One day a plane flew in Dysentery Special, and the crew was Lt. Hatton’s, luckless airmen, who flew on their first mission in Lady Be Good, a plane we had modified the armament on just the day before. These poor men were on their first and only mission to land nearly 500 miles South of our base in the great sand sea and end up dieing from thirst and exposure and other conditions of the worst hell. I met this crew by a fluke as they were at our base no time at all, before they were lost. Walking through the tent area, I saw a man I will never forget for this GI was wearing a stripped train engineers hat.
The following morning I ran ahead to the bulletin board to see if we were on special duties and after checking planned to join my mates at breakfast. As I entered the mess tent, to my left wearing the striped hat was a S/Sgt. tagged Shelley, reading his tag, I asked him what time the next train left for Pittsburgh? He smiled and said nothing, but next to him was a boy I think was Moore who wisely asked, Which one, America has about three Pittsburghs. I pointed to my fatigue hat for on its rim I had lettered Pgh, Pa. My God how young they all were. Then I really felt like grandpa for the youngest member of the group and smallest was Sgt. Lamott (Young Roddy MacDowell) said, “I don’t think anything stops there” and they all laughed. I told them to treat me with respect as I was the oldest private in the air force and had lots of power. They told me their plane when I asked and I wished them good luck and joined Bob Flowers who was still at breakfast. As we left the mess tent, some of their officers were with them out side. All but one were much too young for this sort of life/with one exception, a man I now know to have been Dp Hays. Dp was almost a midget, but one of the oldest looking men that I had ever seen, His side burns looked as if he were an albino and let his blonde hair dirty so not to look so awfully white. Shockingly enough it was as though these lads were flying with father time, perhaps they were.
A day or two later I carved in my plastic cigarette case...Lady Be Good missing in the Med Sea. We did not know for 17 years the terrible fate of these lads and fully expected them to be found safely adrift. As we moved shortly following this ill-fated mission and the squadrons split up I did not even think of Shelley and his striped hat, other than the one line notation in my diary again - Lady had taken off in the dust and had a hard time becoming airborne. This was Bomboogie's fifth mission with Lt. Iovine, flying this one.
In nine months in the desert we had but one rain and it was a cloudburst, turning the desert into a river. We were lucky it was of very short duration, but with the ruts created, Soluch became a beautiful but worthless airfield. It was beautiful, because the desert was now arrayed with millions of tiny orchid like flowers including one dandelion.
We packed up and moved to BG, this time I flew (short hop) to our new field, Benina, 11 or Berka 11, as it is referred to by present day Historians. Lucky 5l2th was right on the shore of the Med. I had developed a bad cough and the sand storms did not help a bit. We had flown several missions to Italy and the Sicily district. Coughing round the clock had drained me, but I fought to go on. Not being a flyer I felt less than nothing. One day, assigned to KP for manual outside duty, I collapsed, a victim of desert fever carried by sand flies. As I came to I heard a 512th, enlisted millionaire, E.A.G. tell Capt. H. that if I was not put in Hospital at once, he would write his congressman and hell would be raised. John Dolcich, tentmate and friend had brought me food when I had been too beat to go for it. I spent several days in the tent hospital at BG., not happy days for I belonged back with Bomboogie and the nurse didn't think a hell of a lot of me and my 128 lbs (There was not much left of me)
I did not want to be bedded next to a man with a highly contagious, infectious disease, and said so. She claimed the desert heat would kill all blanket germs. Who knows? Major Tulsky, the doctor was great and was on my side of the argument.
Great joy, today, Easter Sunday, April 18, my buddies came to visit me and that was great, but now I wanted to get back as soon as possible. The Red Cross gave me a Milky Way bar, a real return for my family's donation of $40.00 this year. In a few days I happily returned to the 512th but damned weak but well able to work, enjoying an afternoon or evening swim.
