Nick Parsons transcript

SUMMARY: Nick served in the Army and reached North Africa shortly after the end of the North African campaign.  He was an excellent observer and produced a great transcript.

      This is a transcript of a taped conversation in 1990 with Nick Parsons of Redford, Michigan about his military service at the end of World War II.  As we talked, we looked over Nick’s collection of photographs and keepsakes.

      Additions made to the narrative for the sake of clarifica­tion are in [brackets]……….. Margaret G. Lubahn (March, 1997)

      What can I tell you, Peggy?

      Well, you said you went over to Egypt after the end of the campaign in North Africa, which would be…

       Right, 1945.  I was en route on the General C.C. Ballou, a Victory Ship, during Thanksgiving of 1945, so that’s the time I was going over.  I was over[seas] a little over a year.  I went to Port Said and Camp Russell V. Huckstet, an Army base outside Heliopo­lis.  Of course, that’s a suburb of Cairo.  Paine Field was just down the road, the Air Force base.

      I was there, [with] the group that was there at that time, pri­marily winding things up and getting the formalities [of occupation] taken care of.  My job was with the MP’s in the Provost Mar­shal’s office, so I, as a pretty raw recruit, wound up early on commanding traffic control and town control for the Army base.  It was a small group.

      I learned a little bit about the area.  Leave was easily gotten.  It was routine to go downtown, except it was a good idea not to go wandering around because someone would slit your throat if you did that unwarily!  Pickpockets were legendary, and anything that was pickable was picked.  It was a good idea to watch your step, and I think it holds true today in that part of the world.  Thievery is an art [there], that’s the bottom line.  It was a real eye-opener for someone like me, who grew up down on the farm, and we’d go into a big metropolis and see the squalor, smell the squalor; and it was exciting too.

      At that time, I thought I would never travel like this and see this part of the world if it weren’t for the Army.  And I was very happy that I was not expecting to enter any combat.

       So things were pretty quiet in North Africa by that time?

       Outside of students tossing hand grenades at bus stops and into the seats in theaters, and so forth!  Minor details like that.  This was the time that the internal unrest was beginning to foam up pretty well.  King Farouk was the titular head [of the country] but the British were there and the people wanted the British out.

       What about Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat?  Did you hear a lot about them?

      Not really.  Not at the time.  Some people may have, but I was not aware of it.

      Late in the campaign, Nasser and Sadat had a scheme to or­ganize an uprising just before Field Marshal Mont­gomery arrived to take command, when morale was pretty low, and the British had been beaten back.  And they wanted to kick out the British and welcome the Germans.  I don’t know off the top of my head why that didn’t happen, but they were working on it at the time.  I think Nasser and Sadat were both arrested and jailed by the British.

       That’s quite possible.  And it may be that I heard more about them than I realize now, but if I did it has faded.

       Did the average people on the street give you trouble?  Were they friendly, or didn’t care much whether American soldiers were there?

       They pretty much didn’t care.  Anyone who walked down the street, if you wandered off into the native section, it would be a good idea to have a couple-three people together, because as I say, thievery was an art.  People got robbed regularly, their pockets picked.  No one thought much of it.  And yet, on the military reservations, it was a good idea for them [native thieves] to leave it alone, that was out of bounds.  And I know we had a little bit of thievery.

      There was a Camel Corps police­man stationed at Fort Huckstet in the Provost Marshal’s office, and there was a camera stolen from a foot locker in one of the tents.  Some of the quarters were tent tops, and some were regular hard-sided buil­dings, and so on.  Anyway, someone went into a barracks and stole a camera.  Which doesn’t seem like a very big deal today, but at that time, it was a big deal.  Someone had come in and stolen a camera.  The camera was back in 48 hours.  The thief was in custody, he was brought in and turned over to the Camel Corps.  Not by military police, but there was a network and he tried to sell the camera.  It was reported, he was picked up by the Egyptian police, and turned over to the Camel Corps.  And he claimed that he was a Sudanese, which was a big mistake because the Sudanese detachment stationed there did not go [in] for stealing.

      With them, honesty and respect for other people’s property [was ex­tremely important].  They were part of the British Common­wealth, and they were assigned as part of the detachment.  They did guard duty and dealt with the local people for the US Army.  Mohammad Osman Al-nur was the Sudanese gentle­man who, with a staff ser­geant and his detachment, looked after all duties as­sociated with the Provost Marshal’s office, including guards at the guardhouse and so forth.  The Camel Corps was separate.  They were perhaps equal.  At any rate, the word came out to Mohammad that this fellow said he was a Sudanese, and Mohammad was too dark to turn red, but his veins pulsed and he stalked in to “have a discus­sion.”  When he came back, he was all smiles; he [the thief] confessed that he was not Sudanese.

      Lucky for him!

       Yes, it was lucky for him because of the strict codes and penalties that were prescribed.  This was also kind of an eye-opener for me, to see how proud this people was of those par­ticular values.  Now, Sudanese were conquering people by taking the cross with the British.  When they won, they were probably quite ruthless, but that set of values was very precious to them.  It’s a good thing that fellow said he wasn’t Sudanese, because otherwise Mohammad probably would have beaten him to within an inch of his life.

       Did you run into a lot of other Commonwealth forces while you were there, or just the Sudanese?

      No, just the Sudanese.  When I was in Casablanca we were in contact with some of the Italian POW’s, who were on the staff in some of the installations there.  There I was in charge of a couple of villas and a small hotel when we transferred.  We were closing up Huckstet, and my commander went to __­_______ Air Force Base to take over a lot of the ground materiel and close out there.  He took me along as a Provost Sergeant, and the ADC already had MP’s set up, so there really wasn’t any job for me.  And he gave me a job as Barracks Sergeant, which was noth­ing.  He wound up with these two villas and a hotel, and… “Nick, have you ever run a hotel?”

      So here I am, nineteen years old, have I ever run a hotel?  No, I’d never run a hotel, but I did then.  I can’t remember the second villa’s name… Villa Miramar, the Anfa Hotel, and another villa.  The Anfa Hotel was the site of the Casablanca Conference when the three major Allied powers met there.  It was a kind of interesting experience to be playing ping-pong where the Big Three had sat and decided the fate of the world!

      What else?

      You started out in Egypt in late 1945.  At what point did you move over to Casablanca?

       Oh, mid-1946.  I was in Egypt about six months, I suspect.

      And then how long were you over in Morocco?

       Another six months.

       So you ran a hotel.  What kind of clientele did you have?


       American officers?

       American officers.  No British in the hotel.  Occasionally there’d be some British coming in for the villas, because they were for VIP’s.

       Did you find American personnel having difficulties dealing with British personnel?  I’ve seen a lot of references to that, with people thinking, “We speak the same language, we should be able to get along real well, but boy are those guys different!”

       No, actually they both looked down on one another and it was kind of a challenge to kind of waylay one another.  If half a dozen Britishers met three US personnel downtown, they would probably drink together and have an argument and have a little fight, and everybody would go home and tell about how tough they were and how they’d beaten up the other group…  Nothing fatal, but it was that sort of arrangement.

      I commanded a group of motorcycle cops, who didn’t much like being commanded by anyone as young and raw as I was, but that’s all right, they took orders okay.  But they had a couple of people who got beaten up nicely by a batch of the Limey’s, the British.  And so they went roaring off on their motorcycles and took on a [British] barracks!

       A whole barracks?

       A whole barracks.

       Who won?

       Everybody!  It just depends on who you talked to.

      Right.  Everyone beat the crap out of everybody else, and a good time was had by all.

       A good time was had by all, and it made for good stories.

      Did you guys get in trouble for doing this stuff?  I mean, that’s not part of the regular military routine!

       No, but this wasn’t really as regular as it might have been.

      It was pretty loose?

       Yes, it was pretty loose, but so long as it didn’t get really out of hand, nobody really worried about it.  It was a “boys will be boys” sort of thing.  One incident that I knew of, I was there when it rained, which doesn’t happen just every day.  It rained, and it rained, and it blew, and so forth.  The next morning, I went on a patrol, it was routine.  I would trade off and take a vehicle and go down into Cairo, down into the Nile, and swing around.  Just as kind of a watchdog to see that our drivers were, well, moderately legal with their driving!

      And Jim Camp­bell was the fellow I had replaced; he was a Staff Sergeant and I was a PFC.  I replaced him and another fella.  But at this stage of the game, they were sending people with ex­perience home and replacing them with whoever they could get, and I was what they could get at the time.  And he was destined to ship out that week.  He wanted me to go down on patrol that morning, because after all it had rained and he just wanted to see what was down there with all that rain.  The streets and drains weren’t set up for all that rain, so it was a mess.  There was big puddles standing all over the place.  Jim was driving, and he was having fun, driving a three-quarter ton weapons carrier.  And you could drive that through and over and under almost anything.

      So we went racing along and if there happened to be a bus stop some­where, and he could spot a puddle within striking distance of the bus stop, he hit it.  There was a place near downtown Cairo that had lots of British personnel coming out of [their] quarters there, going to work.  We got ’em at the bus stop!  They were watching for the bus and standing there, and I’m sure they saw the vehicle coming.  And he just came barreling along and hit this big, muddy waterhole, and sent this sheet of water over this queue of people waiting at the bus stop.  You’ve seen the maps of Cairo, how you have a traffic circle sometimes, and there are streets radiating off; and he disap­peared, out of sight.  And they were still watching where he had gone, and shaking their fists, when he came around the second time and got them again!

      Then on our way back to camp, we saw this beautiful white mili­tary staff car, and it really was a nice looking car, it was all polished and everything.  He followed it for a short distance and then spotted a long, thin water hole.  And the staff car started through it and he speeded up and got beside it so that this sheet of muddy water came up over this white British staff car.  Well, he got busted for that, from Staff Sergeant to… I really don’t know, because I had shipped out by the time he got busted.  But it was an Air Marshal who outranked our commanding general, and he was not happy about being doused!

      So it was a rotten thing to do, but he was having fun.  Frankly, I wouldn’t have done it.  I was a bit too… well, bound by rules at the time.  On the other hand, I did find it pretty funny!

       Were you driving along with him?

      No, I was riding with him.  We only had one vehicle out every morning, and he was the ranking person in the vehicle even though it was my patrol.  But by the time the fan got dirty, I had been transferred out, so it never caught up with me.

       When you went from Egypt to Morocco, did you fly there or drive?


      How long does that take?

       Oh, it took a while.  It was a C-47.  We stayed over at Tunis.  I think we had two stops.  What are the major cities?

       Well, Tripoli is right in the middle of Libya.  That would have been a good stop.

      Yeah, Tripoli, and then one other.

       So, you were running a hotel in Morocco.  Did you find that to be difficult?  Did you find it challenging, or boring?

       It was pretty boring, really, because it was an easy life.  For one thing, I was in contact with people that I really couldn’t fraternize with, so it kind of isolated me.  We had POW’s doing a good bit of the work.


       Yes.  And they spoke the language, so if I wanted to go buy something or do some shopping for the job I would take one of the POW’s along and they would take care of all the conversation and bargaining.  There really was not much of a challenge.  There was novelty, but that was about the size of that.

       Had the Italian prisoners previously lived in North Africa?  Were they of the colonial population or were they from the mainland?

       No, they were from the mainland.  The one I’m thinking about, Rudy (and I don’t know his last name), had been a profes­sional soccer player before the war and he was drafted into the Italian army.  He was well-educated and had traveled, so it wasn’t by chance that he wound up with that sort of an as­signment.  Other than that, the experience in Morocco was, you know, go visit on tours, this and that.  The local hostility was there, it was not an area in which we were encouraged to take off and live it up.

       Do you think the people in Morocco would have preferred the Germans also, or was it that they just didn’t want you Americans there?

       I don’t think they wanted anybody there.  I don’t they disliked us because we were Americans versus Germans, in fact I think they did kind of like us.  They seemed to prefer that we were there rather than the Germans, but as far as liking us on our own…  Now there were some people who were really happy that we were there, the Jewish population, who were very happy to see the Americans there.

       I’ve only talked to one person who could remember hearing about anything unusual being done to Jews in North Africa, as was so common in Europe.  Do you remember hearing anything like that?

       No, but I dated a Jewish girl a few times, and Roosevelt’s picture was hung in a place of prominence in her home.  The family was very happy that the Americans were there.  It just wasn’t a general thing, for the general population.  The Arabic population, I don’t think was enamored of any of the white races.

       What eventually happened to your Italian POW’s?

       They were repatriated.  As to how they went about their repatriation, I don’t know.  It was one of those little mysteries in my life that I wasn’t wondering about at the time.  Here’s a picture of the guardhouse and what our lawn looked like.

       It looks like a pretty substantial lawn for Morocco.  Not much mowing!

       Right.  Solid rock and steps and so forth.  Here’s a couple of prison­ers…  This actually was the prison compound and we were out passing a football around.  There’s that weapons car­rier.  I don’t think I have a picture [of Jim Campbell].  I didn’t par­ticularly like him.

       This unit patch on your shoulder; what unit were you in?

      That’s Eisenhower’s “flaming sword.”  I can’t offhand remember the name of it.  [The emblem of SHAEF: Supreme Head­quarters, Allied Expeditionary Force.]

       And those people standing in the background looking dis­gusted are local people?

      That’s right.

       “The stupid foreigners are taking more pictures of the pyramids…”  That color film held up real well, didn’t it?

       Well, that one was tinted.  It was black and white film, and then it was tinted with oils.

       The weapons carrier was basically sort of a big jeep?

       That’s right.  Four-wheel drive, but heftier than a jeep, because it’s three-quarter ton.

      Here’s Henry Piostrowski.  I was in basic training with him, and we wound up going to Africa at the same time.

       Did they give you a copy of the Africa booklet that was issued to troops?

       This is the one we were given.

       I haven’t seen this one before.  I have a copy of a re­stricted issue Africa booklet: it tells you what the people are like, what the weather is like, this is a picture of a sand­storm, stuff like that…  Ah yes, the obligatory picture on a camel!

       I never got an obligatory picture [of myself] on a camel.  I was too cheap to give money just to get on an animal and have my picture taken.  I’ve been around animals all my life.

      And this is one of the temples beside the Sphinx.  Those columns were standing in a straight line.  You just couldn’t see any deviation from line of sight at all.  Another camel pic­ture…  These are friends of mine.

       Those camels probably get tired of getting up and sitting down and getting up and sitting down…

       They probably do!  The Egyptian beer.  It was potent, came in large bottles, and I had a few.  You only needed a few.

       It was that potent, huh?

       Yes.  And you really didn’t want to be passed out drunk in Cairo.  It wasn’t a good idea.

       Did you enjoy getting a chance to visit all these spots, or were you not particularly interested at that time?

       Oh, absolutely!  I was interested, but certainly wasn’t as interested [as I would need to be] to make the most of it.  I really regret that.

       You stopped in Brazil on the way home [to the US]?

       Yes, we flew the southern route across the Ascension Islands and to Brazil.  This is a C-54, four engines; big stuff in those days.

       You had to carry this honorable discharge around with you, didn’t you?

       Yep, for a while.  Here’s a picture from basic training.

       Did you take basic in Ohio?

       No, Fort McClelland, Alabama.  We wound up with ten dogs that came wandering in.  Mascots.  That’s the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt [a ship].

       You don’t happen to know what kind of planes it was car­rying?

       No.  I’m sure I knew at the time.  That was in 1946.  Here’s Casablanca.  We got to go out and visit, and I was thoroughly impressed.  Here’s the Camp Huckstet Fire Department.

      Oh, Clarissa Wright, she was a clerk or secretary.  She handled the Provost Marshal’s clerical work, and lived in town in Heli­opolis.  Her husband was a British officer, I’m not sure where he was.  He wasn’t home right at that time.  She was kind of a mother or big sister to all the guys in the detachment.

       Was she American?

       No, British.

       She was probably just the kind of calming influence you guys needed!

       Probably.  Here’s one of my bunk, and that’s in the guard­house.

       Who did you have for your pinup girls?

       Probably centerfolds from… hmm, there wasn’t any Playboy.  They were leggy…  By today’s standards, they would have been considered prudent.  That’s looking from the Tunis plateau.  They put buildings out there, trees too.

      Johnny Labusty from Shoboken, Pennsylvania.  And this is looking back down from that plateau, also.  The big building, or series of buildings, is the Mena House Hotel.

       Was Mena Camp near where you were?  Montgomery mentions it in his memoirs.

       No, I’m not sure where it was.  This is a street scene on the way back from Cairo to Camp Huckstet.

       Oh, military money.  I’ve wondered what that looked like.  Did you ever get a short snorter, or was that pretty much over by the time you were there?

       What’s a short snorter?

       Well, the first guys that went over got in the habit of getting other guys on the ship or plane to autograph dollar bills because it was their first time overseas.  They would also use large-denomination bills and have everyone in their group sign.  Then they started stapling bills together so they had a long string of bills that people had signed.  It developed into quite a fad, but I think it probably was old hat by the time you got there.  I’ve only talked to one person who knew about short snorters, and he had a beautiful one.  He gave me a photocopy of it.

      Here’s a bill for five cents.  What could you get at the PX for five cents back then?

       Oh, a candy bar.

       E.A. Wright Banknote Company, Philadelphia?  Morocco had their money printed in Philadelphia?  That’s interesting!

       One peseta.  That was a Spanish peseta.  That was from Tangier, where I went on leave.

       Did you have a lot of people trying to sell you antiquities while you were in Egypt?

       Yeah.  And of course they were all genuine!  But this is a genuine antiquity [looking at a dagger].

       I wonder if that handle is made of rhinoceros horn.  Do you know?


       That’s the major problem for rhinos today, Yemeni dag­gers with rhino horn handles.

       It had a wood-lined scabbard.  I bought it at a stand.  You can see the perspective [in the ornamentation].  That’s a person on the right.  It was a great stand in front of the pyramids.

