AT THE MESS HALL, The Night Before The Padua Mission 29 Dec. 1943, Lieutenant Yoshikawa calls a meeting

with his crew - (submitted by Mark Yoshikawa, 317th Sqn)


    "I wanted to meet with everyone so that everyone will know what is going on here," I began as I was sipping my cup of Java that was blonde and sweet.  "With the arrival of the fourth squadron, there is going to be a change as to how our missions are going to be assigned."


    "So what does that have to do with us?"  Sgt. Mukai replied as he was looking at his garbage catcher that had SOS in it.


    "Here's the deal, we are suppose to stand down every fourth mission unless there is a big show where they need everyone.  Or we can volunteer for the mission that we stand down in."


    "It sounds like a great idea!" 2nd Lt. Muraki piped in. "Look at we have had to go through the past couple of missions.  Osa buys it, Hayashi is going to be sent home, and we haven't been able to hit the target for the last two missions.  It will make life a lot easier if we get a break now and then."


    "At least I will be able to catch up on some more sack time.  After all it is hard to get up at the crack dawn in of dawn in order to find out where we are going!"  2nd Lt. Uyeda mumbled looking at his meal to figure out if he was going to eat it, or chuck it.


    "We all know that you like to sleep until the crack of noon," I chuckled, "but the main reason for this is so that none of the crew become flak happy and get into a real SNAFU when we get over target."


    "Won't that make it look like we are shirking our duty?  After all look at the Groundrats!  They are still fighting out at Mount Casino and they aren't allowed a break from the action,"  Sgt. Hanano quietly said.


    "That's why I wanted to meet with everyone before our next mission.  We can ask the old man to include us in the next mission that is assigned to our squadron.  But its something that I wanted to see what you guys felt.  Do we go, or take a break until we are assigned to go?"


    "That would be nice!"  2nd Lt. Muraki retorted. "To be done with our tour before the end of next year!"


    "Don't think it's going to be a cakewalk,"  I replied as I sipped my cup of java, "After all you're the one that was talking about all the hits that we have take the past week!"


    "I know, but I would rather hurry up and get this over with.  After all you heard the deal about us.  They figure that we have a one percent chance of not returning from every mission.  Well, if you figure that we have to do fifty missions, would mean that we have a fifty-fifty chance of not returning!"  2nd Lt. Muraki retorted back.


    "Well, our chances are better then the Groundrats that are trying to take those hills.  I think they have a fifty-fifty chance of getting back from just one mission!"  Sgt. Hanano replied back.


    "Don't sound off there, Sgt. Hanano, after all, we are taking as much stuff as those guy's in the trenches!"


    "I figured that I should ask you guy's if we should be included to the next mission."


    "I don't like that, after all Lieutenat Osa bought it last mission.  At the rate we are going, by the time this bird has reached fifty missions, there won't be any of the original crew left!" Sgt. Mukai  commented as he tried to eat his food.


    "I will leave you guy's to think it over.  Tell me what you think after dinner, I will go and tell the old man to include us for the next mission.  Especially since the mission is tomorrow."


    After that I left for the rest of the crew to figure out what they were going to do.  I was already going to see the old man.  I already had a feeling as to what the rest of the crew wanted to do.

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


    I'm in Hell! thought Jimmy Burrows.  Here it was, another day, another mission. Again with The Russian Lady.  And while the breakfast was once again fine, as it always was on mission day, the company most decidedly was not, for here was Burrows, trying to enjoy his eggs, while radioman Spanky Lynch was chewing his ear off about some sort of nonsense.


    So, then me and my brother are trapped in this alley, right?  There's twenty Italians blocking us in! Lynch is saying.  Burrows
glances over at Taylor.  Sheesh, the kid is eating up this story, his eyes are as big as dinner plates, and Burrows figures that the
nickname that that jerky co-pilot gave him -- 'Owl' -- is right on the mark.


    Burrows is at this table because, despite what that idiot Rakes might think, he does want to fly.  He signed on to the AAF to fight, not to sit and watch the war go by, like Dykstra.  After the debriefing yesterday, Lt. Andrews had approached him and had
suggested that, if he wanted to continue flying with this ship, that he should spend a little more time with the crew.  Andrews had given him a whole load of stuff about how tough it was to break into a crew of tightly knit guys, blah, blah, blah, but that it was really important to try to fit into the team, blah, blah, blah, and that the guys were good guys, blah blah blah.  Cripes, he had
thought, is this guy for real? He's spouting off all that teamwork nonsense from the manuals!  But he had nodded in all the right
places, and said, Yes, I want to fly with you guys, figuring it was better than sitting on his can with the other replacements.  And so, here he was now, putting up with Lynch's blather so he could at least bring the fight to the Germans.

    Well, he thought, as Lynch and the others laughed uproariously at the story's conclusion, at least this war can't last forever.

