' I had to do it again. And again at 2000' and finally I made it all the way down. I never even considered the possibility that I couldn't clear it and would have eventually had to come down and let the eardrum break. How could one fly with such excruciating pain?
The 99th Squadron was the black squadron from Tuskegee Alabama.
They were not considered competent to lead their own missions, so they were attached to a white
squadron who supplied the leaders. I heard several stories that I'm positive were not true,
probably from guys from the south.
Then Col. Benjamin O. Davis formed the 332nd Fighter Group. They were outfitted with P-39's and did Coastal Patrol, based near Naples, Italy. One day two of them were dogfighting at medium altitude, probably 4-6000 feet. One of them cut the tail off the other and sent him into a flat spin. We watched as the pilot bailed out. The plane seemed to be coming down so slowly that we wondered whether it or the parachute was going to hit the ground first. Actually, the plane did come down faster but it did seem to be coming down unbelievably slowly. They say that when it hit the ground a stump went through one wing and it hit absolutely flat! If the pilot stayed in he might have survived although he probably would have had a compression fracture of the spine.
One of the squadron pilots was a boy from Oklahoma, Robert
Fromm. He was up north of Rome one day and spotted a truck. He went down to strafe it and it
exploded right in front of him. It blew him off course and right through a tree. He was already
heading upward so he jettisoned the canopy and prepared to bail out. The plane got to 900 feet and
he noticed the engine seemed to being running all right so he decided to wait before bailing out.
It was difficult to control and wouldn't go faster than 160 mph or get more than 900' altitude. He
got it turned around and headed south. His course took him right over Gaeta Point, one of the
hottest flak spots around. He put-putted over Gaeta at 900 feet and 160 mph. Apparently the
gunners could not believe he was so low and slow and they shot way out in front and he escaped
without further injury!
He decided he would bail out when he saw the first boat since we controlled the water. When he got to the first boat, he saw another. And another and another. He leapfrogged all the way back the the base and came in for a landing. His antenna had been knocked off so there could be no communicaton. His right wheel came down, but not the left so they shot him a red flare. He poured the coal to it and went out over the hills. He got it turned around somehow and came back the other way. This time they just let him land. The gear was rather wide so it was common to touch one wheel down first and then you would set the other one down. He said that when the right wheel touched, he went to put the left one down and he quickly realized that he didn't have a left wheel. So he held the left wing up as long as possible. It finally sank down, touched the ground and the plane slid in a slow arc till it stopped. pointing about 30 degrees to the left. There were twigs, etc stuffed up the gun barrels. If he had tried to use them they probably would have exploded. He had a piece of a 5 inch limb jamming the left gear.
He was shot down and killed later, after I left the group.
I have what I might call a "floating" memory. I don't know when it was or where. The only thing I remember is that we were a formation of eight planes, climbing slowly toward a ridge. With the two 500 lb bombs we were were climbing slowly trying not to use such power as would burn a lot of gas. As we approached the ridge we encountered a downdraft that we didn't expect. Suddenly it became clear we would not clear the ridge. We were apparently heading into a wind that came over the ridge which produced a strong downdraft that wouldn't let us clear the ridge. We had to jettison our bombs and abort the mission. What an odd and totally detached memory!
I had a great crewchief, named "Tiny" Hunter. I believe he was
from Albuquerque. One of my greatest regrets is that I don't ever remember thanking him for
keeping me alive. I have been thanking every crewchief I ever met since, in lieu of that!
He worked on that plane and he worked on that plane. I went out several times a day to find out how things were going. And in his quiet, abbreviated way he would say, "Not yet!".
Finally on the 22nd he had exhausted everything he could think of and he said, "OK".
So I decided to take it up for a test hop! I went up to fifteen or so thousand feet and it seemed to be working GREAT! I tried a a few shallow dives and finally a more typical mission type dive.
As I was pulling out of this dive, the canopy came off. We had what is often called a greenhouse type of canopy. It was in three parts, two movable and one fixed. The fixed part was on the right. The other two were hinged. One came over the top and met the other hinged part. While pulling out of this last dive, the hinges let go, the canopy came off and was sucked down into the cockpit as it went by. It hit me on the head and I don't remember much after that.
I do remember a moment when I was aware of flying straight and level with the rushing air of the open cockpit. I found my way back to the field somehow and came in for a landing. When one lands, one sets it up and glides toward the end of the runway. The lower you get, the more you raise the nose and decrease your descent. It's called leveling off and you continue losing speed until you finally touch the ground, set the tail down, then roll along, slowing down until you can turn off on a taxiway.
I didn't do that! I came down in the glide and never leveled off. I hit the runway still in the glide, bounced forty feet in the air, stalled out and came down on the left wing tip. At least that's what they told me. This slewed me to the left, the plane slammed down on the ground and tore off the right landing gear. The prop hit the ground and broke off at the reduction gear and walked off across the field, slashing the left wing as it went by. The plane then slid along on the left gear, the right wingtip and tailwheel, slowing to a stop. It was about this time that I became aware of what was happening. I ducked my head down and shoved the stick to the upper left corner with my arm around my head. Everything seemed red and I thought I might be on fire. But it was what we call "red-out", the opposite of blackout. In a blackout, the blood is being pulled out of your head and things appear black and you can easily pass out if it is prolonged. It's what happened in a P-40 in advanced flying school the first time I tried a loop.
In the picture to the right, you can just make out Vesuvius rising over the cowl. My crewchief, Tiny Hunter from Albuquerque, is leaning into the cockpit to take out the clock. The clock and the rear view mirror were highly prized and the first things rescued after the pilot!
