A DIFFICULT DECISION - (submitted by Richard Klug, 318th Sqn)
flight gear onto the floor of his quarters, 1st Lt. Anthony Hilliard stretched
out on top of his carefully made bunk. As
he stared at the beams in the ceiling, he began to replay the details of the just completed Piraeus mission in his mind.
It had been the squadron's 9th mission, and his own plane's 3rd, and it had been unbelievably easy, an absolute milk-run from start to finish.
The Ant's Hill, had gone completely unchallenged and unscathed by either
enemy fighters or flak all the way. The only
rounds expended by his crew were the brief test bursts fired from their guns as the squadron flew from Italy and crossed the Adriatic. The Hill had performed flawlessly, showing no lingering effects from the damage that she had suffered on the trip to Turin, just days ago.
Before this mission, there had been only minimal interaction between the rest of his crew and the two new men, Sgts. Jankowski and Wagner. While no one had been outwardly rude or hostile toward the replacements, there was still an unspoken message conveyed by the veterans' attitude, that they regarded the current roster changes as only a temporary situation and that Sgts. Thymes and Kane would be rejoining them soon. For their part, Jankowski and Wagner had not pushed the issue, and had quietly and efficiently performed their mission assignments.
Over the target, there had been shouts of amazement from all aboard, first, when they discovered that no flak guns were firing at any of the aircraft in their formation, and second, when Lt. Stubbs placed practically all of their bombs exactly on target, as if laying them in by hand. The multiple explosions and fiery glow burning through the cloud cover under their plane had convinced everyone aboard that The Hill must have hit something big in the harbor below, maybe even a tanker or ammo supply ship moored at one of the docks!
The intercom had crackled as each man shouted congratulations or good-natured jibes to Lt. Stubbs. "Whoa, been eatin' your carrots, Bo?" "So, your wife finally sent you those glasses you asked for, eh?" "You buckin' for the lead bombardier's job?" Even the new guys had chimed in. Everyone was still excited as the formation turned for home. Then it happened.
The ball turret gunner 'Shorty' Pyne, suddenly blurted out, without thinking, "Man, you new guys must be our lucky charms!" The intercom fell silent. The only sounds came from the drone of their bomber's four engines and the muffled explosions that still echoed from the rapidly receding port below. Ten pairs of eyes nervously scanned the cloudy skies all the way back to Sterparone Field, looking for the bandits that had yet to make any appearance. The skies remained empty.
This gave each member of the crew a long time to ponder the possible implications of Shorty's ill-timed remark. If Jankowski or Wagner's presence really was the lucky break that had enabled The Hill to deal a crippling blow to the enemy without suffering as much as a scratch to her paint, then how could they possibly be allowed to return to the replacement pool. But what about 'Happy' Thymes and 'Sugar' Kane, who had been with the rest of them since their training stateside? Surely, their rejoining The Hill couldn't possibly result in bad luck for the ship and crew, could it?
As he considered each possibility a dozen times, searching for an answer, Lt. Hill drifted into a deep, but troubled, sleep.
AT THE ENLISTED CLUB - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)
'Tex' Richardson sat in the enlisted men's club, nursing yet another beer. He and the surviving members of the Russian Lady -- Seaton, Burrows, and Taylor -- had gone down to the Officer's Club, even though there were no more officers left, to toast the dead. Seaton, never a big drinker, had left early; Burrows and Taylor had left a while later, but Tex had stayed on, mainly because he wasn't ready to go back to the tent and look at the empty bunks. He had left the OC for the enlisted men's club when the atmosphere got a little too jovial for his mood.
He thought about them all, particularly about Hoogesteger, who had sacrificed his own life to try to save three men that he had known for barely a week. At some point during the flight, someone had asked Hoogesteger how he was doing. "Flying is easy," he had replied. Tex chuckled at the thought. "Landing's the problem," he said loudly, to no one in particular. "Landing's the g*ddamn problem!"
Tex felt a hand on his arm. "You okay there, hoss?" said a voice.
"Don' call me hoss!," replied Tex thickly, "it's Tex. Thas all I'd let 'im call me."
"Okay. Tex it is," the voice came back. "Maybe you ought'n go back to yer tent. I'll give you a hand."
Tex turned to look at the man. He was tall and thin, with a face that had the look of a man who worked in the sun all day. His voice had the unmistakable sound of southwest; Tex figured west Texas, maybe New Mexico. "You a rancher?" asked Tex.
"Yep. Cattle. In New Mexico," answered the man as he helped Tex out the door.
They walked together towards the tent that Tex now shared with just Sergeant Seaton, talking about cattle and horses and life on the ranch.
"This's me," said Tex when they got there. "Thanks."
The stranger tipped an imaginary Stetson and turned to leave. Tex grabbed the stranger's arm. "Wait a minute," he said. "Whas your name?"
"Harper," replied the man. "Lyle Harper."
"I don' know you, Lyle," said Tex. "You fly any missions?"
"Not yet," replied Harper. "We're just finishing our orientation and waitin' on a spot in a squadron."
"I think you've got one now," said Tex. "Be careful, Lyle."
TOWER RADIO RECEPTIONS: MISSION 10
Over Brod coming out of the bomb run:
"Buckeye Leader to Red, Green and Yellow . . . Buckeye Leader to Red, Green and Yellow. RP reached, I must make it like a tree . . . Angels 10 is my next stop . . . See you in the Igloo . . . Buckeye Leader over and out."
"Buckeye Leader . . . this is Joker Two . . . Buckeye Leader . . . this is Joker Two . . . we have problems . . . pilot is dead . . . co-pilot is seriously wounded . . . flight engineer has taken over the controls . . . we will try to stay with the formation as best as possible . . . out."
Nearing Sterapone Field:
"Buckeye Four to Tower, Buckeye Four to Tower . . . this is second Lieutenant Lewis . . . Lieutenant Wilson has been injured . . . he took a hit about 60 miles from the target . . . he's unconscious but managed to stop the bleeding (to one side) . . . eh, what . . . take it easy . . . okay, tower, he's regained consciousness the injury is to his right hip, Lieutenant Holmes has frostbite . . . (to one side) . . . no, it's okay, we're almost home. Tower, have the medics on hand, Buckeye Four out."
"IGLOO TOWER... THIS IS JOKER TWO . . . IGLOO TOWER . . . THIS IS JOKER TWO . . . Lieutenant Whitaker is dead . . . Lieutenant Boudreaux is seriously wounded . . . We also have one additional KIA, one additional seriously wounded, and one lightly wounded . . . Sergeant Powell is at the controls . . . requesting guidance . . . over . . ."
"Tower to Army Eight-Zero-One. This here's Captain Jefferson. We have the crash crews standing by and we have sent up another plane and it is already overhead waiting for your arrival. Sergeant Powell, the first thing that I want you to do is to have all the men who are able to bail out over the base. Then, the Colonel in the other plane will assess your situation and will talk you down. Don't worry, we'll get you down. Tower to Army Eight-Zero-One, tower standing by . . ."