Charles Everard Dills

Serragia Corsica

      On 18 July, after my 85th mission I flew to Bari Italy to get some maps for the group. The trip was uneventful except that I was becoming aware that I was occasionally dozing while flying.
      I think it was about this time that one of the pilots I'd flown with told me that as we were heading up toward Northern Italy or Southern France that as we flew along, my left wing would begin to lower. The other three ships would keep flying with me and then suddenly my wings would wobble up and down, just slightly as I woke up and tried to re-establish myself. They knew I was dozing off but never said anything until much later.
      Several weeks later somebody in Headquarters had a really stupid idea. They thought that a mission might have to takeoff before dawn or land after sunset sometime and therefore, we should have the whole group undergo some night transition training.
      I was promoted to Captain in the first week of August. I have always considered it a "battlefield" promotion because I was only 5 1/2 months in grade and you are supposed to be six months in grade before you are even recommended. I was very flattered when one of the enlisted men came up to me and said, "I'm glad to see someone get it that really deserved it!" Then he handed me a set of captain's bars he had cut out of sheet aluminum! I wish I still had them!. My first set of real bars were a gift from Capt. Joe Glover, our Engineering Officer. They were so old the silver had been blitzed off! And I wish I still had those!
      Here he is. It's hard to believe he was only four years older than I was, making him about 26! It's true that old men start wars and young men finish them!

      This picture is of a P-47 on Corsica. What squadron it was from I don't know. The picture was sent to me by someone. Unfortunately, I didn't make a note of who sent it.

      I violently opposed what I considered a really stupid idea. I said I wouldn't do it. I had 90 missions at the time so they said that I didn't have to. I told them that it made no sense, that if they were going to kill someone, why not on a mission instead of in a training flight. Why have to tell the parents he was killed in training when they could at least believe he was killed on a mission .
      Corsica was totally blacked out at night to keep from making it easy for a night bombing attack by the Germans. While this was unlikely, it was possible. A B-25 group was totally wiped out in late spring by a bombing attack by Germans that came in with the correct IFF code (Identification, Friend from Foe). This was shortly after they had been wiped out by the eruption of Vesuvius in late March. They abandoned their aircraft and almost everything they had, escaping at 3 AM. I always envisioned them running in their pajamas or skivvies.
      There was no moon and there was a high cloud cover. It was black as the inside of a deep cave. We were very close to the coast so they set up a searchlight at midfield which pointed up at a 45 degree angle at ninety degrees to the runway, out to sea. That was the only light.
      The first person up was to go to 8500' and circle south of the light. The next one was to circle at 8000' north of the light. The next one was at 7500', south side, the next at 7000' north side and so on. This would accommodate about 16 pilots per "mission".
      The first two groups went up and got down safely. So I relented and said, "OK, I'll go too."
      They paid me for my truculence by putting me up first. This meant I would be down last and have spent the greatest time in the air.
      I took off and climbed to my assigned position at 8500' and began circling.
      It was boring but being the top one I had a freedom the ones below did not have. I saw the lights of the plane below me so, in a ridiculous fit of freedom, I went down to make a pass at him. I was very lucky that I was a chicken pilot and aimed a little to the right because I approached him faster than expected and passed by him too closely and too quickly. Night depth perception with only the lights to go by left something to be desired. If I had aimed AT him rather than alongside, I think we would have collided!
      Chastened, I went back to my altitude. It appeared to me that I was just below the clouds so I thought I would go up and find out where they were, so I started to climb. I was passing 11000' when I heard the ground control call the guy at 8000' and they asked him if he knew where the ceiling was.
      He said it was probably about 10,000' since he later told me he looked over and saw my lights and thought it was just above me. Since I was already way above where I was supposed to be I didn't think it would be politic to correct him. Besides it really didn't make any difference where it was as long as it was above us.
      So I kept climbing and finally broke through at 14000'. It was beautiful! I had a bright moon all to myself. It was great. I felt good and so I did some acrobatics. (Stupid!)
      As I was playing around, unaware of the time, I suddenly became aware they were calling me down. Oops! Here I was over 14000' and above the clouds. So I heeled over and dove down through the clouds, looked around and found the searchlight, headed for the field and landed without further incident.
      When I got back in the readyshack I found out that one of the guys had been killed on the landing. He was not coming in right and they shot him a red flare to go around. Unfortunately, the flare went right in front of his canopy and temporarily blinded him. It was common practice to use elevator trim tabs to help keep the nose up at low speeds during landing. The bad part of this is that if you gave it full throttle to go around in a P-47, the nose would rise dramatically. With no horizon to guide him, he rose into a stall, heeled over and hit the ground!
      The last thing I wanted was to be right. I don't remember saying anything about it. I don't think I had to.

