Chas Dills flew 94 combat missions in Italy in 1943-44 with the 522nd Squadron of the 27th Fighter-Bomber Group.

I was amazed at how hard they worked you in Italy.

It was about a mission every third day with a lot of time to get bored in between and
worried.

The general living conditions in Italy – how did you find them?

We didn’t expect any better. We had several kinds of accommodations. First of all there
were tents most of the time, and cots, and bedroll. At Pomigliano we lived in a tobacco
warehouse; a concrete building. No, that was at Guardo. At Pomigliano, we lived in a
somewhat bombed workers’ apartment building. Nothing there of course except bare
walls and it was cold. Some of my boys rigged up, I think it was a 25 gallon can, and
they’d take a can like a C-ration can and put sand in it, down the middle and then run a
copper tube which dripped into that sand and we’d light the sand and the thing was
controlled by a valve. I don’t know how they got the valve on the jerry can of gas, but
they did. Most of them had the sense to run the can of gas on the outside of the
window, but one group had the can inside and they had a little accident and the thing
kicked over and set the whole damn room on fire. They lost most of their possessions. I
can remember a flying suit. I am sure my memory has exaggerated it but it shrunk
enormously; looked like it would fit a 2 or 3 year old child.

I don’t think people were expecting Italy to be quite so cold in the winter.

No, and the rain was causing some problems. When I first got there, we were at what
had been the emergency field for the Salerno beach head and it was a 5000 foot dirt
strip and the rains made it unusable. I think we were there close to a month and then we
finally moved over to Guardo which had a metal mat.

You got enough food?

That was a big problem I think. We were way ahead of our supply and people had to go to the 5th Army to get their supplies and meanwhile the 5th army had picked it over first.

So you got the dregs?

We got the dregs and I think that was at least in part my problem towards the end. I
was physically absolutely destroyed by the time I quit flying.

Was that the lack of food; the lack of sleep.everything?

A bit of everything. Poor sleeping conditions; everything. I can remember at Nettuno the
only air raid we ever had, I remember waking up on my cot maybe 3am and the side of
the tent was rolled up and it was dark out there and I remember seeing some corpulent
British man running toward one of the foxholes with a roof and a sloping entrance and he
hit that sloping entrance and his feet went from under him and down he went on his
fanny and slid out of sight – boom and I remember, I wasn’t awake more than a few
minutes, I said to hell with it and rolled over and went back to sleep. That was the kind
of condition I was in at the time.

By that stage of the war, you were doing a heck of a lot of low flying.

We did that all the time.

Flying that low is extremely dangerous isn’t it?

Yeah, I’ve always said it was one of the dirtiest jobs around, but young kids with their
derring-do, they got a kick out of flying that low.

You always had a love of flying did you?

Oh yeah; I got stuck on aeroplanes when I was 5 years old, when Lindbergh crossed the
Atlantic and then I got my first aeroplane ride in a Ford trimotor in 1929; I was 7.
There were few opportunities to do anything. I used to hang around the airport. But my
father died when I was 8 and my mother when I was fourteen. I remember when
Northwest Airlines was sending out a Lockheed 14, the Zephyr, on a run to set the times
for the itinerary. When a plane went across the landing end of the runway, I was out
there with my one dollar Box Brownie, lying on the grass at the end of the runway while
it went overhead about 50 feet above us. That was a great thing for us.

Flying and the development of aircraft was all so new. It must have been so
exciting back in the 30’s.

Everything else was kind of bad and that was kind of a nice thing that was happening at
the same time as all the bad stuff.

After your parents passed away, where did you go? To relatives?

