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

 

    “I don’t know if I can talk about it right now,” says an ashen-faced Lieutenant to the debriefing officer, his voice raspy and barely audible over the din of the room.

 

    “Try,” urged the officer. “It’s best to go over it now, while it’s still fresh.  Here,” he says, and he pours out a good-sized glass of whiskey from the bottle on the table.  He slides the glass across the table.  Then he waits.  He’s been doing this job for a while now, and he knows that, sometimes, it’s best not to push these men.  He knows that, no matter how bad it was in the air, no matter how many friends have been lost on the mission, these men want -- no, need -- to talk.  He’s learned that if you don’t say anything for long enough, these guys will eventually open up and spill it.  So, he waits.

 

    The Lieutenant stares at the glass on the table, not really seeing it.  He reaches for it with a shaking hand, then drains it quickly. He looks off into space again, perhaps seeing flak, or enemy aircraft, or the bloody face of a friend, and then he begins to talk.

 

    “Well,” begins Lieutenant Delany. “When we got a bandit on our tail less than 100 miles out of the base, I knew it was going to be a long day . . .”


EXCERPT FROM A LETTER HOME - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)

 

    . . . The weather’s been bad the last few days so we haven’t done any flying.  It's given us a chance to rest up a little, and to see a little of the country near the base.  The people of Italy have been really friendly and seem genuinely happy that we came. Hard to believe we were at war with them not long ago.

 

    Well, that’s all I’ve got time for now. Don’t worry about me at all, I’m doing great . . .

 

    Delany looked at the letter and shook his head.  What a load of claptrap! he thought as he re-read it.  How can I write this
bullshit?

 

    He wasn’t doing great, and he knew it.  The last two missions had been awful.  Three dead, and two more going home with possibly crippling injuries.  He was glad that the weather was bad, and he secretly hoped that it would never clear up, because then he wouldn’t have to fly and see more of his men killed or maimed.  The very thought of flying right now made his stomach churn.  He couldn’t put that in his letters, though, he didn’t want to worry his family (and you never knew what would happen if the censors got hold of it). 

 

    He sighed, and went back to his letter.


WHISPERS IN THE CLUB - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)
 

    Baldini, Webster and Burleson sat around the table in the enlisted men’s club.  Although the Old Man was pretty lenient about mixing among the ranks, Baldini had dragged them in here so he could gripe about officers without worrying about being overheard.

 

    “Whaddya think about the new guy?” he asked the others.

 

    “Which one?” asked Webster. “We’ve gotten a lot of new guys lately.”

 

    Baldini snorted a laugh. “Your buddy in the waist, what’s his name . . .”

 

    “Seaton,” interjected Burleson. “Bert Seaton.”

 

    “Yeah, yeah, Seaton. He okay?”

 

    Webster shrugged.  He hadn’t spent that much time with the new guy since he was assigned to the crew.  He had been pretty close the The Chief, as they called Featherstone, and his emotions were still pretty raw about the sudden loss of his friend.  “Yeah,” he said finally. “I guess he’s okay.  Doesn’t say much, though.”

 

    Burleson piped in. “I’ve talked to him a bit.  He’s quiet, but he seems to be a good guy.  He flew seven missions, just like us.  His last one was bad.  Just like us,” he added, picking up his beer and draining it.

 

    Baldini nodded. “Lucky seven,” he muttered, with a touch of irony to his voice.  He looked around the room quickly, leaned in towards the middle of the table, and lowered his voice, and said what he’d been thinking about all week. “You guys think Delany is losing it?” he asked in a whisper.

 

    Webster nodded eagerly in agreement. “Sheesh, yes! You talk to him and he talks back, but it’s like he’s not even here!”

