Richard R. Dahlstedt's diary, part 7

Previous                                                                  Next

011644

Late one afternoon the planes returned and buzzed the field prior to landing) peeling off to the left of the runways. Horror was frozen into our souls as we watched the second plane rise up into the tail of the first plane and he hit the ground instantly and death followed instantly to the crew. There was no fire but we rushed to give any aid we could, it was not needed.

 

One combat gunner, Harold M. Buffo told me his crew looked upon my #28 as their bad luck plane.

 

Shortly after the crash a new plane came back with bombs still on their racks. The landing seemed smooth enough, but a bomb tore loose from the rack, shakel and all, fishtailing through the tail of the plane it severed part of the head of a young Texas Sergeant killing him at once. The bomb did not explode, but caused interior damage to this brand new bomber.

 

As a long time loader of bombs I never believed the racks themselves could fail to hold on 500 lbs. Sometime during this period we had a foot of wet snow, so we built a snowman for the barefoot Italian kids and they were delighted. Antonio, Rosario and Nicoletta were great neighborhood children who we delighted in helping. I gave the ribbons off my Christmas packages to 10 year old Nicoletta and she just about flew back home to show them to her mother, Ieaving Antonio and Rosario in the dust.

 

I had been sharing my food with them and got chewed out good and proper by Maj. Sessa who was an A-1 man and knew what must be done. We begged him to keep starving kids out of sight and he did. It is a bit dangerous but I take long "walks to the farms along with work very hard and painful you have to do something. Doc. Harrison told me if I returned to civiIian life I must never have anything further to do with the handling of metals. Typography had been my major field, however, who knows if there is a tomorrow. One ItaIian soldier had another who taught Spanish and the same amount had rubbed off his learning as had mine and we got along just fine. He brought, vino, figs, and almonds which I ate in controlled amounts.

031344

March 13, my birthday, the previous one was spent at Solluch... this is much better.... Where do we go from here? Got a three day pass to Santa Caesaria, Terme. Deep hot water bath, all else including hotel stone cold, food good, nothing to spend money on, from hilltop great view of Albania, but I don't want to be there.

032344

I remember wondering just how far from here had we lost Flavelle and crew. At night in the local bar I hear ground men bragging about the fierce combat that they have been part of and aIthough I can see why, It is not at all fair to the men who do these brave things. Some of the women in the local Yugo Refugee Camp must be well over six feet, perhaps they would load bombs for me sometime. We return to San Pan feeling great and clean. With the approach of early evening I load 1000 pounders on old #28 The mission is flown and the crew tells me that guns and turrets worked well, but also say they hate this old wreck.


Tent life is poor and I am afraid it is all my fault for I don't gamble and find it impossible to have a spirited conversation. I had been warned if I had turned down a commission never to speak of education, but now and then it came up, in some cases when new men arrived. To this day none know that I had in 1939 graduated from college with a PM degree from CIT. Our M/Sgt. was eager to learn and would come to our tent with Cappy and Denny and Wren and we would have a bull session. I learned too late that this annoyed our tent mates who wrote lots of letters. I am sorry for they were A-1 men. We were all living in a world we didn't create.

 

I gave John D. a hard time on purpose, I liked him very much and all he needed was faith in himself and the future was his. He has been a most dedicated and successful human being if I have had even the slightest part in this it would be one of my greatest rewards. The service has never had better armorers than my tent mates, later on Donahue and Lennon were in this same top quality class. They all had remained at their jobs the entire time they were in the Air Force. Cappis had run the armament tent in an efficient manner.

040444

The recent plane crash had made it essential that we again move our tents this time to a high edge on the edge of a bog, others were not so lucky. It was April and I remember to this day the screams of men coming from a Red Cross Dance in Lecce, wading through ice water to their tents. I wish not but time had proven my thoughts on #28 had been right it was trouble. The old green desert box came back again shot to hell. Three of the crew bailed out over the field all landing safely That a landing would be attempted indicated that there was most likely wounded men aboard our plane #28 and that proved to be the case. I believe it was Lts. Keater and Humphrey who brought the shot up wreck in for the last time. Hydraulics and much of electrical power was missing. Two badly wounded men were at once rushed to the hospital and the others were cared for on the base. (44 years later) I believe Sgt. Baylor survived this day in Hell with a bullet in his brain.

Perhaps another of the men to bail out was a great young gunner, S/Sgt. Hall who said that the armament had not failed them but turrets had died with hydraulic failure. I had a friend on this one Harold Buffo, former ground armorer, teacher and a very serious Photo Gunner who scared hell out of us by saying his crew now looked upon my new silver B-24 #38 as extra bad luck. For the first time I wanted to give it up. I hoped that no mechanics took this as hard as I did for it put much extra pressure on me and I was ill when these men were flying a mission on my #38. Glad to say, they all survived.

