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Serving Uncle Sam: A Military Life in WWll

Gerald Schwartz USAAC (USAAF) 1940 - 1945


Chapter 110: Brazil Suriname. Piranhas. My Guns. British Guiana. Puerto Rico. USA At Last!

Aug 20,1945 Belem, Brazil This morning we boarded a DC-3 transport and were on our way again, this time headed for Georgetown, British Guiana. After an uneventful 7 hour flight we landed at Georgetown. This small country is a British Colony on the Northern coast of South America. The area was originally settled by the Dutch as the colonies of Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo, then captured by the British in 1796 and consolidated into a single colony in 1831.

On the East Coast is Suriname, while its southern border touches Brazil. The Western border is against Brazil and Argentina. There is a cultivated coastal plane and a forested hilly interior. The climate is hot and humid and the rainfall is heavy. Most of the population lives along the coast. About half the people trace their ancestry to India, and the rest are of African, mixed, or indigenous descent. English, Hindi, Urdu, and various other dialects are spoken. Christianity and Hinduism are the main religions.

In the afternoon we took a boat trip with a small boat on the Essequibo River which flows through the center of the country. One of us was dragging his hand in the water and the guide told him that it wasn't a good idea. When asked why, he said the river was full of Piranha fish and he would surely lose a couple of fingers if he dragged his hand in the water! This fish is carnivorous and will attack any person or animal. When you look at one up close you see that it is basically a large tooth-filled mouth attached to a tiny body!

The topography is similar to that of Brazil, meaning that it is lush and green. We look forward to leaving as soon as possible because the heat and humidity are oppressive. Tonight I got to thinking about what to do with my guns. I have a US Army Colt 45 Automatic which I received from one of my pilots. I also have an Italian Beretta 25 caliber automatic. I could visualize being frisked upon arrival in the USA and having these two guns found on my person. The Beretta is a souvenir (the spoils of war). But how do I explain the Colt 45? I was not issued that gun; therefore it would be a breach of Army regulations for me to have it. So I just put the Colt 45 under the mattress and left it there. However, I kept the Beretta automatic and stowed it in my barracks bag together with my German Zeiss field glasses.

Aug 22,1945 Georgetown, British Guiana. We left this morning on a DC-3 Transport for the flight to Borrenquen, Puerto Rico. After an uneventful 7 hour flight we arrived at Borrenquen, Puerto Rico, and were installed in the Air Transport Command’s in-transit facility. We found ourselves in a small island between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of the Dominican Republic. The terrain is mostly mountains with a coastal plain belt in the north, and mountains precipitous to the sea on the west coast.

There are sandy beaches along most costal areas. The climate is tropical marine, mild, with little seasonal variation. At the time Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas, it had been populated for centuries by aboriginal peoples. After 400 years of colonial rule the indigenous population was nearly exterminated, and African slave labor was introduced. We wandered about rubbernecking, and I had no problem communicating since Spanish is the main language.

With the exception of government employees and professionals, the people did not appear to have been exposed to a lot of schooling. Their life style seemed to be quite primitive, and I was surprised by the overpopulation of the island. The natives joke about that, referring to Puerto Rico as a crowded paradise, but it is the overcrowding that causes so many of them to come to America.

Aug 23, 1945 Borinquen, Puerto Rico. This morning we hopped aboard the DC-3 transport once more, this time headed for the USA. During the flight I found myself experiencing pangs of homesickness. While the war was on I never yearned to return home, because the job was unfinished. Once the war was over I began to fret over the delay in sending us home. But on the plane from Puerto Rico, the closer we came to the USA the more excited I became.

We were one hour into the flight when I went forward to the pilots compartment and stood behind the pilot and co-pilot, holding on to the back of their seats. I hadn't been there long when suddenly the plane began to sink straight down, while still in level flight. It was as if we were sucked down into a chimney. The pilot dropped the landing flaps, and then extended the landing gear. When nothing seemed to help, he increased the throttles to full speed. Still we kept dropping straight down and I found myself sitting on the floor. I got to my feet and looked down toward the Ocean and was amazed to see that we were quite close to the water. Finally we stopped falling and then resumed level flight. The pilot told me that we had experienced the curious phenomenon of a Downward Draft, which almost caused us to crash. After a flight of several hours we landed at West Palm Beach, Florida without further excitement.

We were picked up and transported to the Air Transport Command’s in-transit barracks for temporary billeting. When I got to the barracks carrying my barracks bag, I opened it and discovered that I had been robbed. The Beretta automatic was gone, as well as the Zeiss field glasses. There wasn’t anything I could do about it, because they were both 'spoils of war!

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