MESS HALL TALK - 30 May 1944
The enlisted crews of the 88th begin to file into the enlisted mess for their evening meal. A small group from the 316th squadron have found a table and are discussing today’s mission: the target, the flak, fighter opposition, the escorts or lack of, and missing friends and squadron mates. Talk of missing friends were getting too depressing for one of the men.
“Tomorrow’s weather is predicted to be fair again, so we’ll be on alert again,” warned an unassigned gunner, Larry Thomas, changing the topic on missing friends. Thomas didn’t want to think about it too much. Thomas’ best friend since South Dakota, Jack Dykstra, was among the missing and was presumed dead after Jack was last seen bailing out over the Adriatic two months ago. His body was never recovered. Thomas was one of the original group members who arrived in December and to date has flown only in 14 missions. He wanted to fly more but he found he was spending more and more times in the infirmary for dysentery than on the duty roster. Yesterday he felt well enough to fly and he talked to the squadron Ops officer to put him on flight duty. He had flown today with McPherson’s crew but only as a spare crew which would not count towards the gunner’s goal of 50 missions. Fortunately, there were four aborts today and it was an easy mission into Yugoslavia. Only thirty- five more to go, reflected Thomas.
“Today’s mission wasn’t too bad . . . I hope it will be another easy one, like to France again,” commented Ed Wescott of Captain Snakenburg’s crew.
The tail gunner of Lieutenant Tines’ crew, Sgt. Corey Burmeister, added in his two cents worth. “And they still count as a mission towards going home.”
One of the new replacement gunners spoke up. “Yeah, they’re may be long, dull and boring but they’re just the kind I like it; no flak and no fighters,” Wayne Quigley said, speaking about his only mission to Avignon, France three days ago as a replacement on Lieutenant Cable's crew.
“Don’t count on it Wayne,” Beckett said stopping to eat his mashed potatoes. Another member of the group since its formation back in South Dakota, Donald Beckett was their squadron clerk and more importantly, one of the main sources of the squadron’s rumor mill. “We’ll go where the weather’s clear and Stormy predicts it’s clear for either northern Italy, Romania or Austria.”
“Austria or Romania? No thanks. Italy would be fine just by me,” Westcott said.
“Your preference has been noted and will be shortly be sent up the chain of command to wing,” joked Thomas. “Right, Donnie?”
Ignoring Thomas’ last comment, Beckett continued. “But you know what else I heard?”
“What else did you hear?” Burmeister asked.
“Well, something big is going down.”
“Like what? Spill it already,” said the growingly impatient Quigley.
“Take today for example. Only three seventeen groups were used today: the Three-Oh-One, the Diamondbacks and us. The rest were all stood down.”
“So? Wing does that every so often. It gives groups that took the heavies casualties a chance to recover,” commented Thomas. “Happens all the time.”
Beckett continued with what he’s heard. “Think about it. At the briefing, usually the Old Man gives the pep-talk but our CO had to step in. But the Colonel was called to a meeting at Wing this morning and the scuttlebutt I’m now hearing is that the Second and the Ninety-Seventh are to be stood down again along with the Diamondbacks for tomorrow. That’s half the wing while we and the other two are on alert for tomorrow. Plus, the Checkerboards are also standing down. Three bomber groups and a fighter group? Something’s big going down soon but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what it is.”
After reflecting on this information for a few seconds, Burmeister said, “Well, there’s talk that we’re going to invade northern France soon, so it could be something to do with that . . . maybe they’re going to be sent to the Eighth to help out, just like when HQ sent those three groups to Libya for that Ploesti mission last summer.”
“Maybe, but you’d think the Eighth has enough groups to do the job. They have about what, over thirty heavy groups by now, plus all those medium groups in the Ninth. How’s three more groups going to matter?” Westcott wondered.
“Well, whatever it is, it’s going to be huge,” Beckett predicted, “I just know it.”
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