"Mayday . . . Mayday . . . This is Fireball Two . . . Ditching . . . 35 miles due east of Pascara . . . 42 degrees, 30 minutes north latitude, 16 degrees east longitude . . . Send the Navy . . . QUICK! . . . Repeat . . . Mayday . . .  Mayday . . . This is Fireball Two . . ."

OUTSIDE THE INFIRMARY - (submitted by Bob Hamel, 316th Sqn)

    "Felix, didn't you train with Bob Miller back in flight school?" Paul Griffin questioned Felix Johnson, his co-pilot of the Lucky Penny.


    "Na', Griff, that was Randy Miller from Indy," Felix answered.  Reflecting on their recent mission, Felix continued.  "I don't know what happened, we had just a quick nod to each other after briefing.  I never even got to know him much less his crew.  Just a blinding flash and then they were gone.  With our intercom out, didn't even know it until Edmond said something to me after coming out of the medical unit."


    "Well, that makes 8 whole planes and their crews and only 5 missions done," Paul said, mentioning the cold hard facts as if it was a simple math problem.


    "Ya, well, don't emphasize that too much with the crew or you and me will be the only ones in plane on trip number 6," Felix replied with a tone of black humor in his voice.


    Not wanting to dwell on the matter any more, Paul changed the subject and asked, "Felix, I'm heading over to see Dan before he ships out, want to come along?"


    "See'n I took his 'spot' an all, do ya think he'll want to see me?" wondered Felix.


    "Sure, give him a chance to see how I had to 'settle', for another co-pilot, . . ." Paul replied giving him a sly wink and a smile.  "Just kidding, but seriously, he could tell you some stories of our first couple days in training . . . well, at least come so you can buy me a drink after we say hi . . ."


    "Okay, got yourself a deal . . . but when do I get to fly the plane, dad?" Felix joked while ducking a shoulder shove from Paul.


    "When you're older, little guy . . . when you're older . . ."


Date: 28 December 1943, day of the Pola mission
Time: 1830, after evening chow
Place: Colonel Lamb's office.

    The colonel's orderly knocks on the door and the command to 'Enter' is heard.


    Sergeant Baker opens the door and lets in a tall and lean man smartly dressed in a clean uniform.  Lieutenant Smith walks in and immediately sees already in the office are Captains Tanner, CO of the 316th, Montague, CO of the 317th, and Jefferson, the operations officer.  Already knowing what is about to happen, the squadron COs shake their heads as if to indicate to Smith, 'you poor bastard, I don't want to be in your shoes', while Jefferson turns his head away to avoid seeing the upcoming train wreck, trying to act as though he doesn't know Smith.


    The visitor stops in front of the colonel's desk at attention and salutes. "Lieutenant Smith reporting as ordered, sir."


    Colonel Lamb has a look of disdain for the young officer and returns the salute. "Smith, I'm disappointed in you, setting a bad example like this for the men in your squadron.  What do you have to say for yourself?" the colonel growls.


    Slightly confused, Smith attempts to answer. "Sir, I don't know, sir.  Exactly what did I do wrong, Colonel?


    "What did you do?  I'll tell you what you've been doing, Joe.  Running around the base with those First Lieutenant bars on.  It's a disgrace!  Plus, you're out of uniform.  That won't do at all.  I won't have that sort of thing on my base!  From now on, I want you to wear these."  Colonel Lamb hands Smith a pair of new shinny silvery collar insignias and shakes his right hand.


    "Congratulations, Joe, your promotion to captain came through as of today. I'm sorry that there isn't a big party but the Wing is in the middle of a three-day period of good weather.  We just have time for a quick celebration," Colonel Lamb apologizes.  "Best we can do for now is to take you over to the O-club and buy you a drink . . . Oh, did I forget to mention that you're the new CO of the 318th?  You might as well accept it. You've been acting CO since Franklin was killed."


    "I will graciously accept the position of CO, sir," Smith said, now relieved that he wasn't called in to get a royal butt-chewing out by the colonel.


    Now each of the other captains now comes over to congratulate the new Captain. "Congratulations, Joe," Tanner tells Smith shaking his hand. "Welcome to the club."


    "Pretty small club, Dan," Smith observed noting that there were only a total of four captains in the room while Montague and Jefferson removes Smith's old lieutenant's bars.


