We took off late in the day and in a bad storm the first rain we had seen in more than half a year. With darkness a raid going on below and a blinding storm we were shot at and the colors of the day saved us as we climbed to over 13,000 ft. to clear Mt. Etna. That Nov. 16, at that altitude was mighty cold and we were not on oxygen. I was glad I was not trying to work up there. Below was warmer, but the violent storm scared hell out of us. Our able crew finds a good field and brings us in at Taranto for the night. I gladly agree to stay with the plane as guard and was told to go ahead sleep as not even a sabatuer would be out on such a night. In the middle of the night, the crew chief had worried about the plane and came aboard. Hearing a slight noise I became alert for the worst. He energised the hydraulic actuator and from a prone position I jumped six feet. The chief, a good fellow had done that to scare hell out of me and he certainly did.
The sun shone brightly and we flew the few miles to our new base at San Pancrazio, (Wisely chosen for us as this San Pan fellow was believed to be the patron saint of the insane.) The best field and runway we have had to date. 512th men gathered on a small rise midway down the runway to the left. I was talking with John Cochran and Walter Dance, two excellent 512th armorers when I glanced down and spied a beautiful, expensive Swiss watch, which I at once picked up and we all examined. No doubt about it my find was a rare one
Less than an hour later I was standing a good distance from my find with friend, David Delmore an 8-2 sergeant when an older Italian private with tears in his eyes came searching for a lost item. David told me the man had lost his watch, his only possession. War is war, but I returned the watch to this man I believed to be the rightful owner.
There are countless planes on the field including B-25's and 17's and we get to arm a few.
There is no greater joy save going home than the fact that each mouthful of food no longer contains sand, the air no longer stinks and our water is wholesome and plentiful. Any day now the 25's are to be based on one of the Islands, (Catch 22) who knows? We encounter, centipedes, quagmires, and stone... little wonder they are such good stone masons. It is now cold and damp with work hands hurt. Our field is ringed by British ack ack with some big guns to boot.
We are well set up and Boogie flies all the time. We still have not been asked to dig trenches, we must be safer here than I think, perhaps it is a bit too wet Now and then a JU-88 or some other German plane comes over at night always two engine, if they would ever syncronize them we would never know ours from theirs. No action is to be taken by our defenses first for upon action they would salvo the bomb load right on us for that is their orders. Safety wise our bases have been most fortunate to date.
We did see a high level dog fight back over the Med. Loss of friends was a major battle we were unable to visualize ever ending, other than that, sickness and nature were our local battles. Food is good, weather nasty the very same as Atlantic City was in the Month of November. The green trees add so much to the desert men's well being. Our spirits are high and we are told to move our tent off the field it is a much too dangerous spot close to our planes. Still much jaundice. Joe D. has never returned from African Hospital. Wisely ration myself to seven almonds a day.
The 512th high ground command have come up with a new idea and a good one: each soldier pays a few bucks a month and KP is done for us by our own professional cooks and Italian help. Glory be, soup is now made from watered down C rations and it is delicious. There is much sleet and that makes rolling the bombs into the bays lots harder. We add new combat crews each week, now and then we get a new man in Armament. Capt. Brown has gone to Group and we have a fine new man, Lt. Scheer. The wine, Dago Red is ok, Purple Death not so good.
One of our new men is from Oklahoma and he was at Lowry Field when I was there. This is his first overseas assignment. He has us excited about a great new stage play called Oklahoma! Someday I am determined that I will see it and as soon as possible. With this danged knee I am lucky I am not in the infantry.
Here we enjoy good sleeping bags and lots of creature comforts no infantry man ever gets to enjoy. One night my knee ached and I tried something dumb, placing a raincoat over the lower end of my sleeping bag for extra warmth. The coat sweat on the inside and I was awakened early by dampness of condensation. We hope we live and learn. Missions are flown daily and most of our older friends, Halpro and First Provisional, work is not too well organized... not Scheer's fault in any way. Some drifting into armament have no training for it at all. We will think upon that tomorrow. I am much too critical, this is not our lives and we want the war to end as soon as possible... can't be done without efficiency. Without help I had started a Printing and Design business and at the same time had put myself through Carnegie Institute of Technology, had three employees all of Pittsburgh's Colleges under contract, and the design service for the Aluminum Company of America. My days were spent in thinking now only my strong back was in any way of use. Everything was done to make Christmas joyous and food was excellent. Some were sorry to bomb on Christmas day. Last Christmas we were in the Indian Ocean being stalked by subs the Christmas before that one I remember walking the streets of Pittsburgh, Pa. wondering what I would be going and where I would be for the next three Christmases. Perhaps I might not be alive. Life has days that are doubly black, loss of family or friend, death of a president, loss of a crew or plane, all are days that would never happen if we were God.
December 28, was such a day and left us as stunned as Pearl Harbor had. We were told that the mission had been to the RR center, the marshalling yards at Vicenza. Medics, mechanics, armorers and others awaited their return. As time went by we became very uneasy straining to hear the planes in the distance. I had cranked 10 500 pounders into the bays and onto the racks, I tearfully awaited return of crew and Bomboogie as well as my tentmates planes.
THE 512th SQUADRON HAD BEEN WIPED OUT! Less than half of the other squadrons returned. Were I at home I would cry as I never had before. The only way we survived was by not quite letting ourselves believe it were true, but with guarding tents and seeing and hearing no planes, it required some warping of our minds. I at once forgot the name of the crew who flew Bomboogie on her last mission, but as I write this in 1988 the name of S/Sgt. Joe Kirshner is like a ghost before me.
We now know that our group was alone without fighter cover and was attacked by nearly 100 ME-l09's in waves of five for nearly an hour. From what we learn from a handful of survivors very few chutes were seen. Once more we must exercise iron might for if we on ground support dwell upon losses we could badly screw up other crews futures.
I was told that this was our Colonel’s last mission and am glad that he survived. For days we did busy work helping others with the few remaining planes. Morale was so low that we had to start over as an untrained outfit with a month of just plain practice. Time dragged, but I started to foreward to Bomboogie II. New planes were coming in each week and they had ball turrets. One sunny day I helped time the solonoids on a new ball turret, the armorer had forgotten to clear one gun’s chamber and he popped one off across the field, as no one was on the field and no damage done, monotany had been broken up for a time.
Missions resumed and we blasted Anzio. Everyone was given the sharp new planes; therefore I soon expected to have all new armament to work with; after all those months hard service in pampering Bomboogie. I was assigned a plane that was an old wreck and looked the part. B-24 #28, (Pictured in Dimitri's Book, Flight to Everywhere) at the Service Sq. in pieces. We thought they tossed a coin to see if it should be junked at once and we all lost. We knew this plane's past and worried what a choice crew would feel if assigned this one for a mission. The guns and turrets were hopeless leading me to doubt if the Service Sq. had had an armorer on the job. Like a fool, I asked why? The answer he knew I could handle the assignment. Fellow armorers felt I was being punished for something or other. More important I felt the crews were being punished for if in a formation of new planes it would be singled out and would end up taking the brunt of an attack. Many missions were flown some in support of our Infantry men in the Salerno and Mt. Cassino sectors.