Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chapter 39

In the spring of 1946, I applied for training at the Air Force Institute of Technology to finish my engineering education. About this time, the Air Force was preparing to become autonomous and were starting aviation engineering school to train all the Air Force civil engineers personnel to man all of the Air Bases. Col. Dugan, who I was later to get very well acquainted with, was made head of the Civil Engineers school. He went to headquarters and reviewed all the applications for schooling. He picked 130 Air Force Officers with civil engineering background to go to school and become 1337s. That is a service number that depicts civil engineers and I was selected to become a civil engineer. In March, I received orders to report to Geiger Field, Washington to the school.

In the spring of 1946, we had been notified the Jones wanted their home back so we decided to build a house nearby. My father and mother had come to help us and we had reached the point of wall papering. Syl was downtown buying drapes when I got a call from the base that I had orders to Geiger. We turned the house over to a real estate agent who sold it at a marginal profit.

We packed the radio back in our trailer along with our other limited belongings, including our dog and dog house. We thought the doghouse would be an ideal way to ship her. We had a door on the doghouse which we closed, then bolted the trailer rear door tight against the door to keep it shut. Then with Grampa, Grandma, Mama, Papa, and two sons, we started out across West Texas. We went right past the King Ranch and I enjoyed Dad’s comparison of it with the Deseret Livestock Ranch, the second largest in the country. He looked at the flat, bushy country and allowed as how that kind of cow punching would be easy.

A short time after we passed the ranch we stopped for gas and found “Lady” was gone from the trailer. We reversed our direction and went back looking for her, but to no avail. Finally, we offered a $25 reward through the local paper and went on our way.

We stopped off in Payson to leave the grandparents and then on up through Idaho to Spokane. Housing was tough after the war and we finally found a room with a kitchenette in a motel in Dishman, about 10 miles east of Spokane. We continued to live there until we finished the school I was to attend.

Our class was scheduled to be the third class sent through the school. Just by accident, a most unique group of students were assigned to this class. Of the 17 students, I was the 11th in size at 6 feet and 215 pounds. 10 guys were bigger than I and all of them athletic. Being spring (1946) and being required to spend some time in physical conditioning, we just naturally started playing softball. I entered the team in the base league. Craziest team you ever saw. We had an excellent defense, a so-so pitcher and all the power in the world. Only we were a straky bunch. We customarily would goof around for about 5 or 6 innings then unload in one inning enough runs to get us through the entire game. One of our opponents was a team of field grade officers which the base commander was the pitcher. Both teams were undefeated to that point. We played three innings then unloaded in one inning enough runs to get us through the entire game. I (center fielder) was scheduled to lead off the inning so I up and parked a home run.  The next four batters each in turn, stroked a homer. Five homers in succession must be some kind of record. We went on to win, 7-3. Until we graduated from school, we went undefeated in the second half of the league, some of the players were assigned to jobs where they couldn’t get off each game and we lost one game to the team composed of the instructors at the engineering school we had just finished, mostly Corps of Engineers officers. We were all Air Corps officers, mostly fly guys.

The political situation on the base was not very friendly. It was an Air Corps filed but the commander and most of the senior officers were old line corps of Engineer officers. Assigned to the base as students, and other specialized duties, were about 130 Air Corps officers. The senior officers were disgruntled because they had to learn to do things the Air Corps way and were disgruntled because our bases expected us to do things the Corps of Engineers way.

Our championship softball game became the focal point for all the frustrations on both sides. A three game series was arranged by the base athletic department. The base athletic officer announced he was going to play for the Corps of Engineers although he wasn’t connected at all with the school nor had he played during the regular season, which sounded like a ringer to us. To make matters worse, the commanding officer of the company that some of our players were assigned to, arranged a special training activity that wouldn’t let some of our best players come to the game. I was put on first base to replace one of our lost players.

Our makeshift game started under protest because of the seemingly ineligible player. The base athletic officer said, “The base athletic department” (which he was) “decides I can play with the Corps of Engineers team.”

The game got underway and proceeded without incident until the base athletic officer came to bat. He hit a little bounder down to our shortstop who threw it to me but pulled me across the base to make the catch. The ringer then lowered his shoulder into my ribs and knocked me about ten feet. That’s alright, I’d been hit before but when he boasted, “You’ll learn to stand on the base when I’m running” that was a bit too much. I kept quiet and waited. The next time the same guy came up to bat, almost the same play resulted, a slow roller down to shortstop, a wide throw to first base. Only this time I knew the rules. As he lowered the shoulder, I side-stepped and threw my hip into him enough to knock him off balance and he rolled 20 feet. I swung around, facing him, expecting him to come up swinging but before he got up, the base commander who was umpiring the game grabbed me by the shirt front and shouted, “Blankety-blank you, I’ll throw you clear off Geiger Field.” I got thrown out of the game and we lost the game and the championship.

The next day the commander went to the legal officer who was an Air Corps officer and told him to start court-martial proceedings against me. Two days later in a Col. John C.B. Elliott arrived and replaced Col. Dugan as base commander. All charges were dropped.

Chapter 38

When I went to work the next morning I found I had been assigned as recruiting officer. I was very unhappy about not getting the job of operations officer I had been promised by Col. Jumper. He had been transferred and all promises were null and void. I lasted one week as recruiting officer. I went back to the personnel officer who was also my boss and said I was too honest for that job. By, did he blow his cork. He finally agreed to reassign me. He assigned me as an assistant ground safety officer. After one week, the base safety officer got out of the service and I was base safety officer.

Things in the Air Corps were in constant turmoil. The services were shuffling personnel out of the service as fast as they could and shuffling new personnel into fill the vacancies created by shuffling the first guy out. There within a few weeks, the guy who just came in would be notified he was eligible for release from the service and he would be gone in a day or two. Even bases were being shuffled. The training command didn’t need all its bases so they decided to close Fort Worth. But they couldn’t close Fort Worth because it was the airfield that supported Plant 4, which was Convair Aircraft Company. The Air Corps then decided to transfer the base to Strategic Air Command and SAC then decided to bring in a B-29 wing.

I had just begun to learn what ground safety was all about—the training command way—when SAC came in with a whole new way. To make things worse, the Air Force decided to also cut back the civilian force and fired my secretary. About the time my secretary left, SAC decided to inspect the new base and brought in a team to inspect the base. Since there were only Mr. Long, the safety engineer and myself and one of us had to man the office to answer the phone. I was forced to assist the inspection team and answer all their questions. SAC was much more safety conscious than training command so we were censored for several violations. We had to correct them and write a report stating how each discrepancy would be/was corrected. With no secretary in our office, all the writing had to be drafted, corrected and retyped by the personnel director’s secretary who complained bitterly. When the report reached the director who was my boss, he directed several corrections which required retyping. About this time, the director was released to go back to school teaching and the new director heard all the complaints of his secretary and ordered a new secretary hired for my safety office.

The first woman that was sent down by civilian personnel for interview was a big fat slob and didn’t have any of the skills required. I called the civilian personnel officer and rejected her. The next girl sent down was a little bit of a thing but cute as a little mule colt. After a very brief affirmative interview, Mr. Long and I were discussing her age. He insisted she couldn’t be more than 16 years old but I argued that the regulations wouldn’t permit them to hire anyone less than 18. When she came to work, we learned she was 27 years old, two years older than I. She had been a model in New York and had just decided to return to Fort Worth to live. She could also type and answer the phone.