      One of the new guys found a motorcycle somewhere and proceeded to travel around, sightseeing I guess. The roads over there were deteriorating on the edge. He got into a situation with traffic and in hugging the edge of the road hit a hole which threw him. He wound up with scratches and abrasions all over his face. We, being young and with a warped sense of humor, tried to make him laugh as often as possible because it hurt!!! We were just a bit, evil!

Part Seven

      One day someone complained to me about a tall tree just off the end of the runway that they thought might cause trouble. It was on the right side of the flight path on taking off. The runway was rather shorter than we would have liked and with two 1000# bombs, takeoffs were a bit hairy.
      So I went and found a nearby group of Engineers and asked if they would cut the tree down immediately, that it was a hazard to takeoffs. They agreed and I said it should be down by the mission around 7 AM the next day and they agreed.
      The next morning the early mission got off all right.
      Later, around 9 or 10, one of our pilots, Don Urquhart, was going to do his first flight in a P-47. He had been on 30 day leave in the States and had just returned. This meant he had not flown for probably ninety days and we had a different airplane when he got back.
      He taxied to the runway, checked the engine and after clearance by the tower he took off.
      A few minutes later the tower called and said there had been an accident. I rushed down and they told me that he had taken off normally and passed midfield in the air, climbing. They looked back to the beginning of the runway to see if there was more traffic. When they looked back he was not to be seen but there was a black plume of smoke just beyond the end of the runway.
      One of the worst chores I had over there was the investigation of this accident.
      I walked into the woods at the end of the runway and soon came upon some Plexiglas. This had to be from the canopy. Then I began to find small pieces of the airplane that had numbered access panels. These later proved to be from the wrong side of the airplane. The engine had come off and it bounced seven times, leaving an accessory every time it hit.
      When I came to what was left of the fuselage only the forward half remained, upside down and facing the direction it came from, wheels still down.
      I did the best I could with the lack of experience I had in this sort of thing, but I think I was able to decipher what happened. He was killed by some desk jockey back in the States that was afraid someone might pull up the gear handle when they were on the ground. So they put on a special latch to keep this from happening. I've mentioned before the idea that when a P-47 was going slow, its nose was high and if you poured the coal to it, the nose would rise and if unchecked could result in a low altitude stall and inevitably a crash. One could theoretically trim this out but that was dangerous as the plane picked up speed. So most pilots took off using a lot of back pressure on the stick.
      My conclusion, he took off normally and in midfield started to pull up the gear handle without pushing the lock out of the way. The lock jammed the handle and he looked down to see what was wrong. When he did that, he probably let up very slightly on the back pressure on the stick and the plane leveled off, not yet clear of the woods. His right wing hit that tall tree and flipped him on his back and he went into the ground at a shallow angle, full throttle, probably at least 200 mph. I suppose I should have found the Engineers and gotten someone court-martialed. But that wasn't my way. It would not have brought Don back and the tree was now shorter.

      We had trouble getting any ice and that was a real problem for the bar in the recreation tent! So the mechanics figured a way to take a 150 gal external fuel tank apart and the fit a gasket and bolt it back together so it would hold water. Then we sent one of the new boys that needed the altitude practice up to 25000 feet for an hour with the tank half full of water. It was mounted on the belly and when he came down the exhaust from the turbosupercharger had melted the ice. So they made a second one, mounted them on the bombracks and sent him up to 25000 feet again. This time he came back with about 200 pounds of ice.