My mother appointed her brother in law as my guardian; her sister was very ticked off
about that. I’m mighty glad my mother did that because her sister was kind of a mean
person. He lived in a little town in North Dakota about 100 miles away and he knew that
mother had moved us so I’d have a better school. Somehow I was always the one who was
supposed to go to college. I was the only one in my family who ever made it through
college. I accepted that. I had 2 older sisters, and he let me live up in Fargo with my 2
older sisters. People always said ‘Your 2 sisters raised you’ and my answer was I was
raised by my parents even though they were dead because they instilled in me certain
principles and I wasn’t about to violate them. I would also ask when was the last time a
14 year old boy paid any attention to what 20 and 22 year old sisters said or wanted. I
went to college and stayed on the straight and narrow. I’m no Puritan or anything like
that but I did what I felt they would have wanted me to do. I didn’t know how I was
going to go to college; we didn’t have any money, nobody did in those days. I used to
deliver packages on my bicycle for 10 cents a delivery whether it was across the street
or 4 miles away. I remember one mid winter, I had 2 deliveries to make; one of the south
east corner of Fargo and one on the south west; it was a town of about 60,000 and it
took me 4 hours to make that 20 cents.

So you joined the Air Force?

Yeah, as I put it, I did something really stupid in 1942, I turned 20. It wasn’t a question
of if, it was a question of when and where. The thought of sticking a bayonet into
someone was totally repugnant and besides I knew how to fly; I had a private license.
Roosevelt instituted a thing called CPT – Civilian Pilot Training ..

And as I understand it, that was a project that was started to try and get people
into the Air Force?

Roosevelt knew we were going to wind up in it, no matter what and I was in college at the
time and I was one of the kids who was saying ‘Hell no, we won’t go; let Europe take care
of their own problems.’

Did you have your own opinion on it?

I was like all the rest of them. We didn’t want to get in a war.

In Britain, they couldn’t avoid it but in America, there’s the Atlantic in between.
You can remember a sense of ‘it’s their problem; nothing to do with us?’

Yeah, it wasn’t a universal feeling but it was a very strong feeling. Lindbergh, he wasn’t
greatly educated, but he was an extraordinary pilot.

Amongst you and your friends in college, did you follow what was going on in Europe
or did you just get on with your work?

Well, it was a long time ago. We didn’t have the TV we have now but we had radio and
newspapers and sure, we followed it, but not as assiduously as someone who had
somebody in the army over there.

You were drafted?

No.

You volunteered?

I knew it was inevitable so in order to pick what I wanted, I had to enlist. If you’re
drafted you just have to go where they say. I was in my sophomore year at college and
the Air Force came around in the spring quarter and was offering the exams, so I went
and took the exams and passed and they accepted me. I was supposed to register for
the draft on 30 June and I asked if I had to register for it and they said no, you’re
already in. So I didn’t and when I was mustered out in 1945, they said ‘when you get
home, be sure and check in the draft board.’ I did and they said ‘we don’t have anything
for you but if you want to leave your name.?’ I said ‘no thanks!’ and turned round and
walked out. That’s the closest I ever came to the draft board.

The training was pretty thorough wasn’t it?

I think it was excellent and as one of the proofs of how good it was, in 1943, in April or
May, I was in the advanced flying school; I graduated May 28 and got commissioned. I
was flying a thing called the AT6, the British called it the Harvard. 4 months ago I went
down to Florida and flew that thing for an hour and I was incredibly shocked at how well
I did. That says something about the training I think. I have several pictures at http://
www.charlies-web.com/texan/index.html

It always surprises me that some guys from the RAF hadn’t come over and taught
you about fighter tactics. Did you ever have any tactical training?

The instructors did of course, but they didn’t know any more about it than we did really.

So, combat flying was something you picked up as you went along when you went
overseas?