After I learned what I supposed to do, I found I was having a hard time getting people to be safety conscious. I devised a series of bulletin boards, one in each important commander’s buildings. I labeled these boards, “booby traps.” As cheesecake, I would put pictures of some of the secretaries in various bathing beauty poses to attract attention. After that, I never had any trouble getting safety hazards corrected. One such bulletin board was just outside the base commander’s office. In a safety committee meeting, he indicated he would like to meet the little pin-up girl on this weeks’ picture. It was, of course, my secretary so I arranged to introduce him to her. Durned if she didn’t start dating her and about the time I was transferred, they were married.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chapter 37

In the fall of 1945, we had arranged for a 30 day leave. The leave was in October and November which are the months for hunting in Utah. Before leaving Texas, I had written home and asked the family to send me a deer rifle. I had already collected a couple of shot guns and a W.R.F. 22. This was going to be a vacation dedicated to hunting. I had worked hard with my young pointer pup to get her trained to where I could control her and she would retrieve. So with 2 sons, a dog, and Sybil, I loaded everything into our Chevrolet and started North, arriving in Utah well before the beginning of the deer season.

Deer season is a big event in Utah, and most everyone going hunting at the season opener and it had become a social event as well as a hunt.  The Bryson Clan always hunted in a little valley about 30 miles northwest of Eureka, Utah. This was to be my first hunt with the clan. When I was home, I was too busy with football or farming to go and now I had been away 5 years in the service.

When we arrived I was told that Red, my brother-in-law, had a gun for me. Being eager to get the gun and do some practicing, I drove to Santaquin, 6 miles away, to get it. This was 1945 and no civilian hardware of any kind was available so I expected a secondhand gun of some kind. However, I got a brand new Winchester model 70 that had been made in prewar period and hidden in some dealer’s back room for the duration. Red had found it and talked the dealer into selling it to me. It cost a whopping $97.00, which was quite a bunch then. I couldn’t let Red down and besides I was tickled as a kid with a new toy.

The day before the season opened we took a horse in the truck and my two oldest brothers, Dick and Merl, my nephews, their sons, both named Glen, and I went to the desert to hunt. We were the advance party and others would join us later. When we arrived at Little Valley we unloaded the horse and she helped us pull the truck over the last ridge. There at the spring were more of the groups of hunters that hunted the valley. Three families hunted the valley: the Brooks, the Robinsons, and the Brysons. My oldest brother, Dick, had opened the first road into the valley with Wes Robinson. Wes was now the marshal of Eureka, Utah, and Dick was his deputy.

When we parked at the spring, Dick told me and another fellow to fetch a pair of bed springs he kept out at the valley. When we went to pick them up, up pops Wes. He hadn’t seen me for five or six years when I was a skinny 130 pound kid. Now I stood 6 feet and weighed 215 pounds. Wes said, “Those belong to Dick Bryson and you leave them alone.” We knew Wes, but he didn’t recognize us. So we just grunted and kept on walking. He charged over and got in front of me and was ready to whip me right there. Only Wes was about 140 pounds soaking wet. Things were getting interesting when Dick looked up and hollered over to see what the trouble was. Then Wes recognized me. He was out of his weight class, but the little guy was willing to try.

That evening, we all sat around talking about past hunts and other hunting tales until just after dark. Then to bed until about 2 a.m. About that time, the Brook clan rolled in and woke everyone up. After a big breakfast, we packed lunches and started up our respective trails. The Brysons hunted the south ridge, the Brooks the north ridge. As we climbed the ridge, we soon reached the backbone of a long ridge running from east up to the west until it ended at a huge solid sandstone knob that was near 10 thousand feet in altitude. As we climbed, the older members of the family would stop off at regular intervals each at his favorite spot. Dick had killed his deer from the same rock for eleven consecutive years. We newcomers were forced to take the highest post of the ridge and none of us knew exactly where to set up, but found plenty of room. Eventually, everyone was in place and quietly freezing when daylight first started.

Just at daylight, the legal time to hunt, the Robinson family spread out across the valley and started hunting up the canyon. Up where we were, we could only tell this by the sound of the guns. You could pretty well guess that every time one of those old fellows pulled the trigger, a deer dropped. As the Robinson family hunted further up the canyon, the sound of gun getting closer and closer. Finally you could see deer start moving down in the canyon and up the other side. But we knew the Brooks were over there. Finally, I heard a clomp-clomp-clomp—recognized as a bounding buck. With nerves taut as fiddle strings, my numb hands working to get circulation going to keep nimble, I suddenly shifted my gaze along the ridge and there’s a buck!  Mine! Suddenly my hands had become nimble as ever and I moved so quickly, I didn’t know I was moving until I remembered to be calm. By now the sights were on the butt of the ear and I squeezed off one shot as he disappeared over the ridge. But I heard that 180 grain slug hit home and knew something’s hurting. I ran to the top of the ridge over which he had disappeared. There stood my stunned buck, spraddle-legged with head down, quietly bleeding to death. To make sure he didn’t decide to run again, I put another slug into his head from a dead standstill. He toppled over, never to run free again.

My first shot had been slightly low and I had shot off the entire lower jaw and part of the neck, leaving the jugular vein very neatly severed. I did the remaining knife work and set back to admire my first deer. He was a nice one about 200 pounds, I guessed, but they always look bigger when they are first down. He really dressed out at 183 pounds.

After the excitement of the kill, you don’t mind the work of drawing him. Out there on the desert, you make the smallest possible incision to keep the dirt out because it is a long way to camp. Not many people will carry 180 pounds of deer. By the time I was finished the field dressing, I was calmed down enough to quit shaking. If it’s your first deer, you can’t wait to get it down the mountain to show big brothers. You can do it too. The morning had been beautifully clear and the desert sky was clear as a bluebonnet. Now a few clouds were rolling over the main ridge above and in a few minutes it started snowing. That made footing on the steep mountain sides precarious, but it made sliding a deer much easier. After a few slides and a few falls and a lot of hard pulling, I got the deer back to camp only to find everyone else in the family had already limited out and they were waiting me to go home. I found I didn’t get the biggest, in spite of my first guess, but I did better than some. Bryson deer hunts never take more than one day and today the rest were eager to get before the storm got worse. We put the deer and the horse in the truck and took off for home.

Bryson Clan
After the deer hunt was finished, we went to California for a few days to stay with Syl’s folks. Then back to Utah for the pheasant season.

Pheasant hunting isn’t quite as strenuous as deer hunting and Syl agreed to hunt with us. Merl had an old black dog that loved to flush birds and I had a well trained young pointer that held the birds, instinctively. We spent a couple of fun days with my dog finding the birds and Merl’s dog running out ahead to flush them and everyone seeing who could shoot first. We all limited and had much fun.

The deer season was still on so we decided to try a last hunt in Nephi Canyon for the deer on Syl’s license. She didn’t want to shoot a deer, but I was quite willing to do it for her. On a warm, sunny afternoon, we drove up the canyon until we saw a deer herd climbing up the side of the mountain ahead of us. I jumped out of the car and took off after them, just as they topped the ridge and disappeared over the top. Since it was completely open and Syl could see me all the way, she followed me up slowly.

I made the top as fast as my old cross-country legs would take me and just as I reached the top, a nice buck jumped up and started running down a path almost straight away from me. With one shot, I castrated him, opened the paunch and split his brisket, making it very easy if a bit messy to clean him out. By the time Syl reached the top of the ridge, I had him dressed and was starting back down the ridge. This one was a smaller 3 point and I elected to carry him out across my shoulders. In twenty minutes, we were back down to the car and in another hour we were back home. Never could I convince Syl that deer hunting was hard work.