      I flew my last mission on 17 August 1944, D-Day +2 in Southern France. It was an eight plane area sweep in Southern France. I was leading the second flight of four. We flew from Corsica to Southern France over a good bit of water. We crossed the invasion fleet at altitude and then descended to a several thousand feet as we looked for "targets of opportunity". All of a sudden we started getting a lot of flak (antiaircraft fire) and it drove the two flights apart. They circled to the left and we went to the right in a large arc. When we had completed about 180 degrees I saw an airfield down below. I waggled my wings to get the flight in trail (in single file) and then dove a mile or two to the east of the target field as though after something else. When we got down to the deck I turned ninety degrees to the right toward the airfield. As I approached the field I saw planes were already smoking. That's when I tumbled to the location of the other flight. They had just straffed the field and the gunners were on their guns and waiting for us. I stayed under a hundred feet, hit the gun trigger and kicked the rudder back and forth to spray the field with bullets. I stayed low for over a mile past the field. My wingman followed me and escaped unharmed. The element leader made a serious mistake and climbed to several hundred feet and his plane got hit. His wingman totally blew it and pulled up in a steep curving climb to the right. This is the absolute worst thing he could have done. He lost speed and they just walked up his tail and shot him down. His plane stalled, flipped into a spin and did about one turn before hitting the ground. We saw his chute open and then collapse almost immediately. It must have opened almost at the time he hit the ground. We flew over there and saw the white chute gather itself into a ball and stuff itself in the hedge. We couldn't see him but figured he was all right. We circled the area to intercept anyone going in his direction. I strafed a motorcyle that was heading his way and then climbed to 4500 feet and headed for the beachhead that had an emergency field.
      I didn't know how badly the element leader's plane was damaged. His radio had been hit so he could not transmit.
      We went over the emergency field and I pointed down and he shook his head. So we headed out over the fleet with our fingers crossed, hoping their aircraft recognition courses would be effective. They let us go by without incident and when we got past the fleet we let out a relieved breath and I set a course of 120 degrees for Corsica. This wasn't exactly the course we had approached on so it was a bit of an educated guess. It couldn't be too far off of course but after all, Corsica was an island. It would be possible to miss it. I figured the damage on the element leader's plane would probably mean that he was using more than normal fuel so I didn't want to waste any time getting him back.
      About halfway to Corsica I thought I should check with a controller to make sure we were on the right course. I switched to channel D and called for a fix. The answer told me to tranmit for a fix which I did, counting to ten. He came back telling me to steer 220 degrees! Being well trained to follow instructions, we did. This implied that we had already passed Corsica. This didn't seem possible so I switched to channel C and called "Grassy Hill" at the tip of Cape Corse, the peninsula that sticks out of the northeast corner of the island. I transmitted for a fix and he told me to steer 90 degrees to the tip of Cape Corse and that we were sixty miles out.. Since our field was 30 miles south and at sixty miles, each mile is one degree, I added 30 to the 90 degrees and came back to my original 120 degree course. We landed safely and went in to debriefing. Toward the end of the debriefing, the intelligence officer and I went to the map to figure out where we had been. Then we took the back azimuth (40 degrees) from that point and it led back to Genoa, then in German hands. We decided that I must have been talking to a German and that if I had followed his instructions we would have run out of gas in the middle of the Mediterranean!
      On the way into the debriefing I passed Major Hugh Cameron, the Group Executive Officer. I said to him, "I don't know if you know it or not, but that's the last time I'm going up there." He said, "OK, tell it to the Colonel." I had 94 missions by then and realized I was putting my people in jeopardy because I was tired, shot, pooped out and a hazard to fly with.

      My number 4 man was Flight Officer Alfred A. Nelson. We found out later, when he returned, that he had been picked up by the Maquis and taken to a camp in the mountains.
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      He told us a little about this experience. He said the women would come up from a village at sunset with whatever food and armament they had managed to acquire. One of the men came over to him, meaning to honor the American pilot, and said to him, "Zis woman, she will stay with you zis night!" He was red as a beet when he told us and would not elaborate further! This was his sixth mission and my 94th.
      Since he had been in contact with the Maquis he was sent home rather than take a chance that he might go down later, be captured and be forced to betray them.
      As a matter of fact we went back to the US on the same boat, several weeks later. Between us we averaged fifty missions!
      A photographer was visiting our base in Southern France. So, it was decided to give her a photo-op with a medal presentation ceremony. I was to get an Air Medal. I have a picture of Col. Mack trying to pin it on me, He was having trouble so I looked down just as she snapped. We had different hats on. He had a grease spot on his. And neither of us had ties. And yet we thought we were spiffed up!

