Chapter 100: Bombing Brenner Pass. Request Transfer to Translators. Depression and Lethargy. Charles Leaf Flies 200th Mission. Nearly Caught by MPs.
Jan 4,1945 Grosseto, Italy. Engineering finished repairing my plane this morning, so I taxied it over to my parking area. The plane flew one mission in the morning for tow and a half hours and returned OK, except for a few small oil leaks. In the afternoon Lt. Swanson flew it for another two and a half hours. Today we flew 32 sorties, dive bombing in the Brenner Pass (Alps). Tomorrow we have to turn in our rifles. Surles just returned from a visit to Castiglione and he brought back a couple of wild geese. I don’t know when we will get around to cooking them.
Jan 5,1945 I put 5 more hours of work on my plane today. Tomorrow I will pull a 10 hour inspection on the engine. It is bitter cold today and a half inch coating of ice on everything, which made things miserable for all. We are supposed to have an inspection tomorrow, so we cleaned up our room and rifles tonight. Ceferino, Wallace and I went to an Italian movie tonight. I was able to understand most of what was said, which made for an enjoyable evening. Major Leaf made up a 4 plane mission this afternoon in the rain and they took pictures with the K-25 cameras. Capt Skorpowski was on the mission and he told me all about it.
We returned to our camp area completely water-soaked from the constant downpour. Ceferino Vigil and I requested permission from the First Sergeant to speak with our executive officer (a Major). When we met with him we requested permission to become translators in either Spanish or Italian. He said that he would help us if it were possible. Both Ceferino (my best friend) and I are quite fed up with our current life style and would appreciate a change. We both are experiencing a sort of used-up feeling, similar to melancholia, or depression. We are after all human, and our environment has a lot to do with our mental state.
Feb 21,1945 Grosseto, Italy. Much time has elapsed since my last diary entry. My failure to maintain this diary seems to stem from loss of ambition and restlessness, which feelings are shared by all of us. You can judge the depth of my depression by the fact that I have not even felt like continuing my studies of Spanish and Italian! I now seem to be emerging from that depressed state somewhat and I take a Spanish or Italian book to the flying line with me daily so I can study between flights. Ceferino frequently helps me with Spanish grammar as well as well as teaching me Spanish songs and jokes.
About three weeks ago I had a falling-out with Carl Volter (our flight chief). During a weekly personal inspection I was found to have caked mud on the canvas cover of my water canteen, and I was gigged for it. I had to be admonished by Major Van-Slyke, As punishment I had to mop four floors in our building, so it did not turn out too bad! He is trying to make us over into a 'Stateside' outfit, with all the nit-picking that goes with it. The holding of a weekly personal inspection of airplane ground crews who are remote from the line of battle is nonsensical under normal circumstances.
Furthermore, to require it from them after two and a half years of combat duty is asinine. There is a rumor circulating that he is to be sent home on permanent rotation. Everyone hopes it’s true. My pilot, Lt. Mayberry is back from the hospital and ready to fly combat missions again. Rumor has it that we will go on an 11 day boat trip points unknown!
During the month of February, Lt. Col Charles Leaf flew his two hundredth mission. This is the greatest number flown by any pilot in the 57th group, and is one of the highest records in this theater of war. On this mission he dive-bombed and destroyed a railroad bridge near Cittadella. Capt. R.L.Johnson was credited with destroying 16 of the enemy’s depleted reserve of locomotives. On several occasions our squadron escorted medium bombers deep into Austria. Despite the distance to the target and back, we never lost one of the bombers we were escorting! We mounted 4 or 5 missions a day in a mechanical monotony, and everyone hoped that the Allied spring offensive would start soon. Our squadron organized a basketball team and it was so successful that we went on to finish high among the winners in the North Italy League
Feb 23,1945 Grosseto, Italy. I worked on my plane all day today. Fred Neff helped me pull a 200 hour inspection on it. So far I have changed the artificial horizon instrument, a set of spark plugs and two oil coolers. The war news is good! We hear that the Ist, 3rd and 9th Armies are advancing, as well as the Russians. I received two letters in the mail today from brother Murray. Last night Stripling and I were caught in an unauthorized place by MP’s. However we bailed out of a window. Climbed over a 9 foot wall and took off. 6 GI’s and 3 officers were not as enterprising and they would up in jail!
I believe they will be fined $25.00 each. It looks like I will be in Italy for another year or so! I have no chance of going home because it is obvious that our commanders do not want to replace us with inexperienced ground crews! For 2 cents I’d get married here to some nice Italian lady and settle down here. Four men in our outfit have already married women here in Grosseto and in nearby Castiglione! The days are getting longer and so are our hours of work. I hope the war ends before May because I do not know if I could go another all-out summer here without going off my rocker!