    "The membership will grow once everyone finds out there's free booze involved for each new member who joins," Jimmy Jefferson joked.


    Getting into the spirit of the occasion, "Hmmm, to quote Groucho Marks, I don't know if I want to be in club that would have me as a member," Joe Smith retorted while his new captain's bars are fastened to his collars.


    Giving Smith a playful slap on the back, "You'll change your mind about joining once the Irish dancing girls arrive, Joey," Shamus
Montague added in as the five exited the office headed for the O-Club.

DIARY ENTRIES FOR LT. YOSHIKAWA - (submitted by Mark Yoshikawa, 317th Sqn)

December 28,1943


    Three missions in one week.  Don't know if we can keep this pace up, especially with the damage that we have received!  Engine on the plane has had to be replaced twice.  Holes in the plane have had to be patched up more then a couple of times.  We have had three men put into the hospital; two of them are going home with a thank you from Uncle Sam, saying that they served the country well.


    We are lucky that the hanger lice like to put things together.  It's amazing what they are able to do in 48 hours!  After the third mission where we lost an engine and had go abort.  They were able to put a new one into the plane, patch up all of the holes, and make it so that we didn't have to stand down for the next mission.  I hope they don't start to grip about the condition of the plane when we get back from a run.  After all it's not like we are looking for the fighters or flack to hit us!


    Don't know if the crew will get flak happy soon.  We have already sent three men to the hospital; two of them look like they are going to be sent home.  Two of the three missions the plane had a bunch of holes in it and looked like Swiss cheese.  It's kind of eerie when you go up and there is still blood on the walls because there wasn't time to clean it out.


    The last mission was almost like the one the first of the week.  The difference was that this time the engine didn't go out until we were over the target. The good news is that we were able to complete the mission.  The bad news is because of getting hit 2nd Lt. Osa wasn't able to get a bead on the target and get the eggs in the right spot.  This is the first time that we have a big goose egg in our accuracy.  Hope this isn't a trend, don't want the old man call us into a meeting to figure out why we haven't been able to hit our target.


    The whole squadron has been hit hard for the first 5 missions.  I think over of the men have already gotten Purple Hearts.  At this rate, everyone will have at least one medal before their tour is up.  And it will not be the ones just for being over here!


    There is also scuttlebutt about how the missions are going to be assigned.  Now that there are 4 bomb squadrons in our group, the old man says that one squadron will be able to take one mission off for every four if they wish.  The good thing about that is that it will help keep the morale up for the crew since they will not have a grueling schedule.  On the other hand if we volunteer to go on the missions that we are down on, we will get our 50 missions that much quicker!  Will have to talk to the crew about that and see what they want to do.  Just because I am the leader of the group doesn't mean that don't have to take there opinion into account.


    With the damage that we have taken I hope the Hanger lice will be able to get the plane ready for the next mission.  We don't need to be up there and find out that something isn't up to snuff.  Don't think the crew would like to be in a situation like that.


    It will be a New Year in a couple of days.  Hope that it will bring better luck then what we have had for the past 12 months.

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


    Frank Andrews limped out of the infirmary feeling pretty good about things.  His second wound in as many missions was healing well; it would neither keep him from flying or leave any permanent damage.  More importantly, he had just had a good visit with Freddy Johnson, his former tailgunner.  'Fudge' was recovering nicely from his own wounds, though he was still weak, and would be heading stateside in a few weeks.


    "What's this, the welcoming committee?" he asked with a grin as he entered his tent.  He was greeted by his officers -- Fratelli,
Vachon, and Hawkins.  They welcomed him back, made some jokes about his purple heart, and made small talk about things for a few minutes, but Frank could tell something was on their minds.


    "Okay, you guys can't be that happy to see me," he said.  "What's up?"


    Fratelli spoke for the group. "We're a little concerned about Sergeant Burrows," he said.  "We're not sure that he's, uh, a good
fit for us."


    "All right," said Frank slowly, surveying the serious faces around him. "Why not?"


    For the next few minutes, they stated their concerns: Hawkins about how he recognized in Burrows a rebellious, anti-authority streak; Fratelli mentioned what he saw as a 'sneering look' on Burrows' face whenever he had looked at his new crewmates on the ride over to the flight line.  Vachon didn't say anything, just continued sewing a hole in a pair of socks and nodding occasionally.  When they had finished, Frank looked for a long moment out the side of the tent.  Ah, the mantle of command' he thought wryly.  Finally, he looked back at them.


