ON THE RUNWAY - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)


    Hanson's crew anxiously waited for the return of Eat at Joe’s with the other ground crews.  They spotted their bomber coming in, and could see a few holes and dents along the fuselage as it came down the runway.


    “Hey, look at that!” said the Kid. “It looks like we’ll actually have to do some repair work today!”


    “Shut up, Kid!” growled Hanson.  He had seen the red flares fired from Eat At Joe’s as it made its approach, and he knew what it meant: wounded.  Jeez, he thought to himself. I hope it’s not too bad!

GROUNDED - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)


    Verne Pike sat for what seemed like hours in the triage area of the base hospital.  A harried-looking doctor had bustled through right after he’d gotten there, took a quick look at his left hand, and  shook his head. “Don’t they teach these guys decent first aid?” he’d muttered, then said to an accompanying nurse, “He’ll be alright.  Get an X-ray, make sure there’s no damage to his bones and we'll stitch him up.”  Then he was gone, off to look at some other poor soul who’d been unlucky today.


    So he waited a bit.  Then they took him for X-Rays.  Then he waited some more.  And some more.  He watched other men in far worse shape parade into the operating room.  Some he knew, like his fellow co-pilot, Ken Beaton, from Longhorn Lady.  Others he didn't know.  He silently prayed for all of them.


    Eventually, another doctor came over.  He looked tired, but was far friendlier than the first one.


    “Lieutenant,” he said, “I’m Doctor Cutter, we're going to get you patched up.  And yes,” he said, as Verne opened his mouth to say the obvious, “that IS my actual name.”


    “Tough day at the office?” asked Verne.  He liked the guy already.


    “My day doesn't look as rough as yours,” responded the doctor as he carefully removed the blood-soaked bandage from Pike’s hand. “The X-rays showed no damage to any of the bones or tendons. The shell passed through the fleshy part between your finger and your thumb.  We should be able to stitch it up pretty easily.  I’ll put you on antibiotics to prevent infection, and we’ll keep an eye on it for a couple of days.  Once the swelling goes down a little and we’re certain there’s no infection, you can return to active duty and get out of here.”


    “Wait a minute,” said Verne. “I can’t fly?”


    “Not right away,” replied Cutter as he cleaned the wound. “You won’t be able to use the hand, you’d be a liability in the air. And,” he continued, as he studied the now cleaned wound, “I’m keeping you here, at least overnight.  Why?” he asked, cutting off the question before Verne could ask it. “Because I know you flyboys,” he looked up with a smile. “If I let you out, next thing I know, you'll be drinking in the O-club, showing off your wound, getting into fights, and coming back in worse shape than you’re in now. Nope,” he said finally, as he loaded up a syringe, “you’re staying here for a bit.”  He turned toward Pike, syringe held needle-up. “Now,” he said, “this is a local anesthetic.  I’m going to give you a shot or two in the hand to deaden the pain while I work.  It may hurt just a bit . . .”

BAD TO WORSE? - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)


    Joe Delany was feeling out of sorts as he left the briefing tent, and no wonder: in the last four days, he’d permanently lost four crewmen.  One, Charlie Barstow, had been the 'glue' that held the crew together.  To make matters worse, the weather today was crappy, the morale of his crew was low (owing mostly to Barstow’s death yesterday), he had yet to meet his new bombardier, and his close friend and right-hand man, Verne Pike, was in the infirmary nursing a wounded hand. Yep, thought Delany, this is not shaping up to be good day.


    Still, there were a couple of bits of good news -- Vandermere was back in the radio room, and his substitute copilot, Harrison, seemed like a pretty competent guy (it would not have improved Joe’s mood to know that the two planes Harrison had flown with had been shot down shortly after his missions with them).


    Joe was standing with Harrison and the new navigator, Evans, trying to think of something to say, when a short, barrel-shaped man with thick, black hair rolled over to them ('rolled' was the best way to describe his walk).  He smiled a lopsided grin and grabbed Joe’s hand.


    “How ya doin’, Lieutenant Delany,” he said, pumping Joe's hand vigorously. “I’m Mickey Cochrane, your new bombardier.  Sorry I’m late, they just told me this morning that I was flying today.  I only got here on the base yesterday.  They don’t let a guy get a rest around here, do they?”


    Oh, boy, thought Delany, as he detached his hand at last from Cochrane’s grip, We must be real low on bombardiers if they’re turning guys around so fast. This day just keeps getting better and better. To Cochrane, he managed a weak smile and said “Welcome to Italy.”