Of course, yeah it had to be. The first mission is kind of a lark; something new and you
don’t really think of the dangers. It was a wonderful aeroplane that we were flying at
the time, the P51A called an A36; marvellous plane. So that was a great deal of fun and
the way we often put it – it takes a long time to get mad. You start off and it’s a lark and
then somewhere along the line, something will happen, like I think it was my 39th mission
or something like that and I was number 4; wing man to the element leader and we were
spread about, probably at 200 feet, maybe at 300 miles an hour and looking for a
targets of opportunity; looking to see if there was anything to strafe and we were
spread out; none of this close flying like you see in air shows; that’s garbage. You’re
looking for targets and you look back at the plane you’re flying with; you around; look
back at the plane you’re flying with and all of a sudden I looked back and as I said we
were at about 200 feet, and there he was in a 60 degree dive at 300 miles an hour from
200 feet. You can calculate about how long that lasted and he exploded and it was a
shock; I just couldn’t believe it. I circled the area 2 or 3 times, calling him on the radio,
which is stupid, but you don’t have good sense then; can’t believe it really happened. You
think maybe they bailed out but if they bailed out they wouldn’t have a radio, so what
the hell are you doing! I started taking a lot of flak so I got out of there and went back
home. Later on, the intelligence officer went up there and talked to the locals and saw
some of the wreckage and said there was a small bullet hole in the canopy. They think he
was hit in the head by some rifleman – just a freak shot. That’s when you all of a sudden
realize – hey, this is a pretty serious business and you start getting mad and you realize
you’re only going to survive if there’s nothing else alive to shoot at you so then you start
shooting at everything you see; don’t let anything get behind you, still alive; probably
what you’re supposed to do in the first place, but in the first place you’re not angry.

This is clearly what happens in any war.

I was Group Operations Officer for a while and I was in a tent with the intelligence
officer and he debriefed the pilots as they came in and one came back and said he didn’t
know what it was, but it exploded when he strafed it. It was just a pile of hay moving
along the road. The intelligence officer wrote that up as ‘destroyed – one fast moving
haystack.’ Sometime later when I was getting towards the end of my tour, a reporter
came to the field and asked the colonel if he could write up some of our stories and the
colonel chose me as one of them and I told the story about the hay, not as happened to
me but to the guy it had happened to and he wrote it up as having happened to me. Now
that’s only trivial but it’s wrong.

I am wondering, if you’re flying at 300 miles an hour, 200 feet off the ground, it
must be hard – you see what you think is a legitimate target and you’ve got a split
second to make that call haven’t you?

Yes, but we didn’t worry about it too much either because the people over there weren’t
that dumb. If they’re in a war zone, they better damn well stay out of the way. If some
guy’s out near the front line driving his truck, what the hell does he expect?

I’ve heard a lot of complaints from Italians saying that allied aircraft would strafe
anything that moved on the road.

The answer to that is don’t move! They might be having a picnic and then they whip off
the cloth and there’s a machine gun and they shoot you in the rear’ Don’t let it happen. It
only takes one smile and wave and then you start wising up.

Do you think you harden up pretty quickly?

It’s a gradual process. You see things happen and you get shall we say a little concerned.
You always feel that you’re invincible; something’s going to happen to them but it’s not
going to happen to you.

That’s also a young man’s characteristic isn’t it? You lose friends in a war and you
obviously lost a number. How did you deal with that? A lot of people have said, you
have to put it out of your mind immediately.

That’s exactly right. The analogy I make is that it’s like the delete key on the computer.
You don’t really forget him but you delete him and they’re just not there; you don’t think
about it. They just evaporate. It sounds bad but it’s the only way you can maintain your
sanity.

I know you were finding it really hard by the time you came off combat ops, but
was there ever a point where you thought I really do not want to be flying any
more?

Yeah, my 94th mission. I finally tumbled. I should’ve done it earlier, but you don’t want to
quit but they didn’t have a limit so about the only way to get out was to quit and it’s a
while before you get to that point and you’re willing to do that. I lost my number 4 man
on my last mission; my 94th mission and he eventually came back and we went home on the
same boat.

He survived?