      There’s Mohammad Osman al-Nur.

       A very serious-looking gentleman.

       He was.  And when he drilled his troops, he looked serious, too.  He did drill them regularly.  And there’s another camel.

       Did you actually get to ride around on those things, or did you just get on and get your picture taken?

       I didn’t get on.  I wasn’t kidding, I wouldn’t give money for something like that.  Mostly they just stood up and took their pictures and got off.

       When were you in Algiers?

       We just stopped there for refueling on the way.  Christmas, 1945…  That’s Tangier.

       What part of the city is this, do you know?

       It says on the back “Angleterre.”  It’s an international city.

       Different quarters for different nationalities?

       It could be.  I was there on a three-day pass, and never really found out much about it.  Here’s the Grand Market of Tangier.  This is pretty typical garb for the natives, the ghalabiyah, [with] some sort of coat most of the time.  There’s Moham­mad’s troops again…  The Grand Market in Tangier.  I must have bought these Algerian post cards from a shop or something, because we just set down and refueled.  I didn’t get a chance to really look at Algiers other than coming down and going back up.

      Can you see the sand dunes here?  Those looked like they were just across the street, and when we arrived there on the port side, we got up the next morning and went out.  And several guys said, “Hey, let’s walk over to the sand dunes.”  Well, they’re a good five miles out.  We later went out and took pictures from the weapons carriers.  Some years earlier, they had built a platform out there, for bands, and we would have dances out there.  We’d choose partners, and so forth, right out in the desert.  When we had dust storms or sandstorms, I was amazed to see that a sand dune I knew was there, the next day wasn’t there!  It was mind-boggling, the amount of sand that was moved.  As I say, that was five miles away.  When you get out there at the base of a sand dune, it’s huge!  Sleeping Bear dune is a nice dune, but it’s nothing next to these.


(Some text was lost when the tape was turned over.)

       I had a short pass, then I transferred out.  And they shipped me to Casablanca, so I never got to the Holy Land.  I never got to Luxor either.  At that time, I really didn’t know what I was missing, so I wasn’t as disap­pointed as I might have been.

       Somehow, you never think of those places as being big, modern cities.  You expect them to be quaint little villages or something.  When I see pictures like this it reminds me that they’ve been there a long time, and they’re not little villages any more.  Some of these places are very modern looking.

       I saw some pictures within the last couple of years, people who had gone on detail to Egypt, and so I have some friends who went to Egypt.  Some of it hasn’t changed too much.

      [Looking at uniform patches.]  These were all fancied up, with metallic thread on the edges.  There’s Mohammad again.

       These look real.  I’ve seen a lot of patches that are so perfect you have to wonder if they’re authentic or cheap repro­ductions.

       They are real.  I culled out a few pictures that had nothing to do with this.  Oh, yes, gold panning in California.

       How much did you find?

       Not enough to speak of.  Black sand…  I didn’t have any mercury to use to float that out.  Somewhere I have some coins as well. It’s always interesting to look at coins, their different sizes.  Of course, we’re familiar with different sizes for coins, but we’re not that familiar [with] or used to different sizes for the currency.  Oh, here we are.  Current events.

       I really don’t know any French to speak of…  Oh, good.  This is in English.

       “A Monday morning report stated that the Palestine Arabs would accept the invitation to the London talks.”

       The Tangier Gazette.  “First newspaper to be published in the Moorish empire.”  That’s cool.  “Who Invented Papier Mache?”  Good stuff!

       Somewhere I have my old pass…

       And you got this in Egypt?

      Right.  Bought it from a shop for a little bit of nothing.  And of course, no one bought anything for what it was quoted at.  It was just scandalous if someone paid what they were asked for something without putting up any fight.  It just didn’t work that way.  It was hard to get used to at the beginning, but it really didn’t take all that long to realize that it was just another game.  I never really enjoyed it.  Somehow I seemed never to pick up the idea that this was what I wanted to do with my time, stand around and argue with someone over the price of some insig­nificant item.  So I can do it.  Leslie says she feels ashamed that she even knows me when we go out to buy a car!

       Were the Italian POW’s good at that?

       Yeah.  They knew the going price pretty well on the things that we were after.  So they did not spend a lot of time at it, and of course it wasn’t their money, [so] they’d go ahead and bargain.  It really didn’t take them long to do it, and I think in part that if they had to give a little more than the going price, who cares, it wasn’t their money anyway.  That may not have been why they were so efficient at it.

       Did you ever happen to go by the Cairo Dump?

       I never saw the Cairo Dump.

       You look as if you’ve heard of it, though.

       I’ve heard of it, but that’s it.  I think if I went back now with the same amount of time, I would come away with a pretty well documented picture story.  I do enjoy photography of a variety of things, and I could kind of lose myself with some of that…

      There was a large field of disabled GI vehicles that had been bashed up in the war…  It was also kind of entertaining to see cars, or trucks, with exposed chain drives.

       Chain drive?  What’s that?

       Well, instead of having a drive shaft running from the transmission back to the differential, they had a chain running back there, and the power was transferred from the engine to the rear wheels with a chain.

       That doesn’t sound very efficient.

       Well, they did get away from that some time before that in this part of the world, but a lot of those trucks were still in service in Africa at the time.  There were a lot of solid rubber tires running around on some of the local rolling stock.  And of course, you’d see wagons with families, whole wagon-loads of people, not efficiently loaded or anything, but a good-sized family.  And the patriarch (usually the one with the whip) and a team of, usually, horses.  Could be mules, or burros.  Could be cattle.  Camels walking along the streets.

       At that time, was anybody interested in collec­ting some of the Afrika­korps stuff that was probably sitting around all over the place?

       I think probably they were, but I wasn’t aware of it.  There were a lot of things to be collected.  There was a lot of ivory.  Some of it was probably fake, but I’m sure that a good bit of it was genuine ivory.  If you wanted an ivory letter opener, ivory this, or ivory that… small items carved from ivory.

      A lot of the shops were about the size of two of those doors on the cabinet over there.  And they had a big variety of things.  And one of them would have the same thing priced for five pounds [and it would be] five piasters over there.  But there again, the pricing system was something you had to get used to.

       I’ve often wondered whether people, at that time, thought that there might be a tremendous demand for Afrikakorps items in the future.  There were tons of it laying around.  Let’s fill up a warehouse with it and wait…

       Well, someone may have, but they probably long since thought that interest had peaked out and they got rid of it.  That happens over and over.  Far-sighted people who really don’t look far enough.

       Did you have any experience with German POW’s?  You’ve only mentioned Italians.

       None.  Didn’t run into any German POW’s.

       I know some of them were interned in Michigan.

       Some of them came to Ohio.  They were probably scattered around a good bit.

       Did you ever run into any French Foreign Legion soldiers?

       Never did.  They were probably genuine tough folks, and wouldn’t mess around where young amateurs were wandering about!

      What else?  I ate at the mess hall most of the time.  Stainless steel trays.  We’d go through a line.  They had a lot of meat, and it really wasn’t my favorite.  It became less and less my favorite as time went on.  It was mutton, and it tasted like mutton.  I never did gain a real taste for wool, to eat it!  It wasn’t the finest cuisine.

      But once you were finished in the mess hall, it was cus­tomary to go out and scrape your tray into the garbage can, dip it in a GI can of suds, then put it on the stack to be taken care of by whoever was on KP.  Every mealtime, there was a large flock of vultures that would circle overhead.  And this gave some people the willies.  They would come out and look up at the tent.  It was a mess tent, it had hard side at the bottom, canvas up at the top, and a fly they’d come out under.  They’d be looking up and holding their tray, and rush out, dip it, and run away from the tent, because if you just sauntered out and you had a chunk or two of food left, if you wanted prelimin­ary cleanup of the tray, you’d hold it out and one of the vul­tures would come down and nip it off of the tray.  You had to have not much of a crowd and so on, because some of the people got kind of hysterical and it scared them away!  But you could hold a tray up and if it was something that looked delectable to a vulture he’d come by and snatch it off the tray.

       I’ve never heard of vultures doing anything like that!

       We would go out, sometimes, out on the desert and take firearms out and practice with them.  And I mentioned the plat­form out by the sand dunes.  They had a firing range out there, too.  [There were] small cast iron targets set up.  They had pits, so they had at one time run targets out, fired for effect, and pulled them down to check them.  What was there when we were there, was just those cast iron, maybe chest-high targets set up by the pit.

      And I wound up with a firearm because someone insisted I carry one.  I didn’t really care to go running around, swaggering around with a pistol; it wasn’t my style then and it never has been.  Some of the drivers that I had to face down a time or two really res­pected the gun, the firearm.  And they kept insisting “You’ve got to carry a firearm; you’ve got [to wear] that MP arm bracelet, not just that written authority that you’re boss out on the road.”  So I put on an MP band and carried [a gun].  So then, I liked fire­arms, so I had to go get some cartridges and go out on the desert and play along.  And I took some friends along.

      We were out there, and started firing at a couple of cast iron targets and occasionally would hit it, although with our GI 45 automatic pistols the accuracy is not all that great after a reasonable distance, maybe 50 yards.  We hit that target [and it sounded like a gong].  Well, one of the local people had been sleeping in the pits [behind the targets], and he came boiling out of there.  And we, a bunch of dumb kids, we were firing the 45’s.  And sand was hopping around…  I’ve never seen anyone move so fast across sand in my life, before or since!  Poor guy!  No one came close to hitting him, but really that was by accident because we weren’t that accurate.  It was a dumb thing to do.

       Did you ever get into a bad sandstorm?  Everyone always talks about the sandstorms, and how terrible the sand is, and how it gets into everything.

       Yeah, but I wasn’t out in the sandstorm.  We had a bad sandstorm, and it blew for 24 hours.

       What time of year was that, do you recall?

       I can’t say…  It had to be fall or spring, because it was late fall when we got there, and by summer of the next year I was gone.  So, probably spring.  That’s when I was talking about how the sand dune had moved.  You just couldn’t go out and go any­where.  We were in the guard­house, and had everything all bat­tened down against [the wind].  So we didn’t have camels huddling down and snuggled up against us or anything like that.  Sand got into everything: sand in your clothes, teeth gritty, eyes gritty, the whole bit.  I can’t imagine if someone were out and in something like that.  It would be really terrible.  Even [for a storm] only one day long.  If you were in the right place you could get covered up, and really buried.

       So it was not something to be taken lightly, then.

       No, definitely not.  I’d love to go back over some time and roam around the desert.  Leslie does not like deserts at all.  We went to Craters of the Moon.  We stopped there and were going to camp.  In early evening we heard some coyotes howling.  It was hot and dry and all that, but I thought it would be a neat place to stay.  No one else seemed to be that much at ease, so we moved our camp and stayed elsewhere.

      There was a lot more life there [in the Sahara] than you think.  People running around…  There were gazelles off some­where.  I never saw any there, but they were there.  It was a little bit like the pron­ghorn antelope of the US.  They live on areas that all the rest of the large animals avoid, but they seem to be perfectly comfor­table there.  Perhaps it’s the lack of competition, maybe the vegetation there is just what they like.  So that was another incident.  We had dinner at one of the fancy hotels in Cairo… Shepherd’s.

       You went to Shepherd’s?  What did you think of it?

       Expensive!  So I didn’t go back.

       Did you think it was worth it?

       Yes, at the time it was worth it.

       I wonder if Shepherd’s is still there?  It’s quite famous.

       I don’t know.  Probably.  That was one of the things that impressed us about England.  The value placed on the British establishments.  Here, if something gets shoddy, the first thought is to tear it down, clear it away, and start over with something that is contemporary.  I think it’s pretty general in much of the rest of the world (and I can’t speak authoritatively because I haven’t been around much), but preserving things seems to have a higher priority in lots of places.

       Did you and your buddies go to see belly dancers while you were in Egypt?

       Yeah, but more in Casablanca than in Egypt.  Absolutely!  It would have been a completely deficient education in the world if you didn’t go to see belly dancers!

       What did you think of them at the time?

       Probably not much, because I don’t have a very vivid memory [of it].  For one thing, most places that were accessible to GI’s weren’t very clean.


(Some text was lost when the tape was turned over.)

       Frankly, no one wanted to get into the cab of a truck and roll the windows up, if one of them was an Arab, riding along.  Smells like there was some truth in that story!

       No one’s ever mentioned that to me before.  Maybe they were trying to be delicate.

       The BO was very pronounced and of course their religious rituals, with religious washing, had nothing to do with overall body cleanliness.  It’s symbolic, and at least the working class people, with whom we came in regular contact, probably didn’t take any baths, at least for long periods of time.  Now, I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

       What about shopkeepers and people who worked in offices?

       Well, we didn’t get into offices.  Shops were mostly out in the open, so who knows?  Definitely the public health aspects of the way food was handled, displayed and so forth…  We were warned, don’t eat fresh vegetables, don’t eat salads, uncooked things.  Don’t drink the water.

       What did you drink instead?


       Of course!  That Egyptian beer.

       Beer, tea, coffee.  Things that were simple.

       Did it take a while for your system to get used to the new food?

       I had no adjustment.  No problems at all.

       Was that pretty common, or did you find a lot of people had difficulty?

       I think some people had difficulty, but I wasn’t in the dispensary or anything, so I really didn’t know about it.  And I was more fortunate than most, because sometimes we’d eat with the prisoners, and the prisoners ate well.  Some of the prisoners were in there [the guardhouse] on general court-martial, they were bad hombres.  One of the people was a drug smuggler, and I don’t recall particulars on anyone else.  But he had money, lots of money, and he spread some of it around where the people who were supplying the guardhouse food supplied really good [food] down there.  We ate with them!  He had some power, but he had also a permanent home.  My part was seeing that he didn’t wander away from his permanent home, not directly but as a part of the unit.

      This was something, when some hood like this has the best quality beer and so forth and steaks are brought in, and the rest of us get an occasional steak, but not very often.  And I don’t mean that the officials were corrupt, but some of the workers didn’t mind making a little extra money by seeing that things ran smoothly for this fellow.  I don’t think that’s too much dif­ferent from what goes on in some of the prisons today, here.  But anyway, it was any eye-opener for a young kid.

       Did you know Leslie [Nick’s wife] before you went overseas, or did you meet her later?

       No, I met her while I was in college after I got back.  She was a student at Ohio University, and when she graduated she moved to Columbus for a job as Assistant Advertising Manager at Montgomery Ward.  I was still in school at Ohio State in Colum­bus, and she was dating a friend of mine, and we met.  We took a shine to one another, dated a while, and three months after we met we were married.  We were both fairly decisive people.  You’d get a kick out of some of the people, and some of the procras­tinating they do.  Probably with good reason: they haven’t made up their minds what to do.  We had our first date on September 28, 1951.

       You have quite a memory!

       And we were married December 28, 1951.

      Anything else you can think of that we should talk about?

       I went over with a miscellaneous group, some of whom were with me at basic training at Fort McClelland.  I almost told you what unit it was… 27th [Infantry] Battalion.  We were training as infantry replacements, to be shipped off to the South Pacific.  Everyone expected to go to the Pacific.  And right in the final stages of our training, they changed it.  I came home for ten days leave en route to Shipshank, New York, got on a boat, went down to Brook­lyn, alighted, walked across the pier and up the gangplank, and off to Africa.  Which was a big surprise.

       At what point did they tell you where you were going?  I suppose it wasn’t so important to keep your destination secret at that point.

       Oh yes, it was.  Had APO’s and everything.  Well, we didn’t know where we were going, really, until we got there.

       Didn’t they call Africa “Area J”?

       I don’t know.  They may have, and I may have known it at the time.

       So you actually arrived but didn’t know where you were?

       Yeah, we didn’t know really where we were going until we got there.  Got on these trucks in the middle of the night.  As we steamed in to Port Said, a British ship (probably from India) was coming through going the other way.  They were headed home.  And we were very much impressed.  We were leaning on the rail and waving and so forth.  They all came up, in formation, stood at attention and saluted us as they went through on their way home.

      We embarked at a pontoon walkway from our gangplank over to the pier.  They drove us well into the night, unloaded in the dark, and [we] stumbled into the barracks.  Everyone got a bunk and flaked out.  The next morning we got up and went outside and looked, and here’s this great expanse, sand dunes way over there, the sky with no clouds anywhere, really kind of an impressive thing.

      And the assignments then came through piecemeal: you go here, you go there.  I went to the Provost Marshal’s office, and didn’t even know what a Provost Marshal was.  They told me I was a clerk, and I had no clerical skills at all.  I learned and pecked.  I adapted rather well, did a decent job.  They put me in command of some people, all of whom outranked me, all of whom had more experience and were older.  But I had the position, and knew what to do with designated authority.  Interesting period.

      I got to roam around downtown because of my patrol, but I really didn’t get to mingle and know people, [native] people, the way I would like to.  Learned a few words here and there.  I did not get to do the other roaming around, like the Holy Land, and up the Nile.  Saw the Nile regularly.  Used to ride the tram, and take it through Cairo, three or four or half a dozen of us, then we would wander around.  Not going too far, because we didn’t want to get lost.  Cairo is an easy city to get lost in, and we didn’t know the language.  We had known that practically everyone hated England.  Being young and insecure, we weren’t all that confident when everybody around on Maimonides Street was going you know not where, talking some other language.  And of course, we had heard all the exaggerated stories about slit throats and whatever.  It was prudent to use a little care, even though it was greatly exaggerated, some people didn’t come back.

       You just never found them?

