BACK RIGHT OUT - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)
“Hey, Frank,” mumbled Vinny Fratelli, sitting blearily on the edge of his cot, “I thought you said the weather was going to be bad, and we would be socked in for a couple of days.”
“What do I know about the weather?” replied Andrews, gingerly pulling on his trousers over his still sore leg, “I'm a pilot, not a weatherman.”
“Well, I guess there's nothing like 'on the job training' to see how Burrows will work out,” said Fratelli, throwing his pillow at Vachon, who had retreated back under his blankets, attempting to get just a little more shut-eye. “I sure hope he does alright . . .”
SHAME - (submitted by Shaun Edley, 317th Sqn)
“Captain. Captain!” shouted the orderly next to Montague’s ear.
“But I just closed my eyes,” mumbled Montague.
“Shame, isn’t it, sir.”
A NEW PLANE - (submitted by Todd Wilson, 318th Sqn)
Wiping sleep from his eyes Sgt. Stolberg yawned, “Did you see the new plane? Ain't she a thing of beauty?”
“I can't believe we ended up with one of the 17-G's. We shoulda put Lucky Laurel into the drink a long time ago,” smiled Desnoyers, Stolberg's partner on the waist guns.
“Even Lieutenant Gilmore should be able to hit a plane with those double guns,” quipped Archie, the ball gunner.
Stolberg smiled grimly, “Yeah, if he can't hit the target the least he can do is keep the bandits off our nose. We've been catch'n hell from 1:30 and 10:30 level. I hope this helps. I wanna make it back stateside in one piece.”
Nodding their agreement the crew pulled on their clothes.
MEETING A NEW MAN
The mess hall is already filled with air crews eating breakfast before the 8 AM briefing. Making their way through the crowded room are two men. One of the men is carrying his tray containing his breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs made from powdered eggs, a slice of ham, fried potatoes, a piece of toast and a cup of coffee. The other man is the 317th's orderly, Corporal Jim O'Brian, and he is searching the hall. "The captain should be here somewhere, Sir, . . . Ah, there he is."
The two approaches the table where Captain Shamus Montague is eating along with rest of his first pilots. Most of their talk concerns the quality of the food, most of it uncomplimentary. Lieutenant Forrest in particular this day won't be sending his complements to the cooks as he was accustomed on being served finer cuisine before the war at his family's home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Forrest would normally be sitting at a different table with the man next to him, Ralph Flynn. But Captain Montague 'insisted' that all of his first pilots sit together on mission days in an effort to promote squadron camaraderie. Montague consider it important that all of his pilots should have a feeling that each man could depend on the man flying next to him when the squadron flew together in tight formations, even Forrest.
On the other side of the coin and at the table, sitting as far from Milton Forrest as possible due to his general dislike of the New Englander, was Lieutenant Mark Yoshikawa. The second generation Japanese-American, a Nisei in the Japanese language, grew up during the depression years in Bakersfield, California. Yoshikawa remembered how hard it was for his parents to put food on the table for him and his siblings during the hard times. To him, Army food was terrific; well, at least it was plentiful.
O'Brian and the new man stops at the end of the table and salutes. Montague looks up and returns their salutes while sizing up the new man while we was struggling to hold on to his tray with his left hand while saluting with his right.
"Captain, this is Lieutenant Peterson. He and his crew just arrived last night and the Personnel Officer assigned them to the 317th".
O'Brian takes the tray from Peterson and sets it down at an empty spot at the table while Montague extends his hand and Peterson accepts it. "Welcome Peterson to Sterparone and the 317th. I'm Captain Montague. Have a seat." Montague looks back at O'Brian. "Thanks, Jimmy." O'Brian nods and salutes before leaving to make his way back to the squadron building.
Finding a place at the table Peterson sits and greets everyone. "Hi, the name's Peterson, Bob Peterson."
"Bob, let me introduce you to some of your squadron mates," Montague began. "On my left is Ralph Flynn. The unsmiling man sitting next to him is Milton Forrest. On my right is David Moody and that's Paul O'Connor, sitting across from him. And sitting at the end over there is Mark Yoshikawa." Everyone replied with either a friendly "Hello", or "Pleased to meet you", or "Good to have you here". All but Milton Forrest that is. He'd simply nodded, acknowledging Peterson's presence. One of the first things Milton detected was that Peterson's speech had a hint of a mid-western accent, nothing to indicate to him that Peterson was upper class, like Milton was. Certainly not the type of man he'd share a drink with.
"So, Bob, did they tell you if you're going on this mission?" Montague asked.
"Not yet, sir. All the Personnel Officer could tell me that my crew and I were probables, so we should be prepared to go. He said that we'd find out for certain at the briefing," Peterson replied. And attempting to show everyone how eager he wanted to fit in, he added, "I sure hope they have plane for us today. The guys and I are raring to give the Germans Hell!"