Le Luc/Salon So. France

      I was now grounded but didn't have any orders sending me home yet. So I just went with the group until the orders came through. We first went to Le Luc in Provence. We then went very soon to a field in Salon, also in Provence.
      The barracks had been left by the Germans and was built half in and half out of a vineyard. It seemed the Germans didn't care about such things.
      I was having a lot of trouble sleeping and I would lie there watching the moon rise. And probably around 2 AM I would get up, go out into the vineyard and pick a large bunch of the most beautiful, large, yellow grapes I've ever seen. I remember them as being seedless. So one could pop them into their mouth, one after the other. They were great.
      It was tough flying from this dirt field. The dust was incredible. The first plane had no problem. The rest of the takeoffs were in the blind! We even had to have crew chiefs with goggles sit on the wing to direct the pilot when taxiing to the runway. When we asked why we didn't oil the runway or something we were told that we couldn't because the people wouldn't let us. "It would ruin the land for five years!" I think we were very lucky not to lose someone here. This is one in a litany of things that make France unattractive to me.

      One day I was in a command car, driving around the perimeter track and for some reason an old French farmer waved us down. We had no idea whether to be worried or not. He spoke no English and we spoke no French. He just picked up a box he had, reached over and dumped it in the back seat. They were beautiful, ripe cantaloupes. They were great.

      A number of us got into a jeep one day and drove to a stream nearby to swim and wash our clothes. We got there, went out on a large rock at the water's edge, took off our clothes and washed them. Then we went into the water for a swim. A short swim, that is. The water was freezing cold and we realized then that this stream came right out of some pretty good mountains.

      Somewhere about this time I managed to get six coins, the three lowest denominations. Three were the the orginal French brass coins, the other three were the gray potmetal German occupation equivalents. Where the French coins said, "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", the occupation coins said "Work, Family, Fatherland", in German of course! I regret that I apparently have lost them.

      We had some opportunity to go into town to a bar. The bartender spoke no English and I had only my highschool French. But I did get a couple stories from him. He told me that the Germans turned the whole town out to help them bury mines. They all helped willingly. And then when the Germans were gone, they went out and dug them all up. And then there was the time they tied one of the Frenchmen to a tree, made cuts in his arm, rubbed sugar into the cuts and left him there with the ants and probably, flies!

      We weren't the only ones that went to town. One of our pilots, Harry Murphy, went to town with the Pratt and Whitney representative. They apparently had a good bit to drink and on the way back to the base they were going too fast and he missed a turn. They all went flying through the air and the big Harley-Davidson motorcycle landed on top of Harry and killed him. He had about 66 missions at the time. His friend, Tom Reynolds, also from "Lon Gisland" (They pronounce it as if the =g= went with island), had gone home a short time before. When he arrived, he went over to Harry's home and said that he had just left Harry in Corsica and everything was going OK and he should be home soon. Then they told them about the telegram.

      One day we were honored with a visit from a supposedly famous photographer. I prefer to think it was Margaret Bourke-White but I don't really believe it was. She wanted some photographs so, after consultation with some (not me), it was decided to have an "awards ceremony". We cleaned an area in front of the hangar, set up a table and got out there in our "finery". I was due for an Air Medal so I was in the lineup. I don't know what other pictures she took but she got one of Col. Mack pinning an Air Medal on me. I was at the usual rigid attention but Col. Mack was taking a very long time to pin it on. So momentarily, I Iooked down to see what was going on and SNAP, she took the picture. Looking at it now, one can appreciate the depths of sartorial depravity we had sunk too. I had a "50 mission" crush cap. Col. Mack wore a garrison cap and it had an oil spot about the size of a silver dollar. Neither of us had a tie on. I know I didn't even own one at that time. I found that out in Fort Snelling, St. Paul MN when I returned.