       Once in a while.  [Going through more photos.]  Johnny Labusty, from Oakland, Pennsylvania, came back and reenlisted, and the last time I heard he was a recruiter for the Army.  Hank Piostrowski came home and lives over in Cleveland or east of Cleveland, and I really don’t know what he did.  Some sort of plant.  Jimmy Allman, from Churubusko, Indiana, opened a body shop, auto paint shop.  One of the other fellows is in one of the Chicago suburbs, and never did hear from him.  And one of the guys lives in Wisconsin.  Never heard from him, either.  I thought it was kind of a shame, because we went to Fort McClel­land, wound up at Huckstet.  When they closed that we didn’t move together but we all wound up at a Kansas air base, and all of us came back about the same time.  I was scheduled to go out on a ship, and then somehow it got shifted so I wound up flying.  Ascension… that got me a weekend in Macau, Brazil.

       That was probably quite a bit faster than going by ship, wasn’t it?

       Much faster.  And that way I got to see that column of chocolate colored water that comes out of the Amazon and runs out into the Atlantic.  It was a big thrill.  And we stopped at British Guyana (there was one then), just for overnight.  Puerto Rico, and home.  Well, West Palm Beach, Florida.  I was there for a couple of weeks with a hand infection.  Then on home.  I didn’t want to go on sick call, but there were ugly red marks running up my arm.  They put me on antibiotics for a couple of days and they were ready to ship [me] out.  The day before they did, they cut the core out of it.  The core looked kind of like an oat grain.  That seemed to help a good bit.

       You must have been pretty uncomfortable, if the infection was that far advanced.

       Extremely.  I was kind of a sick fella.  I caught the train with the rest of the outfit.  I got a Parker P-51 pen in Puerto Rico, and someone stole it in Florida and I never got it home.  And I got to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, got discharged with the rest of them, and got home for Christmas.

       How did that infection on your hand get started?

       Probably an infected hair follicle.

       I’ve never heard of such a thing before.

       Well, you’ve seen pimples and boils start with an infected follicle, probably.  I had gum problems in Casablanca, and they did a gingivectomy.  They would burn some of the gum tissue and then they would let me go home in a day or two.  And that would slough off and I would go back the next week and they would say Well, we need to take some more off here and here, and they’d burn some more off until they removed the excess gum tissue back where it stopped sloughing.  I had another one when I was in Ohio State, and that one was done with trichloroacetic acid.  Same process.  Burn it, it would slough off, and burn some more.

       Was this painful?

       Yeah, you could say that!  But I had boils in Casablanca.  I haven’t thought of that in years…  And I just had an infection going, apparently systemic, and it would localize.  And you probably wouldn’t be able to see any of the scars, but on the soft part of my arm there would be two or three boils going at once.  At one time I had a dozen of them going at one time.  Wasn’t particularly painful.  I’d go in to the dispensary and they would lance them and drain them, medicate them.

      But if one developed where it was on a joint or over a bone where there was not room for the swelling to be accom­modated, it got uncomfor­table.  And that’s why this one was probably more uncomfortable than anything else.  It was right next to the joint and in an area that couldn’t really expand to accommodate that swelling without getting real tight.

      I remember one night we went to the Zebra Club, which was the NCO club.  We were getting ready to say farewell to someone, and we started stacking our empty beer cans across the table and pyramiding them, and we hit the ceiling and had to start throwing them on the floor.  And I was really in a good mood to go by the dispen­sary and have all my boils lanced because I didn’t feel a thing that time!

       Do you remember what the name of the Egyptian beer was?

       No, I don’t recall now.

       Shall we stop?  The tape is about to run out.




Africa booklet (American)…………………………………… 8

Afrikakorps………………………………………………. 13

Al‑nur, Mohammad Osman………………………………….. 3, 10

Algiers (Algeria)…………………………………………. 10

Allman, Jimmy…………………………………………….. 18

American/British relationships…………………………….. 4‑6

Anfa Hotel (Casablanca, Morocco)…………………………….. 4

Ascension Islands………………………………………….. 8

Ballou, General C.C. (Victory Ship)………………………….. 2

Brazil………………………………………………… 8, 18

British Guyana……………………………………………. 18

British, Egyptian attitude toward……………………………. 2

Brooklyn (New York)……………………………………….. 17

Cairo (Egypt)…………………………………….. 2, 5, 8, 17

Campbell, Staff Sergeant Jim………………………………… 5

Casablanca (Morocco)…………………………………. 4, 9, 19

Casablanca Conference………………………………………. 4

Dodge weapons carrier………………………………………. 5

Douglas C‑47 Skytrain………………………………………. 6

Douglas C‑54 Skymaster……………………………………… 8

Egyptian Camel Corps……………………………………….. 3

England…. ……………………………………………… 15

Firing range……………………………………………… 14

Fort Bragg (North Carolina)………………………………… 18

Fort McClelland (Alabama)……………………………….. 8, 17

German POW’s……………………………………………… 13

Gold panning in California…………………………………. 11

Heliopolis (Egypt)………………………………………. 2, 9

Holy Land.. ………………………………………….. 11, 17

Huckstet, Camp Russell V. (Egypt)……………………… 2, 3, 18

Italian POW’s………………………………………… 4, 6, 7

Jews, in Morocco…………………………………………… 7

King Farouk of Egypt……………………………………….. 2

Labusty, Johnny………………………………………… 9, 18

Mena House Hotel (Cairo, Egypt)……………………………… 9

Moroccans, attitude toward Americans…………………………. 7

Morocco…. ……………………………………………. 4, 6

Nile River (Egypt)……………………………………… 5, 17

Paine Field (Egypt)………………………………………… 2

Parsons, Leslie……………………………………. 12, 14, 16

Pickpockets, Egyptian……………………………………. 2, 3

Piostrowski, Henry (Hank)……………………………….. 8, 18

Police, Egyptian…………………………………………… 3

Port Said (Egypt)………………………………………. 2, 17

Puerto Rico……………………………………………… 18

Roosevelt, USS Franklin D…………………………………… 8

Sandstorms. ……………………………………………… 11

Shepherd’s Hotel (Cairo, Egypt)…………………………….. 15

Shipshank (New York)………………………………………. 17

South Pacific…………………………………………….. 17

Sphinx….. ………………………………………………. 8

Student unrest, Egypt………………………………………. 2

Sudanese… ………………………………………………. 3

Tangier (Morocco)……………………………………… 10, 11

Tripoli (Libya)……………………………………………. 6

Tunis (Tunisia)……………………………………………. 6

Tunis plateau (Tunisia)…………………………………….. 9

Victory Ship………………………………………………. 2

Villa Miramar (Casablanca, Morocco)………………………….. 4

Vultures… ……………………………………………… 13

West Palm Beach (Florida)………………………………….. 18

Wright, Clarissa…………………………………………… 9

Zebra Club (Casablanca, Morocco)……………………………. 19


Fred Thomas compiled memoirs

In 1995, Fred’s memoirs were accepted for the collection of what was then called the Center for Air Force History in Washington D.C.


SUMMARY: Fred was awarded the Air Medal for helping to save a plane when the co-pilot panicked.  He was an excellent narrator with a great sense of humor.


 2        Questionnaire

 18      Addendum A: General James Doolittle

19      Addendum B: Further Comments on General Doolittle

 19      Transcript

 34      Index

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =


1.         When were you stationed in North Africa?  (p. 3)

2.         What kind of planes did you fly?  (p. 3)

3.         How many missions did you fly?  (p. 3)

4.         How many places were you stationed in North Africa?  (p. 3)

5.         Major actions you participated in.  (p. 3)

6.         Were you ever wounded?  (p. 4)

7.         Were you ever captured?  (p. 4)

8.         Did you ever experience a bad sandstorm?  (p. 4)

9.         What cities and towns did you become familiar with?  (p. 4)

10.       How much contact did you have with Arab/Berber natives?  (p. 4)

11.       How much contact did you have with Italian residents?  (p. 4)

12.       How much contact did you have with French residents?  (p. 5)

13.       Describe the layout of your base.  (p. 5)

14.       Did you experience any health problems?  (p. 5)

15.       Did you go on any hunting or fishing trips in your free time?  (p. 6)

16.       Did you or your group have any pets or mascots?  (p. 6)

17.       Did you ever hear any stories about German atrocities toward Jews living in North Africa?  (p. 7)

18.       Did you hear any stories about General Philippe Leclerc’s Free French?  (p. 7)

19.       What was a typical day like for you?  (p. 7)

20.       Can you recall any jokes that were popular while you were in North Africa?  (p. 8)

21.       Did you ever get a “short snorter”?  (p. 9)

22.       What did you usually do for entertainment?  (p. 9)

23.       What slang words were popular?  (p. 9)

24.       Did your unit have its own newspaper?  (p. 10)

25        Did your unit get any medals or citations?  (p. 10)

26.       Did you meet any newspaper correspondents?  (p. 11)

27.       Do you recall any military use of dogs?  (p. 11)

28.       Did you ever meet any German or Italian prisoners?  (p. 11)

29.       Field Marshal Rommel  (p. 12)

30.       Field Marshal Montgomery  (p. 12)

31.       General Eisenhower (p. 13)

32.       General Patton  (p. 15)

33.       What did you think of the German forces?  (p. 15)

34.       What did you think of the Italian forces?  (p. 34)

35.       What did you think of the British forces?  (p. 17)

36.       Commonwealth forces  (p. 17)

Addendums A and B about General Doolittle

 = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =




RANK:       Technical Sergeant

UNIT:       HQ and HQ Squadron, Twelfth Air Force

1.    I WAS STATIONED IN NORTH AFRICA FROM: November 21, 1942 to November 28, 1943.


      I worked on B‑25 medium bombers.


      My missions were classified as administrative mis­sions.  We did whatever needed doing, such as hauling sup­plies, VIP’s, etc.


       I landed at Oran about two days after the [Torch] invasion.  We landed at the small, or upper, harbor and had to hike twelve miles to the larger harbor.  We came in by ship convoy from England.

       From Oran, we went by train to Algiers, which took three days.  The small box cars were referred to as “40+8’s,” 40 men or 8 horses.  These cars had been hauling mostly horses.  I stayed at Algiers for four months, and was transferred to Constantine along with a small cadre from my outfit.  Here is when our first airplanes caught up with us.  I was here for about three months, and was sent back to Algiers.  From Algiers, our entire outfit was sent to near Tunis, on Elouina Airfield.


       We had removable racks built in the bomb bay of our planes.  When necessary we put them in and flew wherever something needed [to be delivered].  I have flown back and forth (east and west) across North Africa many times.  My plane flew generals to airfields that had been captured the day before.  There were no guards stationed on the field, so you had to guard your own plane.  We always flew with all gun turrets manned.

       While we were never fired on from an enemy plane, we were fired on from the ground.

       Many times when the bomb squadrons were grounded (due to weather), we had to fly and deliver some item that was needed on the front lines.  I think we were the ones that invented blind flying!




       After my squadron moved to Italy (December, 1943), we were working off of an airfield in Foggia.  That next summer we had a dust storm that originated in North Africa.  It was an experience that none of us had ever gone through.  You could not see over 200 feet.  Even though we all wore gog­gles and respirators, we still got sand in our eyes, ears, and throats.  Everywhere you looked, sand was piled up.  Planes had to be grounded for a few days.  We closed the planes up tight, covered them with canvas or whatever we could find, and just rode out the storm.


      I liked Algiers very much.  While I was there I worked in trans­por­tation as a driver, and covered the town over and over again.  I loved Algiers; it was one of the best cities I have ever been in.

       Constantine was a much older, run‑down appearing town.  It smelled like typical Arab towns smell.  I was happy when we moved on.

       Tunis was quite interesting.  She was somewhere in between Algiers and Constantine.

       There were other small towns nearby and I got out in them quite often.


      Some.  We were told to be on the alert with Arab na­tives.  They liked the Germans very much.


       Some.  They were sympathetic with their homeland, and most of the time we were at war with Italy while we were there.


       Some.  The French people in North Africa recognized us as their allies, but they wanted very little to do with us.  Almost from the beginning, they acted as if they felt that their possessions in North Africa would be taken away after the war.  French soldiers there and our soldiers did not get along very well.


       As I recall, most of our air bases were just one run­way, and [it was] usually not very long.  If the wind was blowing, you tried to take off and land into the wind.  If you had a side wind, the pilot had to allow for side winds.  With [the] heavier planes, you had no problems, but with fighter planes they had real problems.  I’ve seen fighter planes struggle to stay on the runway until they were air­borne.

       One day, I saw an English Spitfire drift off of the runway [upon] take-off, and hit a road grader alongside of the runway.  The driver of the grader saw [the plane] com­ing, and jumped off and ran.  The plane broke up into about five pieces.  The wings came off, the wheels and tail sec­tion went in other directions, and the fuselage [stayed in one piece] with the pilot inside.  I took off after it, and just as I got near it, the hatch flew open and out jumped the pilot.  [He] ran about thirty yards from the plane and passed out.  The plane’s fuselage exploded in flames, and melted down in about thirty seconds.

       By this time, the ambulance arrived and rushed [the pilot] off to the hospital.  The next day, I heard that he left the hospital.

       The living quarters were always far removed from the airfield.  I suppose [this] was for our safety.  The plane lines were always getting strafed or bombed.  My outfit had English bicycles to ride back and forth on.  It was very hard to carry a carton of 50 caliber ammo on the handlebars of those things!


       A.    Sores that would not heal (No)

       B.    Dysentery: You usually didn’t say anything about it.  They would accuse you of faking sick call!

      C.    Jaundice (No)

      D.    Malaria (No)


       I had a very good friend from Missouri.  My being from Kentuck­y, we were always in competition with each other as to which was the better rifle shot.  We were the two best [shots] in our outfit.  We tried time and time again to organize a wild boar hunt, but we could never get a guide.  The Atlas Mountains were pretty rugged, and we were a little afraid of getting lost.  All of the Arabs would have nothing to do with pork or pigs.  They would not go with us.

      There were several young Arab boys that hung around our staging area, and like most kids they were forever getting into our belongings.  All we had to do was tell them [some­thing] was made out of pigskin, and they couldn’t get it out of their hands fast enough!

      My friend Sgt. Frank Pierce from Missouri and I would go along the back roads in the evenings and shoot the huge lizards they have over there.  We would aim under them and throw them up in the air.  It sounds like a big waste of ammo, but we had plenty to use.

       We could not get a boat to go fishing, so no fishing.


      When my outfit first went to Algiers, we had no air­planes, so they grabbed about twenty of our mechanics and put us in the Transportation Department as mechanics and drivers.  This lasted until the planes caught up with us.  We worked and lived in the basement of a seven-story apart­ment building that was owned by Standard Oil Company.

       About the first day, two young Arab boys about eight and nine years old came around with shoe shining kits.  Very shortly, they moved right in.  They stayed day and night.  Of course, the GI’s took them right in.  We called them Pat and Mike.  They ate their meals with us, and somehow they got hold of some fatigue clothes and had them made into their size, and wore them all the time.

       Those kids had more money than we soldiers.  They made a fortune shining shoes.  I asked them one day if their par­ents wouldn’t miss them.  They informed me that they had been away from home for over a year.  They would go home about once each week, just to check in.  They said that they had about twenty brothers and sisters at home, and it was a mess living there.  We called them our mascots (they were brothers or half-brothers, same deal).

       So Pat and Mike quickly learned each of us by name or nickname.  It was surprising how quickly those kids picked up English.  The GI’s taught them all the swear words they could think of.  They would tell the Americans off in Ara­bic, and the Arabs and French in English.  We had a Catholic chaplain (Colonel Walsh) that came around real often, and one day he came in when one of the boys was practicing his profanity on one of the GI’s, and Colonel Walsh hit the ceiling!  After that, when Father Walsh came in, Pat and Mike went out the back door.

       The boys continued to live and work around the garage for about six months.  One day our squadron commander paid us a surprise visit, and Pat and Mike didn’t see him coming in time.  After that, they came in to sleep later at night.

      Two years later, after we had moved on into Italy, I would fly into Algiers occasionally and I would see them on the street.  You would think that I was a long-lost rela­tive, they were so glad to see me.

       They did not care for the German soldiers that occupied North Africa before we came.  They said the Germans were very unfriendly.  I thought that the German soldiers were perhaps in an unfriendly state among the large French-ori­ented population, and did not trust anyone.  We American soldiers did not have quite the same situation.  Most of the citizenry was overjoyed to have us there, although lots of the Arabs liked the Germans and remained loyal to their cause after they were driven out.  Several of the Arabs were caught and convicted by our Intelligence department as spies.


      Yes, we heard stories as to how they would take them away, and no one knew where they took them.  The stories were usually told to us by soldiers that were back from the front lines.  They seemed to think that [the Germans] killed [the Jews] and then cremated them.  My outfit never spent much time near the front lines, so we had no first-hand infor­mation.


      I only remember two French generals, and they were both in Algiers on two occasions.

       General DeGaulle was supposed to be the one most loyal to the Allied cause.  When he came to town, everything closed down.  The French soldiers thought that everyone should get off the street when he came by.  The line of limousines that carried him and his staff would be about half a mile long, led by motorcycles with screaming sirens.  The GI’s would laugh at all this.  We wondered if maybe this wasn’t why the Germans kicked their butts in France.  They spent too much time showing off and not enough fighting.

       General Giraud, he was not supposed to be so receptive to the Allied cause, and was considered the bad guy.


       We were usually invited to arise in the morning by some Gomer from the orderly room announcing that roll call was in five minutes.  After roll call was taken, we had about ten minutes of calisthenics, and after that back to our quarters to make up your bunk and clean up around your bed and then finish dressing.  Breakfast was served after that, and at 7:00 am the truck left for the flight line.  If you had an early flight, the mess hall would serve you any time you could get there, from about 4:00 am on.  The mess hall had someone in it all the time to serve guards and other night-time personnel.

      I was usually in the air by 8:00 am (sometimes sooner), and the flights lasted from four to eight hours.  More than half the time, I didn’t get back to my home [air]field until the next day.  Quite often, I would be gone for a week or more before returning.  And, on occasion, I would be gone for two or three weeks.  I carried my things on the plane with me.