Dave Moody almost gagged on his food when he heard that. He'll learn, Moody thought to himself. Moody was once eager like Peterson when he'd first arrived. That was before the Athens mission, before he lost his first man under his command to be killed, his 18-year old ball gunner, Willie Moore. And before Art Danby, Moody's best friend, was seriously wounded on the return home and was now at the base hospital recovering enough so he could make the long trip back to the states. After Athens, Moody began to realize it wasn't all going to be all milk-run missions and that before their tour was over, a few more of the crew might not see this through alive.
Paul O'Connor was barely older than Peterson but he now sounded like an older brother handing down sage advice. "Don't be too eager, kid," cautioned O'Connor. "It's not anything like at all how they make it out in the movies back home." O'Connor already had three of his original crew killed and one other man was going home soon. And four others had received light wounds as well, one man twice in two consecutive missions.
Peterson stopped eating and his eagerness evaporated. He looked around at the other veterans and their looks confirmed what O'Conner had said. Steering away the conversation topic to something else, Montague asked, "So, where are you from, Bob?"
MEETING A NEW SQUADRON MEMBER, continued - (submitted by Paul O'Connor, 317th Sqn)
O’Connor pushes his eggs around his plate with his fork for a few moments, waiting for someone to break the silence, angry with himself for showing true feeling in front of the others. Damn this eating and togetherness crap, anyway. Why can’t we just fly our missions and go back to our tents and not have to deal with each other at all? What’s the point in getting close to anyone when a single mission could see everyone blown to bits?
But Peterson seems like a good guy. He’s new. He just wants to belong. And he’ll know better, soon enough. Finally he halfway looks up at Peterson and says, “Don’t worry about it, Peterson. One mission and you’ll be a veteran up there, just like the rest of us. Stay on my wing and we’ll get you back to ZZZ base."
MEETING A NEW MAN, continued - (submitted by Paul Scheepers, 317th Sqn)
Flynn regarded the new man Peterson with a mixture of amusement and concern, they were all like that at first. Filled with bravado, eager to get at the enemy, eager to prove themselves. Those feelings soon evaporated once they got their chance to have a go at the enemy, the only thing the enemy was also rather enthusiastic about having a go at them . . . and when they landed their shot up bombers filled with dying and wounded men it just didn't seem like a game anymore . . . no, the eagerness was all gone, all that was left was the desire to survive.
Flynn regarded the powdered eggs listlessly, finally pushing the plate of half eaten food aside, Yoshikawa raised his eyebrow at this waste, but grinned when Flynn pushed the plate over to him. Yoshikawa was one of the best pilots Flynn had seen, meticulous and precise, the man and his crew were remarkable being Japanese, things had been tough for them in America after Pearl Harbor, the government enforcing rather draconian policies when it came to German and Japanese citizens. Yet here the man was fighting for his country while his country interned his family. He often suffered abuse at the hands of other ignorant servicemen . . . a truly remarkable man!
Milton Forrest on the other hand was cut from another cloth, he hadn't eaten at all, and sat with his arms folded glaring at the C.O. Montague for forcing him to sit with the other men. Flynn had once tried to engage him (Forrest) in conversation but had been cut off by a rather curt, 'I don't suffer fools gladly, Flynn! Now run along and go PLAY with your aeroplane!' It was amusing to see the battle of wills between Forrest and Montague, who waged their own private war against one another . . . on the one hand Montague had the rank, on the other Forrest had the connections. There was a rather large pool of money up for grabs, the men were betting on who would go first . . . Forrest or Montague . . . odds were good on Forrest going first.
There would be a mission soon, Flynn hoped Peterson would be broken in easily . . . loosing men on the first mission didn't help a man's confidence.
RAMBLING OF AN UNSTABLE MIND - (submitted by Neil Amoore, 317th Sqn)
The fly appeared to know things that he didn't. And would never know. It had an almost quizzical look in its multi-lensed eyes. He didn't like the look of that one bit. He'd seen it before. Just before they attacked. Guns spitting death and destruction. Blood and screams generally followed, and he didn't want any more of that.
He tracked the fly's movements closely, making sure it didn't get onto his six. He began to sweat, his heart pounding. It was circling closer, it's movements suggesting attack was imminent. No time for evasive action. Coming in now, droning getting louder. Bitter taste in the mouth. Going to die. Al Williams screaming in the next seat, his arm almost torn from his body. Blood and sinew exposed. White bone. His turn next, terrified. Bowels on fire, wanting to vomit. Let it be quick. Please God, let it be quick!!
“Lieutenant! Lieutenant! Are you going to eat that?"
A voice at his shoulder, light crashing through the veil of conscious thought.
“What?” he mumbled. Confused. Faces, noise. None of them torn up or in pain.
“If you're not going to eat those eggs, mind if I take them off you?” the voice continued.
Trying to focus, the moving lips and eyes appeared to belong to Ralph Flynn.
He pushed his plate towards the man without saying a word, aware now of the eyes of the others' on him. Montague was staring at him, hard. Yoshikawa and the others too. They didn't like him much, and he didn't care. He just wanted to live. Nothing more.
