The day was bright and beautiful, the mission, the much awaited invasion of Southern France with our able support. The planes were rapidly taking off without hitch and then; a plane from one of the other squadrons had just cleared the end of the runway and started to raise his landing gear when instantly in a flash the crew of 13, the plane, 2,700 gallons of fuel all bombs and ammunition vanished forever. Never again would any of us be so completely stunned. There was nothing we could do... too late...too late.
Had this have occurred in the center of the field, perhaps hundreds of us would have died in our 512th, for that was our end of the field. For what seemed an eternity, burning shreds of parachutes fell over the area. The largest piece of what remained I believe were two engine cylinders and their housings. One man had gone along just for the ride. We believe that an enemy agent had put a sausage bomb in the wheel well of the plane and in retracting the gear the bomb was detonated. A few groundmen had been knocked down, but I believe only George Z. was hospitalized.
Sometime later I related this story to a new ground officer who joined us and he did not understand at all and said, but you didn't know them, did you? How do you answer this to a new man, they were us, how were we to know if they had sat beside us in church or at the show or we had passed on the field or on a day pass. They may even have been from your home town or your next door neighbor may be their best friends. They were and are us, and we have been slaughtered. Brave and terrified men were still waiting clearance for take off for the mission must be flown or countless others would die. Perhaps they had been right in not wanting me for a pilot for I doubted my ability to fly my 12 men through that cursed patch of sky. None refused to fly.
The mission, successful ( What a strange scale they must use to balance success). The ill fated bomber had been parked near a wooded section of the field. Guard duty was wisely doubled, thus no further hellish acts were inflicted upon our base.
My new job had put me in a slightly safer spot than I would have been as a 512th armorer, but I was on the field at the time. Working late nights in the intelligence office I would see the deadly destination of our men for the following morning and spent many restless nights worrying for the safety of our boys on their next mission. Knowing the target was a deadly Vienna, I went on to the field to #38 to see who was flying her to this hell center. I knew the crew well, one S/Sgt. approached me in a near state of panic.
He was headed to Europe's hottest target and was convinced that he never would return. I told him that I knew the target, and was eventually convinced that #38 and entire crew would return without injury with pure bull thrown in that there was things I knew that were . ,. . . going to be plusses for our side today. To prove a point I took off my ring said it was lucky and insisted he wear it for the day as it would with prayer secure his return. My ring was his for the day. (I took much pride in my membership in the Rotary Club and while in Denver had the gold Rotary wheel made into a ring that I could wear with my uniform This was the ring that was lent to the S/Sgt.
Our plane and crew returned safely. The young flyer returned the ring with these words, Thanks Scotty, you can never know how much that helped, may I borrow it again someday? Sure, sarge, but we pray you will not get many like Vienna. Looking me in the eye he said, "You really knew".
Some of our officers visited Naples and learned what I knew all along, our 512th was the best publicized squadron in the entire 15th Air Force and felt I should be promoted to sergeant. No thanks fellows I am high corporal on rotation and the men I came over with are back home, so I feel I must play it safe. As stated previously, I had no squadron boss, so I asked Capt. Lacey for a pass to Rome. He honestly said he had nothing to do with me and did not know just who I should ask.
Two 'three day passes in over two years, but this aged corporal is free as a bird. Who needs a pass? I do!
One of my 512th most interesting friends was PX Sgt. Jim Powell. Jim a former Singer Shop Mgr. rarely changed facial expressions, was most naturally called smiley by all. Jim was a quality man who did a great job. When, back in Nebraska, I found myself in charge of the squadron party, I just would have been hard pressed without Jim's skill freely furnished.