The drinking water here was a bit of an improvement over our last base for there it tasted as if it had been treated with iodine and skunk cabbage. The first ship to be salvaged at Tobruk was loaded with Dow Ale from Canada, man oh man, was that good. Only rarely could I make a deal for some bottles of this great brew. The heat and bad air made our work quite hard, but we had real men who cared. One tough thing for mechanics and armorers alike was during the workday you would cut, scratch or bruise yourself and in the torrid heat you would never feel it, but as the night cold came on even the smallest scratch would sting terribly, as we were adjusting to bacteria we had never been subjected to before. A problem developed, let's just call it Dahlstedt's luck, M/Sgt. Fred Moran, an old Halpro man was the enlisted man in charge of armament. Fred was from my hometown, which for most people would have been an advantage; however Fred reminded me that just 12 years before, my brother and I had tied him to a tree and left him there. (Strange I had forgotten that) Fred reminded me of this at the darndest times and I felt at times he was just hunting the right tree. Fred was a great soldier who wore the winged boot of desert airmen who had flown out and walked back in the Western desert.
The mission was to ack-ack alley Messina, John's plane and Boogie returned late.
Last time Boogie was late it was late by a day with fuel pump trouble all armament had been A-l on that mission it had been flown by Lt. Robert Miller and crew (Great bunch) One hot rock pilot often flew Bomboogie, his crew I admired but I found myself wishing he would fly somebody’s plane other than mine. One great mission was to Bari, Italy air hangers and fields. Great success that day, total destruction. I felt best when Ryan and crew or Hines & Co. were at bat.
The men in our tent were especially devoted to the men who must depend upon the quality of our work with guns, ammunition, turrets, bombracks, bombs and fuses. Crews often thanked my tentmates, Moyer, Dolcich, Flowers and myself for our care in arming. In the army way we were not given three stripes for our genuine care.' meeting the returning planes and talking to crews was interrupted as brown nosing. (The tree and the rope perhaps)
The first time running the top turret was fun, but we were warned to use the high speed with caution as a man had broken his neck being caught in a high speed revolution of the turret. Dust is blowing again. My thoughts go back to Solluch when we rejoiced that the dust had stopped blowing, only to find guard duty had started.
One must endure one plague at a time. I wish my name were Zyrian then I may live forever without ever being called to special duties such as KP and guard. Why not take em from the rear end of the alphabet now and then.? Although we had no ammunition we were to guard the plane by a 360 degree walk around it until relieved. As I was older I would hide beside one of the B-24's wheels, on a moon lit night that was safety. If anything moved within a mile I was prepared to challenge and I would tell the OD this in advance; thus I was never challenged. Sometime later we were issued ammo, but I still guarded in my own way which I knew was superior.
The desert has a strange fascination, after dark, as the sand cools, the desert seems to come alive as kangaroo rats with their great speed and their large plumed tails seem to be flying at quite low levels in wild pursuit, a most ghostly show. At night you can still taste the dust. When wearing a helmet you are not able to hear for the desert winds are constant and drive men mad. There is either night or day in the desert no twilight. One summer evening darkness had just come in less than an hour it was bright as day. I stood there feeling quite close to God, wasn't this what happened in biblical times that the war might be won? No, time had not reversed for on takeoff to our South West, a Wellington with a full load of incendiaries blew up creating this illusion. Pure hell had been my miracle when the facts were out. There are grenades all over the desert, red, and often blue or yellow and now and then attracted children. Sgt. Tanguay had kicked one and ended up with the purple heart.
Work, sweat, work, sweat, forever, entering the service with lead poisoning and wearing a knee strap when I hand crank bombs I am often in much pain. Often my mind wanders back to Mariposa days, the good food, fresh air, candy bars and the wild ocean waves. As a cannoneer I manned the top front turret on the port side with Lloyd Backhouse, a fine man. On the starboard side same turret was Sgt. Curtis Stecker an Ordinance man of top order who later was awarded the Soldier's Medal which he richly deserved for his disposing of hot bombs threatening our lives.