Chapter 36

After the war ended, the Air Corp started releasing people left and right. Because of my length of service and combat experience, I was listed as #3 on the base for priority discharge. However, I didn’t want to get out so I signed over on an indefinite volunteer situation. Because I was eligible for release, I received all kinds of offers for a job. The nearest I came to accepting an outside job was with American Airlines. They, like everyone else, had big dreams of expansion after the war. I received letters and interviews and all kinds of recruitment, but when I asked how much, they said, “Well, we start co-pilots at $225 a month for three years and then you can become First Pilot.” I wasn’t much interested in being a bus driver anyway, and I was making more than twice that much in the service. I decided to stick.

About a week after the end of the war, the base commander was released from the service and a new commander arrived. He was reported to be a tough old guy and started remaking the base into a peace time army. I took one look at him, one day, going past on his motor scooter, and knew what we were in for. Seems I knew the old gentleman before. He had been my commandant of cadets at Moffet Field and was still there as a Captain when I went back there to instruct.

About the second week he was there, he ordered a parade on Saturday morning. Knowing Col. Jumper, I arranged to be out of town.

The following week I was in base operations filling out a flight plan when I was slapped hard on the back by Col. Jumper. After a warm exchange of greetings, he asked, “Where were you stationed?” Answer: “Right here.” Second question, “Where were you last Saturday?” Answer, “I wasn’t there.” He answered, “So I noticed.” And we changed the subject.

About a week later, I was called into his office and told I was now Squadron Commander of a squadron of about 500 personnel. When I modestly said I didn’t know if I could handle it, he answered, “I know very well you can—I taught you.” The squadron was mostly a collection of former B-32 crew members put out of work by the end of the war. They, in general, were grouped into two distinct categories. Those who wanted out of the Air Corps as soon as possible, and those who wanted to stay in the service and were looking for a place to make themselves useful to avoid being discharged. I had two officers in the squadron, an executive officer and an adjutant. The adjutant turned out to be Lt. Coleman, who had been the operations officer in the B-32 squadron I was in. A change from me working for him, to him working for me.

After the war, the service stopped production of B-32s at some place in the production line where it was cheaper to junk the unfinished aircraft on the ground or ship it away for salvage. All birds ahead of that model were finished because it was cheaper to fly them to the salvage yard than ship them.

The salvage yard for B-32s was at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. During the course of the fall, I made several trips to Walnut Ridge to deliver aircraft. On the first day of October, I was assigned to fly the very last B-32 that was finished off the line to the bone pile. It was a beautiful day as we left the office and headed for the flight line. It had been stormy, but this day it had just cleared beautifully. As we left operations, I asked Lt. Coleman, who was flying as my co-pilot, if he had a map. “Naw, anyone can find Walnut Ridge in the dark, you just fly out at 060 degrees until you hit Texarkana, then follow the railroad to Walnut Ridge.” So off we went happy to be back in the air after being on the ground in a job no pilot likes. We took off, headed out 060 degrees and turned on some music, and waited for the Arkansas River to show up. Soon we saw a river and a good sized town, so we steered a bit left to the town and turned north on the railroad track. Only, as we turned left, I looked down at the water front and here is a big warehouse with the word “Memphis” printed on top of the building. Memphis. That isn’t on the Arkansas River! That isn’t the Arkansas River.

In our enthusiasm for flying, we had over flown Texarkana and flown clear to Memphis Tennessee on the Mississippi River. So we did a graceful 180 degree turn and flew back to Texarkana, picked the correct railroad tracks and flew on to Walnut Ridge. When we got there, there was a C-45 crew waiting to take us home. It was the first day of the month and you have to fly 4 hours each month to get your flight pay. We had flown exactly 4 hours and 5 minutes. I was going on 30 day leave the next day and I could never convince anyone that I really had gotten lost.

Before I went on leave, the squadron was deactivated and the boss promised me a job as base operations officer when I returned from leave. That is the best peace time job there is for a pilot.

While we were at Bryan, one of the couples that lived near us had a big collie that played with Britt all the time. This gave me an excuse for buying a dog that I had always wanted. I was a pointer man and though I had never really hunted with one, I had read the many stories of field trials and followed old Pilot Sam [a famous Pointer dog] through the many years of his great career as the greatest field trial champion of all time. When I started looking for a pup, the first ad I spotted was for some registered pointer pups. They were out of a daughter of old Pilot Sam. I was sold. We selected a beautiful little female. Since we had a high fence around the back yard, this was perfect for a boy and a dog.

During the summer our second son was born. Syl started labor in the middle of the night so I dressed Britt and we all went to the hospital. I entered Syl into the hospital but the staff refused to permit me to wait with the baby so Britt and I returned home and went to bed. And he even slept. Early the next morning, I called the hospital to see if Sybil and the baby were alright. The hospital attendant reported that my wife was fine, but my baby had died and I should make arrangements for the burial. Of course, I was very sad, but I had to accept what we could not change and proceeded to make the arrangements. Then I met the undertaker at the hospital to pick up the body. I approached the front desk and stated that I had come for my son’s body. While one nurse was busy arranging the papers, another nurse, who just happened to be passing the desk, stopped and asked what I had said. I repeated, “I came to get the body of the Bryson baby that had died.” She replied, “Wait a minute, I was on duty in the delivery room and it wasn’t the Bryson baby that died.” WHOA!! Trying to be very calm, I caught her by the arm and turned to the other nurse at the desk and stated that we were going to find out about this, like now! The hospital manager was called and we all went to the nursery and there was my very tiny baby with “Bryson” on his armband. Two premature babies had been born in that night, one had lived and one had not, and I almost buried the wrong baby. During all the excitement, the nurse who had corrected the error slipped away and I never did find out who she was. But my son and I will be forever indebted.

[Forest] only weighed 3 lbs., 13 oz. and the next day or so, dropped to 3 lbs even. It was still touch and go, if he would make it or not. The day after he was born I had a baseball game with the base team and as I sat quietly dressing, some of my teammates noticed my behavior and asked what was wrong. I explained about my son and that he only weighed 3 lbs. Our big pitcher, who stood 6’2” and weighed 215 lbs., slapped me on the back and said, “That’s okay, he’ll be okay. I only weighed 3 lbs. when I was born too.”

In a few days, Sybil was released to return home, but the baby had to remain in the incubator for 6 weeks. The doctors wanted to feed him on mother’s milk, so for 6 weeks we had to take the milk from Sybil and deliver it to the hospital every day. Finally he was large enough to survive outside the incubator, but it had taken him 6 weeks to gain 2 lbs. When we got him home, where he could be fed regularly and properly with all the tender-lovin’ care, he gained 2 lbs. a week for several weeks and was as strong and healthy as a boy can be.

The Church in Fort Worth was very weak. There were only a few people and they met in a small, one room wooden shack. It was so dirty Syl said she felt uncomfortable going there with the children. But as always, they were wonderful people and we even had home teachers assigned for the first time. Because of my flying schedule and the problem with the baby, we didn’t make it to church regularly, but we went when we could.

