WANG DANG WHAT??? - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)
The briefing officer looked over his paperwork, then back up at the nine men gathered around the table. They were a boisterous lot, typical of men flush with the excitement of their first mission. This had been a pretty eventful mission, too, from the sound of it. When the officer heard these kinds of tales, of fighters shot down and near misses in the air, he almost wished that he hadn't gotten stuck with a desk job in intelligence. Then he thought of the dozens of interviews he'd done with men whose friends and comrades had been killed in the air, like the one the other day with the survivors of The Russian Lady. That cured him of his desire to fly in combat in a hurry.
"Okay, fellas," he told the crew. "I think that's it here, you're free to go."
The men began to gather their things amid much back-slapping and joking around. Still, there was something that was bothering the briefing officer since the beginning of this interrogation. He hadn't wanted to ask, since it would make him look naive. What the hell, he thought, I'm in the intelligence gathering business; sometimes the best way to gather intelligence is to ask. He cleared his throat and said, "Uh, Lieutenant Deschamps? Just one more thing, if you don't mind."
The rest of the crew was already halfway across the room. Deschamps stopped and turned. "Yes?"
"Uh, pardon me for asking this," began the officer, "but what the heck is a 'Wang Dang Doodle', anyway?"
Deschamps' face broke into a big grin. Sheesh, thought the officer, I bet this guy has no problem getting the ladies.
"A Wang Dang Doodle?" repeated Deschamps. "Why, shoot, that's what we call a big ole party, Louisiana-style!"
I Tol' Ya So - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)
Teddy Deschamps took an imaginary snap from center and dropped back to pass. "Go deep!" he yelled to Baker, who sprinted up the muddy avenue of tents. Teddy cocked his arm and threw. The football spiraled beautifully through the air to the waiting hands of the bombardier . . . and sailed right through them.
"Sheesh!" said Deschamps, "Not only does he drop bombs, he drops bombs!" Now that he was officially part of the 318th, he was hoping to be quarterback on the squadron football team that was being formed. He was a natural athlete, an All-State quarterback during high school who had gotten a scholarship to play for Louisiana State University. As Baker retrieved the ball and started walking back towards him (there was no way he was going to throw it, he threw even worse than he caught), Deschamps turned to his copilot, Billy Northrup, who was sitting on a crate outside the tent.
"So, wha'd I tell ya, Billy-boy?" asked Deschamps.
"What did you tell me about what? And stop calling me Billy-boy," replied Northrup. Whenever Deschamps wanted to needle him, which was often, he called Northrup 'Billy-boy' or 'Billy-bob.' Northrup hated it. Although he and Deschamps were both from the south (Baker and Rutledge, too, come to think of it) he felt like he was from a totally different world from the pilot. In a way, he supposed that he was. Atlanta was a far cry from Hackberry, Louisiana.
"About Busby, of course," replied Deschamps. "Baggin' two Jerries today. A lot better than Hartman'd do, ah reckon. I tol' ya so!"
Hartman had seemed alright to Northrup, though he'd never gotten to see him under real fire. Deschamps had seen to that. He'd managed to get Hartman thrown off the crew in favor of Busby just days before the mission. "What did you tell the CO again?" he asked. "Did you tell him what you told us?"
"What, that ah
thought our tailgunner was a tailgunner in more ways than one?" asked Deschamps.
"Nah, ah din't want to ruin his career in th' army," he finished with a grin.
"Ah told him we had a 'person-al-it-y con-flict'."
Northrup thought that Deschamps wanted Hartman off just so he could have another southern boy - another Louisiana boy - on the plane. The officers had voted on it and it had come out 2-2. Deschamps and Baker for tossing Hartman, Northrup and Friedman for keeping him. Not that it mattered. As easy-going as Deschamps could be, he didn't really run his plane like a democracy, and so Hartman was out.
Baker finally returned with the football. "It's gettin' too dark to see the ball," he explained.
Deschamps cast a doubtful eye at the late afternoon sky. Then he flashed his trademark grin, "Ah s'pose," he said. "Les go on acrost the Mess Hall, maybe it's time for some grub."
A Surprise For Charlie - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)
scanned the duty roster, hoping not to see his name. Ah, good, he
thought. Not there! Then he saw something
that made his jaw drop, nearly spilling a chunk of half-chewed apple on his feet.
"Damn, Charlie, they finally caught up with you!"
Charlie Rakes turned from the board and looked at his fellow spare radioman. He put what he hoped was a brave smile on his face. "So they did, Jackie-boy, so they did," he responded. "Well, I've been sittin' around too long, anyway."
