Chapter 27: Repairing Italian Planes. Near Bari. Eating Ice Cream with Italian Air Force.
Sept 23,1943 Rocco Bernardo Airfield, Italy. This morning, Lt. Benedict asked me to go with him to work on a 3-Engine Italian Seaplane he located, that is salvageable. It is called a Savoia Maccheti. We were all ready to go, when Sgt. Beck, our line chief said he couldn't spare me right now. He said we could go tomorrow.
My plane flew a mission with Lt. Shaw and returned safely, but during that time I was working on Plane No.77, the coolant Pump is leaking again and now I have to change it. Lt. Shaw was helping me, which is quite unusual for a pilot to get involved with mechanics; however he is a real nice guy.
Sept 24th. Lt. Benedict gave me a German Bed Roll that he had "scrounged"(found) somewhere, and I sewed buttons on it, then went for a dip in the Mediterranean.
Sgts. Beck and Burns are reported to be going home by the Ist of October. And of course we are all jealous. Beck was over forty, and had been my drill sergeant at
Mitchell Field in October 1940 when I was going through basic training.
The ack-ack boys moved out this morning, so I guess we will also be leaving soon, for a more forward airdrome.
Sept 25th. We should be moving out shortly. We are supposed to fly out on DC-3s (transports) . Our planes left this afternoon, with Lt. McCoy flying mine. Later we were told that the DC-3s cannot come for us, so we will have to travel by road.
They say the trip will take two days and we are to leave tomorrow morning..
Sept 26. The squadron moved out at 6.30 AM, except for our truck (A Flight).
We had to stay behind and work on planes No. 77, 93,and 83. We managed to make the necessary repairs and those planes flew off just as we got on the road.
We stayed on the road the rest of the day (7 hours) and only managed to travel 50 miles, because the road was badly torn up. We passed through many small towns, and did not have any regular food, other than "C" and "K" Emergency Rations. We finally caught up with the Convoy at dusk. They were really sweating us out because we had the stove for our tent. We had some Spam, bread and coffee for supper, walked some 50 feet to the Mediterranean, had a dip, and then went to bed, tired out.
Sept 27th: We got back on the road at 6.30 AM, and once again it was a bumpy rough ride, which took its toll on the men and trucks. The countryside is somewhat different now consisting of plains instead of mountains. We arrived at our new airdrome at 6.00 PM. It is located at Gioia Del Colle, which in Italian means "Joy of the Neck". There is
A small town nearby with the same name, and a large town close by called Bari, and I hope to get to see it tomorrow. We start operations again tomorrow with a 6.00 AM Flight.
Sept 28: Our planes dropped their 250 Lb. bombs on German transport; I spent the morning conversing with the Italian Airplane Mechanics of the Royal Italian Air Force
who are stationed at this field. This is the first regular airfield which we have been on
since leaving the one at Alexandria Egypt. That is to say it has concrete runways and hangars, and there are a number of Italian Aircraft, flown and maintained by the Italian air force personnel such as 4-engine bombers.
The Germans threw hand grenades in some the Italians planes before leaving, but some of them survived and are in operation. Interestingly enough, these are the same aircraft that bombed the 57th Fighter Group airfield at El Djem, Tunisia last spring.
We did not have any more missions today, however we are told to clean up the planes because there will be an inspection by Group headquarters. I got an Italian corporal to help me, only because I spoke Italian with him. I
now find that the many hours of studying Italian is paying off, because I was able to talk one of the Italian mechanics to help me, whereas none of my friends were so successful!
Around 4.00 PM a few of the Italian Mechanics and I slipped into Gioia to get Ice cream, and the Italians almost wound up in jail because they had no valid passes from their police (Carabinieri). However, I did some "quick talking" with the Italian police and got them out of it. I bought a bottle of French Champagne and one bottle of beer per man for the guys in my tent. I fear we may have celebrated a bit too much that night!
At this point I would like to explain something about the Italian language. I had studied and learned from a textbook, however when we arrived in Sicily I found that that Island had its own dialect in normal use, whereas in contact with the rest of Italy, they spoke the "Roman" dialect which was used on the radio and in governmental affairs. After spending 3 months in Sicily and starting to learn their dialect, now I was in the
"Calabria" region of Southern Italy, and they had their own dialect here. So, the learning process continues unabated. The only good thing about it is that it is so easy for me (and my Spanish-speaking friends) to learn Italian, because we are doing it from Spanish, not from English, and the languages are quite similar.
So ends part 27 of my wartime memoirs