Chapter 35

After taking on the two problem students successfully, I was finally accepted as a full fledged B-24 instructor. About this time, I got solidly established in the B-24 program, [the program] began to phase out and a new, larger super-bomber, the B-32 began rolling off the production lines. Since the factory was on the other side of the runway, they didn’t have far to go. I was among the first 20 AirCorps officers to be checked out in the B-32 program. Whenever a new aircraft comes into the inventory, it always has many problems that are discovered and generally fixed before the aircraft becomes a reliable and useful system. The B-32 was no exception. The Wright engine vibrated in one mode and the Convair airframe vibrated in another mode and the fuel lines in between continued to break under the vibrational stress. A broken fuel line spewing fuel on a hot engine can be exciting. On the first flight I made, we took off and were instructed by the instructor pilot to circle the field once and shoot a landing. We reved up, poured the coal to it and took off beautifully. What a bunch of power and what a beautiful responsive aircraft to fly. You could fly it with two fingers. About the time the bird leaped into the air, the crew chief called, “#3 engine on fire.” Man, those were startling words. I shut off the fuel to #3, feathered the engine and climbed up to traffic altitude to start the approach for landing. By this time, the fuel in the line had all burned and the fire burned out. We continued our approach and landed quite safely and parked the aircraft without any trouble. The next three flights resulted in exactly the repeat of the first landing—four take-offs, four engines on fire emergency landings. It was getting routine but about this time the contractor had developed a new type of fuel line and stopped the problem.

After completing the B-32 training school, I was assigned to a B-32 training squadron as an instructor pilot and continued to fly as an instructor until the end of the war.

Soon after we arrived in Fort Worth while we were still in the holding squadron and didn’t have much to do, I started shooting skeet each morning and playing ball in the afternoon. One particular guy always seemed to be around the same time to shoot as I was and we became friends. Bob Weir was from Montana and was an avid hunter and fisherman. After a few months, we became good friends.

In the meantime, my wife started attending Officers’ Wives’ Club meetings. She started telling me about this girl she met and became friends with. The girl’s name was Peach and about every day I would hear what Syl and Peach had been doing. Finally, the girls decided that their husbands just had to get acquainted. A dinner party was arranged when I was to meet Peach’s husband. When the guests had arrived, I and the husband broke out laughing. Instead of spending a boring evening with some guy I didn’t know, here was my friend, Bob, married to Syl’s friend Peach. After that the two couples were inseparable friends, that is, until I was transferred.

In the spring of 1945, April brought a capitulation by Germany and some relief from the strain of a wartime basis. The B-32 program was designed mostly for the Far East Theater and our effort was directed toward getting B-32s into the bombing of Japan.

Sometime during the spring of 1945, I was flying with a student pilot from Fort Worth, northwest toward Abilene, Texas. The sky suddenly lit up like an aircraft had exploded just in front of us. I called the tower and reported the incident. They, in turn, started a search for a missing aircraft. We continued to fly toward the direction of the bright flash, but neither I, nor Operations, could find anything. The tower sent out a request for any aircraft missing and none were reported. I made quite a fuss that I was sure I had seen this peculiar flash of light, but it continued to be a mystery.

During the summer, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing World War II to an abrupt end, much to the relief of all the people in the military. When it became evident that the war end was near, I along with most of the other sober, non-drinking officers, were chosen to form a “Victory in Japan Patrol.” It was felt that the citizen soldiers would go bananas when the end of the war was announced. The services wanted to avoid any unnecessary trouble. I was teamed up with an old Major and we were assigned a staff car to patrol the base. When the announcement came, there were a few hip-hoorays, but not much else. We did hear a bit of celebrating in on of the BOQs and went to investigate. Three people rushed out of the barracks and across the lawn area from the quarters. We went back, got the car, and drove around the area to discover three WACs [Women’s Air Corps] trying to get back into their barracks, without proper clothing. In fact, one of them was only wearing a leather flight jacket. We put them in the back of the car and drove them to their barracks and released them. That was the extent of the wild celebrations at Fort Worth Air Field.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chapter 34

Next day, we had to report to the Presidio of Monterey for additional orders. They gave us orders to report to the R&R center at Santa Monica after 30 days leave. We then drove back to Merced and then on to Payson to visit my folks.

Since Syl’s dad was a railroad man, the family could get free passes on the railroad so Syl talked her mother into coming with us to Los Angeles to pick up our son, Britt, while we were at Santa Monica. We had several unforgettable experiences at Los Angeles and round about. We went golfing for my first time. I didn’t break any par, but I beat the golfing buddy we went with and he was really ticked that I beat him my first time out.

We also got tickets to a UCLA-USC football game in the LA Coliseum. During the first three quarters and 13 minutes, USC made 2 touchdowns and one extra point. UCLA made zilch. Our golfing friends were very bored with the game and wanted to leave. With 2 minutes left, we finally agreed to go. As we were leaving, the crowd started to go wild and we were wondered what we had missed. We learned later that UCLA came back with two touchdowns and 2 extra points to win the game 14-13. We had missed all the action.

Probably the highlight of the whole adventure was a trip to R.K.O. Movie Studio. Beggs and Corbin lived in Los Angeles and so we got together and took them and their dates to the Brown Derby for dinner. Bill’s girlfriend was a stand-in at R.K.O. A leg stand-in. Whenever they wanted to photograph a pair of legs for the movies, they would use her legs. The other parts of the girl weren’t bad, either. She invited us to take a tour of the studio and volunteered to escort us. This was great. We took the 2 dollar tour, then, as a little extra, she took us to the make-up studio where we met Perc Westmore, the best known makeup man in Hollywood at the time. He decided I’d look cute with a mustache so invited me to sit in the make-up chair. After covering me with a makeup cloth to prevent makeup from getting on my uniform, proceeded to give me a full grown cookie duster, Clark Gable style. As he was working on me, the director came in and said he wanted to have the makeup changed on one of the cast. Perc said, “I’ll take care of it as soon as I finish the Captain.” Without looking, the director said, “Haven’t you finished him yet?” Then to me, “You should have been on the set long ago.” He proceeded to give me a good bawling out for being late.

Some explanation and introduction later proved I was not the Captain of his play. It lead to an invitation to go watch the actual filming of the movie. It was a nautical tale staring Paul Henreid and Maureen O’Hara. We met and talked with both the stars and really saw them making several short scenes for the movie. To an old farm boy and his wife, this was very exciting. [The movie was “The Spanish Main” which came out in 1945.]

After due time, I was assigned to Tarrant Field, Fort Worth, Texas, so I could be near the Brooke Medical Center. This was the world’s leading authority on Malaria. We collected our son and all our possessions, put them into our little car and trailer and we were off to Texas. Upon arriving at the new base, I stopped at the housing office and they had just received a new billing for a house to rent. I grabbed the slip and rushed to the address. It was 4008 Birchman, in Arlington Heights [Fort Worth], the better part of the city. There we met Mrs. Jones and promptly rented her completely furnished home. It was lovely. A nice, neat white house with a fenced backyard and a separate garage. Mrs. Jones was an artist and her husband had been drafted. She had decided to rent the house and go back to live with her folks until he came home. The house showed her very artistic touch and contained many of her paintings.

My work at Fort Worth was at first very dull. There were hundreds of returned combat pilots in a holding pattern with absolutely nothing to do. At the same time, the training squadrons were refusing to release pilot instructors for combat because instructors were claimed to be especially trained. After about a week of that nonsense, I went to the director of trainings office and introduced myself. After explaining my instructors background, requested that I be put back to work as an instructor pilot. He allowed he would arrange a flight check to see if I was qualified to be an instructor pilot. I passed with no questions. The director then proposed he send me to instrument school at Bryan, Texas. At first I was very unhappy at his delaying tactics, but then later was very glad to have been through the school.

Since we only intended to be at school for six weeks, we kept the house and just took enough to get by with for a short period. When we arrived at the school, we first went house hunting. We ended up living in a motel at College Station, Texas, right across the street from Texas A&M.

The instrument part of the school was no problem, but feeling confident in a little AT-6 aircraft after stepping down from a B-24 took awhile. The highlight of the school was the school commandant, Col. Duckworth. He had been one of the first pioneers in instrument flying and had some 12,000 total hours. He was continually in trouble with the AirCorps administratively, but was fantastic in inspiring students to be interested in instrument flying. Most of the students, like myself, were combat returnees sent there to get us out of the way. All the instructors were non-combat pilots. One instructor was even a cadet I had washed out of one of my squadrons back when I was a flight commander at Merced. It took someone with great ability and insight to motivate the students.