But this time I was slowing down and the forces pushed blood to my head and the extra blood in my eyeballs is what was making everything appear red.
I remember thinking as I slid, "I'll never be able to tell them where the canopy went".
Eventually it stopped and the extra adrenalin gave me a feeling of intense rage. I started turning off the switches, swearing every word I knew at the top of my lungs. I was mad as hell!! When the switches were off, I undid the radio and seat belt and shoulder straps, stood up and released the leg clasps on my parachute, stepped out of the cockpit onto the wing, took off the parachute, lifted it over my head, slammed it back in the cockpit and still swearing a blue streak, stomped down the right wing to the ground. By that time, of course, the fire wagon and ambulance were there and the two enlisted men were trying to coax me into the back of the ambulance. The fire truck started to spray the plane and I started screaming again, "Get my parachute out of there before you spray it!" I was very small and it was probably the only chute on the field that would fit me. And fit is very important, particularly if you ever wanted to have children!!
The airplane name "Judy" was given her by a former pilot who
wouldn't fly without a certain picture of Judy Garland on the instrument panel. The painting of
bombs on the cowl had long since ceased.
I finally got in the ambulance and one of them gave me a cigarette. It was probably the best one I ever smoked. They took me to the med tent so the Doc could look me over. He found nothing wrong but said he wanted to give me an eye check in the morning. I left.
It was mid afternoon and now I began to feel a little shaky, probably an aftereffect of the adrenalin. There was a medical ration of Old Overholt Whiskey (we called it "Old Overshoes"). We were entitled to one shot after each mission. But since we couldn't have it if we were going to fly another mission that day they devised an alternate way of giving it to us. We couldn't keep a complicated set of books for this so instead, they issued us a chit with numbers. And every evening in the bar, certain numbers were honored. But you couldn't use more than three in any one night.
There was an officer in charge of this and all other recreational activities. I went to his "office" and as I remember he had a Dutch door. The top half was open. He was sitting there and I said, "I just crashed my plane and I need some of that medical ration." He got a bottle and a water glass and set it on the little counter and said, "Help yourself!" I took probably a couple shots, went back home and went to bed and slept till the next morning.
And then there was the depth perception test. This was usually two
dowels, probably about a half inch in diameter. One was fixed and the other on a movable block
controlled by strings. The whole thing was in a box with about a four inch square hole in it and
painted white. We could only see the middle part of the dowels. We would grab the strings and then
pull the movable one back and forth until we thought it was just opposite the fixed one. They had
a scale in the box and we were supposed to be able to pull the strings back and forth and set it
so that the difference was 25 mm (one inch) or less.
I pulled the strings, and set them and the doc called out, "Forty eight mm!" I did it again and he said, "Forty five mm!". Now I was worried that maybe something had really happened and I sat there staring at the pegs.
Finally, I turned to the doc and said, "Are those pegs different sizes?" He just beamed and said, "Yes!" I did it three more times, all less than 10 mm.
As a result I realized that this was the first and only time my depth perception was really tested. What we had been doing was comparing the relative size of the pegs and even Wiley Post could have done that!
This time, since the pegs were different diameters I had to use depth perception.
I might mention that the pictures of the crashed plane were taken by our Engineering Officer, Capt. Joe Glover.
I recently received the accident report from this crash. I had never seen it before. I suspect this is a typical accident report. To me, it appears to discount the pilot's account of the accident in order to place the blame on the pilot.
They assign 75% of the cause to pilot error, citing the misuse
of the flaps. I "woke up" while sliding across he ground. To me there was 0% pilot error. How
could an essentially unconcious pilot be responsible for the crash.
Take a look at the closeup of the wingtip, extracted from the above picture. It does not appear to me that it has been "dragged" on the ground. It appears to me that it has been landed on. It hit the runway in a strong bank as was described to me by other observers. I have no recollection of the event!
I was not stunned "for a few minutes" but probably at least fifteen minutes, all the way back, through the "landing" until I was sliding across the ground.
They are supporting the insulting conclusion that I made that up to exculpate my actions.
The document is hard to read. But this is my "translation" of it.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"While on a test flight, the canopy on Lt. Dills' ship came off striking him on the head, stunning him for a few minutes. Immediately after this happened Lt. Dills came in to land; he said everything he did from then on seemed to be wrong. He landed with full flaps and the fairly strong crosswind caught him and bounced him off the runway. Giving it the throttle he dragged a wingtip. Then seeing he was coming close to parked airplanes he cut the throttle and let the ship crash.
It is believed that the accident was caused by 25% material failure due to the canopy coming off and striking the pilot on the head, and 75% pilot error due to the fact that he didn't take into consideration the crosswind when landing. After the doctor's examination there were no injuries of the head to be found; however the pilot could have been stunned for a few minutes after the canopy came off.
Yes, some of the pilots got into weird beliefs related to
luck, rituals that they dared not break. I was told one pilot would not fly without a certain
ring. And one day he didn't come back and his tentmates found the ring on a box by his bed. Such
observatons made believers out of others.
Another pilot got so wound up in ritual that he would get out of the jeep with his parachute, walk to the airplane in a fixed way, walk around the plane in a certain path making observations of the plane (preflight), climb up on the wing putting his feet in certain places, climb into the cockpit in a fixed way, fasten the straps, belts and radio in a certain order. And if he screwed up he would get out of the plane go back to where he got out of the jeep and repeat the whole thing! I don't remember having any such hangups myself.