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Serving Uncle Sam: A Military Life in WWll

Gerald Schwartz USAAC (USAAF) 1940 - 1945


Chapter 81: Greasing the Planes. Food from Home. Jumping on Fruitcakes! Rover Joe Missions

Oct 3,1944 Grosetto, Italy. Everyone had to go to the flying line this morning. We finished greasing the landing gear of the rest of the planes in 'A' Flight. After lunch, I greased the rest of the planes in the squadron, and was finished by 4 PM.

Riviera then helped me repair the grease gun on the Caterpillar tractor. It kept getting stuck and I had to keep taking it apart and cleaning it. It finally got to working properly, and I gave the list of ships that I had greased to Stripling. Our flight chief Carl Volter came back to camp to see if anyone remained back at camp, trying to gold brick, but he didn’t catch anyone!

Today I got my first mail-order lesson from the US Army Institute and I did some studying. I studied some Italian, and then had a snack at 8 PM consisting of coffee and a salmon sandwich. I was fortunate that my relatives continually sent me packages of food to augment the tasteless mess our cooks were prone to serve. I frequently received canned salmon, sardines and tuna fish. Also Melba toast, mayonnaise, salami, and individual packets of Liptons chicken noodle soup mix.

Gene Schnabel (now Gene Sloane) and I used to share the food we received from home. The quality and quantity of my foodstuffs was superior to his, but we didn’t quibble over that, just enjoyed it as good friends do. Nevertheless, upon occasion he was quite irritated by what he received. A case in point was the packages we received one Christmas in 1943 while stationed in Foggia, Italy. During mail call I received a package of food, and he got a fruit cake.

At the end of mail call, I had 8 packages of food and he had only 7 fruit cakes! He stood there glaring at our two mounds of opened packages, growing angrier by the minute. Finally he jumped on top of his mound of fruitcakes and continued stamping upon them until they lost their identity as fruitcakes! We spent the remainder of the evening in our tent, chatting amongst ourselves, in a real home-like atmosphere, with our gasoline stove fire crackling merrily. Della Volpe gave me 8 to 5 odds that the Cardinals will defeat the Browns in the World Series. The boys are reading their books, Woody is writing a letter, and Della Volpe is talking about Rome.

Oct 4,1944 Grosetto, Italy. Flight chief Volter said I didn’t have to go to the flying line this morning, so I just hung around the tent. I studied Spanish, Italian, and algebra and brewed coffee at 10 AM. After lunch, I followed the same routine. At 3 PM I brewed coffee and ate a sandwich of bread and salmon. After dinner we received a ration of 12 bottles of beer, a carton of cigarettes and a can of peanuts. Tomorrow we will receive the rest of the ration.

Schnabel is going on 10 day pass, and 'Indian' White is going on a 5 day pass. I gave Schnabel a list of stuff to get for me from his quartermaster brother in law in Naples. I spent the evening quietly listening to the World Series game, drinking beer and eating salted peanuts. The Browns won 2-1 in a close contest. By the time I rolled into my cot to sleep, I was feeling no pain!

Earlier today we were told that our ‘modus operandi’ has been changed. Instead of flying reconnaissance missions over the Po Valley, seeking out targets of opportunity, we are now to fly close support missions, which were the kind we used to use when in the Desert Air Force in 1943. These Rover Joe missions required a controller on the ground in an armored car or other position where he could overlook the front lines. Rover Joe was often an experienced pilot provided by our group, who was capable of selecting a suitable target and determining the best way to destroy it.

When our flight of planes approached him in the designated target area, the controller identified himself as Rover Joe and directed the flight by radio to a target. The target could be one chosen by him, or one chosen by the Army commander on the ground. This type of coordination between the air and ground forces was found to be exceptionally beneficial to the ground forces. Frequently the ground forces were prevented from taking a target because of extraordinary enemy resistance. Our planes were able to reduce the target in one or more attacks, thus permitting the ground troops to take their target. Frequently after such a successful operation, the Army ground commander would radio his delight our flight with the words "Good show, Chaps!”

Oct 5,1944 Grosetto, Italy. After breakfast this morning we went right to the flying line and ran-up all the planes that were scheduled to operate today. Since it was raining intermittently we were released at 10 AM. Della Volpe has been cleaning the stoves in the kitchen because he had hard words with the cooks yesterday, and they turned him in about it.

We received a ration of candy, toilet articles and cigarettes, and I traded my candy for cigarettes. I hung around the tent all afternoon, winning three beers from Woody playing Casino. In the afternoon I studied some math with Slip but gave it up after a while because I wasn’t getting anywhere.

I have to get my friend Tiny Friedman to help me with math when he gets back from Rome. I get a half of a loaf of bread from the cooks so we can chow up tonight. Schnabel who left on a 10 day pass for Naples this morning had promised to get us a 2-man tent when he visits his brother in law.

I listened to the World Series, and heard the Cardinals beat the Browns by a score of 3-2 in extra innings.

So ends part 81 of my wartime memoirs.

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