Miami Florida
Embarcation Center

12 August 1943

      We were put in one of the famous beach hotels. On the way over I was billetted at the "Floridian" and after combat I was put up in the "Cadillac". They were on Lincoln Boulevard if my memory serves. It cost us 50 cents a day, "striker" fee (room-cleaning).
      I don't remember much about this. I think they posted lists and we were pretty free to go around town.
      I remember Zissen's Bowery. They had an MC with ribald patter. When he saw a pretty young girl ankling toward the restroom, he would stop the show and everybody would chant, "We know where you're going!" in a sing song.
      Another of their shticks was the painting on the wall in the men's room of a nude woman with an appropriately placed "fig leaf". It was separate from the painting and if one lifted it, it rang a gong outside and everybody in the room knew what you had done and was just waiting for you to come out and face the music.
      There were air jets in the floor to create the "Marilyn Monroe effect".
      And then, the more sedate place was the Flagler Gardens. I don't know where we got dates and I don't remember whether any given date was before I went over or after I got back, because I went the same place for reassignment on my return. There was the roving photographer of course and I have pictures of at least two of the dates with Frances Hogan.

      Frances Hogan on the left, Charles E. Dills, unknown and Robert (Bob) Ainsworth.

      More about the Flagler Gardens when I got back from overseas.
      One of my friends had a Miami friend that flew lightplanes, probably a Taylorcraft. We all thought it would be fun to go up. The friend's friend thought it would be interesting to check out the Army Flying Training!
      He let us do the flying from the beginning. I remember the takeoff. We almost crashed because I looked at the airspeed indicator as we left the ground and it said something like 35 mph and it scared hell out of me and momentarily I jammed the stick forward. I realized immediately that it was OK and I flew normally after that. On landing, I remember having trouble losing altitude. The planes we had been flying would drop like a stone if you wished but this light plane wanted to stay up there, so I crabbed and slipped to lose altitude to get it down. The pilot said the three of us flew in amazingly similar fashion.
      We were issued some supplies and when we saw lip ice we knew we were going to the Aleutians. When we got our orders we found out we were heading to Casablanca! As I remember, I left in 12 August 1943 via chartered Eastern Airlines.

Overseas Miami to Casablanca

      Eastern Airlines furnished the pilots under contract to fly military C-46's from Miami to Natal Brasil.
      The first leg was to Borinquen Field in Puerto Rico. We gassed up and left for Georgetown, British Guiana. The field in Georetown was called Atkinson Field. A picture of this field and the upcoming field at Natal Brasil can be found at:

      -----I've just been reading the story of mechanic from another group, telling about his trip back to the US, by air. Our trips were similar. They went from Georgetown British Guiana directly to Borinquen Field, Puerto Rico. So it is reasonable to assume we went directly to Georgetown.-------

      On the first leg to Puertp Rico we thought we saw a submarine and the pilot reported it. We never heard the end of the story.
      We stayed overnight in Georgetown, actually about 40 miles south in the jungle. I got bed 13 but remembering cabin 13 in Basic, I didn't worry. But I was feeling quite strange, first day out of the country, out in the jungle, jungle noises, peculiar bird cries. But I relaxed after hearing a jukebox belt out "Take the A Train to Harlem!"
      We landed at Belem Brasil the next day for gas. The pilot told us that one had to "piss downwind (Excuse me, Gretchen! More about this Red Cross girl when we get to Italy!) to keep from getting gonorrhea in Belem!"
      We took off and flew to Natal that afternoon. The last day and a half we were flying over jungle. As we cruised along there was nothing but trees below. Occasionally we would see a silver streak of a river but only when we were directly above it. It would not have been nice to go down in this stuff. I'm not sure they would ever have been able to find us.
      We spent the next day on the base at Natal. We bought the red mosquito boots that everyone bought here. We got some shots, including the first of two plague shots and were told to get the second one in Casablanca in ten days.
      We left Natal on a military C-87, a converted B-24 and headed toward Africa. Al Jolson was in the plane ahead of us.
      We landed at Rufisque in French West Africa, the airfield about 20 kilometers from Dakar. We met Al Jolson again and he signed our "Short Snorters". Before the war there was a group of people that had personally flown the Atlantic. They called themselves the Short Snorters for whatever reason. They each had a dollar bill, autographed by all the other members. If they went into a bar and were challenged by another member and they didn't have it with them, they had to buy a round of drinks for everyone!
      When the war came everybody adopted the idea (probably ruining it for the "legitimate" members). We settled for being a passenger and we attached a bill from each new place we went. Mine ultimately got to be about six feet long! There was a special dollar bill we used with a gold seal instead of a blue one. It was called an "invasion dollar". It was done so that if a bunch of them fell into the wrong hands, the government would not have to honor them!