I just remembered one of this crew that had bailed out was Sgt. Knipp. My left hand was not too useful the medics say no but I feel certain this deathly experience by close friends has to be part of it for some days I am A-l.

 

One night in Spring, Buffo and I had attended the Opera, Tosca together in Lecce. We were seated in a second tier box to left of stage. I was impressed and knocked plaster loose with a plause. The Diva could see and sense my real appreciation for her ability and signaled the conductor and he replayed while she resung the entire aria for me. During two Winters in Italy my friends and I attended eight performances, including one classic start of an intended performance of Rigoletto. Some of the artists were drunk and a fist fight began on stage. The curtain dropped at once and the GI and Italian audience grew restless waiting for a restart. At first paper airplanes were folded from the programs, everyone joined in and it was a real circus with everybody getting into the act. And then it happened on some unheard signal from the top of the opera, came scores of inflated condoms along with more airplane~ with no exceptions everybody entered the action and the airplanes and condoms were batted around and thrown by all. The performance had been cancelled but none of us felt cheated. Wise were the managers who cancelled this performance before damage to the grand old Lecce opera house. How badly we needed that laugh.


Next day we come up with a most successful mission to Czechoslovakia, the target once again, oil, the refineries at Bratislava. Storage and anything vital to oil production was completely knocked out. This past year had been one of variety of targets: Aircraft and factories, airfields and hangars, bridges, sub pens, troop centers. We had even dropped nickles, (notices to civilians of our intended targets) ex. Evacuate the entire port at once we tried desparately to save lives, although it involved much risk to our men to do this seemingly routine job We now had been awarded our third unit citation we are now the most decorate air group fighting in any theater of operations. Lord, I am thankful they did not have to fly that last mission on a worn out old bomber.

 

The grapevine is most active from armament and orderly room comes more than a hint that Col. T. Graff is quite interested in Scotty Dahlstedt, 512 Sq. armorer. For a while I pay little notice until one day I am asked all kinds of questions by medics relating to my lead poisoning.

 

Back to work I love my new plane and wish they would name it, Bomboogie II, Liberty Belle or almost ESP was my suggestion of The Front page. I load the new one with assurrance that the flying men will have the best possible chance. Sgt. Buffo made me feel much better as he said my guns and turrets worked perfect from the point the armorer was responsible, Thank you H.M.B.

 

One day I was approached by Capt. Baumann, a very nice man and asked if I would deliver a lecture to the outfit on the GG Bill of Rights, as I liked the Capt. I agreed and Capt. B. thanked me and said material would be furnished. Daily I asked for material none ever came, somebody had let Capt. B. and I down. My brother had sent me a booklet from home on the subject and with the help of the squadrons best man, Capt. Dyer, I winged it and got by ok. #38 ready to go had left the hard stand heading towards the strip. A man in desparation was yelling my name, over and over I finally saw an armorer who should not have been an armorer calling for my help. He had a plane about to take off that he had left a bolt stud out of the left tail turret gun. I unwisely went aboard the reved up plane to make an effort to help. The work required my left hand and my left hand would not respond properly, so I in an emergency that was not of my doing had failed and the mission for that plane was scratched. I was so beat by this that I berated all near me, including my Captain and to him my much overdue apology. To the man a sergeant in armament with no training I have no apology. For men's lives to depend upon such work was completely insane.

 

The hard manual work of the armorer, now and again, made armament the dumping ground for misfits, often obtaining ratings as high as M/Sgt. while trained school graduated armorers remained privates and corporals

 

I learned that we had a very special war hero in the 376th, Our hero is S/Sgt. Nichols who has been awarded all medals, but The Congressional Medal of Honor and the Good Conduct Medal Nick wears an Air Medal with 27 oak leaf clusters. Our general at Bari requested a visit from our special man which resulted in Nick being grounded. The general was very wise in considering Nick's safety for Nick has twice escaped from Europe internment, were he to be caught again his penalty would be death. Nick wants to go on flying, they have transferred him to the Pacific.

 

Bari was shot up recently by ME-IO9's and we have had alerts, but our luck seems to hold and it couldn't happen to a better bunch. Now I know why they asked all the questions, as Glory be to God, I am no longer an armorer, 911, they now had an abundance of workers I was by orders of our Col. Graff, now 512 Squadron PRO, spec. 274 and some of my Maraposa buddies are Iaughing at me for they are going home en mass. They cannot realize that for the first time since mid '42, I am free. I lead the air Force in publicity for my Squadron and the Group. These great heroes are getting deserved credit. I feel sure that it was known that I would miss going home, but I had be en done the best favor in my service life. I lived it up, News releases, yarns, stories, features, public Relations were involved and I had no Squadron boss.

