Chapter 75: Singing the Night Away! Bombing Po Valley. My Pilot Killed. Liberating a Hogshead. Crazy Antics. Indian White's Knife Play.
Sept 13 1944 Alto, Corsica. Today was a typical day for us. We flew two flights in the morning and two in the afternoon. They dive bombed and strafed motor transport in the Po valley.
At night, Schnabel, Scardino, Coyle, and Czuszicky built a big wood fire and invited me to come over and drink their cognac. We all got potted and sang songs until we got hoarse. Then we staggered off to bed amid curses from everybody in the camp area that our singing kept awake! I thought 'to heck with them! They make enough noise themselves!'
Sept 14th, 1944 Alto, Corsica. A busy day today! The first mission was at 11 AM (an armed reconnaissance) in which they patrolled the entire Po Valley, dive-bombed and strafed motor transport on the road. My ship came back from this mission O.K. according to the pilot, Lt. Mayberry. I did some maintenance on my plane and washed it.
We mounted a 3.30 PM flight, and I taxied plane No. 76 to the line for another mission similar to the one this morning over the Po Valley. We had an accident while the planes were being taxied out for the last mission. The mechanic taxiing Plane 64 (a Chinese American named Sgt. Pang) taxied into the rear of Glickman’s plane No. 80 and chewed up the tail section! We towed it to the engineering dispersal area and started to change the rudder and horizontal stabilizer.
Sgt. Volter took the afternoon off and flew via our B-25 to our 'A' Party camp at Grosseto to see how they are making out. In Chapter 74 I mentioned that our intelligence told us our 'A' Party should have gotten aboard an LST (Landing Ship Tank) at Calvi, Corsica Sept 9th for the trip to our new airfield in Northern Italy. The details of their trip can be found on page 232 of Al Schoenfield’s book 'The Saga of the Exterminators Squadron', as well as an account of those events provided by Louis Lederman (a good friend of mine, now departed).
They left Calvi, Corsica at 0130 hours the morning of Sept 10th on an American LST. After an uneventful trip the ship discharged our people and equipment at the beach of Piombino, Italy. They then drove to our new airfield at Ombrone (outside of Grosseto). The field was farmland, about one mile from our new camp area. It was dark when they arrived, so the convoy stopped in a field and everybody slept on the trucks.
Sept 15, 1944. Alto. Corsica. My plane (No.73) flew on an 8 plane dive bombing mission over Northern Italy at 8.00 AM. I hung around the Operations trailer and when they returned and circled the field preparatory to landing I received a shock! My plane was not among them. It had been shot down while strafing a troop train and the pilot (Capt. Bell) was killed. He was a fine pilot and well liked by the other pilots as well as the ground crews.
We were released from duty at 3.00 PM, so I went to Schnabel’s tent and we made a soup and canned corned beef snack. At 5.30, I, Gene Schnabel, Greg, Pat, Lt. Knopf, Ceferino Vigil and 'Indian' White got into our Fiat truck and headed for Bastia for some fun. After a wild ride we arrived there and quickly found a bistro with tables out on the sidewalk.
After settling in we proceeded to consume large quantities of cognac, cape brandy, and wine. It didn’t take very long for Pat to become tipsy and sick to his stomach. I discovered that there was a casino around the corner, and the sign in front saying that it was out of bounds did not deter me. I was enjoying the services they offered when I heard several of my friends caught by MP’s when they tried to enter. I knew the place was being raided, so I slipped out of a 2nd story window, and climbed down the drain pipe.
I then rejoined my friends at our table in front of the bistro. After an hour, Lt. Knopf and Greg showed up and told us that they were arrested and taken to the Provost Marshal. They had argued with him for an hour and finally convinced him that we were on orders to depart for Italy in the morning. He relented and released them with a warning.
We noticed a 100 gallon hogshead of wine leaning against the front of the bistro, and 'Indian' White said let’s 'liberate' it. So with great effort we managed to load it onto the back of the truck, and we took off like a scalded cat! On the way out of town we passed an Officers Club. The entrance led down a flight of stairs with a landing, and then another flight of stairs. Feeling a bit frivolous we went down and stood at the bar with some pilots.
Before long we were discussing various aerial maneuvers with them, using our hands to as the wings of the plane. The pilots assumed we were pilots in mufti since we were in the Officers Club, not withstanding our mixed up clothing. We had been in continuous combat for over two years without the benefit of supplies from the American Quartermaster Corps, and we wore a mixture of British battle dress, American army issue and civilian clothes.
We justified our actions by telling ourselves that after all, we did not claim to be officers. It was not hard for us to talk like pilots, having heard our pilots talk about these things for the last two years.
Wearying of the game we decided to leave, and as we reached the landing half way up the stairs we noticed several pieces of furniture there. We saw a nice settee and an easy chair just sitting there. We couldn’t help thinking how nice they would fit in at our Enlisted men’s day room. So we carried them upstairs loaded them on the truck, and got out of there fast!
The road home ran alongside a cliff leading down to the Mediterranean, so after a while Indian' White said, let’s tap the hogshead of wine and have some. We stopped the truck, removed the bung from the barrel, and discovered that we had 'liberated' an empty barrel! Disgusted, we rolled it off the truck and down the cliff and watched it bounce merrily before landing in the sea.
As we continued the trip home, I sat in the cab with Ceferino and Schnabel. Every so often a knife blade would pierce the roof and extend down 6 inches or so. Ceferino told me “That’s 'Indian' White up to his old tricks”. When I asked why he did that, Ceferino said that White was a full blooded Arrowhead Indian and when Indians drink liquor they do crazy things. We got back to camp around 2 AM and considered the trip a success!
So ends part 75 of my wartime memoirs.