Burton Kreitlow was a member of the ground crews. He wrote several narratives of his time with the 376.
Enfidiville was a different place and during the two months that I was there I must have been a different person. I remember only snippets of that stay including arrival, hike to an Arab village, and the struggle with dysentery including hospitalization, a special mission of several days requiring a return to Benghazi and leaving for Italy.
We arrived at Enfidiville by truck and as we entered the recently vacated German airfield we passed a cemetery organized with such precision that the diagonals of Nazi crosses looked like an early summer cornfield in Minnesota. During the three days before our planes arrived we had little to do other than setting up our tents and trying to determine how best to deal with the hordes of flies that had staked their claim on the same land that was to be our home. On one of those three free days I joined a group of buddies on a hike up a low mountain range where from camp we spotted an Arab village at its summit. This was my last day of full energy for the rest of my time in Enfidiville.
Although it began slowly enough, I soon joined the others with my own special bout with dysentery. The day after our planes arrived and established their parking pads on the field I was to walk to my plane and prepare it for a coming mission. I never made it to the field After six trips to the hastily constructed latrines I began the count and concluded the morning with fourteen. My next real meal was three days later in the Field Hospital where Dr. James DeWeerd was in charge. Jim is one of my favorite people in the Hawaiian resort where we spend our winters. We've shared memories of our stay in Tunisia and learned why the Veteran's Administration has no records of my hospitalization. Yes, all Field Hospital records ended at the bottom of Naples Harbor as they were being transported to Italy.
As soon as I recovered from my bout of dysentery I was assigned to a small cadre of ground crew and sent back to Berka 2 (Benghazi) for a special long low level mission to Ploesti. During the week at our old base we lived in temporary tents. In this period we experienced a four-day sandstorm equal to any Minnesota winter whiteout I had ever encountered. For the mission the plane's crew needed special practice runs on a mock target laid out in the desert. The winds calmed at night so practice had to be very early in the morning allowing the planes to be back to base at eight AM.
From that time and throughout the morning it was pure hell servicing the planes. We tried to finish this task by eleven so we could still see our way back to camp. For the noon meal at one o'clock we used a rope that had been strung between our tent and the mess hall. The fear of getting 1ost in a sandstorm was very real.
Finally, a weather report indicated an easing of the storm. The 14-hour mission was scheduled for the next day with the knowledge that the field would be open when the planes returned. A successful mission ensued. My fatigue stayed with me during our entire stay at Berka 2 but being confined during the storm did help in the recovery. The day after the mission we returned to Enfidiville and a more normal base of operation.
Just before Thanksgiving 1943 we began moving equipment and ground crew to San Pancrazio, Italy. Out of the desert we flew and into the lush countryside of olive orchards, fields of grapes, almond groves, stone fences and friendly rural folk who had enough of Nazi occupation. Never before had I been so happy to leave a place and I pray that no Enfidivilles ever enter my life again.
DUTY IN THE DESERT 1942-43
Sixty five years ago on Christmas Eve I boarded a troop ship for a forty two day ride to the African desert. Nearly all my letters to Doris, written from the Sahara, were saved. We had not looked at them since. But today's warfare in the Middle East prompted getting them out of the attic to review my year in the desert. Here are excerpts from those 1943 letters. The first was written in February from the staging area not far from Tobruk in Egypt. We were waiting for the advance party and our B-24's to get to a new base as soon as it could be cleared of bomb damage and made operational. The letter begins:
I have the graveyard shift of guard duty tonight so will use a little of that time for letter writing - what there can be of it. It is tough on yours truly to be routed out of bed and ordered to don whatever clothes are necessary in this outfit for a stretch of duty. Can you picture me sitting - (yes sitting) - playing Godfather to a water faucet? It looks like wasted time doesn't' it? I won't argue either way on that one, but water in the desert is a very' important item. I guess it's important all over, but like everything else, we Americans take another persons luxury for granted. As far as I surmise my days of luxury are over for quite so me time. Perhaps these natives who live in caves with their billy goats will have the best of the bargain yet. I'm thinking that their goats must be sacred or something close to that because they do not clean up after them. Have you ever gotten a good whiff of brother goat? That's about what all the natives smell like. Some call it a dainty perfume smell known as Arabian Nocturne.
The next letter selected is dated November 4 of the same year, 1943. It came after ten months moving west from Abu Suir, Egypt (close to Ismalia and the Suez canal) Gambut and Solluch in Libya in April and on to Enfidaville in Tunisia.
We've had some beautiful cloud formations, sunrises and sunsets on the desert this fall. If you were here you would see many of us standing and looking at them minutes at a time. I've seen them just as nice back home but that seems like a long time ago. I think that the shades of blue are a bit more varied here and they seem to get deeper. You and I will have to go on hikes around the lakes and along the rivers when I get back. Another bike I always like to take is all over the farm at home. You'll enjoy that too, especially in the spring. We really have a beautiful farm even if the buildings aren't anything to brag about. Our creek and woods are especially pretty in the spring when wild flowers are in bloom.