After completion of the Air Force instrument school, we returned to Fort Worth and again put in the holding squadron. After another visit to the director of training and another flight check, I was reassigned to a B-24 squadron as an assistant instructor. This meant I could only teach with another instructor pilot along. Generally this meant being completely free to teach B-24 flying while the regular instructor slept in the back end.

After a couple of weeks, I was called into the squadron commander’s office and asked if I would take two very troublesome students and see what I could do with them. These two students were from an old training command, a Lt. Colonel and a Major with many thousands of hours of flying time and good pilots, but they resented the young lieutenant who tried to treat them like cadets. I simply talked to them and treated them like senior officers. They soloed the first day I taught them.

An interesting thing developed while I was soloing them. For years since we were married, Syl could fly with me occasionally and she got to the point where she could fly very well. I had promised to solo her and help her get her license, but to do this, I had to get my commercial, instrument, and instructor’s rating from C.A.A. I had succeeded in getting the commercial and instrument rating and was working on getting my instructor’s rating at the time. As I sat on the end of the runway watching these students solo, they were shooting landings, one after another and I was sweating out each landing. I suddenly thought, “What if that was your wife.” Right there I decided no way. I never did get that instructor’s rating from C.A.A. and she never did solo.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Chapter 33

About the time of the invasion of southern France, I started having fever attacks every afternoon. The first one occurred one night after a baseball game. I had flown a mission and then played the game. The first question the doctor asked me was, “Have you been taking your Atabrine?” (A pill to prevent malaria.) I reported that I was taking it regularly but he said he better check for malaria, anyway. The results showed negative and so he started analyzing for something else. In the meantime, I would fly a mission and get home in time for my chill. Then by morning, I’d feel fine. Finally, the doctor grounded me and sent me to the hospital where they couldn’t find anything wrong with me either.

After a few days of rest, they sent me back to duty. As soon as I started working, I’d start having attacks again. This time the doctor prescribed an R&R (Rest and Relaxation). So my whole crew was scheduled to go to the Isle of Capri for a vacation. That night the O.D. needed an extra man, stumbled into my tent and demanded my top gunner fly as a replacement. When I woke up to go on R&R, all the crew were so angry they refused to go. To make matters worse, the aircraft was shot down and we lost Sgt. O’Brien. The doctor insisted I take a vacation and ordered me to go to Rom an a rest quota for administrative personnel with some of our group leaders. When we reached Rome, we were taken to the Hotel Augusta where I was quartered. As we entered, we observed a long line of girls and women waiting outside the hotel door. At the counter as we registered, we were told we could take a friend to lunch and dinner and we could choose any one of the waiting line if we liked.

I became good friends with our group chaplain because he and I were the only two officers in Rome going solo. One day as we came out on the balcony overlooking the very ornate dining room, Chaplain Goldberg made a very descriptive statement. “Vern, there sure is lots of virtue going before hunger here today.”

While in Rome, Capt. Roberdeau, an intelligence officer from the 830th squadron, and an old friend of mine, was assigned as my roommate. We spent a good deal of time touring the city. Rome is a city of Art. There is a famous statue or building on almost every corner. Of course, the greatest art treasures are in the Vatican. We had hired a cab driver who spoke English to be our guide. As we went through St. Peter’s cathedral, the guide would almost invariably say, “This statue was done by Rafael, he was beheaded in 1776” until it seemed that all the famous people had been killed. My friend Roberdeau finally stated, “No wonder all the Italians are so dumb, they killed all the smart ones.” This made the guide so angry, he deserted us. While we were going through the cathedral, a man in a beanie came by and asked us if we would like to have an audience with the Pope [Pope Pius Xll]. Of course, who wouldn’t? We, with a number of other servicemen were taken to the Sistine Chapel where we were seated. I managed to get a front row seat. When the Pope entered, he shook hands with all of us and as he came to me he asked, “And are you a good Catholic boy?” To which I answered, “No Sir, I’m a good Mormon boy.” He answered that must be a good church, too. He then sat down and gave us a good fatherly lecture on the evils of sin and in keeping ourselves morally clean. He impressed me as a very noble old gentleman trying to do his best for the good of everyone.

That evening, I went to dinner with Roberdau and his “date.” She was an Italian actress who was very beautiful and spoke perfect English. She was married and had two children. Her husband worked 16 hours a day and earned enough to feed his family just one meal a day. If she ate at the hotel, then her children could have two meals a day. She left each night in time to meet her husband when he got home from work. When she went home that night, she had money and food enough to feed her kids.

The people in Rome and other large cities were literally starving to death, while the people in the farm lands ate adequately. That night I vowed I would have a farm as soon as I got home.

After my R&R I returned to the same routine, fly all morning and have fever all afternoon. One mission I was flying deputy squadron lead on the right wing of my squadron commander, Major O’Brien. As we flew along, the number two propeller control iced up. This is caused by ice from the water in the engine hydraulic fluid freezing at the cold temperatures of high altitude. The ice would block the control valve causing the propeller to run away. I adjusted the power to compensate for the loss of one engine and turned the controls over to the co-pilot while I tried to remove the ice by cycling the control valve from full open to full closed. While I was doing this, the flight engineer was transferring fuel from one tank to another from which #1 engine was feeding. Sgt. Harris became interested in what I was doing instead of what he was doing. Then when the auxiliary tank from which he was pumping went dry, it began pumping air into the engine fuel line and #1 [engine] stopped cold.

By the time I could get my head out of the cock pit and get oriented to the situation, we were flying directly above the lead plane in a 90° bank—with two dead, on windmilling on the bottom side and two going full burner on the top. I couldn’t straighten the aircraft against the power of the two top engines and I couldn’t chop power without dropping straight down n the top of Obie and his crew. So I tried to let the plane drift across the formation to the left, hoping to right the craft after we had passed the formation, but we never got that far. About the time I had cleared the lead airplane, the aircraft controls stalled and we began spinning to the left. The next few moments of time can best be re-told as told to us after the mission. Major O’Brien missed me from my slot and asked, “What happened to Bryson?” The tail gunner answered, “He just spun out of formation.” Obie shouted, “Where is he now?” The very calm answer came back, “He’s still spinning.” End of story.

           Back to a spinning aircraft with 5000 pounds of high explosives on board. I shopped the throttles and called George to kick full right rudder. When the bird had slowed its stall, I called, “Pop the stick” at which time we both pushed the control column hard forward. The big bird shuddered once, nosed over and began to fly again. We were now dangerously near the tops of the mounts so we picked a low pass between two peaks to fly through. At this altitude, al the ice was gone and all four [engines] were working fine. I turned to look how the crew was and there were eight men lined up on the Bombay catwalk ready to leave us. We looked for the formation but they were not even visible in the sky so we gave up and returned home. We flew the same airplane and the same bomb load successfully on the next mission the next day.