 

    “And he looks like hell,” Baldini added. “He’s losing weight for sure.  I don’t think he’s sleeping much.” He sat back for a minute. Burleson didn’t like the way this was going, but remained silent.  Baldini leaned in again and lowered his voice even more. “I’m not sure I want to fly with him anymore," he said at last.  I --”

 

    Burleson cut him off. “Hold it, hold it, hold it!” he said, bringing his hand down hard on the table.  The scattered few in the bar looked around briefly, then went back to their drinks.  “Enough of that,” continued the tail gunner in a lower voice.  “It’s been hard on all of us, especially since Charlie died, especially for Joe.  Don’t go badmouthing him around me.  He got us home, he got YOU home.  We need him, and he needs us!”

 

    He sat back, picked up his beer and banged it back on the table when he realized it was empty.

 

    “Yeah,” said Baldini after a long moment. “Yeah, we need him, alright.  But we need him ALL RIGHT, if you know what I mean. Can you say he’s all right, Roger?”

 

    Burleson said nothing.  Baldini nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s what I thought.”


IN CAPTAIN YOSHIKAWA'S OFFICE (After the Klagenfurt Mission) - (submitted by Mark Yoshikawa, 317th Sqn)

 

    “You wanted to see me?” Sergeant Shintani asked as he knocked on the door.

 

    “Come in, I have some news for you,” Captain Yoshikawa replied as he finished up the AAR for the last mission. “As you know, your one of the few that have been with us from the beginning of this campaign.”

 

    “So . . . what’s so important about that?” Shintani replied not wanting to know if he was now going to be transferred or something worse.

 

    “First of all your to report in your number one’s out at parade tomorrow at 0800.  You along with all of the other’s that have done twenty-five are getting a medal.”  As the Captain tried to hide the grin that was starting to form on his face. “And second, you might want to put another dog leg on your shoulder there.  You have been promoted from Sergeant to Staff Sergeant."

 

    “Thanks, . . .” was all that Shintani could say at the moment.

 

    “Well, look at it this way, you’re half way home now . . . That is all.”

 

    “Yes, Sir,” as the new Staff Sergeant saluted the Captain.

 

    As he turned around, Staff Sergeant Shintani felt that he finally saw light at the end of the tunnel. 25 more . . . hopefully they will be easier then the first 25.


AN UNSCHEDULED AWAKENING THE DAY AFTER KLAGENFURT

 

    Corporal Johnson opened the flap of the tent and saw the man he was sent to awaken in the far corner.  Moving to the sleeping man he called out the man’s name while shaking the man from his slumber.  “Lieutenant Lowenthal?  Lieutenant Lowenthal?”.

 

    “Wh-- . . . What???” asked the groggy sleeper. “What is it?  I’m not scheduled to fly today.”

 

    “Captain Jefferson wants you,” Johnson informed him.

 

    Now sitting up, Phil Lowenthal’s next words to Johnson were, “Oh, god, is there a mission and I’m a last minute replacement?” he looked at Johnson with dread.  Lowenthal hated to fly missions, as he was always afraid of dying.  But he knew what his duty to his country was and he wasn’t going to let his fears get the better of him and control him.

 

    “No, Sir,” replied Johnson. “Ops just wants you to go get some new replacement aircraft.”

 

    Lowenthal was perplexed.  “What?!?  Hell, why do they need me for?” he angrily asked. “I’m a navigator.  All they need for this job is two pilots and a engineer.”

 

    Johnson replied, “I’ve been told that with the weather bad like this and with the rookie pilots who aren’t familiar with the area, it was felt that sending an experienced navigator would be a good idea.”

 

    Lowenthal was pissed.  “Well, who are the pilots?” he asked wondering who were the incompetent pilots who couldn’t find their way back to Sterparone Field.  He already knew why he’d been chosen: he was the most experienced navigator in the group not currently assigned on combat missions.

 

    “Thompson, Bennett, Powers and Hoffman,” Johnson replied, reciting off the names he’d been told earlier.

 

    Lowenthal went over the names in his head.  Thompson . . . Bennett . . . Powers . . . Hoffman . . . Okay, they're all new and still wet behind the ears . . . I can see why . . . Lowenthal reasoned as his mind was starting to become more coherent.

 

    “And Lieutenant Hoffman as the ranking officer, he’ll be in charge, sir.” Johnson added in.

 

    “Fine . . . Alright, what time do we leave?” Phil asked the orderly.

