Something big is brewing for there is much low level flying. Dan Wren is sure that its Ploesti again. Great blessing, we rarely debomb and I get to fly in Boogie low level practice mission. 30 some feet in the air and a 30 degree bank that was flying at its best. I am thanked for alerting the officers about the crash, but would prefer I would do things by regulations. Yes, SIR!
Often when working on the plane we start the put-put and tune in the BBC with The Robert Donat program of news and Chopin music when for a brief time war slips away. Some of our pilots are superior, KK, Norman Appold, Brian Flavelle I am sure could fly rings around most others flying with other groups. Grapevine says they are the best at this low level business, which I am sure leaves little room for error.
Oh God! Capt. J. wants to bust me to a private. After having a little talk with this dolt the corporal is still a corporal and charges dropped. My crime was my stupid statement in a letter to my girl friend, I had been offered a direct commission in the engineers, specialty corps and I wrote her that I had done right in turning it down, which I had.
After my plane was prepared to the best of my ability I would sometimes climb into the top turret and read a small Bible no one knew that I had been an objector to any type of senseless war. Not backed by church or family although I had tried to be a flyer, I ended up in the best outfit in the war. Pink Bomboogie is in great shape and hands , Ryan and Co. I put my airforce pin on for good luck and hand load incendiaries to be thrown out by hand after bombs away. Lord, be with them today, starting out in all this dust could be fatal. Please God. Watch over them all. All of ours were safely airborne at a nearby field one crashed on takeoff. We went to church where just two weeks before a machine gun cut loose too close and interrupted the service. We prayed a lot then swam in the Med. but none could hide in any way their worries for their men.
Late in the day the first to return was Teggie Ann, #100 KK's plane 512th Sq. shortly after came Bomboogie all on board were safe but badly shaken. Two of Boogie's engines had conked out while taxiing from the runway. I watched three men kiss the ground. Some told me how horrible it had been but they were quite sure the needed job had been accomplished. Today, I was dumb enough and had time enough to dig into my baggage for my last Egyptian chocolate bar. I threw it away at once for on the first bite, I bit into two burnt match sticks. Darn it I am hungry. Much time would pass before we were told that Ploesti had taken the lives of many and many were prisoners of war some in bad shape, but we felt it all along from the stories leaked out a bit at a time.
Ivan Dimitri, famed American Photographer has been with us about a month. He had photographed us in the Solluch mess tent then left and returned prior to Ploesti. One thing he snapped was the sheet metal men repairing the side of Bomboogie.
Photo Gunner Sgt. R. from Atlanta, was one peach of a person. One day R. had failed to clear the gun for landing and a round was left in the chamber. As this gun when in use was inserted in the ball and socket in the bail-out window in the floor of the tail of the plane, armorers would clean it from its stowed position, strapped to the inside wall of the plane. One too quick glance upon opening the cover plate led me to believe the gun was not loaded. I pried the back plate off and in doing so primed the round which was armor piercing. Upon impact with a micarta control pulley the casing was stripped from the projectile ripping a two foot hole in the side of the plane, while the core zinged on forward puncturing the hydraulic tank, near the bomb-bay. By the Grace of God, John D., John C. and Richard D., who were sitting on ammo boxes between the waist windows were not hurt. I believe that even 50 years later they have nightmares as I have had about this crushing incident. (I wrote a story about this years ago..."The day I killed Private Conrath") In reality I didn't even scratch him, and , once again, thank God.
Prior to Ploesti I couldn't fail to watch Dimetri at work, he had great skill and was completely captivated by The Brewery Wagon, The Green B-24, John Palm was to fly so courageously at Ploesti and Ploesti's first loss. John and Crew were very special people.
Our 376th had so many quality men it is little wonder that we survived the desert. There followed days of fierce dry storms, many missions and losses of men, and planes. It was believed that paratroopers would strike our field, guard duty was wisely doubled. My prayer for the reader is if you have never had to guard the tent of a missing crew, that you never will have to. You are alone, alone, alone in their tent with cherished pictures of families. lovers, friends, pets. Sometimes you knew the men quite well. You may not believe in ghosts, but God help you they are here tonight. These men had your respect and dedication. Just 24 hours ago they were very much alive, laughing, talking, reading, writing home. Suddenly, you feel that you are too much alive, for no one I ever knew could rest in a ghost tent. You blow out the lamp which becomes to you so symbolic of death, you put their blankets on one of their cots and for several hours wrestle with alternate prayers and morbid thoughts. Suddenly the Jeep horns honk, ready or not a new day has begun without the entire family present.