    "So, you want me to throw him off the crew, is that it?" he asked.  No one said anything immediately.


    "What do the other guys think?" asked Frank next.  "Have any of them complained about Burrows?"


    "No," answered Fratelli, "we haven't talked about it with them yet."


    Frank looked out the tent again. "I can't just throw the guy out after one mission," he said.  "He did his job, he seemed
to do it pretty well, as far as I could tell.  His ratings from personnel are pretty good, too.  Look," he said, holding up a hand
to stop Vinny from interrupting, "the guy is in a tough place.  We've been together a long time as a crew, you're asking a guy to try to find a place in a tight-knit bunch of guys.  As tough as it is for us to accept him, it's got to be just as hard, maybe harder, for him to fit in with us.  I can't throw him out just because you don't like him.  If you recall," he finished, "we didn't all get along that well initially, either."


    "Frank, this is different," said Fratelli. "This guys is trouble.  I know it!"


    Frank knew the tide was against him here.  He also trusted these men with, well, with his life.  He knew Vinny in particular was an excellent judge of character, but he couldn't see throwing Burrows out after one mission.


    "Tell you what," he said to the three officers.  "I hear we're going to be socked in the next couple of days.  We'll keep the guys
together as much as possible, do some training exercises, see how Burrows works out.  We'll also take him at least on the next mission," he said firmly.  "If he seems to be a problem, if he causes any trouble, and if the rest of the guys feel the same way about him that you three do, then we'll replace him.  Satisfied?" he asked, looking at his bombardier, navigator, and co-pilot.  They nodded.


    "Great!" said Frank. "Now let's go to the mess hall for some lunch, hospital food makes me sick!"


    "The name's Dimiano," he said, leaning forward in his chair.  He rested both arms evenly on the table, holding a glass of warm beer.  "Anthony Dimiano.  I'm from Cicero, Illinois.  It's a small city on the outskirts of Chicago.  Yes, I'm Italian.  No, I'm not in the Syndicate," he said it in rapid fashion, anticipating the questions he knew were coming.  He'd heard them all before from classmates and squadron members in the fifteen months he'd been in the USAAF.


    The officers of The Cicero Boys and about a dozen other members of the 88th BG sat around three small tables in a corner of the Officers Club.


    "In fact, my father was a Chicago cop, and a good one.  He despised the Mob and all it represented."  He took a slow sip.  Tony didn't really like to drink, but it was the traditional social exercise all good military officers indulged in, some enjoying it more than others.  "I remember one day when I was nine, my father took me to the candy store for my reward for helping him patch the roof of the house.  This big jolly Italian came in with some other gentlemen.  Before he walked out, he bought me a piece of licorice.  And handed it to me and winked, big smile on his face."  Tony always became animated when he told the story.  "I was about to reach for it when my father grabbed my arm, saying something to the gentleman like, 'We don't take nothing from you!'"  He leaned back in his chair and spread his arms out.  "I didn't learn until a few years later that the jolly fellow was none other than Alphonse Capone himself!"


    Lt. Bob Truman smiled and shook his head.  He'd heard that story as many times as the bombardier and his pilot met a new bunch of fellow airmen.


    Tony quizzed a few of the more talkative crew members, mainly about formations, tactics, weather conditions over southern Europe, and the conditions of the aircraft in the group.  Dimiano's crew was assigned a B-17F that seems to be slightly war-weary.  Dirty, chipped paint, and more than a few patches on the airframe.  It was apparently a hand-me-down ship from another bomb group to fill the fledgling 88th.  Dimiano's crew had to part with their relatively new bird prior to leaving the states: it was headed to some hard-luck group in 8th AF.


    Invariably, the question that all new crews ask was broached by their co-pilot, Lt. Freddy Overstreet: "What's it like up there in combat?"


    It was a question they would soon themselves be able to answer. They'd been on the station since a week before Christmas.  Aircraft checkout, practice flights, aerial gunnery training, final certification.  Now The Cicero Boys would partake in their first mission the follow day.


    The crew walked back to their quarters, their hands thrust into jacket pockets against the chilly, damp December air.  "Freddy, gather the boys out at the plane at 15:30.  I'd like to cover some last minute details with 'em before the mission tomorrow."