 

    “You’re to catch a See-Forty-Seven at ten-hundred hours that will take you all to the main depot,” Johnson answered.

 

    Looking at his watch, Lowenthal said to Johnson, “That’s fine, Johnson, go and tell Captain Jefferson I’ll be ready.”  Just enough time to take a shower, shave and get some chow, Phil thought getting out of his cot and reaching out for his pants.


FEBRUARY 1st AT THE FOGGIA DEPOT - (submitted by Jim Pink, 316th Sqn)

 

The future Lucky 7 crew on their way to Foggia.

 

    Lieutenant Jamie Jameson and Lieutenant Mark Grams stood on the flight line waiting for their ride.  Lieutenant Richard Ratt came out of the hanger towards Jameson with some coffee for the two men.

 

    “Jamie,” Started Richard Ratt as he handed him his coffee, “Any sight of the C-47?”

 

    “Nope!” replied Jameson.

 

    “Here, Mark,” continues Richards as he handed him his.

 

    Jamie looked around as if he just remembered something, “Where’s that new guy that replaced Bummister?” directing his question to no one in particular.

 

    “Radfordson, Sir!” responded Grams. “He said he was on his way when I saw him last.”

 

    “What ya think of this guy, Rick?” Jamie seemed miffed that Lieutenant Mathew Radfordson was always late.

 

    “He’s hit the ground running, Sir.  He just found out last night he would be flying to Foggie with us today.  And they had to find him in town as he was on leave at the time,” Grams filled in his pilot, friend.

 

    “Well, there’s a war going, and none of us are on leave now,” interjected Jameson.  “He should be here.”  After a long sip of his
jo.  “Where the hell is that C-47?”

 

    “Don’t know, Sir,” answers Rick, “the only thing that has come in were those two forts about fifteen minutes ago.”

 

    Just then Mark saw Radfordson running from the mess. “Jamie! There he is . . .”


Jamison, Ratt, Grams & Radfordson aim to get to the bottom of this - (submitted by Jim Pink, 316th Sqn)

 

    As the four men made their way to the communications center they see the base Adjutant talking to five airmen.  There were two men doing the talking, they seemed annoyed.

 

    Lieutenant Jameson could over here the one officer talking to the Adjutant, “They are supposed to be here awaiting our arrival.  We need to confirm our time of departure tomorrow with them.”

 

    “Three of them were by here twenty minutes ago, Sir, I haven’t seen them since, Sir.”  Replied the man.

 

    Lieutenant Hoffman continued, “Well, when you see them, tell them I got out of bed to escort their lame . . .”

 

    Interrupting the First Lieutenat, Jameson tried to sooth his concerns, “Lieutenant Jameson reporting for duty, Sir.” Damn He's
going to think I’m a slacker
, thought Jamie.  The three other officers also saluted in turn.

 

    With an agitated tone, “Gentlemen follow me,” was all Hoffman said.  They fell in . . .


SOMEWHERE IN THE SKIES OF ITALY - (submitted by Jim Pink, 316th Sqn)

 

    After the misunderstanding at the depot was cleared up, they were on their way to the base, Jameson now felt better.  They were riding along in a brand new B-17G.  Hoping beyond hope, Jameson daydreamed about driving this beauty.  It only made sense, a new crew and a new bird.  What would he name it, The Silver Star or maybe Silver Dollar Baby.  Guess I'll wait till the CO assigns one of these birds to HIS crew.

 

    But for now He would enjoy the view from the engineers post.  Yes these were magnificent aircrafts, the Krauts had no chance.


REALITY SETS IN - (submitted by Jim Pink, 316th Sqn)

 

    On the hard stand putting power to the engines Jameson was starting to get over the fact that he was assigned a tired old bird.  42-11777, the Lucky 7 as it was named.  Why his crew didn't get one of the "G’s" was beyond him, but he figured the CO was right about the veteran crew and the best equipment.