      On a normal day, on the flight line, the truck left for our quarters at 5:00 pm.  After you got back to your quar­ters, you were pretty much on your own.  I liked sports, and usually went off to play baseball or basketball in the evenings.  At night we would go to a local bar and drink vino or whatever they served.  We also had non-com (non-commissioned officers) clubs that served beer (when they had it) and wine.  We never had whisky to serve.  Quite often an officer (pilot) that you flew a lot with would give you a fifth of whiskey, just because he was a nice guy.  You had your favorites to fly with, [and] very often the higher the rank, the better they were.  Our commanding general, General Myers, always liked to fly my plane.  Of course, that makes you someone special!  I kept my plane in tip-top condition; not just for the officers, mostly for my safety.

      We were usually in bed by 11:00 pm, except when you ran into someone you hadn’t seen for a long time.  Then, you stayed until the party was over.  If you were a first three grader (Staff, Technical, or Master Sergeant), you did not have to keep curfew.


       I have heard so many jokes in my lifetime that it is very dif­ficult to place them in certain time periods.  However, I would like to relate a true experience from over there.

       [Many of the soldiers overseas were] married.  Lots of them were not very true to their wives.  This one soldier in our outfit was the exception.  He would always stay around the quarters, never go into town or have any fun.  He always wrote letters to his wife and family, and sent most of his money home in allotments.

       After we had been over there for about a year, he got a Dear John letter.  His wife had met and fell in love with a soldier back in the States, and she was going to have a baby by him.  My friend was des­troyed.  Of course, the wife wanted a divorce.  For days, he moped around trying to regain his sanity.  Finally, one day, he asked me to help him think of some way he could get back at her.  After thinking it over for a few days, I realized that whatever we did or said was not going to change things, so I got a good-sized box and we went around and collected all the photo­graphs of girls, from the fellows, that we could get and put them in the box and wrote a little note that said:

 Dear Marva,

      When I got your letter, I was destroyed.  I don’t know when I’ve had anything hurt me so much.  Of course, we have to go on living, and bury the past and somehow survive.  Now that you are marrying this other guy, you will not want me carrying your picture around.  As it has been some time since I last saw you, a lot has happened and I’ve forgotten what you look like.  So will you please pick out your pic­ture and send the rest back to me?                                Love, Jack


      I must confess that I do not know what a short snorter is made of.  I know it’s a drink.  It is reasonable to assume that I have [had one], though, for I drank all kinds of wines, brandies, and liqueurs.  I don’t mean to sound like a sot, but in the evenings we had little else to do except to go to bars if they were around.


      I answered this question somewhat on a former page, but I will elaborate.  Special Services organized leagues for baseball and basket­ball and such.  In basketball, we had sixteen teams (eight in the American League and eight in the National League).  My outfit was the New York Giants.  We had seven professional players on our team.  Some of the teams had major leagues that we had to play against.  We played a regular schedule.  We got beat in the last game of the play-offs.  In other words, we came in second best.

       There were USO shows quite often.  Lots of times I was away from the [air]field, but I did manage to see several.  Among those were Bob Hope, a touring group putting on plays, a ballet, Martha Raye, the Modelin Chorale, and several others I can’t recall.  There were so many people in the services that we had lots of locals that were profes­sionals, and we did not lack for good entertainment.


       Kilroy was here: When the infantry, field artillery or other front-line troops went through, the first in a town or place would write on the walls of buildings or fences, “Kilroy was here.”  We joked a lot about Kilroy.

       Sad Sack: He was a little, uniformed [cartoon] charac­ter that was in the comic section of Stars and Stripes that supposedly exemplified the goof-offs that did everything wrong, like put air in the gas tank, etc.

       Goldbrick: lazy stiff.


      We got the Stars and Stripes very regularly.  It was a very popular paper with the soldiers.  Most other papers were quite old [by the time we got them], and we had to go to the Red Cross to read them.

      No, we did not have our own [unit] newspaper.


       I was awarded the Air Medal for helping the pilot save our plane.  We were trying to get over the top of a thunder­storm.  They told us at the airfield that there was a thun­derstorm up to 14,000 feet and icing conditions below 14,000 feet.  The only way we could get through was to go around or over.  The pilot and co-pilot decided we would go over.

       We were at 14,000 feet and still climbing, and [there was] still lots of storm above.  The B-25 was a low-altitude bomber, and did not have a super-charger on [the engines].  We had what they called then “inte­rnal blowers.”  [They] had a high-altitude speed and low-altitude speed.  At high altitudes you usually used the high blower.  We had it in high blower, and had the engines revved up as high as we were supposed to run them.  We had crossed the Rubicon: we were committed and could not turn back.

       For some reason (the co-pilot was flying the plane), he threw the steering column ahead and let go of it, and started trying to put on his chute.  The plane went into a power dive right down through the storm, icing and all.  We knew that we were near 12,000-foot mountain peaks.  The pilot and co-pilot had on seat belts, which held them in their seats.  I was walking around in the cockpit, so the first thing that happened to me was I went flying all over the cockpit.  I bumped my head against the ceiling of the plane, hit the side, and hurt my arm.  Finally I got hold of things and crawled back to the front and started trying to help the pilot get things under control.  The co-pilot panicked and [completely] lost control of himself.  I learned later that he had flown fifty bombing missions and was taken off of flying status because of an extreme nervous condi­tion.

       At first I was hesitant to touch things, because the of­ficers didn’t like enlisted men touching the controls.  I realized the co-pilot was no help, and I had flown hours and hours with the pilot, [so] I started right in doing every­thing I could to help.  We were [completely] out of control for around 12,000 feet.  The pilot kept yelling to me to do this and that, and completely ignored the co-pilot.  The cockpit was in total darkness except for the luminous dials.  Final­ly, one of us got the cockpit light on and we were able to see.

       A dive like that upsets the compass and all of the flight instru­ments, so we had no idea where we were.  We knew that our original plans had us flying right along the coast.  The pilot decided to fly straight west, which we hoped would put us over the Mediterranean Sea.  When we were certain that we had gone west far enough to be over water (we were flying in fog all this time), we headed straight north toward our destination.  When the fog cleared, we found that we were flying parallel to about an 8,000-foot mountain range!  The pilot pointed at the mountains and kinda wiped his brow and smiled.  That assured me that we were out of trouble.

       The pilot (Captain Bevis) was our squadron flight officer, and he had an office in the tents that made up our flight section.  In about two days, he called me in and invited me to sit down (most officers made you stand at attention).  He told me that he was certain that without my help, he would have never pulled the plane out of the dive.  He said that, at first, he did not know whether we were upside down, climbing, diving, or just falling (the pilot [had been] looking at a map when this all started).  He finally [noticed] the pressure of the seat-belt on his body, and knew that we were diving almost straight down.  It was because of his recommendation that I was awarded the Air Medal.

      Other than campaign ribbons, I don’t believe that my outfit was awarded any special citations.


      Ernie Pyle was around our area quite often, but I never saw him.  My outfit transported dignitaries almost every day.  We, as flight attendants (Aerial Engineers), were usually thought of as a part of the airplane, like the wings or wheels.  We never had direct contact with our passengers.  Often, some general or colonel would come up and introduce themselves, and act like real good guys.


      No, I don’t remember seeing any dogs at all, in the military.  I know they had them, though, and they served a useful service.


      I would say that two weeks was the length of time the dust storm lasted.  I remember getting mighty tired of wearing those dust respira­tors.

      As to damage to equipment, there were some carburetors on planes that had to be changed, and also a lot of small engines that were stationary were damaged.  I think the greatest inconvenience was breathing problems.  The men did not like wearing these dust masks.  As I said before, most plane engines were covered except when they were in flight.


            When we arrived at the second harbor at Oran [just after Operation Torch], at the railroad yards there were several boxcars of German prisoners.  The boxcars were like cattle cars, boards with space between them.  While we were waiting for our train, we were allowed to go over and talk to [the German prisoners].  One of our soldiers spoke German, so he would relate to us what they would say.

            These prisoners were waiting to catch a boat back to the U.S.  [Editor’s note: Many Afrika Korps prisoners were interred in Michigan, and most chose to stay after the war ended.]  Our interpreter would ask questions like what they thought about their being sent back to the United States?  They would hardly talk to him.  After several questions, one of them finally said, “Don’t worry, we will be back before this war is over.”

            You got the feeling that they were thoroughly convinced that their cause was right, and that they would ultimately win out.  I remember some of our soldiers remarking about how cocky they [the Germans] were.  I also noticed how confident they were.  They were thoroughly convinced that their cause was just.  I remember thinking to myself that this was going to be a long war!

            We American soldiers were VERY handicapped by our inability to speak other languages.  Had we been able to converse with Germans, French or Italians we would have been much better informed.  In fact, the Russian soldiers could not believe that we would fight an enemy when we could not or would not learn to speak their language.

            As far as the Italians [were concerned], I don’t see what they were doing in this war allied with the Germans in the first place.  Their heart was not in fighting.  They would surrender just as quickly as they could when [they] encountered [Allied soldiers].  The Germans could not trust them in the least.  It was a big joke among American soldiers, about how you didn’t have to waste ammo on Italians.  All you had to do was yell real loud!  Yet, on the other hand, the Italian-Americans were excellent soldiers.


            The invasion of North Africa was threefold, in my opinion.  First, the Russians were screaming at the Allies to invade the mainland of Europe to take the pressure off of them.  The Germans were knocking on the door of the heart of their country [Russia], threatening to wipe them off the map.

            Secondly, England [Great Britain] was being driven back almost to Cairo in the desert by General Rommel’s army, perhaps the best army in all history.

            Third, Great Britain, especially England, had become [so built up with] Allied troops and equipment that they were afraid they were going to sink the island!  I was in London for about three months before the invasion of North Africa.  The streets were filled with army trucks, Jeeps, you name it.  The German Air force was bombing England constantly.  So the Allies had to get these soldiers [into] battle.  Germany was expecting an invasion somewhere in western Europe, so their vast armies were frozen in this area, not daring to move.  So you had hundreds of thousands of German soldiers and their equipment tied up, not firing a shot.

            So the [action which would be] most threatening to the Germans was to invade along the northern coast of North Africa with a quick move across to the east [Tunisia], thereby trapping Rommel’s army over in Egypt and perhaps capture or destroy them.  Rommel, being the great general that he was, saw this and immediately began his retreat.  I’m certain that General Rommel knew that in the beginning, the U.S. forces were green and inexperienced and posed no serious threat to his vast, experienced army.  He was also smart enough to know that his first encounter with them [U.S. soldiers] had to be devastating for him and his great army. 

            So, enter United States infantry and armored divisions at Kasserine Pass.  Being outnumbered, with inferior equipment and no experience in combat, for three days the U.S. Army retreated westward [in front of] the onrushing German army.  Losses in men and equipment were tremendous.  The German tanks, airplanes, and field artillery guns were far superior to ours.

            This retreat lasted for about a week, until new troops and equipment were rushed up.  We regrouped and [counter] attacked.  By using the knowledge gained in the first encounters, the armored divisions and infantry, with the help of the Air Force, not only stopped them but drove them back.  I for one can’t seem to realize just how these young, cocky Americans pulled it off!

            The courage demonstrated by our troops caused Rommel to get a new respect for U.S. troops.  From then on, you could tell the progress of the war by the number of prisoners that came back each day.  First there were a few hundred, then a few thousand, gradually it got into the thousands per day.  I remember one day when I was at Constantine airfield, they marched prisoners by for about three hours.  The roads were filled with them.  They said that they numbered 25,000 [men].  I took their word for it; I didn’t count [them].

            My opinion of General Rommel is that he was one of the great ones, if not the greatest.  He was a military genius [who no doubt] was restricted in his duties by the authority of a madman over him.  The German armies were assigned an impossible task; they were spread all over Europe and Africa and their supply lines were too long.  Even with their vast preparation and years of field build-up, the territory was too much to occupy and hold.


            When we first got over to England, all you heard about was how great General Montgomery was.  The English thought he was the greatest general in the war.  Of course, that was understandable.  The British had only one army in combat at that time, and they needed a hero to hold on to and look up to.  Although his track record was bad, the German army had them [the British] pushed almost back to Cairo.  I don’t think the British armies were any match for the German Army.

            The stories we heard was that the British were set in military strategy; they would not try anything new.  The British officers were arrogant and stuffy.  They thought they were little gods.  The British enlisted men were dirt to them.  The British officers were always trying to cut us Americans down.  We kinda hated them.  The Canadian soldiers didn’t get along with them.  The U.S. soldiers and the Canadians got along good.

            My personal opinion of General Montgomery, forty years later, is that he and all his other high-ranking officers were highly inadequate, poorly trained, just like they belonged to some fancy country club.  They had no guts.  The American Third Armored Division made him the hero that [he became known as].

            After the African campaign was over and we moved on into Italy and other troops went back to England, General Monty went to England.  He thought that he would be the Supreme Allied Commander, but the Americans would have none of that!  Of course we knew that General Eisenhower was chosen for that position.  I heard that General Montgomery’s career was almost destroyed over that.

            My plane was assigned to fly over to Cairo and bring back some classified documents for the British army.  I was stationed at Foggia, Italy at that time.  We had to land at the island of Malta and pick up something, and take [it] along.  Malta was an experience [in] itself because of its position before the invasion of North Africa.  All of their supplies HAD to be flown in.  It was impossible for the British to get ships in and out.  German submarines and planes were too deadly.  Anyway, the buildings were all underground.  Somehow they were able to survive until the Allies rescued them.

            When we took off from Malta, we had taken on some passengers.  Among the passengers was an Australian colonel that had been with the British Eighth Army through all the African campaign.  He had been away from home for several years, and was very happy to be heading back home.  After we got in the air and I had all my duties done, he and I struck up a conversation.  He was one of the nicest officers that I met in the service.

            We landed at Benghazi in northern Libya, had lunch, refueled and took on the Sahara desert.  The colonel and I conversed the entire flight across the desert.  He really gave me an education on the desert war.  The wrecked and destroyed trucks, tanks, planes, and field artillery pieces were strewn throughout the entire desert.  The colonel had participated in each of these battles.

            About two hours out we came onto what appeared to [be] a salvage dump.  [The colonel] went into his history lesson with such enthusiasm that it was as if he was fighting the battle all over again.  This was [the site of] one of the most famous battles of the entire desert war, Hell-fire [Halfaya] Pass.  The British were trying to [block] German efforts to take [the] ground that was the last stronghold [before] Cairo.  The German Army were advancing and seemingly the British could not halt them.  After they had gone unchecked for several days, the British snuck around at night and destroyed their water lines.  As the Germans advanced, they laid water lines for drinking and cooking, etc.  Without water, they were forced to halt and finally retreat.  Water, or lack of it, turned the tide of battle at Hell-fire Pass!

            About three and a half hours out, we spotted what appeared in the distance [to be] a dark line across a white sheet of paper.  As we drew nearer, the dark line became trees and vegetation along the Nile River.  The vegetation [extended] about two or three miles on each side of the river, and then desert took over again.  We flew right over the Sphinx and the pyramids at about 100 feet.  What a thrill for a country boy that had only read about such things!  We had three great days in and around Cairo before heading back to Italy and the war.  We landed and I thanked the good colonel [pun intended] and said our goodbyes, and I realized how much better I was for having known him.


            I had the good fortune to be working off the same airfield that General Eisenhower’s plane was kept on.  In fact, his radio operator was a friend of mine.  We saw Ike almost every day.  He was a kind and caring man, and always had time to converse with ordinary soldiers.  I heard many, many stories about Eisenhower.  I’m sure that we Americans believed, or wanted to believe, the better ones!  One story that got around real quick was that the WAC that drove his Jeep was his mistress.  I guess this was brought out to be true in the book about him after the war.

            After a few months’ tour of duty in North Africa, Ike went back to England to become Supreme Allied Commander, [and] as such he distinguished himself.  I have heard it said that General Ike was an organizer.  He knew how to surround himself with very competent people, and let them carry out his work.  Obviously it worked!  We won the war and Eisenhower became President of the U.S.

            My personal opinion of General Eisenhower was, and is, that he was a caring and sincere and dedicated person, patient in his endeavors, and a perfect choice to head up the Allied armies.  He could be tough when he had to, but preferred to be tolerant and patient.  He had his work cut out for himself in trying to deal with the English and French and others!  I don’t think that he dealt too intelligently with the dividing up of Germany with the Russians after the war.  I’m sure that he [didn’t have] the final say on that; the American government [did].

            From the things I’ve read, Eisenhower was deeply touched by the many deaths and injuries attached to war, and wanted [to] avoid losses whenever he could.


            The stories we all heard about Patton would fill large volumes, and I would not question any of them!  I think that Patton [was] capable of any or all of them.  He was ambitious, arrogant, bull-headed.  He would have burned his mother at the stake if that was the only way to get a light for his cigar.  Unfortunately, these are the exact qualities great generals are made of.  He didn’t mind spilling guts as long as they were someone else’s, and not his.  I hear that his men hated him with a passion, but would die for him, and a lot did.  His quest to attain greatness for himself was greater than life itself.  He wanted to be written about in history, stronger and longer than any general that ever engaged in war.

            I’ve heard that he was a little bit nutty.  He heard noises and had visions about wars written about years ago.  He actually believed that he had lived and fought wars as a general before [in previous lives].

            I heard one story about this battle that [he] engaged in, [in] which the tank and truck convoys were so confused [about] the directions they were supposed to go that they stalled right down in the mud and confusion.  He came riding up in his Jeep, jumped out, pushed the military police aside, and started directing traffic himself!  He was standing in mud up to his knees, but after about an hour and a half he unsnarled the confusion and got [all the vehicles] headed in the proper direction.