It was from this special turret that I first viewed one of the finest, soldiers, officers and talented human beings I was ever to meet, Capt. Jack Preble, Naturalist, Author, Hunter, Spelunker and friend to all ranks. This man had the rare ability of bringing all things to life and he made you glad to be part of it. No one was ever to ask too much of this able man. Each night I would see Jack rapidly circling the top deck below my turret and I wondered who was this man with such good sense and I would see Jack in all kinds of weather. Later Jack was to tell me, "Scotty, I was a bit older than some of you guys and I was determined that no soldier would arrive at our destination in better health than I would. I am here to say that he did. My home was Pittsburgh while Jack's horne was Dean Martin's home of Stubenville, Ohio. When we finally met I told him I had relatives in Mingo Junction, Ohio quite near by and they were the Pelly Bros. who owned the drug store. Jack had often gone hunting with them. It was nearly two years before I met Jack who was in the 515th and I in the 512th.
One nagging worry for the armorer and I am certain the mechanic too was how always to remain alert and at your best after hours and hours of endless routine detail. Never for a moment could you permit the luxury of a let down. In the armorer's case one lapse of thought may cause the loss of a life, a crew, the squadron, the mission or the entire airfield. Often we had just cleaned guns, turrets, and dusted ammunition only to be visited by a, simoom; and the entire job had to be redone before the next mission which was often just hours away. In redoing the job you must remain just as alert as the first time or you were asking for trouble for everybody.
Most days I would swab out barrels of exposed guns just prior to revup. One day I heard Sgt. B. ~ who was an MP put in charge of armament say, That damned Scotty leaves everything to the last minute" This kind of understanding kept my tent -mates and I from advancing. Hell has many cornices, most of us wanted to fly and in my case I never quite bounced back from the turn down and I tried to make up for it with quality work. Sgt. Pete Salinsky was 512th, Mess noncom, who knew what he was doing, but was a mean fellow. As acting Corporal of the guard back at Newport News, I woke Pete, then a private, for his turn on guard duty. Now a half year later, Pete says, "I remember you Scotty, you, SOB, you put me on guard duty. Now it's my turn, pick up that dull knife" I obliged and Pete sat me down in the hottest corner of the tent and had me cutting hog belly into small cubes for eight hours. My hands hurt from then on.
We are loading more and more fragmentation bombs. Lord, how they cut you up as they must be double clustered lifted by hand into position and then hand cranked on to the racks. They are so sharp and heavy that we get pretty well cut up. We do hope all this is helping the war effort in some big way. Often we go through this brutality only to have the load changed and we have to debomb and reload something else. Some days there are two debombings, then none of us are civil.
War is many forms of hell. Another Crew that I remember with respect was Iversen's crew, they were the tops and we joked together and had fun. They flew Boogie now and then. One night a convoy was attacked off our shores, the explosions and flashes were terrible and a few days later the bodies and debris reached our shore, following this I took off on a morning swim, alone and found a piece of decking 3" thick 12" wide and near 12' long. Not being the wisest of men I decided to paddle this craft out to the sunken ship off our shore. It had been sunk less than a year before and one side was way out of the water. I paddled on out and tried to make myself confortable and not be visible from the shore. I nearly died as someone opened up from the shore with a rifle. I think now that it was done to scare me and it sure did. I waited and waited, feeling the shooting had ended. I rapidly paddled on in totally beat. This was an act so dumb that I only told Cappy and Dan Wren, these two appreciated moments of moronity. Wren told armament Capt. Brown, who nearly had a laughing fit. Now and then I get a short ride, I feel that I belong up there.
July 4, I have been in the service a year nearly eight months in foreign service. Guard duty again this time in daylight at the 512th Officers Club right on the shore. Around eight a B-24 takes off towards the sea overshoots the runway and ends up in the sea. As eyewitness I alert the men in the club and they go to help. I was proud of them for each responded as their own families were on the plane. All are saved.
Sometime later we are lightly awakened in the middle of a dark night by the wisper of a plane over our tent we look out and see nothing so we go back to bed. Next morning there is a British air craft with its tail sticking out of the Med. close to shore. The two men had been saved. (we must of heard the splash that awakened us for once fully awake we had heard nothing further.)