The next excerpt comes from a letter of November 12, 1943. It is an addendum to the main letter and demonstrates that I got as confused then as I do now. Listen in:
I assume that you will laugh at this. I hope so and if you do please laugh loud and long. I just received a letter from a girl I used to date at Warren (She's not there anymore, thank goodness). I had written her not long ago and today her letter began, "I just received both of your letters today in the same envelope. The one you evidently meant to send to what must be I your number one girl." Far be it from me to remember which of yours I sent her but from the rest of her short letter it must have been a dilly. I don't know if she still thinks of me as her friend, but her letter trailed off rather fast. By now it seems funny to me. I passed it on to others in the tent and you should have heard them laugh. I wonder when my mother will get one of my letters to you by mistake. Perhaps I should curtail my writing - it will be safer.
And now a series of letters as the 1943 Christmas season approached. The first demonstrates the new friends one finds in times like these.
Abbott just came in from chow singing at the top of his voice, "I'll be home for Christmas", or some such verse. Anyway that was popular when the draft first started. I'll bet it would be classified as enemy propaganda if it were played on the radio today. Of course until you hear how Abbott sings you won't get the full benefit of it. Harless from the next tent just came over with a bible verse he couldn't understand so now we're having a discussion on that. There's something going on in our happy little family all the time.
Another visitor just came in and hasn't said much yet but Abbott has told us before that all he ever wants to talk about is women. His name is Bragg and when it comes to women be must either be "hot stuff'" or he tries to live up to his name. Wildhorse Willie just stuck his nose in the flap wondering if there was mail today. That prompted Abbott and Harless to scoot out and head for the mail room to see if any came in. Wildhorse Willie is the guy whose girlfriend got married during the summer. He's about forgotten her now, but figures that he'll find another who looks like her when he gets back. He thinks he knows which one it will be. I've been reading these paragraphs to the guys as I write them. The response includes nasty remarks tit only for the tent.
The next, November 29, 1943, I'll call it, "MAKING DO.” As airplane mechanics on heavy bombers we had strange hours. Up early to get the planes off before the dust storms came in. Then eight to twelve hours of freedom until their return. During that time we did our own thing which included trying to make desert life comfortable. Most everything we built was created from junk. By now we had moved to Italy but our desert life prepared us for any eventuality.
Did I tell you about the stove I made? I actually constructed one that burns aviation gasoline. We aren't sure yet how safe it is so one of us is always around when it is burning. It's made from a used oil drum and with a smaller can inside to hold the flame as gas drips in from copper tubing. For the stovepipe, I spliced fuse cans together and ran them out the front of the tent. We have asbestos lining the pipe where it touches anything. No tire hazard at those points. Some of the homemade stoves are rather exciting in their habits.
Dec 16, 1943. Christmas carols.
Last night about a dozen of us met at the Chaplains office to sing Christmas Carols in practice for a program. About one-half of the guys can sing, but the rest are like me, we won't be called for other duty if we're with the Chaplain and we do know how not to mess up those who can sing. After the practice we went with the Chaplain to a movie, "FLIGHT FOR FREEDOM". I didn't like it, a picture like that doesn't go well with a bunch of GI's like us. We laugh where it is supposed to be dramatic and whistle and sigh loudly when it is romantic.
December 18, 1943,
We're having a full-fledged "bull session" in the tent at the moment, going over the worst sand storms we've been in the worst parts of the desert we've seen. I believe we all thick of different storms and say it was the worst.
Insert (Because of censorship I didn't dare say that those of us who went back to Benghazi in September for our last low level oil field mission did agree that that one was by far the worst). Just wait till I start telling about them when we get back. We'll put all the trimmings on the experience and they'll sound bad indeed. At least if I ever crab about dust and wind, just remind me that it is paradise compared to these desert experiences.
December 23 and 25, 1943. Packages from home.
Somehow or other I manage to stay jovial most of the time. When I do get down in the dumps it's usually thinking of you that snaps me out of it. I can always manage to get a bit of a twinkle in my eyes when you are on my mind. Right now things aren't bad at all and I believe we're going to have a happy Christmas. We just ran our hands over and gently squeezed all of our packages to guess what's in them. They're put away now though, because we couldn't stand the temptation if we looked at them too long. Tomorrow night they get opened. AII things considered, I'm having a nice Christmas after all Last evening our choir sang (?) at the program. Then we came back to our tent and opened the packages. Everyone seemed to send that which hit the spot and no duplications except in candy, etc. which we wanted in duplicate. Gee, that box of yours is a beauty and it came through in perfect shape. I haven't sampled it yet because the cellophane is not broken. We are sure it will keep longer than some of the others. I got everything from razor blades to mosquito chaser; things I can't use now I'll keep ‘til summer.
This morning I got rolled out of bed at about four-thirty and after working a couple hours was off until evening.
My evening work is done including a struggle through a grand Christmas dinner. I say struggle because there is so much and naturally I had to tackle everything. We had the complete menu from turkey to apple pie and peach pie for the Southern boys. Even came back with my pockets full of nuts, oranges and figs.
The fun of reading these old letters is a bit like someone reading the diary of their teens and twenties. I didn’t share with you all the sweet talk included but believe me it was there. Let the record show that I have stayed with my army love these past sixty three years and let that love grow!
BURT KREITLOW 37271198 AUGUST 2007
42-40236, no. 44, Fyrtle Myrtle
Carr, Koepp, Abbott, Hubbard, Ralph (?), and Kreitlow, Burton