      A truck backed up to the door of the airplane and we stepped out directly onto the truck. They were in the midst of their rainy season and as the truck drove away, up to its axles in mud, it left no track behind!
      We got permission to go into Dakar that evening and I have never seen a dirtier place, in every sense. We went into a bar/nightclub and very scantily clad women moved among the tables making obscene invitations. We did not indulge. We had already seen "the movies" and wouldn't touch anything with a ten foot pole!
      We did accept an invitation to a "show". Everything you've heard of was there. One of the two girls approached one of my friends to draw him into the show. He drew his fists back and his mustache bristled and the girl backed off. She did draw one of the local Frenchmen into the show however, with a "Hugh Grant".
      We got on the bus back to the base without incident. The bus left from the "Pro Station" (prophylactic) and if anyone was drunk they were taken inside and given the "treatment", and I'm told it was a painful thing.
      We left Rufisque the next day on a C-47. We couldn't fly over the Spanish Rio de Oro so we had to go out in the desert and go around. We had to land at a place called Tindouf. As far as I could see there was nothing but a very coarse sand. The runway was marked out with white painted rocks. The temperature was 135 deg. F. and the only buildings were what appeared to be a broken down Foreign Legion post. We gassed up, took off and got up to where it was reasonably cool. Temperature drops about 4 1/2 degrees per 1000 feet, called the adiabatic lapse rate. So at 10,000 feet it was 50 deg cooler or about 85 deg F.
      We landed in Marrakech. As I remember we spent the night there but did not go to the Kasbah. We were told it could be dangerous to do so!.
      The next morning we took off for the short flight to Casablanca. How that pilot found the airfield I have no idea. There were NO navigational aids. We flew reasonable straight and then suddenly we let down, did a rather steep turn to the left and broke out of the clouds at the end of the runway. I don't think we were more than several hundred feet above the ground. Amazing!

      I really don't temember a lot about Casablanca. To my way of thinking, any town in America was better than any town overseas!! I think we were there for a couple weeks. Yes, there is no Rick's Place as Cazes (?) Airfield.
      Remember the plague shot in Natal Brasil? Well, after the ten days we went down to the medics to get the second plague shot. When we asked for it, they said, "Plague shot? Why are you asking for that, we don't have any plague here!' And we said, "They gave us the first shot in Natal and told us to get the second shot here in ten days. So we're here!" And they said, "We don't have any plague serum. They must have had a bunch they were trying to get rid of and were just shooting it in everybody that was going by". So much for that. I'm half protected against plague!
      I met a member or a replacement for the 99th Fighter Squadron. That was the first squadron of "colored" pilots. I spoke to him briefly. I came away with the impression of a cultured, well educated man but who seemed reclusive. I heard stories later about the 99th pilots that I simply cannot believe. I might add they were told to me by a "southern" friend.
      I will tell one of them here. He claimed to have heard a conversation while flying. It seems one of the 99th had gone down in the Mediterranean and the other was calling Mayday! He circled overhead and supposedly punched the mike button and said, "Oh Mister Mayday, O Mister Mayday, my buddy's down in the water and he looks mighty cold and wet!" This is complete racist nonsense. Every one of the 99th was an intelligent, informed, educated person with a great feeling of purpose and dedicated to putting their absolutely best foot forward. They knew they were an example and that antagonistc people were watching their every step! There is no way any of them would have come out with a "Stepin Fechit" routine like I just described. They would have done what I would have done. They would have said, "Mayday. Mayday for a friend!" and then would have followed instructions in a quiet, cultured voice.
      I don't remember how I wound up walking around in downtown Casablanca. While walking I came across a theater that was showing "Fantasia". I had wanted to see that for years but the closest it came to Fargo was Minneapolis because of the special speakers that were needed. Being a reasonable fan of classical music it had been a dream of mine to see it. And here it was. So without hesitation I went in. It was late in the afternoon and I got in just after the previous screening. One of the lead-in films was a short subject with a singing cowboy. He was sitting sideways on the edge of a rolling boxcar, strumming the guitar with one leg hanging out. He was singing a western song, IN FRENCH!!! Weird!
      I enjoyed the movie very much. When it was over, all of a sudden there was a lot of racket and I wondered if the building was collapsing. I was on edge of being frightened. Then I became aware that I could see stars overhead. For air conditioning, they simply rolled the roof back!
      After the ten days or two weeks, they gave us a little talk about how to behave in Arab country and put us on a train to Berteaux Algeria!

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