Oh yeah; he was picked up by the Maquis and sent back to us on Corsica. He had 6
missions; I had 94. I found out from some of the guys flying with me that I’d start to go
to sleep. My left wing would start dipping a little bit and I’d be at a 15 degree slant or
something like that and all of a sudden I’d wake up and would shake back and forth while
I was levelling out. It finally tumbled on me that if I kept this up I was going to get
somebody killed and I didn’t want to do that. On my last mission when I was going into
briefing, I passed the executive officer, Major Cameron, and I said ‘I don’t know if you
know it or not, but that’s the last time I’m going up there.’ He said ‘Tell the Colonel,’ and
I talked to the Colonel and he got me the orders and sent me down to Naples to catch a
boat home. I didn’t argue. I’d had plenty of missions; I didn’t have to apologize. They
should’ve grounded me at least 20 missions earlier in my opinion. We had flight surgeons
who were supposed to watch for that. I’ll never forget the time when Doc Musty I think
his name was came in and sat down by one of my good friends, Dave Johnson, and said
‘How are you feeling today Dave?’ ‘I feel pretty good Doc,’ and the Doc said ‘That’s good;
you’ve just had your 50 mission physical!’ That was kind of the attitude we had. I don’t
remember seeing a flight surgeon hardly at all. He was there but he wasn’t doing
anything except taking care of actual wounds. I smashed my nose when I was about 3
and I always had trouble with it. I was grounded a few times with Aerotitis Media. They
kept you on the ground for 2 weeks till it went away then back up again.

You also had a stint flying Major General Doc Ryder around?

[I don’t remember the name of the Major General!]
He was a pretty nice guy, but a couple of days before I’d taken Mark Clark.

What did you make of him?

Oh I had a lot of respect for Gen. Clark.

Well, I do too and I know I am one of not many people who do. He’s had a lot of
bad press recently.

We had 19 divisions on our side and the Germans had 23 divisions. The German division
was 10,000 and the American 15,000. Of those 19 divisions, I think only 3 or 4 were
American. There were people from all over. It was the most polyglot army I think had
ever been put in the field. He was a lieutenant general and Freyburg from New Zealand
was a lieutenant general, so he wasn’t going to take any orders from Clark, so he had a
lot of political problems and Freyberg asked for the trouble that he got. Now the Major
General – I had come back from the morning flight to the beach head and the
engineering officer came running out to the aeroplane and had a weird look on his face.
He said ‘We’ve got a problem; I didn’t know there was going to be an afternoon flight and
I let the pilot go into town and a Major General came up and wanted to go to the
beachhead. Will you take him?’ I said ‘OK’ so I went over to the plane and at that time I
smoked and I remember leaning on the trailing edge of the plane and the door was open
and he was already in the co-pilot’s seat and I said to him in my best casual fighter pilot
fashion ‘I just got back from the beach head, so if you don’t mind, I’ll just finish this
cigarette before I go back up,’ and he smiled and said ‘No problem.’ I finished it, got in
and flew him up to the beach head.

Looking at your log book, that day was 11th May and that was the launch of the big
offensive at Cassino and was the day that the allies started their offensive of the
road to Rome and that night the barrage opened and the whole front opened up. So
that was a momentous day in the Italian connection.

When I went up to the advanced field, I was General Clarks’s personal pilot for about 3
days.

What did you make of him personally? Was he decent to you?

Oh yeah; he was quiet. I don’t remember him saying hardly anything.

Did he have any sense of presence?

It’s hard to say because I was so cowed. There I was a first lieutenant and he was a
lieutenant general. I’d never run across anything like that before. The only advantage I
had was that I was commander of the aircraft, so I outranked him at least briefly.

He was courteous as far as you remember?

Oh yes; I had no fear or anything like that. He sat there and I said to him ‘I understand
you fly L-5’s; would you like to take over the controls here for the first part of the
flight?’ and as I recall he said ‘Yes’ and so he flew it out to the Ponziane Islands and we
were between 20 and 50 feet off the water and we had a four Spit escort going up; I
came back by myself. Anyway, we got to Ponziane Islands, which was about half way and
then I told him I’d better take it from there and I turned to the new course heading
and flew for the 30 minutes or whatever it was and then made a right angle turn and
hoped to hell we were at the beach head. And we were and I’m looking around for the
airfield and I remember him pointing ‘It’s right over there!’ I landed and that was the
last I saw of him. The next day I went up to bring him back and as I always put it, I let
the other guy bring him back so he would have a story too!