In all my years with the 512th my thoughts go back to the fine men who manned the S-2 office, Sgt. Delmore, Bill Hook, Poor private Collins. Charlie Collins was a mini Slim Sumrnerville with the most delightfully droll humor. Collins was a trapped man, a good man who did his work well and because of the TOrg. could never be promoted. a very good man from Nashville, Tenn. and the officers were the best: Dyer, Avis, Sessa,Bobo, Hupman and Durant all were tops. We were now hitting Ploesti, over and over at last with fighter escort a far cry from yesteryear. The British also hit Ploesti. I remember the day we tearfully watched our Ploesti prisoners return, John Palm, Austin Chastain and others had paid such a price. Time has revealed their fabulous adventure as POW's at Ploesti. Now they are going home may God bless their trip with safety. Home, home, home, perhaps if I last three years over here, I may never have to go to the Pacific. I have already seen three oceans and find that I desire the Pacific in peacetime only. Back at Fayid a friend and I had the guts and the good sense to stretch a 24 hr. pass to Cairo and saw The Sphinx, pyramids, Sheppards Hotel, Groppi's, Bazzars and God knows what else of interest. Our time was running low and some hired an expensive car to get back to the base in time. I took the train alone, saved money, had fun in second class returning to base hours before they did. I had been cheated by our guide and my life was threatened as I was taken from the group and led off, they demanding a gift from me. I refused.
Now back at camp I find one of the men believed the moans that I had cheated the leader out of money paid the imagined debt, forcing me to pay up. Glad I am to be a bit older. That story related to Capt. Jack ended by me saying I would like to chance it to Rome as well. Jack got me a pass, but it was quite a while before I could go. Jack's only request was that I would give him my word that I would someday return to the 376th and I did.
My new tentmates were old friends, Joe Donahue, Larry Lennon and a great combat man S/Sgt. Les Rowecamp we had a wonderful time. They went to church every Sunday and with their example so did l. Joe got ambitious and built a neat wood house and moved out of our tent. Sorry to see him go, I painfully engraved him a name plate for the door of his new home. Shortly after Joe sold his house to the squadron's BTO, Sgt. Dow, and JD came back to us. Joe and Lenny were now master and tech sergeants which they richly had deserved for so long. Each time some buddy of mine, a party was held for poor old Scotty still a corporal. ln addition Joe had pulled my name out of a box in a drawing for a $500.00 war bond, thus I had been well paid. In group PRO was a great California man, Donald L. Johnstone, 6'7" of wonderful human being. Stone and I toured all of Southern Italy together and had a bang up time as he was ~skilled photographer and loved to laugh. Don had taken a classic picture of me reading a funny paper by the Group public Relations Sign. Several of my stories have been clipped from AP release papers and one made mention in Yank Magazine.
On one trip to Taranto, Capt. Jack, Wiley, Johnstone and I went on board the Nevada for yarns. Most impressive was the smell of coffee not the 16" guns. One sailor admitted to 32 cups a day another had developed caffeine sacs under his arms. I enjoyed that day and in eternity would love to relive the great-day we had with Jack, Wiley, and Stone. Other PRO men served with us a month or less, Prio~ after one week was transferred to the UN. Another man, a grounded airman wrote a poem about himself, "I am a bird with a broken wing"
As previously stated I don't care for most hot rock pilots, there is now and then the exception a man named Zuber was quite unusual and sure could fly. Sorry I have completely lost track of this man who once flew so low over the empty mess hall that it lost some roofing. Zuber's uncle owned one of Pittsburgh's very finest restaurants, one my family often enjoyed.
Great God, yet-another birthday, this one many thanks to Capt. Jack I am in Rome and living it up. Today I had my picture taken by a real pro who had in the past made Wallace Beery look just fine. Please fellow do as much for me... and he sure did. I am with mechanic, Larry Arpino, Larry's great and plays a good trumpet to boot. We saw so very much in Rome and had so much fun that we rarely thought of going back to the 376th. Early one afternoon Larry and I rushed up the Spanish steps and into the hands of the MP's who asked for our passes. We explained we were on orders that covered the entire plane. We were asked the name of pilot and we answered, Stevenson. They called the officers hotel and asked for Lt. Stevenson. We were shocked to be told that he had checked out.
