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Serving Uncle Sam: A Military Life in WWll

Gerald Schwartz USAAC 1940 - 1945

   

Chapter 5: 57th Fighter Group Reunited. Attacked by Flies. Off to Palestine

We of the three squadrons in the 57th fighter group (about a thousand enlisted men) who traveled by sea on the HMS Pasteur, were finally reunited on Aug 19,1942 at Beit Darras ,Palestine, with the 42 men of the advanced cadre, whose trip was via Pan American Airways Clipper and our airplanes. They had flown by Pan American Clipper over Brazil and the heart of Africa in a 10 day trip ending in Beit Daras, Palestine.

No sooner had we arrived when we were greeted by Egypt’s form of 'Montezuma’s revenge' caused by the bite of small flies, resulting in diarrhea and vomiting at the same time. These flies were so small that they passed through the holes in our mosquito netting. You cannot imagine the misery it causes, as it saps your strength and the will to go on!


Stephen Zuzze, Gene Schnabel, Ceferino Vigil, Louis Lederman,Albert Schoenfield, Norman Friedman,Vincent Della Volpe, Herbert Brandman, Howard Stripling,Herbert Gluckman

Rumors were circulating that our squadron (the 66th) would be detached from the 57th Group) and would fly as part of the RAF in Egypt. Meanwhile we were rudely reminded that we were in the Army, when we had to do rifle practice and everyday chores. In our case, we had never done rifle practice! True! I was at that time in the U.S.Army Air Corps about a year and 8 months, but never issued any weapon until two months ago!

We now had a chance to regain some of the weight we lost during that 33 day cruise in the HMS Pasteur Some of the men made trips to famous parts of the holy land, like Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel-Aviv. Others caught a daily truck to the Mediterranean Sea, 10 Miles away, to frolic and sun bathe on the beach.

On Sept 4th, my two friends, Ceferino Vigil and Lou Lederman and I borrowed the equivalent of a pound sterling ($4.10) and headed for Tel Aviv. We found ourselves in the suburbs, and we were amazed to discover that the majority of the Jews we spoke with could converse with Ceferino and I in Spanish.


Taking our ease in Tel Aviv

Many of the residents of Tel Aviv were descendents of those Hebrews which had been driven out of Spain by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. They were given 3 months ending in August, 1492 to leave the country or they would be put to death by the Inquisition. That month might represent little more than a footnote in history, yet it was famous for another reason. That was the month Christopher Columbus set sail from Palos, Spain on his voyage of discovery of the Americas. Haifa, on the other hand was settled by German Jews and the linguistic flavor there is German, as well as the cuisine and life style.

We found Tel Aviv to be a modern city, and we soon met two New Zealand soldiers, and the five of us walked along the road adjacent to the Sea. As we were promenading, our picture was snapped by a photographer, who promised to develop it as a postal card and mail it for us. I paid him, and months later was told by my brother (home in America) that he received the Postal Card. The front and back of the card are shown here.The front bears the picture, and the back is addressed in Hebrew, stamped by the Censor, and postmarked Sept 4, 1942

We soon squandered our $4.10 and as darkness approached we were still on the Promenade with no place to sleep. We passed a concessionaire who rented out canvas folding beach divans, and in halting dialectal German I implored him to let us use three divans so we could sleep on the beach beneath a large “Pavilion”. He agreed, expressing his thanks for the protection we were providing against the German Army.

So we slept, and around 3 AM we awoke, and we were freezing due to the cool breeze from the Mediterranean Sea at night. A city nearby was being bombed and we had ringside seats to a display of pyrotechnics. We returned to camp the next morning, sorry to have had such a short time to rubberneck!

On Aug 27th an advanced group left Palestine in B-24 Liberators, to set up at Mariut, a suburb of Alexandria Egypt. I was in the party which followed by truck, and we then re-crossed the Sinai Desert on the back of trucks during the hottest time of the year (the high around 135 Degrees, Fahrenheit) .

It was so hot that the tar on the road was melting under the tires of our trucks. Once again we approached the Suez Canal, this time we crossed it over the pontoon highway set up by the British Engineers. It was growing dark as we entered the suburbs of Alexandria, Egypt, and we had to park for the night. Our lead truck pulled off the road at a crossroads, and we all followed. We no sooner stopped when a Scottish Soldier wearing a kilt, called to us from the road saying something like “What the bloody hell do you Yanks think you are doing? You have parked in a Mine Field!"

Fortune apparently had smiled upon us, because none of us had a chance to get off the trucks. He said we should stay on the trucks and they would have sappers mark off a safe road out of the minefield. Somehow we managed to understand him, in spite of the fact that he seemed to be saying “Br Br Br Br” .

They led us out of the field to a safe area for the night. The next day we joined up with the advanced party at Mariut which was a suburb of Alexandria, Egypt. Thus, as of Sept 16th the 66th squadron was reunited and operational as part of the RAF, in the Desert Air Force of the British 8th Army of the Middle East.

So ends Chapter 5 of my wartime memoirs.

Footnote: Today, March 11, 2003 I have just been advised that my old friend and buddy, Lou Lederman passed away. It has saddened me considerably because of the many happy and interesting experiences we enjoyed together. Life goes on -but you always feel you have lost a little of it when something like this happens!

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