 

It is with thankful joy that I realize that I had the sustaining knowledge of my envious position from then on. Sometime back I had been eIected president of the 512th and now I could do something about the job, because of group connections I knew what was available and what was going on all over the country. Living at the 512th I would daiIy go to the group and spend most of the day with Capt. Jack Preble and Wiley Golden, Sgt. Wiley was enlisted 515 Sq. man who I sized up at once as the best. Some of the Group’s enlisted men delighted in calling Wiley, The EnIisted Men's Ernie Pyle and Wiley was every bit as warm and caring. It was a joy to serve with Wiley from The Cincinnatti Post.

 

The officer at that time I do not recall, but he soon left and was replaced by the best the Air Force could deIiver, Capt. Jack Preble, the best man I have ever known or served under up to this time in my life. Jack's first words to me was, Glad to meet you Scotty, you are a Maraposa man, too. Scotty, we have only one guide line around here and that is if you ever sit before your typewriter and no thoughts are forthcoming, for God's sake get up, go out, run, or do anything else until you are in gear to write.

 

We knew we were dealing with a top professional. Needing a typewriter I approached our orderly room and asked for a typewriter with which to cover my new job. First Sgt. Stewart, still cross because I was eIected president, laughed and handed me a portable from under his desk. I thanked him politely, pretending I was a dumb clod who never realized three keys were missing from this machine. Within ten minutes I had visited Sgt. Balcomb in supply and salvaged my defective machine for a new one... Stewart never forgave me. I ignored his demand to return his machine.


Life is so dangerous one of the trucks had a wheel blown off by running over something on the field. One day I went to group for a dental appointment and while in the chair one of the most colorful men the 512th ever had came in to the office and asked the dentist for a few old teeth. The bewildered dentist said, "You mean teeth I have taken out recently?"

Durant answered, "YES"

“Sorry, Captain, I have none at present, replied the dentist."

"Then pull these" Durant commanded pointing to my front teeth that I still have. I tried to vacate the chair but the dentist restrained me, caIming me down by promising Durant if he returned in two days he would have the needed teeth. Four regulars or perhaps three molars was Durant's request, then he left and we Iaughed an uneasy sort of laugh.

What happened once Durant got the teeth he removed the bristles from an old tooth brush and glued the decayed teeth on to the brush. This most original tooth brush was presented to a high ranking general who visited our base in Italy. Our funny Capt. was a retreaded hero who had been adrift in the Pacific so long that he nearly died. Suffering from imersion foot he had lost large patches of skin from his legs. Durant had preserved this skin and carried it with him at all times. Anyone of note, high command, royalty, show people who visited our base were asked by Durant to autograph his skin. It sure gave them a as our Capt. had intended.

P19

Durant was a textile engineer from North Carolina. He had learned that I was a trained layout man and asked me to do some lettering for the S-2 office. I was reluctant to go along with this but finally tried. The result was shattering for the poisoning along with injury from handling and hand cranking bombs had destroyed my touch, I was no longer able to do even crude lettering. I believe the men realized for no crude jokes were made about the results.

 

One more item about Capt. D. we returned home on The West Point together, he up deck me below. One day in my absence (Daily I would go above decks to talk with Red Skelton) Capt. D. asked where were my A & B, bags. Finding them he removed all my bottles of Spumanti that I had purchased from the squadron's bar to take home. Durant was officer president and I was enlisted... we each were overseers of the squadron's bars and their finances. With the profits from ours I bought fresh fruit and vegetables as well as ingredience for good cake for our squadron's mess table. No doubt with D's past sea experience he needed the drink at that moment. To date, none that I know have ever heard from him.

 

Missions were flown risks were to be taken, but there was a feeling the war was winding down at last. We followed the s-2 reports on the continued advances of our invasion armies. For special stories and quotes of interest, I covered S-2 512th debriefings. A bombardier, Lt. Cole, used to see how sharp I was and would give me quoted that he knew the oil wells had been moved at least 20 miles since he last saw them. I pretended to be writing it all down and requested additional facts.

 

The flying men now linked me with home and believe me I cared, not because it was my job, but I cared. Often was I to write reccomendations for awards for these brave young men. Gallantry in action, Distinguished Service, Bravery, Life Saving. I remember feeling there should be other types of medals of a lesser nature, Daily 1055 and heartbreak, Silence when you long to scream, Sand in the eyes, Sand and oil infecting cuts, Water that makes you feel much worse, Flies and disease, Chronic boredom and a special one for being much too old to publicly weep and for the millions of private soldiers who did their best at all times for years with never a chance of promotion other than by death.

 

One more for the desert soldier for not obeying a command he could not hear, or just for tollerating the stinging sands and desert winds without losing belief in something in the future much better for all men.