One thing I’m going to be writing about is Operation Mallory which took place in
July 1944; the blowing up of all the bridges in the Po Valley. I see from your
logbook you did a lot of rail cutting in that month.

Because Freyburg got everything screwed up and got his group all shot up, Clark decided
we were not going to attack Cassino any more; we’re going to bypass it. So he started
shuffling the troops around and he had the Germans so confused that they were
shooting Polish leaflets to troops from India; they didn’t know what was going on. He
shuffled everything around which meant there were 2 or 3 months when the line didn’t
move at all; he was doing all this back country thing. Mallory said ‘We got to do
something in these 3 months; we’ve got to keep these guys flying,’ and so he came up
with the idea of interrupting their transportation; not destroy it but create a very
tortuous path so they’d have to take stuff off trains and transfer it to trucks and then
back to trains and just make it really difficult for them. It meant that they ended up
having to bring their trucks out in the day time and that’s when we got them. The army
claimed that the air force was over claiming victories on trucks. I think they claimed
2,700 trucks in a certain stretch of road. The army sent people out to check and they
found out there were more!

You were aware that you were involved in a concerted air operation?

Oh yeah; they explained what the Mallory strangle was; we knew what we were doing.

I spoke to a bomber pilot, on a B26 or something, and he said he remembered
blowing up bridges but he wasn’t aware of any Mallory; he’d never heard of it.
Maybe he had but he’d just forgotten it; I don’t know. That destruction of bridges
and rails caused the most amazing damage to the German war capability; it was a
really good operation.

They always backed their trains into tunnels in the day time and would only bring them
out at night. We had no navigational aids so couldn’t fly at night. We landed once after
dark in P40’s – maybe it was Santa Maria – there was a very slight ground fog and I think
I landed about 15 feet in the air and I thought I was going to ruin the plane when I hit
the ground – wham! I stalled out about 15 feet up because it looked like the ground was
there. Then we had an idiot – it was decided when we went to Corsica that we might have
to take off or land in the dark and so we ought to have a practice flight. I had 70 or so
missions by this time and I said ‘Hell no, I’m not going to do it.’

Oh yes, there’s a note in your logbook about that.

They were going to kill somebody and I said ‘Why kill someone in practice? At least if
you’re going to kill someone, kill them on a mission.’

Did you have anything to do with the Italian civilians?

We had several Italians working in the mess. They didn’t understand English. They were
taught a very vulgar song in English that talked about breakfast being about to close.
They didn’t know what they were saying I don’t think. I remember seeing 2 kids walking
away from the mess one time with a couple of pails of.well, slop I think you’d call it and
I guess they were going to eat it.

They were so short of food.

We were too. Nothing but C rations, although once in a while we had something extra. An
Italian came to the mess officer one time and pleaded with him saying ’Is there anything
I can do to get some food?’ The officer said ‘I do need a hole to put the garbage in’ and
he gave him a shovel and pointed to the place he wanted and in a while the guy motioned
for him to go and see the hole and it was the most beautiful hole you’d ever seen. The
corners were absolutely square and the floor was absolutely flat. It was a shame to put
garbage into it. He brought the guy in and everyone else had finished eating and I have
trouble believing my memory but the only thing left from the meal was Lima beans, and
the guy ate 9 platefuls of Lima beans. Another story was that there were 2 Italians
walking across a field picking up bits of cloth. They didn’t realize that we had things
called Pitot tubes with canvas covers which lie on the ground when the plane’s in the air.
What really ticked someone off was when they saw one of them take a jacket out of a
jeep and I never saw so many guns in my life. Some guy came running into the radio shack
and said ‘Eyeties on the field and they’re stealing stuff!’ And everyone started reaching
in their pockets and bringing out all sorts of guns! I didn’t have one. They got them in
and there was a woman, late 30’s, early 40’s and she was scared to death. She was
spewing Italian and nobody understood a word she was saying and I guess it was her
brother – very philosophical – it wasn’t a smile but a sort of pleasant look on his face – a
fatalistic look I guess. He was leaning against the building just waiting to see what would
happen. We got a guy from intelligence who spoke Italian & he calmed the woman down.
One of our guys had an evil sense of humour and he came round the end of the building
with a rope and he was fashioning a hangman’s knot. She saw that and her eyes got as big
as saucers and she started all over again. The upshot was, the AMGOT came and got
them. They got a good night’s sleep and a meal.