For days as you walk the desert, load the bombs, you wonder, who was killed instantly, who suffered only to die, who is ' now a prisoner of war, who must wander, hurt, hungry, terrified in a most hostile land? If I want to go on serving I must refuse to believe our known losses. My job is to do something silly or to make jokes to make these young guys laugh which may be far better than my regular job for aiding the war effort. I find myself feeling that if you were to take the profit out of war, none of the bastards would play the game. War is damn stupid! Sometime check just how much rent we have to pay for our British tent. You will be shocked.
Once the sun drops, I swim then for a while my hands and knee feel better now and then I get a nasty bite from a small fish, but I enjoy the moments of watching under -water life. Near the shore the iodine content of the water is very high and has a strong smell. Sgt. Kohn at the oxygen tent warned me not to breath oxygen under water. Kohn is a fine man , so I will take his advice.
Recently a great act of insanity was put on by young Chas. Lewis. Put on guard duty one night, Charlie screamed out that he was going to be killed and pointed to what he said was the Maraposa moving right on to our field. This poor, poor lad was never again afforded the privilege of guard duty. We all felt so sorry for Charlie, that he was so much smarter than the rest of us.
Thank God, it was one of the other Squadrons that had an old army officer in charge of KP. 45 years later I remember him as a war criminal, who broke all army codes of punishment by assigning additional KP duty for some minor infraction, real or imagined. Kitchen duty in the desert was backbreakingly cruel, washing and cleaning with little water, carrying many large hot containers sustaining, cuts, bruises, fermentation's attracting flies that ended up eating your sweatty flesh. After 18 hours of that you were stunned, but still had to go on fighting a war. This B movie monster put poor Charlie on one full consecutive week of KP at Solluch. Charlie won again and didn't die. It may have been our best wishes and prayers for him that kept him alive. Loss of sanity brings to mind,
The Yacht Club Boys who were trapped at our base to guarantee the secrecy of the Ploesti Mission. Their act was a dirty limmeric sing, whereby some member of the audience would add their own and it droned on eternally finally catching us all up in the act. My contribution: There was once a young lass from Cape Cod...Who thought babies came from God... It was not the Almighty.... Who lifted her nighty... But Rogar, the lodger..by God. When I made people laugh and they made me laugh, I easily forgot my pains.
Lead poisoning was caused by eight years of typesetting and handling various colors of printing inks and was not service connected, but service handling of metals and 100 octane gas made it flare up. Once I was covered in gas and in a matter of days was covered with blisters. Tonight, special guard duty, issued extra ammo even a password, (Jolly Roger) I am quiet for a change and like all of us, quite uneasy. We have been very lucky in the past and we hope that our luck will continue. The following day: Glory be, that threat was ended in a hurry. We were told that the Arabs had met the Commandos and beheaded them with piano wire. Cheers for the Senussi Tribe.
Before this time the 512th Squadron were to receive the greatest addition to their ranks, as we were joined by intelligent, educated and highly skilled men, who had crossed the Pacific on the West point to join our group, Joe Donahue, Larry Lennon, John Cappis, Richard Denny, as well as many others became quite good friends. With any luck some untrained pains in the A would be sent home if they had homes.
Lots of new planes, most notable among this collection of new planes was, Strawberry Bitch upon which with Bob Emmit and others I helped modify armament and prepare her for combat. Quite a number of things that happened to us in the past with the 376th have caused me to create a new word, retrospectacular, (not believed important at the time but with time becoming quite an important thing or event.) Strawberry was in that catagory. I am now sorry to say that I began to feel that each really important thing in our part of the war required Bomboogie and a superb crew hand picked by God. So wrapped up in this was I that I only now realize that was the feeling of every dedicated armorer or mechanic we had.