            I was stationed at Boweman Field in Louisville, Kentucky while General Patton was forming the Third Armored Division at Fort Knox, which is thirty miles away.  We heard rumors about this eccentric general in charge [General Patton].  He treated his solders like dirt, as if they were all morons.  My personal thought was that although he was a little nuts, he had great leading ability.

            They have a fine museum at Fort Knox about General Patton and the Third Armored Division.  I’ve been there and it’s very nice.


            The German Army was the best trained army in all history.  They had been preparing and training for fifteen or more years before World War Two started.  Hitler would not have been so aggressive had he not believed that he had the best trained army in the world.  In fact, Axis Sally, the American woman that broadcast on German radio, always told us how much better the German Army was trained and equipped than the Allies [were], and that we could not compete with them.  but, [it’s] like according to the laws of aerial dynamics: a bumblebee’s wing span is too short for the size of his body, so therefore he should not be able to fly.  The bumblebee, being ignorant of that fact, went ahead and flew anyway!  The American soldiers are the bravest in the world; they don’t look at the odds.

            The German Air Force had in the beginning [planes which were] far superior [to Allied planes].  Their fighter planes were very superior to ours and England’s.  They were more maneuverable, and had armor plating on them.  Our planes had great difficulty shooting them down.  [If you shot] directly at them, you would hit the armor plating and [the bullets would] bounce off.  You had to attack them from directly above or directly below.  But the good old GI’s paid attention and learned.  (I guess you’ve gathered by now that I’m a proponent of the American soldier!)

            The German soldiers were good soldiers; they were trained to perfection and very well equipped.  They believed in their mission and were ready to fight and die for it.  I was in the hospital in Italy when they brought in a German soldier.  He was captured while fighting General Mark Clark’s Fifth U.S. Army up in northeastern Italy.  This prisoner spoke English, so he told us of the hell that they were going through up there.

            He said that they could compete with the infantry and they could tolerate the Air Force, but the field artillery was awful.  He told of how the German soldiers would go crazy when the field artillery started firing.  They would fire a pattern, a box pattern.  They would locate the enemy, then they would shoot one shot over and one shot under, and one to the right and one to the left.  And then the next shot was right in the middle.  The psychological effect, knowing they had you boxed in, would drive [the Germans] crazy.


            The Italian Army was kinda a laugh.  They would look for American soldiers so they could surrender to them and get sent back to the United States as prisoners of war.  They did not want to be captured by the British, [because] their prisoner-of-war camps were no good.  They had poorer food, and they had to work too hard.  A great share of our Italian prisoners worked in our mess halls serving food, etc. They were really friendly and would say, “Hiya.”

            I don’t believe that I ever saw an Italian plane flying or that was able to fly.  I saw lots of them destroyed on the ground.  The Italians capitulated very early in the North African campaign.  My good friend Sergeant Frank Pierce’s plane flew the contingent of American officers to Italy to sign the surrender papers.  I understand that the Germans were real bitter at the Italians, and treated them pretty poorly for signing a separate peace treaty.  Our first encounter with the German Army in Italy was near Foggia.  The Germans retreated pretty fast until they got up around, or south of, Florence, Italy.  I was at Florence when the war was over.


            The British Army acted as if they were the ones that discovered war and warfare.  What they didn’t know about fighting wars was not worth knowing.  The British and Americans were constantly disagreeing over everything.  In other words, we did not get along too well!

            The Supreme Commanders were smart enough to keep [their respective soldiers] apart from each other.  For example, in Italy, the American infantry went up the east side of Italy and the English went up the west side.  The Americans liked the Canadians.  The Canadians usually had their own outfits, separate from the English.  I talked and visited with lots of English soldiers, and we got along fine.

      The English Air Force had several good [kinds of] planes.  For example, the English Spitfire fighter plane was a good fighter plane.  It had a lot of firepower and was very maneuverable, but it could only stay in the air for about an hour at a time because of its limited fuel supply.  The pilot had to keep constant watch so as not to run out of fuel and fall out of the sky!

            Let me explain my use of the words “English” and “British.”  The Americans got along well with the Irish, the Scotch and Welsh, the Australians, New Zealanders, the Canadians, and Indians.  It was the English that we had problems with!

 37.   IF YOU GOT TO KNOW MEN FROM ANY OF THE FOLLOWING GROUPS (MOSTLY COMMONWEALTH TROOPS AND NORTH AFRICAN NATIVE TROOPS) PLEASE DESCRIBE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THESE MEN: English, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Sikhs, Zulus, Rajputs, Maoris; Zouaves, Goumier (Goums), Chasseurs d’Afrique, Spahis, Gaffirs; Polish nationals.

            When we went to England in September, 1942 I was stationed in London for about two and a half months.  On the streets of London you saw every kind of soldier that made up the Allies.  You had the Polish, French (Free French), Indians, all of the African tribes, and all the others that came there to join the cause.  I’ve never seen such a gathering of different uniforms in all my life!  The English had to clothe, feed, and house them in order to have their help later on.

            I never got to know [some of] these people because of the language barriers.  They would nod and smile, or wave their hand, but I was only able to recognize very few of the uniforms.  In other words, England had a very difficult time coping with this mess, and their citizens were unhappy about it.  They were glad to have us there, but they were put out by it.  And, too, the English citizenry were bitter that they had so many British soldiers fighting in Egypt when they were so threatened at home by invasions, bombings, etc.  I think they had a right to [feel] put out, in a sense.

            I knew several soldiers from India, [and] I liked them.  I also knew lots of Canadians, and they were our favorites.  [I met] some [soldiers from] Australia; they were nice.  Also New Zealand.

            In Tunis, we had some black troops that guarded the airfields.  They walked between the planes at night, and nobody went near these planes unless you had a bona fide excuse!  We had one thing going for us: they liked American cigarettes and learned real quick that they could get cigarettes from us.  They called these troops Senegalese.


      I wish to add [the following] expose, because I feel very strongly about this man:

      Ever since my first joining the Air Force back on October 2, 1940 I heard of Doolittle.  He and the Air Force were synonymous.  I had been in the service for two years when finally I saw him for the first time.  He was head of the Air Force in North Africa.  I first saw him riding in a staff car, and I wasn’t too impressed.  He looked like a thousand other officers that I had seen.

      Later on, I was assigned as courier between the G2 section [Intelligence section] and General Doolittle’s headquarters.  I had a Jeep and an Army .45 strapped to my leg, with a briefcase locked around my wrist with instructions not to surrender this briefcase to no one “until I had given my last full measure of devotion.”  I had to go into General Doolittle’s office.  He or his aide would unlock the lock and take the briefcase, and give me a new one to go back to headquarters.

      The information I was delivering was the targets our bombers would be bombing the next day.  I would take the pictures the photo [reconnaissance] planes took to General Doolittle’s office, and he and his staff would select the next day’s target.  Anyway, a very important job, ahem!

      Out of all the officers or enlisted men in the service, there were none that worked harder than this man [General Doolittle].  Whatever good the Air Force achieved in the war, he was the biggest cause of it.  He was a workaholic.  I think that he worked twenty out of every twenty-four hours.  he was constantly trying to improve [things] and make things safer for his men, and [to make] the missions more effective.  If the bombers went out one day and got shot up, the next day he would be flying one of the bombers.  He was constantly having meetings with the pilots on how best to approach the targets and drop their bombs, and leave without taking the [slightest] risk.

      I saw or flew with perhaps twenty or more generals, and among them he was my favorite.  He was everything they said he was.  I saw him as the man with the most nerve in the war.


Excerpts from a letter dated September 10. 1986.

      …The General Doolittle that I remember was a small man in stature, standing tall as a giant.  He would take time out of his busy schedule, about 9:00 pm, to take a walk along the beach, then right back to his work until about midnight.  He drove Security crazy, because he would not allow a guard to go along with him.  They would try to sneak along without him seeing them, but he would catch them and chew them out properly.  The other generals would not get out of the house without four or five bodyguards.

      He would also arise before daybreak and go and sit in on bomber squad briefing sessions.  And if someone would happen to be sick, he would fly the mission in their place.  A lot of the young pilots would be embarrassed to have the general flying as their co-pilot!  They said that he would not say a word about their flying until they messed up, and then he would come down hard.  At the end of the mission, he would thank the pilot and crew for letting him fly with them.

      Fighter pilots got very accustomed to his wrath when they took unnecessary chances.  I got the feeling that he really felt personally responsible for each one’s welfare.  The little, wizened man you saw in the show [a television special] is just the well-used container that the real General Doolittle came in.

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                                    FRED A. THOMAS


                                            AUGUST, 1986

       This is former Technical Sergeant Fred A. Thomas, Head­quarters and Headquarters Squadron, Twelfth Air Force.  I would like to give a little background on my military preparation leading up to serving overseas in North Africa and Italy.

      I joined the Air Force on October 2, 1940, and went directly to Tech­nical School.  After basic training, I was assigned to the Fifth School Squadron and enrolled in a course in airplane and engine mechanics.  The course usually took sixteen weeks, but due to quarantines for scarlet fever, KP, and such, our squadron took twenty weeks to complete [it].  About two weeks prior to the finish of the course, they gave us the chance to select two favorite airfields to be stationed at after we completed the course.  I selected as my number one choice Hickham Field in Honolulu, Hawaii.  My number two choice was Boweman Field in Louisville, Kentucky.  I missed my first choice by one person; they filled the quota with the man just ahead of me.

      On December 7, 1941, I was very glad that I had missed my first choice!  I was shipped out to Boweman Field with a fifteen-day delay en route, which I spent at my home.  On June 1, 1941, I reported to Boweman Field at Louisville, Kentucky.  At Louisville, I worked on airplanes, read technical orders, and did the required things that would get us ready to participate in our role.  However, equipment was very scarce because at this particular time the United States was not very [well] supplied with the equipment [needed] to fight a war; this had yet to be manu­factured.

       After spending the whole summer in Louisville, which was very good service (in fact, right downtown in Louisville)…  We did work on the lines, and during all the cold weather and everything else we were out working on the airplanes.  On December 8 of 1941, I was sent back to Chanute Field to take a course in Instrument Specialist in airplane mechanics.  I spent three months completing this course at Chanute, and came back to Louisville to find out that my squadron had moved south to New Orleans, Louisiana; the intentions being at this time for us to ship out to the Pacific theater of operations.  However, there was a change in plans, and we were reassigned and became the Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron of the Twelfth Air Force.

       At this time, the military was anxious to get anything that they could in the way of officers that were qualified for duty.  They took people from Reserves and such; and we had as our squadron commander an old gentleman (who was about fifty-five years old at this time) that had been a First Sergeant in World War I, and he came back as an officer, a captain, and was as­signed to our squad­ron.  I will have a little bit more to say about this and him later on in this recording.

       We spent approximately five to six months flying Gulf patrol over the Gulf of Mexico.  After quite some time we were sent to Bolling Field at Washington D.C.  We stayed at Bolling for about three months, getting supplied and prepared for overseas duty, and then we were moved up to Fort Dix, New Jersey and stayed there for about another month and a half or two months for our fighter prepara­tion to go overseas.

       Now on September 5, 1942, we had been on a train to the New York Harbor and [we were] loaded on this big ship, which turned out to be the Queen Mary!  So we headed for overseas on the fifth of September, 1942.  On the way out of the New York Harbor, we saw the Statue of Liberty, and I’m quite certain that it is a much better sight-seeing it on your way in!  However, I did not get this privilege because I was shipped back [to the U.S. through] Virginia.

       But a little bit about the trip over.  I’d never been on a large boat or ship before.  The largest thing I’d ever ridden in before on water was approximately a sixteen‑foot fishing boat.  But the Queen Mary landed at the Atlantic or wherever she went, unescorted, alone.  And about every nine minutes, she changed a ninety‑­degree course.  So we swung away up north, but when she would turn this ninety‑degree course, all our equipment was lying on tables, and it all come off onto the floor; we’d have to pick it up until we finally found some way to secure it.  After about a couple days out it got very cold, and someone said that we had swung away up north so that we could avoid the German submarines that were out in the Atlantic Ocean, laying in wait for such ships.  But they say that the changing of the course every nine minutes threw the submarines off; they can’t line up their sights, it takes them more than nine minutes; so that was the purpose of changing the course.

      But anyway, after about five days (September 11, 1942), we landed in Greenock, Scotland and docked on the Clyde River.  Smaller boats (something like a summertime pleasure boat which you would see out on Lake Michigan or out at the Straits of Mackinaw), several of them, unloaded the [tremendous number of] troops off of this ship.  Someone stated that there were twenty thousand soldiers on this voyage.  I’m not certain.

     They took us off in Greenock, put us on a train, and we headed down south toward England.  About a day and a half or two days later, we landed down near the Channel port of a little place called Ipswich and Stowmarket.  On the first night there, the Germans started bombing.  For us, just fresh out of the States, this was kind of upsetting.  But after two weeks of constant bombing every night (it was only night raids), they finally decided that they could not keep [that airfield] open, so they moved us into London.

       We were moved into an old factory building in a place called _________ Gardens.  Duty in London at this time was very nice, because there was a lot of places to go at night, dance places and movies and so forth.  And a lot of the boys had read about places in London like Picadilly and Leicester Square, and all of those.  We spent the first few weeks of our time visiting these places, and this was quite a treat, quite an experience.  Plus another nice thing about it, London was being bombed many, many times every night.  We’d run on this elevator, or “tube,” as they call it in London; which was about ninety percent underground, so this was a very safe place to be.  And we were quite comfortable riding on this.  However, we did go to movies down in Picadilly and all those things and took our chances.  Of course, there could be a bomb raid going on in some part of London most any time, because it was just unbelievable.  If you weren’t there, you wouldn’t even know what was going on, maybe.  But the sirens sounding, then the All Clear and then maybe five, ten minutes later another siren, and then after maybe an hour or two an All Clear.  This kept up all the time.  [For] a person who had just come out of a nice easy life back in the States, well, this took a little bit of getting used to!

       But after about three months there…  In fact, it was on November 10, 1942; we left at night on the train and went to our port of debarkation, it was Liverpool.  And we got on this ship, it was called the U.S.S. Andes.  Now, this was a Brazilian ship, because during the war the United States rented and leased (or however they could get) boats to serve their purpose.  They rented them, and this [boat] was rented from Brazil, and it was renamed the U.S.S. Andes.  It was quite a large ship, about three hundred and fifty feet or so, but nothing compared to the Queen Mary, because that was just unbelievable, the size of her.

       Anyway, we went out into the Atlantic Ocean and ran around out there for quite a few days.  And we found out later that what was happening was, they were making up these convoys from England and also from the United States, and they would leave and join together out there in front of these large convoys.  The particular convoy that I was in, which went into the Mediterranean Sea, was about forty‑some ships.  However, once we went through the Straits of Gibraltar, we could see land on each side; Spain on the one side and North Africa on the other.  In only a short distance, maybe a three or four‑hour journey, we broke off from these ships and then went on our own.  We were later to find out, of course, that there were hundreds of other ships that had gone on ahead of us and that we were doing a flanking action going on around and cut off down toward Algiers, Phillipeville, Bone, and all those places.

      At any rate, the twenty‑first of November, 1942 we landed at Oran.  We landed there in the late afternoon.  The sun was shining nice and beautiful, real warm.  So we spent the night on the dock there; some even stayed on the ship.  But early the next morning, we took off and walked across a large mountain or hill, like, over to a place called the Upper Harbor in Oran.  When we got over there, we found several ships, where there was only one or two in this little harbor that we went in.  Anyway, when we got over there we ran into all kinds of American soldiers and the Free French, who were prevalent also.  But we ran into very little resistance from the Germans, or from the French that were sympathizers, or the North Africans that sympathized with the Germans.

      While we were in this train station waiting to find out where we were gonna go, an Arab came up and did something. I don’t know exactly what he did, but one of these French officers took like what our policemen call a night­stick, and he started beating on this guy right over the head, right down through the face.  And, gee, it was upsetting to see all this go on.  But we found out later that the French were very domineering to the Arabs.  And maybe that does explain some of the problems that they’ve been having over the years since World War II.  In fact, France is no longer in North Africa, as you know.

       My outfit was put on GI trucks, and we went out about five or six miles out of the harbor, to an airfield.  Well, of course the airfield was abandoned until we got there, but there were several other outfits that moved on the airstrip along with us.  The first night that we were in this field, the two guards that were assigned on the front gate got their throats slit.  Well, we heard later that what had happened is when the invasion of North Africa came, [these Arabs shot and killed] the American paratroopers that were dropped there around Oran, and took their parachutes to make their wives dresses out of.  And so the GI’s took a very, very bad view of this.  So, consequently, when an Arab did anything that he wasn’t supposed to do, they [the GI’s] were very free to shoot them.  Well, the Arabs were so worked up over this treat­ment, that they thought they would get their revenge by slipping around at night and killing as many [Americans] as they could.

      Well, I was grabbed up from my outfit and made Sergeant of the Guard, and I had to walk guard [duty] around this airfield.  And these nights in North Africa have a great big moon, just almost as bright as day, except in the shade of trees and buildings and so forth.  So they assigned me as Sergeant of the Guard, and put people under me who walked four‑hour shifts.  And I had to walk with another person; we walked in two’s.  And they gave us specific instructions to not cut corners close on buildings or go near a tree that had a shadow that someone could be hiding behind.  I had a Thompson submachine gun, and I had the safety off with my finger on the trigger, carrying it up in my arms ready for firing.  So this kept up for about two or three weeks until this all settled down.  Finally, I guess the Arabs were appeased and they made some concessions of some sort and got their bad attitude straightened out somewhat.

