Chapter 77: Buying a Barber's Chair. Rain and More Rain. Hotel California in Rome and Romance.
Sept 19,1944 Grosetto, Italy. Gene Schnabel and I were given the day off today, so we put on our 'Class A' uniforms and decided to go to Grosetto for the day. First Sgt. Pettis said we could take the jeep and purchase a barber's chair. We walked up and down the streets but found nothing to buy except post cards.
We had our pictures taken at a studio, then wandered about seeking female companionship. I met a cute brunette at the National Italian Party headquarters and made a date for the day after tomorrow. We bought a collar and chain for Schnabel’s dog Swazi. We met a couple of Italian infantry soldiers and had lunch with them. We sang Italian songs for two hours as we wandered about.
We hitch hiked back to the airfield at 4.00 PM. All the officers in our group now live in bungalows on the beach, only a few miles away. It rained intermittently after dinner. We played casino and solitaire, too tired to go out tonight. We drank a few beers and with nothing else to do, went to bed at 11.00 PM.
Sept 20, 1944 It rained all last night, and partially soaked my sleeping bag. I was spared a further soaking by virtue of my officer's sleeping bag. Sgt. Podraza called group operations to see if we were released from operations due to the bad weather, and he was told Yes. Furthermore, they said they did not want anyone driving trucks or cars near the flying line because it would ruin the taxi strips. So we took off for our tents and spent the morning playing casino. I won three bottles of beer from Dellavolpe.
It rained all day so we played solitaire in the afternoon also. Our tent leaks like a sieve and we have to move our beds around constantly to keep them dry. I played solitaire with Duchon, and came out even. I borrowed Clark’s primus stove and we brewed up some coffee. I took my laundry across the road to a farmhouse, and with nothing else to do, went to bed t 9.30 PM.
Sept 21, 1944. This morning the rain finally stopped and the sun came out. It was a beautiful sight indeed after two days of heavy rainfall. Sonen came by my tent after breakfast and suggested we hitch hike to Rome for the day, saying it is only 4 hours away by road (with good luck)! Accordingly, we put on some good clothes, and checked out at the orderly room with First Sgt. Pettis. Of course he doesn’t know we intend to go as far away as Rome. We would be pretty safe if we had to overstay a day in Rome because it is a cinch the field will not be serviceable for at least two more days.
We made it to Rome in four and a half hours, stopping off for lunch at an MP outfit, and reached Rome at 2.00 PM. We passed through part of the Vatican City and got off at the center of town. Rome is spread out over a large area, and what impresses you the most are the many beautiful churches, cathedrals, and municipal buildings.
We did not have much time for shopping upon arrival, because we immediately found a couple of nice looking girls and were occupied with them for several hours before finding a double room at the Hotel California where we spent the night. I do not have to apologize for the various romantic interludes I enjoyed while in the military, since I was unmarried. I cannot say the same for some of my friends who were married; however I do not believe their wives really expected them to be celibate for more than two years!
Sept 22,1944. After breakfast at a café we started to leave town. This turned out to be a formidable task, because we had to take bus after bus, as well as trolley cars for two hours before reaching the outskirts of town at Route 1. We caught a ride on a jeep and were making good time until the engine blew a gasket. We then caught a ride in another jeep, this one occupied by Chaplain Captain, who strangely enough was looking for the 57th fighter group.
He was surprised and happy to find out that we were going there also. The driver kept the speed at 60 MPH and in three and a half hours we arrived back at camp at 12.00 Noon. We had lunch and as we expected, nobody said a word about our overstaying our leave.
Since we have been away, the squadron received 7 new men, and 5 of them are on the flying line right now. Woody, Dellavolpe and I together with two of the new men, put up our old tent. After scrounging a bunch of good electric wire, we put up our lights. The 64th Squadron moved down to the beach today.
Tomorrow is 'shoe salvage' and I will turn in a pair of GI Shoes and receive a new pair. We sat around chatting with the new men, and brewed up coffee. I would sure like to get a 3 or 5 day pass in Rome because I now know where to go and what to do in order to have a great time.
Speaking Italian as well as I do now, I had no trouble getting along with the Romans. It was only when they spoke with a particular dialect (such as Neopolitan) that I had trouble understanding them. In that case I would ask them to speak with the Roman dialect. Regardless of their origin, the Italians had no problem understanding me, because I always tried to pronounce clearly.
So ends part 77 of my wartime memoirs.