 

    Jamie was relieved to see that the rest of the crew had had some combat experience.  Though Sgt. Fidone, the ball gunner, seemed a bit touchy when Lieutenant Redfordson mispronounced his last name.  And Tech Sgt. Dykstra was very to himself, a man of few words, really seems to be withdrawn.  The rest, SSgt. Rhoads (Eng), Sgt. Duffy (Gunner), Sgt. Lis (Gunner) and Sgt. Burroughs all seemed anxious to get into battle.  Especially after two scrubbed missions.

 

    As he was directed to the runway all that had happened in the past week was washed from Jamie’s mind and the upcoming flight was overriding his thoughts.  All his training would finally be put to the test.


TAIL END AGAIN! - (submitted by Jim Pink, 316th Sqn)

 

    “Lieutenant, is it true, are we Tail End Charlie again?” inquires Sgt. Andrews with Sgt Albers in tow.

 

    Beckett replies, “Oh, quit your whining Dave, it’ll give you more opportunities to wax Jerries,”  Albers groans.

 

    “But, sir, isn’t there other crews that can take tail end this time?” continues Andrews.

 

    “No, Dave, we do what the CO tells us to do, and today we fly rear end,” Beckett comes back.

 

    Albers pipes in, “This is a deep trip, right Lieutenant?”

 

    “Right,” shoots back Beckett.  “Then don’t fly so the Krauts can get my guns this time,” answers back Albers.

 

    Beckett just smiles and turns toward Darla's Bite II to board her.  Turning back at the two veterans he counters, “Get to your stations, boys.”

 

    In the cold dampness of Italy, after eight days of bad weather, the Lieutenant goes through the start up ritual and fires up the engines.  Within minutes Darla was moving towards the runway right behind Return to Sender this would be their third trip.  Hopefully we can help keep the Jerries off the kids’ tail so they can make their fourth trip.


TOWER RECEPTIONS MISSION 29

Leaving Milan (zone 6) Inbound:

 

    The lead element’s wingmen of the low 316th squadron had just seen two attacking FW-190’s using anvil tactics on the lead aircraft, while two more make head-on attacks.  Both side fighters perform a perfect textbook run, causing multiple 20mm shells hits that unerringly seem to follow one hit after another in a synchronized procession along both of the wings.

 

    Both pilots instinctively duck as the pilot compartment is peppered with bullets from one of the head-on attackers.  As the enemy fighter flies overhead, both pilots look up and around and sees that each other is unharmed.  Focusing his senses again, the co-pilot checks the starboard wing.  “We’ve been hit hard on the right side!” yells the co-pilot, Mike Cawley.

 

    “Same here on my side!  What’s your damage!?!” yells back the pilot, Major Dan Tanner, quickly looking at the port wing.

 

    Cawley looks out his window and sees the starboard outboard engine is spurring out black smoke and is rapidly leaking oil.  But it is the inboard engine that worries him the most as it begins to slow down and lose RPMs.  “Number three is gone and number four is leaking oil!” reports Cawley.

 

    “Feather three! And keep an eye on four’s oil pressure!” Dan Tanner orders Cawley while looking out his window to assess the port wing’s damage.  The port flap is gone but the tanks looks okay . . . Thank God . . . no other damage except for the holes.  “The port flap is gone but nothing serious on my side,” Tanner informs Cawley.

 

    “Pilot to crew, check in! What’s the damage back there, over?”

 

    “Bombardier okay.  Just some holes in the nose.”

 

    “Navigator okay.”

 

    “Top Turret okay.”

 

    “Radioman okay.”

 

    “Ball gunner okay.  But I see a lot of damage under number three . . . looks bad.”

 

    “Starboard waist okay but Fuller’s been hit.”

 

    “Port waist here, Major.  I took a slug in my leg but I can still stand and man my gun.”

 

    “Tail gunner oka . . . Fighter!  Six o’clock high!”

 

    While the crew was assessing the previous attack, another FW-190 appears unmolested from their rear.  The tail gunner reacts and shoots at the rapidly closing fighter.  His tracers misses and he watches helplessly as flashes of blinking lights appear from the fighter’s wings when the fighter gets within range.  The enemy pilot’s aim is accurate and he rakes the bomber with multiple hits running from the tail to pilots’ compartment.  Pieces of the rudder separates from the tail, shell hits strike the tail and bomb bay compartments and bullets hits both waist gunners and both pilots.


