Chapter 92: Wine, Food and Song. More Wine, Food and Song! I Start Teaching Italian. Red Benedict's Gift of Experience with Me109
Nov 22, 1944 Grosetto, Italy
This morning all of us that were not required to be at the airfield were required to clean up the house. So Roy and I swept and mopped up, put on some good clothes, and serviced the car. We then procured 2 bottles of gin, 2 large cans of grapefruit juice, and a cup and visited all the small towns in the neighborhood. By noontime we had consumed half of the first bottle and were feeling no pain.
We stopped for lunch at a small mountain town, and there we met a man at a bar who invited us home for lunch. We had a delicious concoction of eggs and rabbit washed down with lots of the local red wine. After a while we ran into a musician who taught accordion. We wound up at his studio singing Italian songs and dancing with two of his lady pupils. He gave me the Italian words to 'Parlame di amore, Mariu' (Speak to me of love, Mary), and Caminito (little traveler) in Spanish.
On the way back to Castiglione we stopped at every farm house where we shared some of our gin with the farmers and I managed to talk them out of three chickens! It really wasn’t very hard to do because Italians are by and large a friendly lot, especially if you can talk their language!
En route to Castiglione (camp) we made a stop, at the house of a girl friend of my buddy Ceferino Vigil. There I slaughtered the three chickens, and together with some of our host’s fried fish and Chianti wine it made for a delicious meal. Her father and I jabbered away for some time, about politics and the war, and we gave them some candy before we left. We finished the other bottle of gin before reaching camp and we were quite smashed by that time. We just stopped off at the mess hall for coffee and went right to bed. While waiting to drop off to sleep, I recalled the events of the day with satisfaction.
Nov 23, 1944
Back to work again this morning. We flew one training mission in the AM. At 10 AM, our old Red Cross girl from Corsica came by with coffee and doughnuts. She asked me to give her words to 'Lili Marlene' and I did (in both Italian and German). This was the song that the German Army (Afrika Korps) used to sing in North Africa, which was where we heard it for the first time.
I slept in the cockpit until noon. We then moved over to a new taxi strip that had been constructed for us by the engineers. Lunch was brought out to us from the camp, as usual. In the afternoon I washed off the belly and underneath the wings of my plane. In the process I got some gasoline in my eyes a few times, (not a very nice feeling)!
Later there was one more training mission, as our pilots continue to teach the new pilots our procedures. They also brief them on how to fly in combat and what to expect from the German pilots. In particular they explained that you should always try to approach an ME-109 from the right. You see the ME-109’s engine has a strong torque to the left which makes it difficult for the pilot to turn to the right. That reduces his ability to turn right to attack our planes!
This is the kind of combat knowledge our pilots learned from Red Benedict (Benny) in North Africa. He, Charles Leaf and several of the ex-RAF pilots joined us when we were around Tripoli, Libya. They would fly the ME-109s which we repaired, in mock dog-fights with our planes. As a result, our pilots learned an awful lot about the capabilities and the short-comings of the top German fighter plane.
There is no doubt that many of our original pilots owed their very lives to Red Benedict, Charles Leaf and the other ex-RAF pilots who joined our group when the Canadian Eagle squadron was broken up by the RAF. It is a shame that those men did not get the accolades they richly deserved!
There is a big party at the enlisted men’s day room tonight, to which all the officers are invited. Today, Cisco (my Mexican-American buddy) wrecked his Fiat automobile by hitting a bridge. Strangely enough he didn’t injure himself. He was bringing an Italian musician to play the accordion at the party.
I drew a mattress cover, underwear and a pair of gloves from supply. Finding myself bored I went to the party and got potted, as did most everyone else! There was a lot of hell-raising, with a few officers and enlisted men passing out. A fun evening!
Nov 27, 1944 little of interest occurred during the past few days. The list of the first 15 men going home on 30 days leave of absence just came out. with Woodrow Sorell, and Pop Bentsen’s names on it. Two afternoons ago after work, Cisco, Roy and I took off for a dance in Castiglione in their Fiat automobile. En route we picked up three girls near the town of Tierly and romanced them for several hours. We drove them home then went to the dance.
On the way home the engine caught fire when the clutch got stuck and we had to get out of the car and throw sand on the engine to put the fire out. After that the battery kept shorting out and we brought the car home without lights and without a drop of oil in the engine at 3.30 AM!
Yesterday, Marty Howard, our Special Service man just handed me a lot of Italian school records, a record player, and text books. He wants me to teach an Italian language class 4 nights a week. It is to be held in our day room and he said he would dig up a black board and chalk.
I did not feel well today so I put my name in the sick book and took off for the Group Hospital. I got to see the eye specialist and told him that my eyes were bothering me and the dust stirred up at the airfield was making it worse. He said that I ought to get away from the flying line for a week, and then I should come back and see him.
My plane flew once in the afternoon, and it came back OK. At 4.30 I headed home and prepared my lesson for the Italian class. I tried to round up the men for my Italian class but could only find 10 of them. I handed out the books, played 4 records, and taught them how to conjugate regular verbs in the present tense. After an hour I dismissed them, and I then went to the enlisted men’s bar and proceeded to get quite high.
At 12 PM we called it a night and staggered home to find that Gene Schnabel had fried up some fish. So we ate them and went to bed, at the end of an interesting day!