OUTSIDE BRIEFING - (submitted by Jim Pink, 316th Sqn)


    “Don, Don,” Thorn repeats urgently as he tracks down his pilot.


    “Hi Chuck!” Replies Lt. Beckett. “What the rush, we’ve been delayed at least an hour.”


    “That's just it Don. You don’t think they really expect us to fly, much less hit the target, in this stuff . . . Do ya?” an exasperated Thorne spits out.


    “Who knows,” Beckett says. “With the rush to get this thing over, I think High Command is willing to push the weather.”


    “WEATHER, PUSH THE WEATHER. THEIR PUSHING US!” a flustered Thorne is interrupted.


    “Chuck, slow down and keep your voice down,” interjects Beckett.  He continued, “If they do have us go, WE go!  What’s eating you, this ain’t the first time we’ve gone up in bad weather remember yesterday?  We were fine.”


    Thorne, a little calmer, persist, “This can't be good Don.  It is hard enough to see the enemy fighters much less the target.  You, THEY, can't expect me to hit the target in this crap.  I was luck yesterday, I can’t keep this up Don.”


    “Chuck, calm down. Just like all the others in our crew, you do what ever you can do. We fallow the lead of Major Tanner’s crew and do our best.  Hell Chuck, Colonel Lamb’s going up with us, so all you have to do is drop when Lt. Forrest drops, okay?” As Lt. Beckett tries to calm his Bombardier down.


    “I don’t know Don,” Thorne says as the two men start to walk towards Darla.


    “Besides, if we can’t see them then they can't see us,” Beckett said as much for Thorne as for himself.  This could be a nasty one if their fighters do find them in this soup.


    The two men walk off silently the rest of the way.

AT THE HARDSTAND - (submitted by Jim Pink, 316th Sqn)


    “Hi, Pappy,” Lt. Beckett addresses his crew chief. “Got the old girl back together?” Of course Don knew he did, they always did. How they did it was a miracle, as there were times the crew thought they would have a replacement bird on the hard stand the next morning.  But it was always Darla right there, pretty as a picture.


    MSgt. Fenn replied, “We have a nasty one today, Lieutenant.  I hope you have some sort of surprise up your sleeve.  Taking off and forming up may be the biggest challenge for all the crews today.”


    Standing under the port wing of Darla, Beckett response, “If you can fix ’em we can fly ’em, Pappy.  Just point me to where the plane is.”


    The two men laughed at Don’s lame attempt at humor.  If for nothing else, to calm nerves.  Don had been on base a little over a fortnight and flying as pilot for only eight days, but he was quickly becoming one of the old guys in the squadron.  If not by time in, but by time up.  Up in the hostile skies over Europe.  Every time he and his crew left the earth they wondered if Darla was coming back.  This could take a toll on ones nerves and ones sanity.  The bond these men have, flight crew and ground crew was sometimes the difference of making it, or just cracking up.


At Sterparone Field.


    "Captain Jefferson! Captain Jefferson, Sir!" Sergeant Davis yells down the stairwell from the control tower's upper floor.  "Plane approaching!  It's one of ours!"


    Within seconds, James Jefferson appears from the lower level, running up the stairs two steps per stride.  Jefferson asks in his usual southern drawl, "Any idea who it is, Davis?"


    "Yes, sir.  It's Captain Wilson," Davis replies.


    "Are they in trouble?  Do we need to call the crash truck or the meat wagons?" Jefferson asks.


    "No, sir, Captain Wilson reported his crew was just fine," replies the bi-spectacled sergeant.


    Jefferson decides to exit the dry tower into the drizzling rain, with the Davis following him, zipping up his jacket to keep warm and dry.  "Sir, you might want to use these," Davis said offering the Operations Officer a pair of binoculars. "Wilson's plane is coming in from the north."


    "Thanks, Davis."  Jefferson places the binoculars to his eyes, faces north, adjusts the focus and locates the Golden Spike against the gray overcast.  Jefferson can see the main landing gear is already down and the bomber is making its approach about a half mile away.  "She looks okay . . . no major damage that I can see."  Jefferson reflects for a second and announces, "Well, lets go down and meet Captain Wilson and find out what happened."


Radio Transmission over Yugoslavia on return leg (zone 4) from Fireball One:

    "Have lost Bombardier, Nav and Pilot’s Oh-Two.  Dropping to Angles Ten.  See ya at the barn."