    “Buckeye Two, Buckeye Two this is Buckeye One, over, we have fire in the tail and have lost oxygen . . . Take the Group home, over . . . See you at the barn. Buckeye One out.”


    Raid Hot Mama started dropping in altitude due to the loss of heat in the waist and tail.  In the tail, the gunner fought the fire threatening the aircraft and finally extinguished the fire.  The crew slowly watch the group as they dropped away.


    “JOKER SIX TO JOKER ONE . . . JOKER SIX TO JOKER ONE . . . WE ARE TAKING IT HARD BACK HERE, MAJOR! BOMB BAY DOORS ARE JAMMED AGAIN AND WE JUST LOST NUMBER ONE ENGINE.  WE HAVE TO DROP OUT.”

     “JOKER SIX TO JOKER ONE . . . JOKER SIX TO JOKER ONE . . . SEE YOU AT HOME.  TELL THE KIDS IN "RETURN TO SENDER" THEY HAVE THE REAR!  JOKER SIX OUT.”


    As the planes of the low group look back at Darlas Bite II, they see no less than five enemy fighters, mostly FW-190s, swarming all over the stricken Fortress.  Oddly the tail gunner in Return to Sender, Sgt. Martinelli, notes that only about half of her guns are firing.

 

    Martinelli informs Lieutenant Folse, “Lieutenant, looks as if Darla's had it, Sir.  Guess we had 'Tail End Charlie' duties now.”

 

    Lieutenant Folse replies, “Okay, Frank," he continues, “Boys, let’s keep it sharp.”

 

    Frank Martinelli watches as the Luftwaffe boys work over the hapless bird.  He whisper a quick prayer for them as he sees a ME-109 coming in from 6 o’clock high.


West of Ferrara (zone 4) Inbound:

 

    The flight engineer of Full House II has been carefully watching the oil pressure gauges for the last 10 minutes.  With both pilots wounded and concentrating on keeping the plane flying and in formation, and with the top turret guns inoperable, the monitoring of the gauges became Cal Miller’s responsibility as it was important to feather the propeller before the pressure got to low to move the blade edges into the wind. “We’re starting to lose oil pressure on number four, Skipper,” reported Miller watching the oil pressure gauge's needle move slowly towards the Zero on left side of the circular gauge.

 

    “Time to cut fuel and feather four, Mike,” orders Tanner and his co-pilot Mike Cawley goes through the motions to successfully feather the outboard engine on their starboard wing using his one good hand.  Bothered by the pain from the wound to his left foot taken over Milan, Tanner prepares to announce to the crew on their situation.  No need to sugar-coat this . . . they know it's going to be a tough ride home.  Ignoring the pain, Tanner activates his throat microphone states in his best calm and confident tone, “Pilot to crew, we’re down to two engines.  We’ll be dropping out of formation in a second, so keep your eyes open for fighters.  Don’t be stingy with the ammo.  As long as we have two good engines, we have a chance to make it back.  Moore, radio the squadron deputy he’s got the lead and to bring the them home . . . and tell them to keep their dirty paws off our gear!  We’re coming home but we’ll be a little late . . . Pilot out.”

 

    Unable to keep up with the group with only two engines on the port wing, the slower bomber breaks formation with a left banking turn and begins a decent to 10,000 feet and its long journey back to Foggia, alone.


Minutes away from Sterparone Field:

 

    One day, after the war, he’d come back here.  Drink some wine, maybe even find a girl to fool around with.  Strange how peaceful and scenic Italy seemed from 10,000ft, Amoore thought.  His arms ached, but at least that took his mind off the dull throbbing in his head.  He knew he’d been hit because he could feel the tell-tale sticky warmth under his ear-phones.  Couldn’t be too bad, though, based on the expressions of the crew.  Mind you, Carpenter, or what was left of him, grabbed most of the attention. He’d been cut in two by a 20mm shell over the target and no-one was too keen to remove the bits.  As a result he’d taken most of the strain holding Silver Spoon level until the engineer took over the blood-soaked right seat.