How did they manage to hide the gut-wrenching fear that wracked him daily? His bowels ran constantly, and he hardly slept. He'd avoided his own crew and other pilots as much as possible, out of fear more than anything else. They'd assumed he was being aloof and snobbish, and that suited him. He didn't have to face their stares that way. They knew he was a coward. Unlike them.
Mumbling an excuse, Forrest pushed his chair from the table and stumbled to the door. He needed air. Desperately. He wasn't going to make it today. He knew it. He needed to find the Colonel. He wanted out.
“Whoa there, skipper!”
The bulky frame of Pete Ross, Silver Spoon’s new co-pilot, blocked the door.
“Mind if we take a quick look around the plane before take-off, I’d kinds like to get to know her a bit better before we get in the air?” he gabbled.
“Um . . . Where . . . Um . . . Okay, meet you there in 15,” Forrest mumbled, desperate to get away from the man. His impetus was lost, though. Others had heard the exchange, expected him to go through with it. A Forrest ALWAYS did what was expected of him. Even if it killed him. He was stuck. Trapped by his own need to be the perfect son. Angry at everything and everyone, Forrest stomped out of the mess.
THE REPLACEMENTS' TABLE - (submitted by Jeff O'Handley, 318th Sqn)
"And so," said Technical Sergeant Charlie Rakes, "our numbers continue to diminish." As he said this, he nodded in the direction of Stephen Taylor, who was making his way towards the table where the crew of The Russian Lady was sitting down for breakfast.
"Better him than me," replied fellow radioman and standby crewman Jack Dykstra. "If it t'was up to me, I'd just's soon the war end before I have to get up there. Good thing about missions, though," he continued, considering a forkful of eggs, "Real eggs!"
"Move aside and make some room, eh?" said Sgt. Jimmy Burrows, as he sat down next to Dykstra.
"Ain't you flyin' again today, Jimmy?" asked Dykstra. Burrows grunted an affirmative through a mouthful of eggs. "Who're ya flyin' with?"
"The Commie Bimbo," snorted Burrows.
"Huh?" said Dykstra blankly. Then, "Oh, The Russian Lady? They seems like pretty good guys. How come you're not sittin' with 'em?"
Burrows shot him a dark look. "Are you kidding?" he replied, after swallowing a mouthful of coffee. "I want to eat my breakfast in peace. If I sit with them, I'm gonna have to listen to that loudmouth Lynch going on and on about some stupid stuff. It'll ruin my appetite."
"You guys got pretty banged up yesterday," said Rakes. "I watched you come in. Pretty smooth landing, considering it was done without the gear on one side."
"He brought it down okay," acknowledged Burrows grudgingly. "But it's his fault we were in that condition. He walked us right into the flak. He's gonna get me killed, I'm telling you."
Rakes sat back
and considered Burrows for a moment. "As I recall, you didn't like flying with
the Frisco Kid, or the Princess
Lilikoi," he said slowly. "I'm starting to think you don't like flying too much."
at Rakes. "I like flying just fine," he said finally. "I just want to be with a
good pilot. Now do you mind
clamming up so I can eat?"
A FLASH OF RED . . . - (submitted by Bernard Godfrey, 399th Sqn)
Bill Wilson turned up his collar and continued staring out across the airfield. He kept going back over the dream of two nights ago. A woman with reddish-copper hair, indistinct features, calling out to him. The plane, Amy, but why, he didn't know anyone with that name. His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden drop in the wind. He felt he was being observed. Turning a full 360 he saw no one. "What's happening to me?" he mumbled under his scarf.
"Biiillllleeeeee . . ."
Startled, he whirled around in a fit of panic. Nothing . . . Just the wind getting up again. Turning back towards the plane he caught a movement just out of his field of vision . . . a flash of red. Nothing. He looked up in the direction of the cockpit. A red-haired woman stared down at him, her hair blowing wildly in the gusting wind, despite the cockpit being closed.
He blinked to make sure she was still there, she didn't move, just stared. "Christ, I'm going over the edge," he said still staring. He began to make out her features. It was difficult as they seemed to fade in and out with each gust of wind. He spoke her name, "Amy?"
She appeared to smile. Strangely, he felt relieved and happy that she had responded positively. "Billy, you haven't forgotten have you?
Hesitantly, he replied, "No, I haven't . . ."
"I'm still waiting . . ."
His eyes snapped open, Barney Lewis stood over him concerned, "Dreaming again?"
"About the last mission", he lied.
Lewis studied his Lieutenant, He's covering up something. "Time to go, skipper."
Wilson stood and both men walked over to the door, Wilson turned to his co-pilot, "The plane ready to go?" he asked.
"Yeah . . ."
"Listen, the maintenance crew didn't find . . ."
Lewis interjected, "Any stray red hairs, no, only damage to the control cables."
Wilson frowned, "I'll tell you about it . . ."
"In your own time," Lewis said as he opened the door and led the way in.