HARDSTAND 23, 08:15 hrs - (submitted by Edward Githens, 399th Sqn)


    Lts. Dimiano, Overstreet, Truman, and O'Malley hopped out of the back of the truck and headed to The Cicero Boys' hardstand.  The enlisted crew saw them approach and silently gathered under the Plexiglas nose of the aircraft, as they did on yesterday's mission and all of their training missions.  The guns were installed (the flight engineer, SSgt. Munston, had installed the nose and cheek guns for the nose crew, as they were in the briefing) and final mechanical checks made with the crew chief.

    "Alright, fellas.  We did well yesterday over Ferrara.  This one is going to be a bit trickier," Dimiano said.  "We're hitting another rail marshalling yard in a town called Padua, near Venice.  The weather is supposed to be closing in around the target today, but Command wants one last hit before the weather shuts us down for the next week."


    Dimiano kneeled down, picking up pebbles as he continued to speak, "What makes this trickier still is the 399th is slated for the low squadron."   He arranged the pebbles on the hardstand to roughly represent the squadron formation.  "And we, my friends, are Tail End Charlie!"  There was an audible groan from many of the gunners.  Dimiano pointed to the pebble representing The Cicero Boys.  "We're here, and..." pointing to each pebble/bomber in succession, "this is Fateful Amy, Sky Rat, and Princess Lilikoi." 


    He stood up and waved his hand out to the bombers on the surrounding hardstands.  "I've talked to their pilots and they'll try and keep an eye on us."  Dimiano turned to Sgt. Folger.  "Although Lt. Fell said one of his crew needs a new dress uniform and says you look like his size, so I don't think he's rooting for you to return," he smiled.  The short ball gunner cast a mock scowl at Fateful Amy, and placed his leather helmet on his head, straightening it in exaggerated motions.


    The pilot cast a glance at Sgt. Lemish, the tail gunner.  Damn, I should have talked to him last night!  God, I hope he doesn't get us killed today, thought the lieutenant.  SSgt. Munston had confided to Lt. Dimiano yesterday after interrogation that it appeared that the tail guns had not been fired at all on the Ferrara mission.


    Did he freeze in combat or did he really not pay attention like he said?  He always had his doubts about the Polish-born, Amherst, New York native.  It wasn't that the man was stupid (in fact, Dimiano thought Lemish may be one of the most intelligent members of the crew), but it almost seemed to him that Lemish lived in a fog.  He made minimum scores at gunnery school.  During training, he seemed to catch on to events in the air slower than the rest of the crew.  I like the guy, Dimiano thought, but that ends in the air.  If we make it back . . . Dimiano visibly winced . . . WHEN we make it back, I need to talk to the CO about a replacement gunner.


    He watched as each of his crew entered the aircraft.  Tail End Charlie?  This is only our second combat mission and they're already slated us into Coffin Corner?  Dimiano grabbed the rails in the entrance hatch and hiked himself up into the aircraft.  And I've got a tail gunner that may not be combat ready!

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


    The Russian Lady was in the air, slightly behind and to port of the leading Gold Dragon.  Guns had been cleared, all crewmen were in position, and the formation was just heading out over the Adriatic.  Fratelli gave Andrews a nudge and a wink, then addressed the bombardier, Lt. Vachon, over the interphone. Hey, Trap, he said. Do me a favor.


    Yeah, Vin? Vachon responded.


    I think I've got relatives living in Padua, said Fratelli. Don't hit 'em, okay?


    Hey, Vinny, Vachon responded. Why don' you send 'em some money so dey can get a decent place to live?


    Frank grinned and shook his head. Fratelli and Vachon had been making that joke each time they flew to Italy.  It had almost become part of the flight routine. Okay, fellas, be sharp, said Andrews, still smiling, though the joke was getting old. We don't want any surprises.

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


    The Russian Lady finally caught a 'break' over the target area, after being harassed by Germans practically since they hit the Adriatic.  Somehow, the Germans kept slipping through the fighter cover to take runs at them; damage on both sides was minimal, but it was exhausting flying.  Now, however, the fighters had left them for the moment, rather than run the risk of getting hit by their own flak.  Andrews and Fratelli struggled to maintain consistent altitude, speed, and heading for the bombing run, while Lt. Vachon gave them adjustments to the course.


    They were nearly on the target; Vachon was having trouble seeing through the cloud cover below, but was confident that they were on course. If they could just hold the line they were on . . .


    Suddenly, an explosion rocked the plane. Andrews caught a glimpse of a flash of light from the starboard side; The Russian Lady was pitched violently.  Vachon cursed, and urged the pilots to get back on course.  Andrews didn't know what the explosion was, but since his bird was still flying and the instruments looked normal, that nothing serious had happened to them.


    'Bombs Away' came Vachon over the interphone; the plane lurched slightly upward as the 5,000 pounds of bombs fell away. Andrews quickly heeled the plane to port and sent her down to get under the flak and head to the rally point. "Check in" he called over the interphone. "Anyone know what that explosion was?"


    Each man checked in. Burrows, on the starboard gun said quietly, "It was our right wingman.  Went up in a big burst.  No chutes."


    Damn, thought Frank. Bouncin' Betty. They were pretty good guys, too.


    He had no time to worry about that, though.  He had a rendezvous with the rest of the bombers, and a crew to get safely home.