       But anyway, we stayed on this airfield, just marking time more or less, because there were so many troops that they didn’t know quite what to do with them.  So, after about two weeks on the field we were put on a train and we were shipped (for about three days and nights) on this train and we finally ended up in Algiers.  So, when we got to Algiers we found that most of the troops had by­passed Algiers…

      Algiers is just a beautiful town on the side of a hill.  The description that I would give of it, it was much like Pearl Harbor, I would imagine.  It’s like a horseshoe with a great big dock, and lots and lots of shipping.  And the city is spread out right up on this steep hill all around the harbor.  Well, the service here was terrific because we were the first Americans in there.  There were some English that came in at the same time and several French, but we were kind of “new,” so we must have been kind of novel for them.

      But anyway, the duty here was very easy, the people were very friendly, and we were stationed in a Standard Oil Company headquarters building, that’s where our outfit ended up.  They set up offices and so forth, they took over this building.  And right across the street was the Standard Oil garage.  So we took the basement of the garage and started doing mechanic’s work, and we had staff cars and jeeps and all the different vehicles that was required.  And they grabbed some (supposedly) airplane mechanics and made them start doing automobile mechanic’s work, or whatever needed to be done, that’s what we had to do.

      First, I was a mechanic.  And after I’d done this for several weeks, I finally was “promoted,” I suppose, to driving a staff car.  Well anyway, we had so many high‑ranking officers, generals and so forth around there, that these staff cars [were quite in demand].  They went out and rented, leased, bought, whatever they could, every available car in North Africa; French­‑made, Ger­man‑made, Ameri­can‑made, or whatever.  So we got quite a bunch of automo­biles of different kinds.  Everyone that had had some driving experience was assigned a staff car to drive, and then you’d be dispatched almost like a taxi service to haul these people wherever they wanted to go, and we’d pick them up and wait for them, and whatever.

      And this kept up for maybe three or four months, something like that.  Finally I was assigned to a jeep, and also assigned to the G2 section, which was the Intelligence section in the Headquarters building.  And this consisted of taking very important papers, that was carried in a briefcase, to the Allied Headquarters, which was in a great big villa up on the side of a mountain up in the town of Algiers.  And at this particular time, General James Doolittle was the commanding officer of Allied Headquarters.  And my duties were to take these papers from the G2 section to his office, leave them there until he had a chance to look them over or what­ever he did with them, or his staff; and then later on in the day go back and pick them up and take them back to the G2 section.  Well, as it turned out, most of the stuff was the photos from the reconnaissance planes that showed what potential targets would be bombed by the bomber squadron that was stationed around.

       Algiers became the shipping center for all of the Army supplies coming in to North Africa because of its fabulous harbor, so consequently it was loaded constantly with large ships.  Of course, the German photo planes picked this up every day; they knew what was going on, so it became as heavily bombed at night, only at night, as was London for quite some time.  You could expect an air raid almost every night.  They sunk a lot of ships, but we also got a lot through.  And then the ships were singled out and sent on around the coast to other ports, around Phillipeville and Bone, and in this area, to get the tanks and so forth out to the people that needed them over there.

       But the defense of the harbor was anti-aircraft guns, and at night just after dark, almost every night, they would start the bombing raids, and then the anti-aircraft would start firing, and every third or fourth [bullet] would be a tracer, so it was just like Fourth of July fireworks.  And it became quite spectacular.  The people (the Arabs, and also the French) would all congregate in some fairly safe place [so] that they could watch this going on.  And also, to keep these bombers from flying in low and every­thing, they had these barrage balloons that floated up over the harbor at approximately a thousand feet or so.

       Every night when they would start the firing of the anti-aircraft guns when the bombers [came] over, the barrage balloons (a great share of them) would get hit and shot down, and they would burn.  And the Arabs and a lot of the French thought these were German aircraft that were being shot down, so they thought that the war would be over pretty quickly, because the way that the Americans were destroying these German aircraft was spectacular!  We used to laugh about that quite a bit.  But also, the bombing missions became very unnerving to the Arabs, because they panicked quite often.  A lot of them would leave town, get out of town; or if they had a bomb hit nearby or hit an apartment building or killed a bunch of people, they would just start moving and they would just move until the military [got con­trol of] the people.  And they were plenty alarmed by all this, which was only natural.  I guess after so long we had become accustomed to it and it didn’t bother us quite that much, but they were certainly shook up about this.

       Anyway, duty went on real nice, real good, and a few things began to catch up.  We begin to get a few planes.  So our cadre or detachment of our outfit was assigned to a place on the east around the coast in North Africa, to a place…  Well, it’s not quite exactly on the coast but it’s nearby, called Constantine.  We sent a portion of our headquarters to be set up in advance, so they set up and functioned there.  So it required planes to take the messages and stuff and things that needed to be transported back and one to the other or any other place in North Africa.  So we got a few planes, and we sent approximately eight or ten mechanics out and set up this group.  And this was getting over close to the edge of the desert, and very warm weather.  And we were stationed there for quite some time.  Then I was sent back to Algiers.

       The second time back in Algiers only lasted about three months or so.  But anyway, the second time back it was completely a dif­ferent place.  By this time, all the various troops of the different nations had come into Algiers, set up their headquarters, and started functioning there and doing their different things that they did in the war.  And I did not enjoy Algiers near as much as I did before.  It was still a nice place, but not near as nice as it was the first time.

       So we stayed around there for quite some time, and I did different jobs like, again, driving a jeep and whatever needed to be done.  But mainly the reason I was sent back [was], we formed a baseball team, and I was sent back to play on the baseball team.  I resented having to go back, but my line officer insisted that I go because of this major that we had who was running like a ______.  Major Clendennin was his name, the old gentleman that was assigned that I said you would hear about later.  He ran this outfit kind of like the Boy Scouts, and he was almost an impossible person.  I don’t think that I’ve ever seen anybody that I detested more than this man.  And I did the day I left the outfit to come home.

       But anyway, I again was assigned back to work with the Intelligence section and drive a jeep.  So we had a place, the airfield out at Maison Blanc it was called, out of Algiers; it was quite a large outfit.  But between there… about halfway out, was a place called Maison Caree (sp?).  So they set up a headquarters building out there, and I’d drive an officer out there, and they would take the necessary stuff that they had in, and I would wait for them.

      One day while I was waiting there, I heard the greatest explosion that I’d ever heard before.  Well, what it was, was [that] about a mile away in the little town of Maison Caree was a supply train that had come in and stopped in this train station.  And while it was in this train station, some saboteur had blown it up, and it was loaded with bombs and ammunition and everything else.  And the explosion had set off a chain reaction.  The first explosion was terrifically large, but then they had the smaller, constant explosions that lasted probably thirty minutes; and it killed lots and lots of people, I don’t know exactly how many.  But the Arabs again started hitting the streets, and there must have been a hundred thousand of them that was trying to get out of that place.

      I’ll say some more about Algiers, because this was one of my favorite places to be stationed while I was overseas, and so much went on there that it’s hard to remember it all. But anyway, [I do remember] a few of the things that went on.  At this particular time, the shipping had stepped up so that all the ships that came into the harbor at Algiers were too numerous to count.  There were just fleets every day, and they were bringing in supplies that would be [sorted] out and shipped in individual shipments on down the coast, or else by truck convoys to be hauled over to the infantry and to the various units of the army that needed the supplies over around Phillipeville and Bone and in that area where they were fighting.

       Well, this brought about a great effort by the Germans off in Corsica and Sicily to bomb, and all of their bombing missions were at night, and they had this gal over there on the radio that they called Axis Sally, that spoke perfect English. Somebody said she was raised up in Pit­tsburgh or somewhere.  But anyway, at night she’d come on the radio and we’d listen to the radio.  She came on and she’d tell us, “Now, you boys in the Twelfth Air Force in Algiers are gonna get a big surprise to­night, so look for it.”  So sure enough, just about dark, here would come the planes, and they would try to get in over the harbor, and the anti-aircraft fire was so heavy over the harbor in Algiers that they had difficulty getting in.  So what they tried to do was to get back away, and then they’d come in on an angle and try to sling their bomb into the city.  So consequently a lot of houses, apartment houses and such, got hit with these bombs; and there was a lot of needless killing and stuff going on, which was very upsetting again to the Arabs and also the French in Algiers.

       At any rate, life was very nice and pleasant during the day.  You just had no raids at all.  Every once in a while a photo [reconnaissance] plane would come over and take pictures, but there was no harm in that.  The greatest harm was the falling shrapnel that was shot at these photo ships, and I never yet have seen one shot down, and I don’t think there was a single photo ship shot down during the war, because they flew real high.  But they just let them know that they had it down there, I guess; they had to shoot off the guns to give them something to do and let the people know that they were alert.

       Well, anyway, the different armies and all the different headquarters squadrons and all the fancy officers had converged on Algiers.  That seemed to be a favorite place to them as well as to me.  But anyway, some of the people, the dignitaries that were around there were [numerous].  President Roosevelt’s son [Elliott?], he flew a photo plane for the U.S. out of Maison Blanc.  And he would go out every day and we saw him on a daily basis, and he was a very friendly, nice person; he’d always speak, and so forth.  And that’s the thing about it; in the service you don’t have a terrible lot of generals and colonels and big shots as a rule.  It’s usually the lieutenants, the first and second lieuten­ants, on up to majors; and then they start being nicer, I guess.  Maybe it’s because they have respon­sibilities, and they have a lot of bosses that dig them real often, so they have to take it out on somebody else.  So I guess you get so you expect this.

       But one incident that I’d like to relate here is, a couple of good friends of mine…  There was a Sergeant Campbell, which was from Lexington, Kentucky; and my being from Kentucky, naturally we became good friends.  And he went back with me for the air­plane instrument specialist course, back to Chanute when we were at Boweman Field in Louisville.  So I visited with him his home back in Lexington, and [he had a] very nice family and every­thing, and I became very well acquainted with them.

       But Sergeant Campbell also had another friend, he was Sergeant Clayton.  Well, Campbell was about six‑three, six‑four, a very tall fellow; and Clayton was a short guy.  But they would go out at nights and drink a little wine and stuff, and they were just inseparable almost in their friendship.  But, anyway, Campbell would come in in the morning and he would wash his car.  He drove for a Colonel Allard at this time, and he had a Buick that he drove the colonel around in and he had to keep shined, so he had to dress up every day.  And every morning he’d come in early and he’d get the hose out and he’d wash his car down.

       Well, this one morning after they’d been out the night before, Campbell was out washing his car and Clayton thought he’d be a good guy and go out and help him wash the car.  So he took a pail and went out and got on the other side of the car and started washing, and Campbell accidentally let the hose get out of control and it went over the top of the car and just squirted water all over Clayton on the other side.  So Clayton thought, “Well, if he’s going to be that kind of a guy, I’ll pay him back!”  So he threw this whole pail of sudsy water right out across the car, and hit Campbell with all his good clothes on, and just made a mess out of him.  But anyway, Campbell sneaked around the car and caught Clayton and grabbed him, and he took the hose and ran it down the front of his shirt, and just held it there with the hose running.

      So Clayton saluted, and Campbell said to him, “You’re not going to pull that on me, you SOB,” he said.  “I’m going to drown you!”  And here was Father Walsh standing right behind him; so he grabbed him by the collar and turned him around and he said, “You bunch of kids!” he said.  “I don’t know when you’re going to grow up!”  But boy he really tore into him, and it was so comical!  I wish I had had a movie of that, that was one of the funniest things that I saw happen there.

       Finally, it came time for us to move on, so my truck and jeep convoy, the part of the squadron that was still in Algiers, moved up to Constantine and joined the remainder of our outfit there.  Well, we stayed there for approximately three weeks or thereabouts, and then they got the whole squad together and convoyed all the way across to Tunis.  The trip across Tunisia was quite an experience, because this give us a chance to see the lay of the country.  And so this mountainous, rugged coastal country along there was quite a spectacle.  It has great beauty, much like our west, I guess, I’m not sure.  But we came up on big ravines that was almost comparable to the Grand Canyon, not quite as large, of course.  But this [was] beautiful country; and this give us a chance that we would not normally have.  When you fly over this, it just doesn’t look the same.  However, when you convoy, why, you get a better chance to see it.

       But our outfit moved on over to Tunis, and when we finally got set up and everything the squadron moved in over on the Mediter­ranean, a ways from town, in a villa.  So they took over maybe a couple of villas, and they set up their headquarters there.  But our flight line set up on Elouina Airfield just outside of Tunis.  And we set up in tents, and we were assigned to take our meals with ________.  Well, we went in to the squadron to take our meals, which was about six miles away.  We had a GI truck that we rode in, and there was about eighteen or twenty of us, I guess, on the flight line.  But this time, the B‑25’s begin to catch up with us, and so we had our own planes and we got organized and start to do the work that we had come overseas to do.

       This trip to the mess hall every night and morning was quite involved.  We had to get up quite early to get in.  Lots of times if you had an early flight, well you didn’t even get to eat, you’d get some C rations or whatever was available to you, and make do until you got to another place.  This could keep up for two or three meals.  But eventually you got to a place where you were able to get a hot meal.  But anyway, a great share of the flying con­sisted of flying into Sicily and to southern Italy, that had been taken over by the Allies.

       Well, at this time most of… well, all of North Africa had fallen, because the last stand was out on a peninsula that jutted off toward Sicily, and the Allied soldiers caught bunches of soldiers out on this peninsula, and they were captured.  But the Germans came up with a great big transport ship that was unheard-of to us, because our biggest transport ship could only carry twenty-five, thirty people.  And they had about five or six large airplanes that would carry two hundred people, soldiers.

      But anyway, the story was told to me that these planes were loaded up with soldiers to capacity, trying to get them off of that peninsula and get them back over into Italy, because the Italians hadn’t capitulated in the war yet, they were still in it.  But on their efforts to take off, American fighter planes came in on these planes just taking off from the runway, so they fell in on their backs and they shot the plane down, and of course killed all of the soldiers on it.  But the planes hit the ground and they lay right where they hit the ground, off the end of the runway.  And equipment was strewn all over the countryside.  You would think almost that the Germans would have to give up now, because there was so much equipment destroyed and everything that they wouldn’t have enough to continue the war.  But this was just a small pittance, I guess, of the equipment that it really takes.

       But anyway, we used to fly out of North Africa over into Sicily and to southern Italy, and haul supplies, take the VIP’s; and just whatever needed to be hauled, why, that’s what we hauled.  But a great share of my work was trying to supply the fighter groups or anyone that had a shortage of equipment that had [arrived in] North Africa but [the equipment] hadn’t arrived in Italy yet, and they needed it.  Sometimes this would involve flying back to Algiers to ________.  Maybe to Casablanca there a time or two, to pick up these supplies and haul them right directly over to the people who needed them, over in Sicily and Italy.

       But I know lots of times that I would make trips hauling generals, maybe two or three generals in my plane, and they would go over and confer with General Mark Clark, which was at the head of the American infantry over in Italy.  And General Clark and the American soldiers went up the east side of Italy, and the English went up the west side.  And so Mark Clark was a very well‑thought‑of general, and a very active general, and a very fair gentleman.  I’d seen him several times, and he always had the time to say hello and talk to you, which was a great treat to a little peon like an enlisted man, you know?

       But anyway, we would take these people over maybe one day, and bring them back the next, and they would go just as close to the front lines as they could get, and then a jeep would take them the rest of the way.  Now we would wait on the airfields until they came back, and guard the plane and such until they came back.  And then we would take them back to North Africa or wherever they had to go.

       But I remember on one trip that I went into Bari, Italy; that’s on the west side.  We had bombers working out of there.  And this one time the airfield was taken the day before, and I landed the next day.  They didn’t even have guards on the field.  They hadn’t set up guard gates or posts or anything, so it was just up to the individual to guard the plane.  Well, we had a crew of three enlisted men that flew the plane, and somebody was designated to stay with the plane.

       Well, I had to spend the night alone, sleeping in the bomb bay of this plane, and of course when we went out on these trips we had equipment ready to live in the plane for a couple of weeks if we had too.  Anyway, I slept in the plane this night, and about eleven o’clock that night, the Germans bombed.  The harbor was what they were trying to bomb, which was nearby the airfield, or the airfield, or whichever they could hit.  But anyway, they were suc­cessful in sinking several ships in the harbor.  And usually what happened after one of these bombing missions, they would come in and drop paratroopers, and they would come in and blow up planes or supply dumps or gas supply dumps or whatever was available to them, and then try to make their escape and get back out of there again.  Well, that was only the primary worries to me that night, so I slept all night in my sleeping bag right underneath this plane with a Thompson submachine gun with the safety off right under my arm, just ready…  Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very much, because it wasn’t very conducive to sleeping.

       Our tents at Elouina Airfield in Tunis, was in an olive grove.  When we first arrived there, as it usually is, there weren’t too many people.  We were just trying to get the field in operation, set up and so forth.  The purpose of locating in the olive grove was for camouflage, so that we would be hidden and couldn’t be searched out, because occasionally the German fighter planes would get the cute notion of coming over during the day right at noontime or mealtime or some busy time, and strafing.   And I don’t know, I guess they got their joy or kicks out of it some way.  But anyhow, you’d see everybody hit the ditches and so forth.  But they set us up in these olive groves so that we would be somewhat protected or camouflaged from [enemy planes].

       But again, the daylight raids or strafing missions weren’t too preva­lent, because most of their work was done at night.  In fact, the American Air Force was the only one that did daytime raids in the war.  Occasionally the Germans did, I guess, in the first [part] of the war.  [They] went over London during the day because at the height of the Battle of Britain, I was told by pretty reliable sources that the English fought the Battle of Britain with less than two hundred airplanes.  The way that they would fake the Germans into not letting them know that they had such few planes was, they would get the weather reports.  If the weather was going to be bad in one part of England (Great Britain) that day, why, then they would shift airplanes to the place where the weather wasn’t bad and there would likely be a raid.  And so, in this way, by flying the planes off of the various fields [according to] the weather conditions, they were able to trick the Germans into believing that they had many more airplanes than what they really did have.

