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.

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