Chapter 32

Our common targets were Ploiesti, Romanian oil fields, [which] I visited 5 times, Munich, Germany, the home of Hitler, to which I flew 3 missions, and to Vienna, where I set an Air Force record for returning from Vienna 9 times. I share this record for missions to Vienna with a Col. Campbell, but I came home all nine times. Vienna was our toughest target. There were reported to be 1000 anti-aircraft guns stationed there. When 15th Air Force visited Vienna, they rolled up a black cloud of flak that was so thick it looked like you could walk on it. The guns were arranged in groups of four and would fire in square patterns each bursting far enough away from the others to ensure damage to any aircraft within the box. As you approached the gunners would start to track you on your particular box. At first they would generally be a safe distance away, but on each series of four bursts, they would zero in on you until they made their kill, or you flew out of range. How many times I watched the quads pick up my squadron, one two three four, then a pause. Then 1, 2, 3, 4, coming closer. Then 1, 2, 3, 4, then 1, 2, 3, 4 until they were right ahead of you. Then one to your left, two to your right, three directly ahead and you waited and sometimes four never came. You breathed again and kept fighting to keep in formation and deliver your payload and watching for fighters and calling out “bogey at 1 o’clock high.”

            One mission now ran into another and only a very few remained clean. One day we had bombed Vienna and were returning home peacefully as could be. When we flew, we wore flak vests and helmets for our own protection, but they were very heavy and uncomfortable. On this particular day, I had removed my helmet and placed it down o the floor beside my seat. As we flew back south, we were flying over a heavy cloud deck when all of a sudden the sky started popping with fireworks. When the flak burst is close, you see red from the explosion, and we saw red with the first burst. About the second series of four, I got smacked on the top of my head and the fragment lodged in the frame of the aircraft to the left of my head. It felt like I had been hit with a club. My head dropped down until my chin struck hard against my chest. My first reaction was “Good old flak helmet!” Then I looked down and there it was lying on the floor. We wore a leather helmet under the metal flak helmet and the flak fragment had cut right through the leather seam above the center of my skull, cut a groove through my hair, but never brought blood. That’s about as close as you can come.

            On the 26th of June [1944], I was assigned to lead a mission to Vienna to bomb the Floridsdorf Oil Refinery. We had been to the same target for three days in a row and missed the target every time. How 800 bombers can all miss a target is hard to understand unless you have been there, but miss, we did. On this particular mission we all knew where we were going even before briefing and Germans knew it too. They announced on their propaganda radio that they would be ready for us and they were. They brought the entire Air defense capability that remained in the Luftwaffe into the area to meet us. The entire 15th Air Force with all available aircraft, about 800 B-24s and B-17s with all available fighter cover took off for Vienna on schedule. This looked like the show-down at O.K. Corral. Unknown to everyone, the Air Force had brought to additional groups of F-51 fighters from England down to fly cover for us also.

            We arrived over Vienna in the middle of the long train of American bombers strung out, group after group. As we started our bomb run, a group of yellow noses met us, head on. The yellow noses were the German’s crack outfit. Then flew the best aircraft and used more effective techniques and new their business. I was leading high box in the first wave. In the first pass, the lead box disintegrated so I was left alone, leading the group. Only two of that box finally limped home. The next flight of yellow noses were after us, head on. They would roll just before they struck and fire upside down, then fall away, beneath the target. The bottom of their aircraft was armor-plated so it was impossible to hurt them once they got turned over. As the flight leader came straight at my aircraft, we waited until he just started his roll. Then big Bill opened up with the nose turret and blew him clear out of the sky. The rest of the flight, to avoid his debris, broke off the attack and hit the second wave in full force. This left me unmolested to drop our bombs. We went on until bombs away then started to weave to avoid the flak which had every gun trying to stop us. The bombardier continued to watch his bomb until they struck and reported a direct hit from our six birds carrying 5000 pounds each. We continued to fake and weave to avoid the flak, putting as much distance between us and Vienna as possible. The rest of the group that was still flying rallied around us and we proceeded on home. My squadron had not been touched due to Bill’s pinpoint accuracy.

            As we droned away from the target, we took time to look around at the rest of the battle. Any direction you looked, you could see B-24s or B-17s going down in smoke and flame. Finally, 12 of our original 24 birds reached home and safely landed.

            It was reported a little later than the U.S. Air Force had shot down 376 jerry aircraft that day. It effectively broke the back of the Luftwaffe because I never saw another fighter the rest of my tour.

            One Sunday, I wasn’t flying for the first time and I got my next day mission planned early so a group of us could go to Church up at Foggia where there was a large concentration of Air Force groups. They had started a church group and four of us borrowed a jeep to drive to Church about 50 miles distance. We arrived late and everyone was seated so we slipped in the back and joined them. They were meeting in a large auditorium in the city and had a capacity crowd. During the services, we had to stand up for a song and when we stood up, I thought I had shrunk. Being six feet tall, I was not used to having trouble seeing over people’s heads. This crowd was all so much taller that I was awestruck. I couldn’t believe that a group of L.D.S. men stood so far above the average of the men I was used to working with. A testimony of the Word of Wisdom.

During the summer, we made several missions to southern France to soften up the course for the invasion of southern France. One of the obstacles as a huge 16 inch naval weapon located on a prominent point overlooking one of the harbors. The squadron lead was assigned to bomb the gun implement. As we made our run, the bombardier reported a direct hit on the target but, of course, the target was instantaneously covered with a cloud of smoke so no assessment could be made. One of the men was assigned to take pictures through the bottom of the aircraft for target identification. When we got back and developed the pictures, one showed a bomb exploding immediately behind the big gun causing the gun to be blown forward toward the ocean. The picture snapped just as the muzzle of the gun struck the water causing a spray out from the impact.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Chapter 31

The Arabs are generally a fearless people where death is concerns because they believe their religion. There is one thing they fear and that is the “Gumbs.” The Gumbs are French West Africans and they are generally very tall, powerful negroids. The French armed them with World War I rifles with old long triangular shaped bayonets. They were used exclusively as troops to ring the Arabs in line. In all, I had to admire the Arabs more than their French conquerors.

Probably the most interesting thing in the three weeks we stayed in Oujda was the Arabian horses. All the horses we saw about the area were stallions because the Arabs never work a mare. They are kept for breeding, but since they are very selective about their breeding stock, it must be more than just using the mares for breeding but never did I see a mare being worked. All the horses we saw were outstanding as to configuration if not for size. They were generally quite small but there were some that were very tall. I never saw any draft-type horses either. Even the beer wagons were pulled by Arabians.

Most of the Arabian stallions were very tranquil, showing no viciousness we would see in American stallions. Our friend, the cabbie, had 5 stallions he kept in a single room—in his house—incidentally—and they never fought. On the street, people would walk up and down the street walking within inches of the horses and pay no attention to the horses, as if they were completely harmless.

There was one outstanding example to the contrary. He was, without question, the most beautiful and dynamic horse I saw. He was a bright copper sorrel. He stood taller than most of the Arabians I saw, but was light of frame and very leggy. He was worked on the outside of a beer wagon with two nondescript but heavier horses. When he moved, you could see every muscle in his body moving in rhythm, like the muscle patterns you see in some tall, but very powerful athletes. He was very quick and would always have the load started before the other two horses could move. But he was mean. They had to work him with both kick straps to prevent him from kicking and a muzzle to prevent his biting. They say Arabs select their breeding stallions according to their docile nature and their obedience first and configuration second. I’m sure he would have been a brood stallion except for his meaness. He was a beautiful picture to behold.

Another outstanding horse was a tall dappled grey horse that was driven on a two-wheeled surrey by the wife of one of the French authorities. He must have been 17 hands high, with a beautiful dappled coat that almost became blue in the hind quarters. His head was the typical short Arabian head with a tiny muzzle. They say a brood stallion must have a muzzle small enough to drink from a tea cup. This particular horse was completely gentle and her owner would stop in front of a store and the horse would stand perfectly still without even being tied for as long as the woman was shopping. When he travelled, he had a long swing that really covered miles.