      But anyway, where the Elouina Airfield sets, just, oh, a couple three miles out of Tunis, they have a Tunisian bay, they have a big port there, shipping port.  And the story goes that they dump all their sewage right out in this Tunisian bay.  So some captain, back years ago, sailed his fleet into this filthy harbor.  And when he got in, it smelt so bad that he pulled back out again and turned it over to them and told them that they could have it back, that he didn’t want it.  Well, we took off right out over this bay, and we’d take off in the mornings too; oh, ninety percent of the time it was right straight over the bay, and then out over the Mediterranean.

       One morning we took off and the pilot somehow got a little bit confused on his directions, so he swung away over, and right over near Tunis.  And we went right over the top of the American fleet that was in the harbor at Tunis.  And every gun in the harbor was firing at us, and I thought we were going to get shot down by our own Navy!  I was never so scared in my whole life to see those tracers coming up by that plane… [it] looked like there were millions of them.  And the shrapnel bursting all over and everything.  The pilot was shrewd enough that he got right down and aimed it right down and back and got as close to the water as he could get, and we got out of there.  So we got out without any damage, thank goodness for that!

       But every day we were carrying out the duties that we had to, to get this war on its way, so the involvement was still over into southern Italy.  Now, I remember the first time after the _________  Naples _______­__.  Then the Italians capitulated about this time.  And a friend of mine’s plane flew the surrender papers over, and the dignitaries that went over there; he flew them all over to make this treaty and let the Italian Army capitulate.  Well, of course after that the southern part of the country fell real fast because the Germans did not want to get again caught down in this part, the southern tip of Italy, down in there, and have all those mountains and everything [that would interfere with their] supply lines, so they retreated very fast.  And by this time, I guess through a mutual agreement or something, the Eternal City of Rome was not a target to be bombed.  It had no bombing.  The only bombing that it got was [in the] martialing yards, and that’s where a great share of the bombing was.  Anyway, it was in the railroad yards.

      But I remember my first trip flying over Rome.  It was quite a sight to see.  It was early in the morning, and the sun was shining, and it just looked like the Eternal City that people give it credit for being.  But later on I was to be able to go into Rome many, many times and spend nights there and spend rest leaves and so forth, and it was a great city and I enjoyed it very much.

       From the time I arrived in North Africa, which was November 10, 1942; until November 28, 1943, was just slightly over a year.  In that time we traveled from one side to the other side over the northern section.  And we saw mostly the devastation of the war; not really, though.  In most instances after we got to the eastern part of the country, to Tunis, well, then we were subjected again to the bombing missions at night that we were when we went into Algiers.  But many things happened to fill in this year.  First of all, the frustration of not having your airplanes to do the work that you wanted and was fitted to do, until they caught up, and the [endless] patience [required to] wait for those and everything was kind of tiring.  And of course for a young fella, being away from home and overseas is another thing against him yet.  Some­times there was lonely times there, but for the most part you could keep yourself entertained doing different things.

       In my particular case, I was usually involved in some sport event like baseball or basketball, or touch football, or what­ever.  But anyway, the more serious part of what I felt, was after the trip to Tunis when we got there and when we got really into it.  We did have some planes at Constantine, but they weren’t involved too much because _______.  Organization is a great thing in a war, I guess.  You have so many people standing around.  I heard a figure one time where it took seventeen soldiers to put one on the front line and I can believe this, because you have people just seemingly stumbling around with nothing to do, and bored even in lots of cases.  And I guess boredom is a great part of war.  But usually when this happened, with this old gentleman that we had for our squadron commander, he’d take us out on drills and stuff out into the corn­fields or whatever to keep us busy and occupied.

       As I have stated before, he was not a very well-liked person.  In fact, when we were in Algiers one night in an air raid, somebody took a shot at him and they came so close to him that he was standing out on the porch upstairs, and the bullet hit so close to him in the wood­work right aside of him, that he fell down the steps and broke his leg, so he was in the hospital for about six months.  Well, most of the people were real happy to see him go but sorry to see him come back, because really he wasn’t a very well-liked person.  He did so many dumb and stupid things that it was disgusting.

       Well, anyway, from the experiences that we gained on the battles that we were involved in, our soldiers and Air Force, we got experience and we got the bugs out of the equipment that was used against the Germans over there because [their equipment was] so superior to our equipment at first because they had had some battles and wars to kind of figure these things out, while we didn’t have [that advantage].  And it was superior equipment and the superior soldier against the inferior soldier against the inferior equipment and the inferior soldier at that time.  But this didn’t last too long.  Through trial and error they wiped out the bugs, and they got the equipment to work and do the job that would make them competitive with the Germans.

       I have just finished reading a book by General Chuck Yeager, in which he tells about his exploits as a fighter pilot in Europe during World War II.  Well, General Yeager don’t tell it quite like it is because when he went over, about ’44, by that time they had the P‑51 and the A‑36 and the P‑47 and these planes that experience had forced us to build.  Necessity is the mother of invention, you know.  And so, Chuck Yeager had equipment that was competitive with the Germans, that was competitive really, so his story is not quite true because these boys that fought in these P‑38’s and so forth and P‑40’s were so outclassed in the first part of the war that they had to revise these planes and bring them up [to competitive standards].  And actually the P‑51 and the A‑36 were stolen, the design was stolen from the German Air Force; because [these plans had a] square wing, where we believed in the tipped wing, and they found out that they weren’t as maneuver­able.  So consequently Mr. Yeager’s story is not quite the true story of the war because he was flying _________.  Not to take anything away from him, because he was a great pilot, probably one of the greatest; but I doubt if his record of destroying enemy planes would have been near as high as what it was if he’d had to fly or pioneer the thing like some of these boys did.

       But anyway, to get back to the story in North Africa, through trial and error the equipment was brought up [in quality] so we were competitive, and that was why we were able to move along as well as we did.  Plus numbers and the pressure being [put] on the Germans from all sides, which was a great factor in the war.  But our preparedness when we first went into the war, I couldn’t believe how poorly prepared we were because you’d read these stories about what we had and what we didn’t have, and our equipment was just nothing.  It really was not, because the bombsight that we first had, they told us how great it was and how to destroy things.  Well, we had to discard the thing and come up with a brand new one.  So I guess that we were really lucky that we came out of this thing as good as we did.






African soldiers: 19

Air Medal: 10

Algerian people

Algiers, Algeria: 3, 4, 22-23, 24, 25, 27, 30

Arab boys:  6

Arab resistance to Allies:  22

Arabs:  4

Arabs and Germans:  7

Atlas Mountains:  6

Australian soldiers:  14, 17

Axis Sally:  25

Bari, Italy:  28

Baseball:  30

Basketball:  30

Battle of Britain:  29

Benghazi, Libya:  14

Bolling Airfield in Washington DC:  20

Bone, Algeria:  22, 24

Boweman Airfield in Kentucky:  16, 19

British forces:  17

British officers:  13

Canadian soldiers:  14, 17, 18

Casablanca, Morocco:  28

Chanute Airfield in Kentucky:  20

Clark, General Mark:  28

Constantine, Algeria: 3, 4, 27

Convoys:  21

DeGaulle, General Charles:  7

Dogs, military:  11

Doolittle, General James:  18-19

Dysentery:  14

Egypt:  14

Eisenhower, General Dwight D.:  15

Elouina Airfield in Tunisia: 3, 27, 29

English Air Force:  17

Fifth U.S. Army: 16, 19, 20

Foggia, Italy:  4, 14

Foggia Airfield in Italy:  4

Football:  30

Free French:  7

French residents of North Africa:  5

G2 Intelligence:  23

German Air Force:  12, 16, 31

German forces:  17

German prisoners:  12, 13

Giraud, General Henri:  7

Greenock, Scotland:  21

Hell-fire (Halfaya) Pass:  14

Hope, Bob:  9

Hunting, wild boar and lizards:  6

Invasion of North Africa, see Operation Torch

Irish soldiers:  17

Italian forces:  17

Italian prisoners: 12

Italian residents of North Africa:  4

Jews in North Africa:  7

Kasserine Pass:  13

Leclerc, General Phillipe:  7

London, England:  21

Maison Blanc Airfield in Algeria:  25, 26

Malta:  14

Modelin Chorale:  9

Montgomery, Field Marshal Bernard:  13

Naples, Italy:  29

New Zealand soldiers:  17, 18

Nile:  14

Operation Torch:  12

Oran, Algeria: 3, 22

Patton, General George S.:  15

Phillipeville, Algeria:  22, 24, 25

Polish soldiers:  17

Pyle, Ernie:  11

Queen Mary troop ship:  20

Raye, Martha:  9

Rome, Italy:  29

Rommel, Field Marshal Erwin:  12-13

Roosevelt, Elliott:  26

Saboteur:  25

Sandstorm:  11

Scottish soldiers:  17

Senegalese soldiers:  18

Spies, Arab

Spitfire:  17

Standard Oil Company:  6, 23

Stars and Stripes:  10

Third Armored Division:  14, 16

Tunisia:  27

Tunis, Tunisia:  4, 27, 29

USO:  9

USS Andes troop ship:  21

Welsh soldiers:  17

Yeager, General Chuck:  31













Fred and Mary Thomas in July, 1985

Fred and Mary Thomas in July, 1985

Sgt. Vitus “Pappy” Crandall

In 1995, Pappy’s memoirs were accepted for the collection of what was then called the Center for Air Force History in Washington D.C.


SUMMARY: Pappy served in the Fifteenth Air Force from 1943 to 1945. His group was first based in Morocco. His plane was shot down during a raid on Ploesti, and he and his crew were picked up by a group of chetnik guerrillas. Weeks later, he was part of a consolidated group of more than 200 downed airmen who were picked up by the OSS.

DECEMBER 10, 1985

SERVICE DATES: January 1943 to October 1945
UNIT: Fifteenth Air Force
PLANE: Consolidated B-24 Liberator “Mizpah”

I just don’t know how to start this, where to begin at. Maybe I’d better begin when we left to go overseas.

We took off, all guessing where we were going to go. We had sealed orders that we couldn’t open up until we was two hours out, flying time. All of a sudden, who do we get on our radio but Axis Sally! She invited our whole group, welcomed our whole group, our colonel, half of our officers by name, and told us where we was going. Well, we all laughed about it because we figured, “How does she know when we don’t know ourselves?” Two hours later, when we opened up our sealed orders, we was going right where she told us. I think that’s when we first started to worry…

Going overseas, we were a bunch of crazy people, I guess you’d call us. We had all of our parachutes in the bomb bay, had them covered up with mail that we’d picked up to take over with us. We had liquor and stuff piled on top of them, and the only fellows that knew where the parachutes were was the pilot, and the copilot, bombardier and navigator. And then we had one waist gunner. He wore his parachute (he was afraid to take it off) and he sat in the waist between the two waist guns, and at that time we didn’t know it, but he was scared to death of flying.

So when we finally landed, the first time we’d ever landed on what they called the steel runways, we thought we’d ripped the whole bottom of the plane out! We didn’t know what happened. But after we got out, we saw that they were steel runways.

We were all pretty cocky, as young fellows would be. That night (our first night overseas), we had to sleep under the wings of our plane; we had no place to sleep. And we laid there and of course the BS’ing went on, as most fellows will do, you know, to see who can tell the biggest lie. And I happened to get in an argument with the colonel. They was talking about the horsepower that was in the engines on the plane, and finally I told him, “What do you know about it?” I said, “You never saw that plane,” I said, “till you got in the Air Force.” He wondered what my name was, and I told him.

So the next morning as we stood there and I was talking to my pilot and the rest of the crew, this colonel come up; he wanted to know who Sergeant Crandall was. I said, “That’s me, sir”; and he said, “I just wanted to see who I was arguing with last night!” I laughed at him. I said, “Well,” I said, “I still think I’m right.” And he said, “Well, we won’t go into that.” But, anyhow, that was our first night over there.

Our second night over there was a little more hectic. None of us fellows had ever seen any action, and lo and behold they strafed our airfield, the Germans did; and we scattered out and dug holes to get into. We all had our slit trenches that they had.

But that was quite a place there. We got straightened around. The first leave we got we went into Marrakesh, and I never saw anything like it in my life. They had places that was off limits. Some of the fellas sneaked off and went down in there anyhow. When they come back, why, somebody’d knocked them out, stole all their clothes, stole everything. They’d steal anything there was. And they had a pretty good racket going. You’d see some little guy, oh, probably twelve, thirteen years old; fighting some big kid eighteen, nineteen, twenty. And of course, you know how we are about kids; we jumped in to separate them. They’d climb all over us, then they’d take off. Well, then you’d start to reach for your wallet and stuff and it was gone. They was the slickest pick-pockets in the world.

You asked me if I had anything to do with the [Arab and Berber] natives [in Marrakesh]. Well, now, I didn’t know one native from the other, but we had some natives there that were pretty good businessmen, I think. Some of them couldn’t talk too good English, but on their left arm, above the elbow, they’d have four or five leather thongs tied around their arms with little leather bags on them, and whatever was in these bags would rattle. And so, you’d ask them what they was for; and they’d tell you, one was for being a great warrior, you’d be a great warrior if you had it; and another one would be for you’d be chief some day, and all like that. And then they had one there, if you’d ask them [what it was for] they’d clam up, they wouldn’t say nothing, and [they] looked like they was gonna be a little mad at you. They never would tell us what that other one was for. But they did have some that they was selling to all of us fellas, and they’d say, “No boom-boom, no boom-boom.” “What do you mean, no boom-boom?” “No boom-boom.” And then they’d point up at the sky and point down. In other words, if you had that on they couldn’t shoot you down. Well, we didn’t believe in that. We just bought them for souvenirs, anyhow.

But I’ll never forget our first bombing mission. They sent us on our first bombing mission, and we didn’t think much of it, we was flying high. And when we come back, why, our ground crew chief called us and he wanted to know how things went. “Why,” we told him, “nothing to it. Them guys, they can’t shoot, they can’t do nothing.” He said, “No?” He said, “Come out here and take a look.” So we walked around underneath the right wing. There was a hole in that right wing that you could of stuck your head up through. That’s how excited we were; we didn’t even know we’d been hit!

So after that, why, then the fellows they got thinking well, they still can’t get us. And everybody, I think at that time, thought that their time would never come, because we were just too good or too cocky, whichever way you want to put it.

So our next mission that we went on, I’ll never forget that. We were sitting up there and lo and behold, we got hit by anti-aircraft. And boy, something hit me in the stomach, and I swore to God that my stomach was ripped wide open. So the bombardier was right behind me, because I was flying in the nose turret. I told him, I said, “Dick!” I said, “I’m hit!” He said, “Can you hold on?” I said, “I sure can.” I could just feel the blood running. So after we landed, man, I’m gonna tell you they had the ambulance waiting when we piled out. Ha! Boy, did I take a ribbing! I had a big black and blue mark on my stomach. Piece of shrapnel went through between two of the plates in the flak vest. All it did was put a big bruise there. That flak vest really saved me, because I’m afraid that if it hadn’t been for that I’d have had a few innards hanging out, or whatever you want to call them.

So you can see I’m… I don’t know, I guess I’m not much of a talker, I don’t know just how to put things down. But then our next mission, I’ll never forget that. They had us go out after Rommel, I think the greatest general the Germans had, and we was going out and bomb these tank corps of his. Every time we got to where he was supposed to be, he just wasn’t there. He was so good about it, we’d say he buried them in the sand! I don’t know where he’d be, but he really wasn’t where he was supposed to be, according to the intelligence that we got, or the reports that we got from our Intelligence crews.

But all in all, it wasn’t too bad. Today I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the experience that I had; I wouldn’t take two million to go through it again, either! But one thing we did find out. Every time the plane went on a mission we had a briefing, and after a few missions we found out that if they said there was very little fighter action up there and a lot of anti-aircraft, we’d find it was just the opposite: there’d be more fighters and less anti-aircraft. And if they said there was more fighters and less anti-aircraft, then we’d find more anti-aircraft and less fighters! They just got things kind of balled up backwards a little bit.

But I think the roughest mission… there were two roughest missions that we ever had. We flew out of Cherinola and we hit a town, it was called Bad Vaslo, and that was rough. But the worst one, of course, was the Ploesti oil fields. But before we get to the Ploesti oil fields there was some [others]; we hit Regmilla, we hit Cassino in Italy, hit Rome; also we bombed Tunis, and each mission was different. In fact, we finally went in to Tunis, and had an air base there. We had tents to sleep in, and had the sides of the tents rolled up, and we had an area staked out, roped off; and the colonel of that field told us if any of the natives came inside the ropes to shoot at them, to scare them off. Now I don’t know why, unless it was to keep them from stealing or to keep them away from the planes. So it’s a….. Golly, I just don’t know how to say anything. Some things are kind of still muddled up in my mind. I’d thought I’d never forget a lot of things, but I guess as time goes on you get older, you do kind of forget.

Oh, while I’m thinking of it, this young fella I was telling you about sat in our plane with his parachute on all the way overseas, and he was drunk all the time. And we got overseas and I was the oldest guy on the crew. In fact, I was older than the pilot, and all of them they called me Pappy. They said, “Pappy, you go down and see the colonel, tell him we don’t want to fly with this guy.” Well, I’m not going to give you this fella’s name because, of course, probably no one would ever know who he was or anything, but he was a boy from Texas. And he was quite a big boy. And I told them guys, I said, “I’ll go down there. But,” I said, “you guys better back me up,” I said, “when the colonel talks to him.” So I went down and told the colonel.