That wasn’t in Corsica?

No, Italy, possibly Castel Volturno but I’m not sure.

Were you aware that you were becoming a secondary theatre?

We always knew that; we could tell that from when we got supplies. There wasn’t enough
Navy for the Anzio thing, not only to bring in the initial troops but to supply them
afterwards. They were in Rome the first day but they had to withdraw.

You never felt that what you were doing was a waste of time or that it wasn’t the
correct policy or whatever?

I was a young kid and I was doing what I was told. I never questioned the reason and I
can’t expect General Clark to sit down with everybody and tell them what’s going on. We
thought if we all did our job then possibly it would all work out. It’s the unquestioning
thing that the military expects. You can’t quibble with it because if you don’t do your job
it might cost somebody else so we just did our jobs to the best of our juvenile ability.

Did you ever get your hands on any Italian wine or anything like that?

Oh a lot of them did but I never did.

So you were careful about what you drank and what you ate? Did you go out
drinking?

Oh we drank; I guess we figured that the alcohol would purify anything. We drank way
too much. I can justify that I suppose with the kind of things we were doing, you had to
have some kind of release. One time one of the guys had gotten shot down, maybe
November, December 43. In about May, he came walking in. He’d been shot down and the
line had been moving pretty fast so he said to himself they’ll be here in a week, and the
weeks past and turned into 6 months. Word was he was working in a vineyard dressed up
like an Italian and an American outfit came up the road and he ran over yelling ‘Where
have you been?’ We were elated and there was nothing going on for the rest of the day
and we opened a bottle about 3 in the afternoon; it was a ruckus! We were throwing
bottles and throwing glasses. Finally we went to bed but someone had to get up to file
the mission at 7 in the morning. They said it was the easiest mission they’d ever had;
they were all still drunk. They went off; dropped their bombs; came back; no incidents.
That wasn’t usual. I was a young kid, wet behind the ears when I first got there and I’d
been there about a month and I’d maybe flown 2 or 3 missions and the squadron held a
year overseas party at Salerno and we went into a restaurant there that was prearranged.
I was this green little kid, 5’7, 128 lbs soaking wet and to my left was master
sergeant Kraft and to my right was staff sergeant Joe Mastroiani. Mastroiani is an
Italian name and I was sitting there with my glass talking to Kraft and Joe would fill my
glass and I’d drink and turn back to Kraft and Joe would fill the glass again, a never
emptying cup. He got me absolutely blotto. I went home in an ambulance with twenty
other guys. I don’t remember the ride back but I do remember waking up very briefly
when we got out of the ambulance and I staggered off to my bed, collapsed in there and
went to sleep. Next morning, they tried to wake me for the mission and couldn’t do it. I
woke up finally at about 11am with a splitting headache. That was the first time I’d ever
been drunk on wine. I sat around in my pajamas and robe popping aspirins all afternoon
and a couple of days later – we had someone called an aerodrome officer and he sat in
the middle of the field; there was a tent; there was a coffee pot; there was a little
tuner with a radio in it. The idea was that someone was there in case you ever needed
anyone to control traffic. He never had anything to do but you had to have someone
there just in case. Fellows would come back from a mission and if they forget to turn off
the gun switch, when you make that last turn on the field and they’re pulling in on the
stick, it’s very easy to hit the trigger and they might let off a short burst in your
general direction, so no-one really wanted that job. Well, I had the job that day and the
squadron commander, Major Kelly, came down and we were talking very casually and he
said, ‘Maybe you should do this for a week!’ We had 3 squadrons and they rotated so
that meant every 3rd day for 3 weeks and I went ahead and did it; no problems and