After 20 days of waiting, the Air Force finally shipped us a tire but no aircraft jacks to mount the tire. Since were bothered by our long absence, we were eager to get going. We borrowed 5 jacks from the British and a truck load of railroad ties from the French. With the ties, we built up a crib on which to place the jacks and with planks under the wing to distribute the load, slowly jacked up the plane enough to remove the old tire and wheel and replace it with the new one. It was a very risky procedure and if a jack had slipped and punched a hole through the wing, I could have paid for the whole aircraft. We succeeded without incident. We finished about noon and by one o’clock, we were in the sky on our way to our final destination.

We landed at Oudna [Airfield], I reported directly to the squadron headquarters were the commander told me he had reported us all missing in action. Seems the message had not reached the squadron in the three weeks we were waiting although I had personally talked to the group operations officer and told him where we were and why. The base at Oudna, Tunisia was very hot and dry. It was just inland from Tunis and the surrounding area was very harsh desert.

Since it was the French territory before the war, a provisional French government was established. They imposed all sorts of dumb rules, like, if an aircraft crashed, it belonged to the French government, even if it crashed on the airstrip. The base security guards were French and in general, they were milking Uncle Sam for all they could get. About this time, one of our aircraft had a wheels-up landing on the field near the runway. As soon as the plane had crashed, the French rushed out and posted a guard around the aircraft. It happened that the ball turret on my plane was inoperable because of a simple little airbase fitting that was not in stock and we were being briefed to fly a mission the next day. There was a fitting on the crashed aircraft. So I determined to get the part. We drove a jeep we had borrowed from Ops. out to this downed aircraft and were immediately challenged by the big colored guard. I tried to explain to him that I need a part in English and kept jabbering in French or Swahili, or whatever he spoke. I’d show him the wrench and part inside the aircraft and he finally got the idea that I wanted to do something with the plane so I got as far as the turret. When I’d start removing the part, he would start jabbering and start to lower the end of that long rifle. I’d drop the wrench and would drop my hand down to my pistol. This provided a pretty good bluff because he soon was watching my right hand more and jabbering less. After several minutes that seemed like hours of playing bluff between a few turns of the fitting, I finally succeeded in getting my part and backing out of the aircraft with him jabbering more than ever when he found I was going to take something. With my right hand free, he never threatened to point his rifle anymore. I got back in the jeep and we drove off. It was a foolish game to play, but I morally objected to flying a crippled aircraft in combat because of stupid political bungling.

We flew a couple of short practice missions their and I got to fly to Algiers one day to take the group commander on business. Other than that, it was a pretty dull place. Finally, the word leaked out that we were scheduled to move to Italy. At this time the invasion of Sicily had been completed and we had taken Southern Italy up to the north end of Foggia Valley. The beach-head at Anzio had been established, but had not been connected with the inland troops. In fact, they were completely stalled in the small beach-head.

About the next day, the Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Griffin, a good “jack-mormon” from Utah, called me in and told me I was going to Italy the next day and would be in charge of establishing the squadron area. We loaded up our Big Bird again and flew onto a new field near Venosa, Italy. The field consisted of a pierced plank runway and part of the taxi ways and parking areas. Everything else was a wheat field until the war came to Italy. We landed in a beautiful clear day. The grass was up and green and everything looked beautiful. We set about getting a couple of tents and set up to live in and just about succeeded when it started to rain. We had no heat in the ten but had succeeded in keeping our gear dry. And it rained. Finally one of the group officers came by and dropped off a few cases of “C” rations. Later they parked a trailer of drinking water. From that, we lived for two weeks until they could get another aircraft into the field. As soon as the rain stopped, the rest of the squadron started to arrive and we began to prepare to fight a war.

After the flight crews arrived, the ground personnel arrived en mass. Well, most of them did. While the flight crews flew across the ground support, troops had come across by boat. They were traveling in a huge naval convoy protected by many warships but just after they entered the Mediterranean Sea, three JU SS, Jerry bombers, came in on the deck and concentrated their attack on just one ship out of the convoy. This happened to be the ship one of our squadron personnel was on and the entire ground force for one squadron was lost. The group reassigned personnel from within the group and filled in the vacancies with replacements.

Very quickly the assignment came for the first mission. It was an easy milk-run on a seaport on Yugoslavia. I was assigned a position in the lead box of our squadron. All the crews reported for briefing about 2 a.m. and by the first light of dawn, we were launching aircraft. The lead aircraft containing the group commander, took off first then by squadron, each aircraft took off at 20 second intervals. The leader started a slow turn to the left around the field and each pilot would take a route inside the circle so as to intercept the leader by the time he had made two complete circles. From there we flew to a rendezvous point with our arrival timed exactly so as not to interfere with other groups arriving over the point at time spaced intervals. Since this was our first combat mission, they sent us by ourselves so we wouldn’t foul up other groups. We went in at bombing altitude and we saw a couple of little white puffs in the sky below us. Everyone was too busy preparing to drop bombs and to stay in good tight formation to worry about them. As pilot, all I had to do was stay in formation with the squadron leader. The bombardier manually released the bombs when the lead ship released his. Everything went well and after about six hours flying time, we were back at the field. After landing and parking the birds, we all were picked up in the personnel trucks and taken directly to debriefing. There each crew member was given a shot glass of whiskey and we were criticized on the mission and results. Since not all of the crews could fly in every mission, it took three such flights to give each crew a milk-run to get over the jitters then things began in earnest.

On my second mission, our group was assigned to bomb some installations immediately in front of the narrow beachhead we held at Anzio. We were supposed to fly from the ocean in south of Anzio, bomb our targets, then rally left, over Rome and back to the Sea. As we approached our target, a few bursts of flak could be seen over Rome so our leader decided to rally over the Anzio beachhead instead of over the city. Only the ground troops didn’t like aircraft flying over them and the American anti-aircraft opened up on us.

My aircraft received 32 flak holes and my tail gunner was wounded to the point he couldn’t fly for several missions because a leader didn’t do as he was directed. Other crews didn’t fare as well as we did.

Soon after we started flying combat, the 731st squadron lost almost half its squadron in one mission. The squadron commander was hurt on the mission, also, and was hospitalized, so Capt. O’Brien, one of the senior pilots from our squadron was made commander of the 731st Squadron. He asked for and with my concurrence, had me transferred to his squadron. O’Brien was an old-timer and the one flight commander remaining in the squadron was an old-timer, but the squadron operations officer was an inexperienced fellow. So the squadron was organized with two flights instead of the usual four. Capt. F.X. Dalton was chief of one and I was the chief of the other. F.X. and I had complete responsibility for the planning and leading our flights and we would alternate days flying. Each mission required a squadron leader and only three of us, O’Brien, Dalton, and I were qualified to fly the lead and/or alternate the lead. Every fourth mission where our squadron became group lead squadron, two of us had to fly. The days I didn’t fly, I would select the crews and plan the flight for the next day. Then the next day I was responsible to get the crews up and to briefing and see that the mission was performed properly.

Missions ran into missions, one every day and sometimes two on consecutive days. On the days I flew, I had to be awake before the rest of the crews to be sure the O.D. awakened the right crews and to make assignments to replace men that were sick or wounded. This meant getting up at 1 or 2 a.m. and being briefed at 3 or 4 a.m. Most take-offs were around 5:30 or 6 a.m. We would return around 2 p.m., depending upon the distance we had to go to the target.

After we returned, we had to attend debriefing then our time was free until the next mission except for the required planning.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chapter 30

The next morning we were off to Marrakech, Morocco. This flight took us across the west edge of the Sahara Desert, through a pass in the Atlas Mountains before landing at Marrakech.

