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Serving Uncle Sam: A Military Life in WWll

Gerald Schwartz USAAC (USAAF) 1940 - 1945


Chapter 105: On Our Way! Accidents and Dreadful Diseases. Flying Over Appenines

June 1, 1945 Grosseto, Italy. This morning I and the other 14 men scheduled for transfer to Fano, Italy, boarded a DC-3 transport plane and departed. We could not help feeling elated with the prospect of going home after 3 years overseas. As we discussed this new turn of events in somewhat of an open forum, the realization came to me that I was no longer the same person who boarded the HMS Pasteur in New York Harbor July 15,1942.

For better or worse as our seemingly endless odyssey unfolded year after year, my character had undergone changes so subtle that I was unaware of them. In a combat zone you are just happy to survive one more day. The icing on the cake was to avoid some unforeseen accident as well not to contract some loathsome disease! Lest you think I am exaggerating I will list one incident of 'accident and one of 'disease' below.

Unforseen Accident: While at Alto airfield, Corsica, we lined up 6 P-47s at our end of the field in preparation for a flight. As we taxied them to a stop we spun the plane around so that each plane’s wingtip was about 6 inches from the next plane’s wingtip.

As the crewchief of the last plane shut his engine it backfired and flames engulfed the cowling on the engine. When we saw that the entire plane would shortly be on fire, several of us jumped into our planes, started them up and moved them away from that area, leaving the plane on fire and the one next to it. At this point everyone in the area immediately began racing away from those planes as fast as they could. Why ? Because each plane carried 8 x 50 caliber machine guns and ammunition, 6 x 120 millimeter rockets, and 2 x 500 pound bombs, and we didn’t want to be around when it blew up.

I never ran so fast and far in my life and before I knew it I was running through the camp area of another squadron. I spotted our line chief, Sgt. Beck running to my right and the next moment he fell down. He had been struck in the buttock by a piece from the bolt of one of the machine guns! Fortunately it was not a serious wound, but it provoked a lot of humorous remarks from the men. Poor Sgt. Beck thought he as going to get a purple heart for the wound, and was quite miffed to find out that one only gets as a result of enemy fire!

Loathsome disease:

1) Malaria: You are sick to your stomach all the time. At the onset you have high fever and you have ague. When the symptoms leave after treatment you are not finished with it. It keeps recurring. My friend Al Schoenfield who wrote the book 'The saga of the 66th squadron' spent as much time in hospitals from it as he did at camp. He was eventually sent home so he could get a permanent cure.

2) Amoebic Dysentery: In North Africa we all suffered somewhat from dysentery. It’s symptoms are like diarrhea, however when the amoeba remain in your intestines it does not go away. In addition to the discomfort, it weakens you and could eventually kill you. We had to send several of our men home for a permanent cure because of this.

3) Infectious Hepatitis: I contracted this disease of the liver, while in the Naples area. It was caused in my case by poor sanitary conditions. You constantly feel nauseous, and your skin, eyes and urine turn yellow. The bile runs loose under your skin and you constantly scratch it. A friend and I contracted this disease and we were quarantined in a hut by ourselves for a whole month. We subsided on large cans of fruit juice because the thought of food made us more nauseous! There is no cure for this Liver disease, and the patient either lives or dies!

4) Sandfly Fever: In North Africa this disease is prevalent. It is caused by the bite of a fly so tiny that it passes through the holes in a mosquito net! At first you are afraid you are going to die from it. Later you are afraid you are NOT GOING to die from it! Why ? Because you are afflicted with Diarrhea and vomiting at the same time!

5) Maltese Fever: This results from eating dairy products made from infected Goat’s milk. The symptoms are the same as those for Malaria, however there is no cure for this disease and you either live or die. 6) 7) 8), etc There are some diseases in North Africa that do not even have a name!

I think you see what I meant by “loathsome diseases” !

So we are now flying over the North Apennine mountains en route to Fano on the Adriatic coast, and I am startled to see the wingtips of the plane flapping up and down! I asked the pilot about this and he said that there was always a lot of turbulence when flying over mountain ranges. He said that this flapping of the wingtips would not injure the wings. We landed at Fano airfield without any problems, and were driven to the 379th squadron, 310 bomb group camp area and deposited in the mess hall. There the squadron Commander told us that they were scheduled to go home, and that we would accompany them. This was comforting news! He said their planes were 4 engine bombers but that we were not required to do any work. Just enjoy yourselves he said, see the countryside and take it easy until we leave for home. That sounded pretty good!

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