Chapter 76: Barely Making Take-Off. Trip to Italy. Recruiting Barbers. A Busy Day! 66 Fighter Group Record Corsica
Sept 16, 1944 Alto, Corsica.
We went right to the flying line after breakfast this morning. All of the planes in 'A' Flight are in flying status, so I slept most of the morning under the parachute trailer. We had only one flight this morning, dive bombing and strafing motor transport and trains in the Po Valley. In the afternoon, I took care of plane no. 76.
It flew once on a dive bombing mission in Northern Italy. I hear that we are going to move tomorrow! We have to hang wing tanks on the planes before they leave. I also hear that the fellows who left us a while ago on the B-29 deal, arrived back in the U.S.A. They will be sent to a heavy bomb outfit, for operations in Asia.
Pat Malone has been sick all day, no doubt with some kind of virus. After supper we had to go back to the flying line to service the planes. Then we had to replace three of the wing tanks because they were leaking. By the time we got back to our camp area it was 9.30 so I took a dip in the stream and packed my bags in preparation for tomorrow’s move to Italy.
Sept 17, 1944 Alto, Corsica. We mounted one mission this morning, dive bombing and strafing trains and motor transport in the Po Valley, in which two of the planes were shot-up by 20 millimeter fire. We flew one more mission at 1.00 PM (same targets as this morning’s flight). When they returned, we hung wing tanks on all the ships. Even the pilots were helping us with this chore.
There are colored engineers grading the entire field and building revetments, no doubt for the heavy bombers that will replace us. At 2.00 PM all the planes left for the new airfield in Italy. We then went back to Camp and packed. I took a last dip in the stream and washed up. We folded up our tent, loaded it onto a truck with our personal effects,
and drove to Group Operations where a B-26 medium bomber was awaiting us.
We six crew chiefs,( I, Schnabel, Raica, Friedman, and Nick) loaded our effects on the plane and we took right off. When we passed the mid-point on the runway our wheels had not yet started to retract. The plane finally staggered into the air, and turned toward Italy. The pilot came back to where we were perched on our baggage and said “What in hell did you guys load on the plane? We don’t use this much runway with a full bomb load on take-off." I said “All we loaded was our tent and personal effects, and things that we picked up during the past two years in our travels”. He left, muttering to himself!
We shortly passed over the island of Elba, enroute to the Italian mainland, and arrived at the new airfield in a half hour. This plane is a 2-engine medium bomber with short gull shaped wings, and it is frequently referred to as the 'widow maker'. The reason for this name? Due to its small wing surface it is not a forgiving airplane and its safety record is not too good. The plane made a nice landing, with the wheels touching down at 160 miles per hour. The field is quite sandy, and operation- wise it will no doubt become a hell-hole! I am to sleep in my friend Ceferino Vigil’s tent tonight. We cooked up some cocoa and went to bed at 120.00 PM.
Sept 18, 1944. Grosseto, Italy.
We ('B' Party) had the day off today so after breakfast I went back to my tent,
caught upon some correspondence, studied Italian, and slept for a while. In the afternoon, two Italian men came by and said they were barbers and did anyone in our tent speak Italian?. I conversed with them and discovered that they were looking to ply their trade in our squadron.
I took them over to Ist Sgt. Pettit’s tent, who said that they would be the new squadron’s barbers! Accordingly we sent a truck to their shop in Grosseto to retrieve a barber’s chair. This afternoon, the scrounging truck we had previously sent to the city of Florence, returned loaded down with furniture that they had 'liberated'. They said the truck was shelled several times on the way back to camp; leading us to believe that possibly the area is not as safe as we had thought.
After supper, I put on my 'Class A' uniform, and Ceferino, Steve, Pat, Lt. Knopf, Schnabel, Duchon, and Stripling took off in our Flight Truck to Castiglione. There we drank a lot of wine, met some girls, and made a date for tomorrow evening. As usual I found myself having to do all the translating for the fellows, and although it keeps me quite busy, I do get a kick out of it.
They introduced Schnabel and me to their folks. We sang a lot of Italian songs with some people we met in the street, and generally carried on in this manner until 1.00 AM. We then took off back to camp, and cooked up some C rations and eggs. We brewed coffee and had some bread with it. We then killed a couple of bottles of beer, and went to bed. All in all I found it to be an enjoyable day !
So ends part 76 of my wartime memoirs.
FROM THE SIX MONTHS RECORDS OF THE WAR DIARY OF THE 66TH FIGHTER SQUADRON IN CORSICA DURING WORLD WAR 11
PILOTS LISTED AS KILLED IN ACTION
Capt Robert C Schuren, 2nd Lt. James Carrick,Jr., F/officer Julius H. Coburn Jr., 2nd Lt. William C Burt., 2nd Ltd. James R.Lord, 2nd Lt. Howard.W.Cleveland, 2nd Lt. Robert F.Bittner.
PILOTS REPORTED AS MISSING IN ACTION
Ist. Lt. Robert J Hunter, 2nd Lt. Robert H Gains, 2nd Lt. Thomas R.May, Ist Lt. William H Dickinson, 2nd Lt. Mervin J Hitchcock, 2nd Lt. Gordon H Jones, Capt Roy C. Emerson.
PILOTS REPORTED MISSING AND RETURNED
2nd Lt. Robert H Gains, 2nd Lt. Thomas R.May, 2nd Lt. Charlie W Turner,
2nd Lt. George F.Deckert.
PILOTS REPORTED MISSING, THEN BECAME PRISONER OF WAR
2nd Lt. Mervin J Hitchcock