As we crossed the desert, we could see the sand flowing below us, actually obscuring the ground. As we went further north, the sand storm kept getting higher and higher until it was higher than our assigned altitude and we found ourselves flying in a cloud of red sand. We applied the air filters to keep the sand out of the engines but it was everywhere else. Using air filters always decrease the output power of the engines perceptible and we had to apply more power to hold our airspeed and altitude. After a couple of hours of flying in the red cloud, the crew chief noticed liquid coming out of the number 3 nacelle, which proved to be gasoline. Of course, raw gasoline you don’t want in the nacelle of an airplane so we shut off the fuel line and feathered the engine. No big deal—except we discovered that which our heavily loaded bird, the filters on, and one engine feathered, we couldn’t hold our altitude. We kept getting lower and lower and we knew the pass in the Atlas Mountains was 12,000 feet with 16,000 foot mountains on both sides of the pass. And we were blind all the way.

I picked up the microphone, turned to intercom and asked the navigator where we were. It had been my habit to recheck the navigator with the radio compass at all times, just to play it safe, but this evidently didn’t go well with Zeke and he answered, “What the h— you asking me for, you have a radio compass, don’t you?”

As we continued to descend, it became extremely doubtful if we could clear the pass, particularly if we were slightly off course. I considered all things, took a chance on the leaking gasoline and restarted the dead engine. We climbed up to a safe altitude and flew through the mountains. As soon as we were through the mountains, the sand storm disappeared and the green oasis that was Marrakech was right in front of us, as it should be. We re-feathered #3 [engine] and made an uneventful landing.

When we got on the ground we had an understanding with the navigator, repared the broken fuel line and prepared for an early morning take off on our last leg to our destination at Oudna, near Tunis. Next morning we were off on schedule and were cruising quietly when an engine started running rough. A quick check indicated that lost a magneto on number 2 engine. This can cause an overheat of an engine with extended use, and since we wanted those engines in the very best shape for things to come, we decided to land at an airfield at Oujda, French Morocco to get the engine repaired. Our briefing material indicated the field had an American repair facilities so we expected a quick repair and on to our base.

After we landed on the pierced-plank runway, we turned to taxi back to the parking area, but one corner of the plank had been broken loose and bent up. It cut a tire causing a blow out. We were instructed by the tower operator, a very British voice, to clear the runway and park the aircraft since they had no towing equipment big enough to tow an aircraft.

This particular base had recently been turned over to R.A.F. and they had only Spitfire aircraft there, from the African campaign and no maintenance facilities for American aircraft at all. The change had not been corrected in our briefing material.

For three weeks we waited for the Air Force to ship us a new tire. While I was calling the Air Corps to make arrangements for the tire and magneto, the crew found a wrecked C-47 with a good magneto on the engine. Since B-24s and C-47s have the same engine the engine was repaired within an hour. But not so the tire.

Here I had experiences with three groups of people at the same time. It was a French territory, the base was British and most of the population were Arabic. The English, the Royal Air Force controlled the field were we had landed and the BOQ where we were staying. The BOQ was an old hotel in downtown Oujda, in the French section but serviced by Arabs, mostly women. Each morning early, they would chant their prayers. It was a rather startling alarm the first time you heard it.

Most of the English were very nice fellows but there was one in every crowd. In this case, a group captain equivalent to an American Major. When we were introduced, he invited me to have a drink with him, which I politely declined explaining that I didn’t drink alcoholic beverages. Soon he came back with a bottle of champagne and insisted I toast the Queen. He said it would be an insult to Great Britain if I refused. I accepted the glass of champagne he thrust into my hand and he toasted the Queen. As quietly as possible, I set it down on the table besides me. Suddenly I saw a hand reach out from behind me, grab the glass and quickly replace it empty. Lt. George had drunk it in one gulp and put it back on the table beside me without the Captain seeing it. The next morning I went back into the club for breakfast, quite early and as I entered, the Wing Commander called to me and asked him to join him at his table for breakfast. He apologized for the rudeness of the group captain the night before and as we talked, the captain came in for breakfast and immediately started telling how he had tricked me into taking a drink. After much bragging how he had outsmarted me, he asked how I liked it. I quietly, but plainly, explained I hadn’t tasted it—that I had put it down on the table and George had drunk it. This just panicked the whole group of officers to think I had out done the jerk. Everyone just roared with laughter, particularly the Wing Commander with whom I was eating. I thought they would laugh him clear off the base. They just kept laughing until he left the club. They have all kinds, too.

The French were the governing society in the country. The only thing I particularly noticed about them was the beautiful women. Not only were there a lot of lovely French women who lived there, but a lot of Spanish nobility had escaped to the French Morocco at the time of the Spanish Revolution and they lived there also. In the tow and the hotel where we lived, all the people were French. The Arabs came to town to work, but they lived in the cadina on one side of town. The cadina was walled as if to keep the French out, but it really served to separate the two races. Except for work, the Arabs stayed within the cadina and no Caucasian went into the cadina without an Arab escort.

The French were a very cruel people where the Arabs were concerned. A French man could kill an Arab and the standard fine was 26 Francs. If an Arab killed a Frenchman, he was shot on sight, without trial. There was a contingent of French legionaires stationed there to guard the railroad and they road as guards on the trains. It was reported they shot any Arab in sight of the railroad track. When an Arab saw a train coming he had to get a rifle distance from the track even though he may be working on his farm right beside the track.

The Arabs were characters. They were very philosophical about everything. Since the war in Africa [started], the natives had been without gasoline so no cars would be driven. The Arabs, being a very industrious people were a fast buck is concerned, removed the engines from the cars and put a driver’s seat in a place of the engine. They then put a tongue in front of the car and drove 2 to 4 horses to provide taxi service or their personal transportation.

We became good friends with a one old sheik who drove three horses on his machine. He had about 1932-35 Chevrolet, very well preserved inside and waxed to a mirror outside. His horses were on the small side, but many Arabian horses are, although I saw many that stood 15-16 hands. He had five stallions of which he worked 3 each day. We would generally go together, the four officers, and rent his rig all day so we could see the countryside. It got so he would wait for us outside the hotel and drive us to the base for breakfast and then wherever we wanted to go. One day we borrowed the carbines from our enlisted men and went wild boar hunting but with no luck. Wild pigs were about the only game in this part of Africa.

After he had gained confidence in us, he asked us if we would like to attend a slave auction. He laughingly said we could buy a wife. He then carefully warned us if we went, we must not get out of the car for anything while we were there. We all agreed, so he drove about 5 miles out into the country into some rather hilly country. Between a couple of ridges, in a secluded area, was a large assembly of Arabs. Sure enough, they were buying and selling human beings. The bidders were all men, mostly older sheiks or free men. The slaves were young girls eight to ten years old. When the parents raised a girl that age and she hadn’t been betrothed, they simply took her to market and sold her to the highest bidder. The bidder then took the child into his household and she became a servant until she was old enough to marry. Then he either added her to his harem or sold her as wages to another of his laborers.

The Arabs were mostly very sincere in keeping their religion. None of the people drank or would break any of the Ten Commandments in regard to another Muslim but the Koran states the commandments a little differently. Their Good Book reads, “Thou shalt not steal from a believer.” It was not a sin for them to steal from the French, the English or Americans. Since we were protected by our cab driver, we were fairly safe, although the selling of slaves was forbidden by French law. Had we been Frenchmen, we had not been invited or permitted to live to report them. As it was, we had to physically restrain Bob Catlin, who decided he was going to stop them. He could have got us all killed, including our host. We sat on Bob while the old sheik quietly drove away.