Introspection - (submitted by Neil Amoore, 317th Sqn)
He watched the fly buzz lazily through the thick, warm air. Short, darting movements that made him think of his days trying to get into Fighter School. It hadn’t worked out, though, as he apparently lacked the “necessary aggressiveness’ for a fighter jock. Instead, they’d decided, he had a cool enough head to carry a crap-load of high explosives over occupied Europe at a snail’s pace.
The creak of the door to his office opening shook Amoore out of his reverie. The 317th’s clerk shuffled in and dumped a pile of papers on his desk and shuffled out again. Chuckling to himself, the 317th’s stand-in skipper remembered the reception the little corporal had given him when he’d arrived. All salutes, neatness and attention to detail. Thank God the guy was here, though, cost the whole damned shooting match would come to a stand-still without him.
Sighing, Amoore flipped through the paper on his desk. Requisition forms, repair manifests and a whole bunch of demands from the various crew chiefs. The squadron had taken a few hits on the last two missions, and there was work to do to keep everyone in the air. Enough work to keep him out of the air after this next trip. There was no word about Montague’s return, and Forrest needed flight-time anyway. Perhaps a few days going through the paper-work would get him ahead of the game.
Moving to the door, Amoore put his cap and leather flying jacket on and strolled past his protesting clerk and out towards the mess. He’d embarrassed himself with a show of melodramatics in the control tower a few days ago, mistaking a struggling 17 for one of his own. That’s what happens when there’s no time to acclimatize properly, he thought bitterly. He’d been ribbed about it by the flight crews, and deservedly so. Good natured, though, he knew. Someone had drawn a caricature of his unmistakable self on the lavatory wall, showing him to be confused and lost. He’d had to smile at it.
If they all got back from the next trip he’d buy them all a round of drinks. If . . .
TOWER RADIO RECEPTIONS: MISSION 11
Somewhere over Yugoslavia:
"Fireball Leader, this is Cowboy Leader . . . we are dropping onto the deck, will see you at home. Cowboy leader over and out."
Sunlight glinting of its sleek silver wings, the battered Silver Spoon nosed down towards Mother Earth . . .
"Cowboy Leader from Fireball Leader . . . Good luck, see you at the barn."
Nearing Sterapone Field:
"IGLOO TOWER... this is Fireball Five . . . IGLOO TOWER . . . this is Fireball Five . . . have an ambulance standing by for wounded . . . Fireball Five out."
"Tower, this is Cowboy Leader . . . Get the meat wagons ready for me . . . have wounded aboard . . ."
Red flares arc out from the Silver Spoon as she comes in low and slightly unsteady, her undercarriage reaching out desperately for the welcoming embrace of the tarmac.
It's been two hours since a twin-engine plane with its seven-man crew took off at dawn's first light, heading into the Gulf of Taranto. It's official U.S. Naval designation is the PBY-5 Catalina, manufactured by the Consolidated Aircraft company in California. It's search pattern will take them pass the Gulf of Taranto and into the western portion of the Ionian Sea, where yesterday several B-17s based in Italy were forced to ditch while returning from a bombing raid in Greece. They are looking for the survivors.
A bright reflection catches the attention of the co-pilot. "Hey, Pat," informs Ensign Raymond St. Claire to his pilot, "off to starboard at three o'clock. I think I see something."
"Alright, lets check it out," Lieutenant Heaton ordered as he begins a slow banking turn to starboard. Activating his throat microphone, Heaton announces to his crew, "Pilot to Crew. We've got a contact to starboard. Keep your eyes peeled for any survivors. Pilot, out."
Stationed in starboard gun port bubble turret located in the waist section, Gunners Mate Third Class Donald Mathews directs his binoculars in the direction announced by the pilot. After focusing the binoculars, he sees that it is a large yellow raft. "Starboard Waist to Pilot. It's a raft, Skipper. It's capsized and I see no signs of life. Starboard Waist, out." As the Catalina passes over the overturned raft, seven pairs of eyes confirms the raft, as well as the surrounding area, is lifeless.
"Pilot to Navigator, note in the logbook that we sighted and picked up an empty life raft at this location."
"Navigator to Pilot, Roger."
Undaunted from not finding any survivors, Lieutenant Heaton expertly lands the flying boat in rough seas next to the raft where Mathews slides open his canopy window. With the help of the other gunner, Gunners Mate Second Class Kevin Blackford, they haul the raft into the plane so they can determine its origin. Within seconds of pulling in the raft, the Catalina's engines are revved up to maximum power and it is soon airborne again as it flies eastward to continue with its search mission.