 

    They were a wreck, and he wondered if she’d be ready by the next mission. Blackmore and Yablowski had been hit, so had Fielding strapped in under the Spoon.

 

    Finally, and with an inward sigh of relief, Amoore saw the familiar landmarks near Sterparone.  Thank God, he though quietly.  He’d flown Halifaxes with RAF Bomber Command in early 1941, one of a contingent of Americans who’d joined the war early, and with the 99th and had brought a crippled bird home before.  He was getting too old for this, though, he thought.

 

    Red flares sent out, and slowly descend to earth.  Wheels slamming down, too tired to bother about finesse, he rolled her to a stop on the sand near the hard-stand . . .


At Sterparone Field:

 

    The crew chief scanned the horizon for signs of his bomber, the Memphis Gal; most of the group's aircraft had already landed, only the stragglers were still out there.

 

    A distant drone alerted the waiting men, eager eyes sought the incoming bomber to see if it was theirs.  With red flares cutting the sky signaling only death or despair as if the sky itself was bleeding the Memphis Gal made its ungainly descent and came to rest amid a gaggle of fire tenders and ambulances.

 

    The crew chief hung back and let the medics do their work . . . three stretchers were loaded into the waiting ambulance, then one after the other the remainder of the crew tumbled out of the wounded war-bird.

 

    The crew chief gingerly made his way through the deserted aircraft, the cockpit was a mess, blood everywhere, the nose was equally bad only it also showed signs of a fire, moving aft the chief found the waist section riddled with bullet holes, here too a fire had erupted and the port waist gun was shattered as were the tail guns.

 

    The chief could only imagine the hell these men had just gone through . . .


Over Friendly Territory, East of Termoli (Zone 1):

 

    An overdue B-17 flying on two engines has made it back into friendly territory.  The two wounded pilots have been struggling during the last two hours flying the heavy Boeing bomber with both good engines on one wing.  But it’s fuel situation is that is becoming critical.

 

    Watching the dropping fuel gauges is the ship’s Flight Engineer.  He calculates how much the remaining gallons will keep them in the air and the answer he comes up won’t be enough.  “We won’t make Sterparone, Skipper,” Miller tells the pilot.  Further adding, “We’ll be about twenty-five to thirty miles short.” 

 

    “Thanks, Miller,” Dan Tanner acknowledges.  “Pilot to navigator, over.”

 

    “Navigator here, go ahead, Skipper.”

 

    “Jimmy, I need an emergency field to land and quick.  We don’t have enough fuel to reach home, we got about, . . .” Tanner looks at Miller and Miller holds up his 10 fingers twice in rapid order, “. . . twenty minutes of fuel left, over.”

 

    Jimmy Penny checks his map and reports back in a few seconds.  “Navigator to Pilot, no heavy bases close by, Skipper,” Penny begins. “The best I can give you is a fighter base southeast of San Servo, in about fifteen minutes.  It’s Triolo Field, over.”

 

    “Pilot to Navigator, Roger, Triolo it is . . . Pilot to Radio, over.”

 

    “Radio here, Major, over.”

 

    “Moore, contact Triolo that we are fifteen minutes out, that we have a fuel emergency, wounded aboard, only two engines, and to have the crash crews ready, over.”

 

    “Radio to Pilot. Roger Wil-co. Radio out.”

 

    The co-pilot, Mike Cawley, cocks his head and looks in Tanner’s direction. “Triolo?  Isn't that the Fourteenth Fighter?”

 

    “Yep, the Fourteenth,” Tanner nods in agreement while looking out the window at the escorting Lightnings. “The same base as our escorts out there, Mike.  So we’ll get to thank those guys personally when this is all over.”

 

    Soon, TSgt. Moore broadcasts, “Barbell Base, Barbell Base, this is Army Two-One-One declaring a fuel emergency . . .”