Larry thought fast, we are going out to the field to join them and never should be detained. The MP, no mental giant hauled us to jail, phoned his superior who said let them go. MP, "Where are your blanket receipts?" I asked why anyone would want to keep worthless receipts and we started out. As we left one of our jailers said, "For ten cents I would haul that cotton headed corporal out to camp and see if they remember him staying there"
We ran to the street and hopped into the back of an out going truck, pulling down the canvas. Later we left the truck and returned to our lodgings, checked out and raced for the Champino airfield. Our crew had returned to base a while back. Larry and I hid on the airfield for a long time finally hitching a ride on a 450th whitetailed job (Scared stiff) landing late in the day some thirty miles from our field. Night thumming in wartime Italy is no picnic and we had to walk the remaining ten miles. Knowing Larry and me, my tentmates did not expect me so soon.
That had been a close call for had I been arrested, I would have become low private on the rotation list. Capt. Jack had returned home and the new officer in charge was Lt. Levin, one more fine man who let us alone.
One very cold day, returning to my tent I made a mistake in lighting our stove and was blown out the front tent flap. Flat on my back with hair burnt and eye brows missing, the entire population of Italy came to help and laugh. This one careless act could have blinded me. We all wonder if civilian life may seem a bit dull after all this thunder outside the tent a small sign, capacity, 4 MEN & A DOG, The dog belonged to Joe D. and her name was Brownie This special animal was beloved by all.
When we needed to forget this game of killing there was always Brownie who would listen. This four legged pal, was with us through Africa and Italy. Joe very unselfishly left Brownie with Sgt. Ostwinkle when we returned to The States. We knew how much they needed her in their turbulent lives. The other dog was Oxy a small red dog with a tail always carried in a loop. Oxy had been found in the oxygen supply tent at one of our desert bases.
As I write another man I well remember was S/Sgt. Dana an aircraft mechanic who was the most self sufficient man other than Capt. Jack that I ever met in service. Dana knew all about life but specialized in nature. Not one scrap of natural creation was ever ignored or taken for granted by Dana who could sit quietly for hours to see a glimpse of a special animal or bird. One time Dana described a fight he had seen out West between two wild horses. This fight remains so real in my mind that I feel that I were there. Along side of this battle other combat is out classed.
One cold day we had another successful mission to the Brenner Pass the men on that one said you never know how cold it could get unless you had been on that mission. We have had a few over the years that have lost their reason, one as far back as Fayid, and combat men with horrid consequences and most sad and hard to believe, one man completely cracked up, as we were passing through The Str. Gibralter, at night on our way home.
One of our men was killed in a fall from a horse while on pass. Had it not been for the loss of Capt. Jack and the more recent death of Sgt. Wiley Golden and meeting up with Wm. Barnes I never would have jolted my brain to remember the past, but we must not let these men be forgotten. In the past I have attended only three gatherings of the group Indianapolis, Ind. Sandusky, Ohio and the Memorial Services at Wright Field. Our most unusual man was a man we knew by sight, L. J. Madden, the man who broke all insanity records by being a stowaway on the low level Ploesti mission. Madden's uniform ever looked as though he went out of his way to resemble an adult version of Sad Sack with sun tans even more rumpled. I am a slob, but I always felt quite neat alongside of Madden. This man had courage we all envied.
The pilots I best remember who flew with the 512th or 376th that I was lucky enough to meet were: KK Compton, Norman Appold, Flavelle, Hines, Wood, Collison, Palm, Hurd, Snyder, J. Brown, Sussman, Keater, Sandberg, Hurnphreys, Sawberger, Zuber.( My error I am sure Sandberg was spelled with a d) I was only to meet Red Thompson once at group in a three way talk with Wylie. One of our early 512th pilots who flew Bomboogie (Name forgotten) was a Texan who would fly only if his lucky rattlesnake ash tray was at his side. Jerry B's Bombardier, Bernie Bashline, lived for fun and it rubbed off on all of us.
In the early pages of Dimitri's Flight to Everywhere, prior to the 376th section is a picture of the lonliest man in the entire world. The man is a captain well over 6' tall sitting at a remote desert spot with a few Arabs at his side. This man had been with us on the Maraposa and had tangled with Maj. Flash in the pan and was banished to this hell. Dig the book up and look at him and think how very lucky most of the rest of us were.