MILES FROM NOWHERE
Miles from nowhere, a life raft bobs up and down on the waves. Compared with the vast surrounding sea, the raft is small and insignificant, and locating it would be like finding that proverbial 'needle in a haystack'. Its lone passenger sits silently, his arms crossed together attempting to keep warm. He is cold, wet, miserable and scared from spending the night alone in the open raft. He was never a religious man but spending the night alone would make any man start believing in God. He laughs softly reminiscing about all the times his parents would have to drag him and his brothers and sisters off to church every Sunday. He wishes he was back home now, even attending the church services that he found boring. He prays that help arrives soon as most of this emergency gear was lost overboard last night when his raft was swapped by a wave. All he has left is a knife, a half-filled canteen of water, a compass, a signal mirror and his escape map of the country of Greece. A lot of good this will do me, he thinks, but it's silk and it could be used to catch rain water. He moves his fingers and toes. At least I can move them, Dan thinks to himself, that's something to be thankful for . . . plus I'm still alive.
He rubs a new bump on his forehead, a recent souvenir of his successful first ever ditching. The ditching! His recollection of the events of his ditching yesterday are in some parts clear as day and dim and vague in others. Dan remembers that his plane took only one hit over Greece but that was enough. It put a huge hole in one of his fuel tanks that couldn't be sealed, leaving him with insufficient fuel to return to Italy.
He recalls hitting the water so hard that one of his shoulder straps broke free and he hit his head someplace in the cockpit. He remembers the frantic attempt to free himself of the seat restraints and the mad climb out of the cockpit onto the wing before his plane sank beneath the wave. And that he slipped and fell into the water.
Then his memories becomes cloudy as he can't remember clearly the events after that. He can't remember inflating his Mae West life vest, or the life raft for that matter, or even how he managed to climb into it. All Dan can figure out is that he was still semi-conscious and that his instincts to live automatically took over. Somehow his body moved on its own accord, moving in the right manner and sequences to save himself. Must have been all that repetitive emergency training the group CO made everyone do over and over back in the states. So many times in fact, 'so that the men could do it in their sleep' or so went the old saying. . . Or perhaps there is a God and God somehow saved him, Dan muses. But if there is a God, Dan ponders, why would God save him from drowning only to let him die of thirst or starvation? Maybe God has a sick sadistic streak, Dan silently philosophizes.
He turns his head westward, in the direction where he expects the search planes were sure to come. It was comforting to him knowing that his command knew at least in which general area where he went down. He knew the Western Allies made great efforts to rescue their downed pilots, unlike the Japanese in the Pacific who were expected to die in battle. It was good for morale if the allied crews knew that every effort would be made to find them.
All Dan can do at this point in time is to wait, watch for a plane and pray . . .
Five Down, Another Five More to Go
It's been five hours into the search patrol of a Navy Catalina flying boat. Two hours ago, it made a 90 degree course change southward as part of the standard 'box pattern' search. It was time to make another turn, this time towards the west. So far for the crew, it has been one long unsuccessful patrol with only that one sighting of an empty life raft earlier. Upon investigating further, the stencil on the raft indicated it had belonged to the Cap Padaran, an 8000 ton British merchant ship sunk by a German U-Boat 31 days ago in the Gulf of Taranto.
Coming forward into the pilots' compartment is the plane's commander, Lieutenant Patrick Heaton, returning after taking a two hour rest break. He is relieving Ensign Ray St. Claire, the second pilot on the mission and he taps Raymond on the shoulder. Before getting out of his seat, St. Claire checks with Ensign James Smithson, the third pilot assigned to the patrol. Smithson nods that he has the controls and St. Claire exits the right seat. After exchanging places with Heaton, St. Claire stretches his arms and body. "See you guys in two hours," Ray said before going aft.
Buckling up his seat straps, Lieutenant Heaton casually remarks to Ensign Smithson. "Well, five down another five more to go, Jim." Smithson nods silently in agreement. Both pilots knew although this was boring duty it was a necessary one. If the situation was reversed and they were down there adrift, they would certainly would want someone to come looking for them.
"Navigator to Pilot, course change to heading two-seven-zero magnetic coming up in one minute. Over."
"Pilot to Navigator. Thanks, George. Pilot over and out."
At the appointed time, the Catalina makes another 90 degree turn heading westward. Moments later, an excited voice comes on the intercom. "Port Waist to Pilot. Skipper, I think I saw a bright flash of light or something down there, off to port. Over."
Both pilot looked at each other, each wondering if this is another false sighting. "Pilot to Port Waist, you think you saw something? Or are you sure you saw something? Which is it, Port Waist. Over."
Continuing to look out through the bubble canopy, Petty Officer Second Class Kevin Blackford reports back. "Port Waist to Pilot. I just saw it for moment after we made the turn, Skipper. I'm looking again now . . . Yes! There is again! It's a signal of some sort! Over!"
Now joining on the conversation is Petty Officer Third Class Donald Mathews. "Starboard Waist to Pilot. I can see it too, Lieutenant. Sighting confirmed! Over."
"Pilot to crew, we've got another sighting and this time it looks like we got live one. Prepare for landing and pick up. And Blackford? Good work! Pilot over and out."
