Chapter 37: Leaving British Forces. Living off the Land. Equipping our B-25 Scrounge Plane. Memories of Roller Skating. Here come the Thunderbolts!
Jan 3,1944: Amendola,Italy. I worked on my airplane for most of the day today A squadron meeting was held today during which our Squadron Commander, Lt. Benedict said 3 Staff Sergeants were going to be reduced to Private for firing weapons while drunk!
I baked the turkey this afternoon in George Coyle’s 'oven', and it was absolutely delicious.
My eyes, which had been bothering me lately, seem to have returned to normalcy now.
The Flying Fortresses made a big mission this morning.
While I was working today, the boys in my tent put two windows in it, so we could have better light.
There were no flights scheduled today, due to bad weather. We hear that the 12th Air Force (ours) will be leaving the Desert Air Force (RAF) shortly, which raises the question “How will this affect our operations and daily life “ ? For the past year and a half we have been part of the RAF and we worked directly with them on missions. The intelligence we received was from them, for example. In addition, the British 8th Army exercised a very loose control over our living conditions, leaving it up to us to us to provide for anything we felt we needed over and above what they provided us with. We liked this idea, because we had learned how to live off the land like Napoleon’s Army.
Napoleon did not feel it necessary to feed his troops regularly, believing (and correctly so) that they would forage around and buy or appropriate whatever they needed from the surrounding area. We therefore had misgivings about being transferred back to the U.S.Army air Corps, with its narrowly interpreted view of The Code of Military Justice. In plain English, The U.S. Army frowns upon its troops helping themselves to anything they can get their hands on, regardless of who it belongs to!
Before Lt. Benedict joined us, we thought we were good scroungers however under his tutelage we became quite adept at relieving both civilians as well as military of property and livestock.
The next day was remarkable because my good buddy Ceferino Vigil came back from a pass, with a social disease. Gregory is hoping he doesn’t have it also because they were on pass together. It appears that we will soon move, because our flight chief Moulton has made out an “air echelon” list, and I hope I am on it. A lot of the fellows have been going to Manfredonia (a nearby town) to see the movies.
The next few days were uneventful. It turned quite cold, snowed, and rained a lot, so that for two days our airfield was unserviceable The engineers are here working on it because of the deep mud. We were pleasantly surprised to have Lt. Chapman return to us, after having been shot down in Yugoslavia around Dec 23rd. After crash-landing, he was rescued by partisans who moved him through their “underground” and finally returned him to us unscathed.
Jan 11th, we traded one of our P-40s to a B-25 Squadron for one of their tired 2-engine bombers. Our records no doubt showed that our tired P-40 had been totally destroyed on landing after suffering heavy damage on a combat mission. (As in the book and movie 'Catch 22'). The whole 57th Group will use this bomber, but our squadron (the 66th) will maintain it. Sgt. Beck will be its crew chief, and Sgt. Price will assist him. We will use it to trade with other outfits all over North Africa and Italy, for whiskey and candy, etc. after we put wooden flooring over the bomb bay.
Our planes shot down two Me-109s over Yugoslavia and the 65th squadron had one plane go down in the sea while another force-landed on a beach. Our group is dive-bombing shipping, and warehouses and we made direct hits on a large ship two days in a row, with 500 lb. bombs.
I have been studying Italian regularly, and practicing it with the couple of Italian civilians who work in our kitchen, and I have become quite fluent. Not only that, but those Italians have been teaching me their songs and jokes. In addition to this, I continually study Spanish as I study Italian, in effect I am not learning a new Latin Language (Italian), what I am doing is learning the difference between Spanish and Italian. This is a lot easier than learning a whole new language! I arrived at this concept by realizing that both languages are extraordinarily similar, so why learn Italian from English when you are really repeating all the knowledge you gained by learning Spanish? Perhaps this is not a new concept in literary circles, but you must consider that I was not in an educational ambience where I could draw upon the vast knowledge of educators in Romance languages. I was in a war zone on an Army Air Corps Fighter Group Airfield overseas, engaging the enemy in combat, and my first priority was to concentrate on defeating Germany to the exclusion of any other interest I wished to pursue!
I went to a movie in Manfredonia with my Italian friends and we had a great time singing Italian songs coming and going. En route I saw people ice-skating, and it made me realize how much I missed roller-skating. I used to be able to do the dance steps with a lady partner, such as the waltz and fox trot. Watching them I remembered going on pass with Foster Carman to Alexandria Egypt when we were stationed at Nousa Gardens, a suburb of Alexandria, in September of 1942. Foster and I found a roller skating rink and we were dancing the 'drop-kick waltz', and a fox-trot, on a rink floor of slate pieces. The Egyptians were amazed to see us dancing together like that. Also of interest to us that afternoon was when the Egyptian National Anthem was played at the rink. The people all stood rigidly at attention, in their rag attire, and we were struck by their nationalistic fervor, while wearing rags for clothing!
Jan 12, 1944 Amendola, Italy: Today was remarkable for its bad news. The 65th squadron lost one plane in the sea, and one crash landed on the beach. but shot down two Me-109 Fighters over Yugoslavia. Our squadron lost plane No.81 through a bad landing.
Jan 14th was remarkable because a P-38 shot down a Ju-88 2-engine bomber not far from here. The German bomber had just shot down a British Hurricane fighter. We are now told that we are next to get the P-47 fighters. The 64th squadron has now gotten all theirs and we are next! It will be a pleasure to get to work on Air-cooled engines, after years of babying these Allison inline Engines!
So ends Part 37 of my wartime memo