Major Kelly he apparently liked the way I accepted my punishment and he’d transferred
from squadron command to group HQ and the post came up for group radar officer; we
didn’t have any radar and then weather officer and we didn’t have one of them either.
We had an operations officer, an assistant operations officer, and the weather officer
and radar officer who were all in operations. So radar was number 4 in operations and he
got me up there as radar officer. The trouble was that the ops officer was on leave in
the States; he was gone. One of the other 2 got shot down and the other one was given
a squadron and I was there all by myself. I was the number 4 man but I was acting group
operations officer for 6 weeks. I got promoted to captain in August which was 5 months
since I was promoted and you weren’t supposed to be considered for captain til 6
months, much less get it, so it was kind of a battle field promotion for what I did there.
That’s what really did me in physically because I was up 20 hours a day trying to do this
4 man job by myself. I told off a major once. A major from wing called down one day and
said ‘Have all your missions buzz Cecina today.’ Well, I had a 1/4 inch clear plastic sheet
over the map on my desk with all the missions plotted out in grease pencil and I thought
we could do that easily with all of them except one; one of them would make it kind of
difficult, because we’d have to fly over some very bad flak spots and I said I’d like to
refuse it for that one mission and he said ‘You will buzz Cecina; that’s a direct order.’ I
got the Colonel and told him and he said, ‘I’ll lead it.’ I said, ‘When you get to this valley
here it’s a real hot bed of flak and I would suggest you break up and take off in all
directions and get across there as fast as you can.’ Apparently they did something like
that but one guy got shot down; we lost the pilot and the plane and the colonel got an 88
through his turbo and he wasn’t going to lose an inch of altitude if he didn’t have to.
They made it back to the field but they buzzed Cecina from 5,000 feet on the way back
to the field. Some of the other planes got damaged and they landed and I called this
major up at the wing and I was shouting at him on the phone. I said ‘We lost one pilot
and 2 planes and 3 others damaged. Three of them escaped unscathed. What the hell
are you running up there? A circus?’ He said, ‘I’m sorry; the orders came from higher
than the general.’ Couple of days later I read in the Stars and Stripes that Secretary
of War Stimpson was visiting Cecina that day, so I reckon some shiny pants brass hat
with a couple of stars on his shoulder turned around to his aide and tell him ‘Have all the
missions buzz Cecina today’ so they could impress Stimson. That was one time maybe the
colonel should have disobeyed orders. They wouldn’t have known the difference. It cost
some kid his life.

When did you finally leave Italy?

I was grounded – my last mission was 18 August and I went up to southern France with
them and I was having great trouble sleeping. We were sleeping in an old German
barracks. There was nothing in it. It was half in a vineyard and I used to have trouble
going to sleep. 3am I still wouldn’t be asleep so I’d go out into the vineyard and grab one
of these luscious bunches of grapes; my God they were great. I’d eat those and finally go
back to bed and get to sleep for a couple of hours. I was up there for about 2 or 3
weeks and then they sent me to Naples where I was for 10 days watching the message
board for my turn, waiting for my time and as I recall I got on the boat on about 13
September and got back to New York the 26 September. When we got on the boat, I
swear the dock was built over a submarine on its side – it was acting as the dock and we
walked up it and got on the boat. It was a French boat called Athos II. A couple of years
ago when I was writing all this up I thought I wonder if there’s anything about the
Athos on the Web and this Web is so marvellous. I typed in Athos II and up came a
picture of the vessel, so I pirated it and put it on my website. I am not making any
money so I don’t expect anybody to complain!