Dan's ears perked up. He looked north in the far distance, hearing that familiar sound of aircraft engines. He could see the aircraft about a mile away, silhouetted against the grayish low level pillow-shaped Cumulus clouds as it traveled westward parallel to his raft's position.
Quickly removing his signal mirror from his vest pocket, he began signaling the search plane. As the sunlight bounced off the mirror in the direction of the search plane, Dan silently urged, "C'mon, look this way, look this way!"
Dan's initial exhilaration sank as the plane continued flying westward. "I'm over here, you bastards! I'm down here!" Dan yelled knowing they couldn't hear him. But it made him feel like he was doing something. As if they heard him, the Catalina slowly turned back to return in his direction and began to lose altitude. As the flying boat flew pass him, the crew waved at him. Dan waved back, all the while yelling, "You beautiful bastards. It's about time! It's about time!" A sense of relief overcame the exhausted pilot as he sank back down in the raft awaiting to be picked up, silently giving his thanks.
As the PBY Catalina pulled along side the raft, one of the men in the waist threw out a lifeline that the survivor caught. The two men in waist section quickly pulled the raft towards the plane. Soon the raft was near enough that the weak pilot could be hauled aboard by two of the aircrew through the bubble canopy.
Once safely aboard, Dan spoke to his rescuers. "Boy, are you guys a sight for sore eyes . . . Lieutenant Dan Butler . . . Ninety-fourth fighter squadron . . . out of Salsola, Italy.
"Welcome aboard, Lieutenant," Gunners Mate Blackford said while his partner hauled in Butler's one-man life raft.
After securing the raft, Gunners Mate Mathews activated his throat microphone. "Waist to Pilot, we've got him, Skipper. Anytime you're ready."
Building up its speed again, the Catalina slowly climbed out of the waves heading westward.
WHERE THERE'S SMOKE, THERE'S . . .
The searching Catalina was nearing the end of its long 10 hour patrol. In another 30 minutes, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Patrick Heaton would make the course change back to Taranto. Heaton was looking forward to some time off to unwind at the O-club. He could drink as much as he wanted as he and his crew were standing down tomorrow while another crew continued the search. Each searching PBY was assigned two crews who would be rotated every-other-day until command called off the search and rescue operations. This rotation would keep the searching crews fresh as the higher commands did not want exhausted men searching. A tired man might miss seeing a downed crew; it could mean the difference of life and death for the crews awaiting rescue.
Heaton's thought of sleeping in late tomorrow morning was interrupted when his peripheral vision brought something to his attention. Was that smoke? Red smoke!
Heaton tapped Ensign St. Claire on his shoulder to get his attention. "Ray, take a look over to port, will you?" Ensign St. Claire turned his head in the direction, stretching forward a little to get his head to see over Heaton through the window.
"Hey, that's smoke," Ensign St. Claire confirmed. "Red smoke at that. And where there's smoke, there's . . ."
Heaton continued for his co-pilot. ". . . then there's something burning. And if there's something burning on water, then somebody went to the trouble to light it." Both pilots grinned as they both knew they had a live sighting.
Heaton nods to St. Claire and St. Claire turns the control wheel in the direction of the smoke. Activating the intercom, Heaton announced, "Pilot to crew. I know we're all tired but lets look alive, people. We've got a positive sighting of red smoke off the port side. It's a signal flare and somebody's down there wants to go home with us. Prepare for landing. Pilot out."
With one fighter pilot rescued and possibly more, this was turning out to be a very successful mission Heaton thought to himself.
It is 19:10 hours in the operation's building and the silence is interrupted by the chattering of the teletype as it comes alive. Looking up from preparing the formation list for tomorrow's mission, Corporal Addison wonders what this could be. Are they calling of the mission? Or is it a some change to the mission's Field Order? Or updated reports on enemy strengths?
Addison gets up and walks to the teletype just as the incoming message continues to print. Grabbing the top corner of the paper Allison reads the message and he smiles before he even finishes reading the rest of its contents.
Letting the teletype to complete printing out the message, Addison leaves the room in a hurry calling out, "Captain Jefferson? Captain Jefferson!"
As Addison goes through the door, the teletype becomes silent again. If there were someone in the room to read the contents of this routine message, he would have seen:
TO: 88th Bombardment Group (H), Sterparone Field, Italy
From: U.S. Naval Command, Taranto, Italy
Date: 10 January 1944, 19:10:38
Subject: 88th BG Crew Found
Today at 17:30, Air-Sea Rescue located and rescued 10 men belonging to your command . . . All 10 men are alive and well . . . names are as follows:
TANNER, Daniel (Capt.), SEARS, John (1LT), CAWLEY, Michael (2LT) . . .