      I finally got my return orders which sent me to Naples.


      I don't remember much here either. I think I was not in very good shape, physically. I can't remember who was with me, but we just puttered around, not doing much beside checking every day for our shipment orders.
      One evening someone had transportation so we went up to a night club, the Giardino degli Aranci (Orange Garden) high on the ridge to the northside of town. What a view! And there was Vesuvius with that little red glow at the top. As we were going in across the cobbled driveway we were greeted by a peculiar sight. A pilot, like any of us, in his dress uniform we called "Greens" was spreadeagled over the hood of a Jeep and several friends were working on his crotch with a pair of pliers. We went over to see what was going on. It turned out he had been to the bathroom and then couldn't get his zipper back up. His friends were simply trying to close his fly!
      After a couple weeks, our orders came through to board the Athos II and go to New York. I remember carrying my barracks bag and other stuff up a wooden walkway in the harbor laid over the side of sunken submarine. It was being used as a dock. As I remember my compartment was considerably below deck. Bunks were everywhere. I believe there were four tiers. What I remember is G5 but that could be wildly off. In any case, the boat was jammed. There were refugees from the prison camps in Romania. They were mostly survivors of raids on Ploesti.
      Lo and behold, there was Sol Abrams. He had washed out of advanced flying school at Craig Field and then gone to navigator school. And now he was going home on the same boat with me. These refugees were addicted to bridge which they had taken up in prison camp. They seemed to play day and night.
      I was told their prison camp was between two military objectives so they didn't know whether to cheer or not when the bombers came. They claimed to have spoken with some of the Romanian fighter pilots, some of which were the most feared in Europe. They supposedly said that if they saw most fighters, they would attack. if they saw P-38's and were on equal or better terms they would attack. But if the P-51's had already seen them, they could not escape.

      I was the "procurement person" for our compartment. This meant that everybody would give me an amount of money and then I would take a list up to the "PX" on the boat, buy what everybody wanted and bring it to them. I think I came out almost even, perhaps a few dollars ahead.
      The ship was so crammed that they could only serve two meals a day. As I remember, ours were at about 10 AM and about 4 PM. We went through a line and then brought our trays into the "eating room". There were long elevated planks mounted on pipes. No chairs. We ate standing up. We had an alloted time so we ate in a hurry and got out of there to make way for the next group. In retrospect, I think they did a great job of feeding a thousand people twice a day under very primitive conditions.
      There were about six of us that were being returned from active combat, most were from the prison camps. None of the flight personnel got seasick to the best of my knowledge. A few hung over the side at one time or another but they were all ground personnel.

      We were in a convoy and the trip was rather uneventful although I have to admit we were always a little nervous.
      We had a pretty good storm once and I remember a flattop (probably one of the minis) ahead that looked to me like it was loaded wrong. The prow would come down to the horizon, was level, and then would pitch so that it looked like we could see the whole deck, almost vertical. This of course couldn't be but it seemed like it.

      We left Naples on 13 September 1944 and arrived in New York in 26 September. I remember seeing the grand old lady in the harbor. Our compartment was designated to clean up our deck. So we worked while everybody else was leaving. We were almost the last ones off the boat. It was about 10 or 11PM as I remember.The Red Cross people were there at the gang plank. All they had left was a little bag of shelled peanuts.

      They put us on a train, took us over to Camp Shanks, New Jersey. We must have gone through a tunnel because it was on the other side of the Hudson River.
      When we got there about midnight, we were taken to a nurse's mess hall. They were waiting for us and we grabbed a tray and started down the line. I hadn't seen food like this for fourteen months. I was goggle-eyed. They threw everything on our trays, like Thanksgiving.
      A guy ahead of me just stood there when they put a steak on his tray. He just stood there looking at it and the girl behind the counter smiled at him and said, "Want another?" he shook his head and went on to the pie and cake line!
      I suppose that was the finest meal I ever had in my life, mostly of course due to the contrast.

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