I said, “Colonel,” I said, “we’re afraid to fly with that gentleman.” I said, “He’s drunk all the time,” I said; “but he’s a good guy,” and like that. The colonel called him down to his headquarters, and took him off and put him on the ground crew. We come back up there and we was all standing there, and he come up and he grabbed my hand and he shook it and he said, “Pappy,” he said, “I’m sure glad you went down to see that colonel.” He said, “The reason I’m drunk all the time,” he said, “is I’m scared to fly.” And he was afraid to let anybody know it. So they put him on our ground crew, and boy, he was just like a mother hen with her chicks! Now, I mean that plane had to be A-number-one as far as it could go, or brother he would really raise hob. And he was one heck of a good ground crew mechanic.

Well, then, we got a new man to take his place, and I can mention his name. His name was Georgie Pless, and he was from a little town down in Georgia. He was our first casualty. He flew in the tail turret; he got hit by a… We always thought it was a 20 mm [machine gun]; now, whether it was a 20 mm or a 50 mm we don’t know. And when we come back to the base and they pulled him out, they had to put a water hose in there and wash the turret out, that’s how bad he was hit. Well, that was our first casualty. In fact, [he was] the only casualty until after we was shot down.

Now, when we went to Ploesti, I’ll never forget the day that we got shot down. Oh, before we get into that, let’s back up a little bit. This one officer we had, like I say I won’t mention his name either. We called him, pardon my language, Chicken-shit Colonel. He would go on a mission, what we used to call milk runs, and he’d find out it was a milk run and boy he’d go and he’d tell you to eat shit. Sometimes, why, we’d get part way to the mission and they’d come out and change orders and we’d go somewhere else. Well, it just seemed like when we got an order to go to Bad Vaslo, [or] we got orders to hit Ploesti, something like that, he’d always find something wrong with his plane; he’d have to turn around and go back, so that’s how he got his name. Like I say, I won’t mention the man’s name because we all have our times of being afraid, as I have, as you’ll find out later on.

But the day that I was really scared, we went to go on a bombing mission, and they said folks, we’re going to hit Ploesti again. Now to me, that was the roughest mission I think they ever had over there. We went down to get in our plane, and they gave us a different plane. And the minute we looked at the name on that plane, we started having our doubts. Now a lot of people say oh, baloney! But the name of the plane was Mizpah, and we looked at that thing and thought it was a jinx. When we was taking training, we’d landed in a place called Mizpah; that’s where we’d lost all of our money, you know.

I don’t think that the plane had ever even been checked out as far as the guns and like that, because the head space under the guns and all that had [not been] checked. The colonel got our plane because, well, we just had a good plane, I mean we had a good crew and a good plane. So we had to fly in that [Mizpah], and our navigator had to fly with the colonel that day, so we got a new navigator, fella name of Tedder, and he was from Oklahoma. So we got in that plane and we started out, and then as you get up [off the ground] you check the guns; mine wouldn’t fire. So I told the pilot. I said, “Dick,” I said, “the head space on my guns just isn’t right.” And he said, “If any planes come in,” he said, “just keep tracking them,” he said. “Don’t let them know it.” I come to find out the tail turret guns were the same way; and the only two guns where the head space and everything was right was the waist guns. And we just thanked the good Lord that there was no firing at any fighter planes that day, because we would have been sitting ducks!

As it turned out, we was anyhow, because we hit the Ploesti oil fields, and as we were coming back we went over a little town called Sofia, and that sky was black with anti-aircraft. I mean they really clobbered us, and they clobbered us good. So we had to bail out; the skipper had them all bail out. I crawled back from the nose turret, snapped on my parachute and as I did, why I lurched in the bomb bay there and [my parachute] caught on the bomb bay latch, and [the parachute] opened up in the plane, full out. So there I was! Well, as luck would have it, we had an extra chute up by the putt-putt (which is the motor that opened the bomb bays). So I got that one on, and then I got scared to jump.

Now, I told you everybody has their time of being afraid, and I looked out and I couldn’t see nothing down there but open sky, and I was just scared to jump. And everybody was gone except the pilot, the co-pilot, and the bombardier; pardon me, the navigator. So, anyhow, I stood there; and Newton, the copilot, he said, “Come on, Pappy, jump!” I said, “No!” He said, “I said get the hell out of here!” I said, “I can’t.” Well, he hit me up alongside the head, and out I went. To this day, I don’t know how I pulled my chute cord open. Because when I went out, I was just petrified.

Well, when I pulled the chute cord, she opened up. Funny things went through my head. I looked down and I looked up, and it felt like I was going straight up in the air! And I thought, oh, I don’t have enough weight to pull the chute down; so I started bouncing up and down in the parachute. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t then to me. There was a big, white fluffy cloud underneath me. When my feet hit that, I knew I was going down.

Then it just seemed like I was moving so slow. So I tried to light up a cigarette on the way down; I was going to be very nonchalant about everything. I couldn’t get the lighter to work. Then as I got down about thirty foot from the ground it looked like I was going a hundred miles an hour, and when I come down I come right down in a whole flock of sheep! Well, them sheep went one way, the shepherd went the other way, and I just covered up my head with the parachute the best I could and just let them run.

And we had always been taught, and [had] drilled into us, that the minute you hit the ground you get rid of that chute. Hide it. Because then the Germans wouldn’t have a place to start from to look for you. So, I started looking around and I found this old log; and I wadded that chute up and rolled it up as best I could, rolled that log over, and pushed the chute underneath it. And when I did, and I turned around and looked, there was a guy standing there, and he’s got a machine gun (a submachine gun) pointed right at me. And I froze. And I thought I was gonna faint right then. And he looked at me and he kept saying, “Germanski, Germanski, Germanski.” And I said, “No, Americanski, Americanski.” Well, if you’ve never been kissed on the lips by a man don’t go there, because he grabbed me and he kissed me on the lips. Man, I like to have hauled off and hit the man, fella who’d do that to another man! But that was their way of doing it, and it was the underground guerrillas of Yugoslavia; they were really good, they were the chetniks. So, like I say, I could probably go back and think of so many things, but time just kind of fades everything out.

But I spent quite a long time with these chetnik guerrillas back in the hills, and the things that we seen them do and the things they did, I don’t know whether you’d be interested in that or not. Like I say, on the bombing missions you’d hit your targets, you’d go home, get up the next day and hit another target, and you never seen anything that really happened down there. Oh, they would take pictures of it, you know, on the bombing runs; but you never seen the people or anything like that. But anyhow these were these chetnik guerrillas.

Now, I’m going to tell you a few things about what went on with them, and whether you use it or not or whether you’re interested, I don’t know. But when this fella grabbed me and like that, I just didn’t know what to do. I mean, what can you do? So, the navigator, he come running over, and he said, “Come on, Pappy!” he said. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” And he didn’t see this fella, because this fella was standing by a tree. And I pointed and I told him, I said, “We ain’t going nowhere,” I said. “You better sit down, Tedder.”

Tedder took a look at that guy and he froze, too; so anyhow we told him we was thirsty, and he could talk broken English. I mean, some of them talked good English after we got to know them. So I was real thirsty and I kept telling him, “Water, water, water”; and “Oh, vater, vater,” he said. So he went to a little old sheep herder’s place there, pulled out this bottle and give [it to] me and I took a big slug of that; and it was water all right, it was vodka! He thought I kept saying “vodka.” And I’d never drink vodka, of course; but I sure put that one down, and I got pretty drunk on it. And we were hungry. So this sheep herder was frying some mutton in a big old pan, and oh, it was greasy and I don’t know what all. So after he got through eating, the cat jumped up and started getting in the pan; he took the cat up and put it away, and anyhow we tried to get some of that greasy mutton down, and I don’t know… I don’t want to eat no more of it, that’s for sure!

But anyhow, they took us to another place where they said there’s more Americanski’s. So I got my first ride on a horse over there; a big kind. It had a wooden saddle. And if there’s anything sorer than a wooden saddle, riding through the mountains… and that’s where we was. Man, I’m going to tell you, I’d have just as soon walked, but no way, we had to ride. And, as we found out later on, you didn’t do as you wanted to do with them people.

Now, I can’t see very good here, and I don’t know if this tape has run its course or not; so I’m going to stop and flip it over, and we’ll see what happens. No, I guess there’s still a little bit of tape on there, I can see it now after I open it up.

But I want to tell you about these chetnik guerrillas. We traveled all day. They finally got us into this one place, and they finally picked up our pilot, our co-pilot, the navigator, and myself, so there were the four of us, out of ten. We didn’t know what happened to the other six fellas at that time, but later on we found out they had been picked up by another band of underground fighters, except our little top turret gunner, Frenchy Sirois from Maine. We never knowed what happened to Frenchy. We heard he was machine-gunned on the way down in his chute; we heard he was taken prisoner of war and killed. After the war I tried to contact everybody at the addresses that the Army give us, and I never got an answer back from Frenchy Sirois. So we don’t know where Frenchy was, so we figured he was our second casualty.

But after traveling all day, we got with these other fellas. And there was Lieutenant Harper, a fella name of Bernie Dimitris, another fella named Patrick Horner, and Zeke Byfield. More about them in a few minutes.

Well, I’m back again. [We spent] our first night with this other bunch of fellas from this other crew, they had been [shot] down four days ahead of us. There’s Bernie Dimitris, he was a Russian boy, but he could talk a little of the Yugoslavian language. As time went on some of us learned a few words, but there was some of the [chetniks] that could talk pretty good English.

Now my biggest ambition is to go back to Yugoslavia, because I have some pictures of what these young fellas in this under¬ground looked like forty-some odd years ago. I’d like to go back, have them printed in the paper, and look some of them up; because if it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what a lot of downed Americans would have done over there, because they were life-savers, believe me. But the odd thing about it is the only movie stars that them people knew about… They always asked us about the movies. They knew Tom Mix, Ken Maynard, and Hoot Gibson. Their submachine gun, they called that the “Al Capone gun,” that was the biggest thing from the gangsters they knew of. And we got quite a kick out of that.

But these fellas here they would go on raids, raiding German trains, blowing up things. They wouldn’t let us go with them, and we’d probably have hindered them if we had, because they were really trained in guerrilla warfare. Very few times would they use a gun. They were the slickest people with a knife that I ever saw. They used to put a target up, and they’d get back and they’d throw knives at the target. And I tell you that nine times out of ten times that knife would stick, and it would be pretty close to the center of that target, and some of them boys were throwing from a pretty good distance. They were really sharp with a knife.

And they had no qualms about killing any¬body. In fact, on the twenty-eighth day of June of 1943, a German pilot was shot down, and they captured him. And they spread-eagled that man on the ground, tied him. They had a young lad there sixteen years old, to kill him. And the way they killed him was with a big rock. This young fella would stand up with that rock, and keep dropping it on his head until it caved his head in. Now, our pilot and this Lieutenant Harper, the pilot of this other crew, they both got sick from watching it. Some of the other fellas got sick. And they made us stand there and watch that. Now I mean, you done as they told you to do, because that was a big thing for them, to show you how they treated their enemies.

Well, today I think it would sicken me, but at that time myself and Zeke from Nebraska, we thought it was a big deal, you know, we’re really seeing something. Well, we did, all right. One of their own men, they caught him selling out to the Germans. Now this is all on the same day, June the twenty-eighth, that this all happened. They tied his hands behind his back, made him kneel down; and this sixteen year-old boy walked up, shoved a gun in his mouth and blowed the back of his head off. Now, that just about got me.

But the thing that really did [get me was when] they had two girls. They tied them back to back to a post, and this young sixteen year-old kid walked up and cut their throats, and then I think that’s when we all really got sick. But later on we was to find out that this sixteen year-old boy… The Germans had kind of set him off his rocker, and this is the story we got from these guerrillas. They tied this young fella up, made him watch as they raped his mother and his sister and then killed them. And the kid, they said, went berserk, and anything to do with a German… well, I guess he was death on all of them.

And there’s a lot of funny little things happened, too, and I can’t remember now all of them, but food was the main thing. They didn’t have too much food; but what they had, you got it, along with them. Farmers would come back in the hills with oxen [hitched] to their wagon, loaded down with manure like they was going to put it in their field. They’d come out and they’d have big loads of black bread, sitting beneath that manure, and everybody got a loaf of black bread, and that had to last you for three days. And you brushed that manure off, buddy, and you carried [that bread] with you. And you got a string of garlic to put around your neck, and you’d eat a hunk of bread and a hunk of garlic; and I guess they say [some] garlic a day will kill a cold. Well, I guess there was no colds over in that outfit!

And they had a big kettle [like you would use] to scald hogs in, and they had a bunch of dried peas, you know. And they’d throw that in there, and a bunch of red peppers; and they’d bake some of this bread up and throw it in there, and cook it like mush. And these peas would pop open, they’d be full of bugs, but whether you ate bugs or not it didn’t bother you.

Oh, it was the longest time we hadn’t had any meat. So Zeke and I, we saw a black squirrel, and we stoned it out of a tree. And we cleaned that thing, [we were] gonna cook it, and they said we was “badolla” [sp?]. In other words, we were fools. Well, they walked five kilometers and brought a doctor back with them, and we thought, now here’s a man who’s a doctor, and [he thought] we was gonna die because we ate this black squirrel! And why them people wouldn’t eat them, I don’t know. I guess they thought they was poison or something. And this one place we was at, back in those hills, [there were] rabbits galore, and they wouldn’t even eat a rabbit. We set snares and tried to catch them. And they wouldn’t even eat a rabbit. I mean, they really thought we were just crazy to eat that stuff.

So one day they said, “We’re gonna have pork chops, we’re gonna have pork chops.” And boy, they did. They brought in some pork chops. We set there eating it and Zeke says, “Hey, Pappy,” he said, “pull the meat out of the bone,” he said. He said, “Pull it out.” I pulled it out… [and there were] maggots in there. So I took it and I kind of held on to the side. The dog grabbed it and run, and I made a big show about it. And the others wanted to give me theirs and I said, “No, no,” I said, “that was my fault,” I said. “You go right ahead and eat them.” And that night, maybe it was just him and I, I don’t know. But I sure didn’t want any more pork chops for a while, that was for doggone sure!

And then our… Being a Christian today, I don’t use the stuff anymore, [but] in fact like all the young fellas, you know, we were drinking. They had two kinds of whiskey over there, Rakia and Ludarakia. And the Rakia, [if] a kid had a cold or something, they’d add sweetening and give it to the kid for the cold. And the Ludarakia, now that stuff is something else. And, pardon my language again, but the fellas used to say three drinks of that and you’d try to put a wet noodle up a wildcat’s hind end. That’s how strong it was. In fact, Zeke and I pretty near got shot at one night, because we got drunk on it and we was going around through there and we heard somebody holler, “Stolle!” [sp?] which meant, “Stop!” [in German]. We told him to blow it. We heard the rifle bullets click. When they did, we stopped, and here was this General Draza Mihalovich, he was the general of the chetniks. And we stopped, and that’s where we first met that man. And to this day, this don’t make no difference now; I still think the United States backed the wrong man when they backed Tito instead of that General Draza Mihalovich when the war was over. But that’s neither here nor there.

Now, we got into this one place, and they had a shelter, a bomb shelter I would call it, built in the side of a mountain, for King Peter. And it was really something to see; [they even had] oxygen tanks… It was really quite a fortress, built in the side of the mountain. Well, I have a… I don’t know if it was gold in the pin, or what, and I think I still have it somewhere if my two boys haven’t lost it. They took a lot of things that I brought back from overseas. But [it was] a pin that King Peter gave to each one of us. Showed the crown, King Peter the Second, and like that. And it’s just a little pin, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to keep. But then like I say, my oldest boy, I think he lost most of the stuff when he was a young man and he was running around with girls and giving everybody anything they wanted, I guess. But those old things don’t mean that much to me.

I was talking about this Rakia. Our pilot never drank, but one night we got him stinkered. He said, “Pappy, I really think we’re slipping now.” I said, “You’re all right, Skipper.” But he was sick for three days. I don’t think the man ever touched another drop the rest of his life!

But I don’t really know what to say. I mean, it’s been so many years ago, and besides, [the way] the bombing missions go, I mean one was just the same as the other; except some you had a little rougher than others. I’ve seen some of the planes come back, you don’t know how they could fly. But they would bring them back all right.

But there used to be a big rivalry, a friendly rivalry, [between the] B-17 boys and the B-24’s, which I was flying in. We was telling boys on the B-17’s that you washed out of B-24’s so they sent you to fly in B-17’s, which was like taking a kid off a bicycle and putting him on a tricycle because he didn’t know how to ride that bicycle. But it was all good rivalry.

Anyhow, they would take us from one place to another, these guerrillas, you know. And they took us in this one little town… they’d call them a town but I don’t know what you would call them, [there would be] maybe two or three houses, and a place to drink in. And we was in this one place one time when the guerrillas come in, and said the Germans were coming down the road. So everybody went out the back and through a corn field. And Zeke Byfield, I guess him and I was nuts. We stood there and looked at them out the door until they got close up, and then we went out the back door in the corn field.

Then one other time we had to cross a road, a highway; and there was a German camp right up the road where we had to cross. So one of the guerrillas would go down there and look for them, and then two would go in the corn field, then two more. And finally one time we were on a train on a narrow-gauge track, and I guess we traveled maybe six or seven miles on that. Fella come running up from the opposite way, waved us down to stop; and said a German troop train was coming the other way, so we had to get off and hit the fields again and hide there. And it was taking us to a place where there were several more Americans, so they could take us back into Allied control, back where the U.S. forces were.

This one day they had us in an old German truck; where they got the truck, I don’t know. And this guerrilla come running out from between some houses, and he went to throw a hand grenade in the back of the truck where we was, and there was thirteen of us there then. Thirteen of us in that truck, and just as luck would have it, the guerrillas riding in the back of the truck with us happened to know the guy and hollered, “No, no, no, no, no!” So he had already pulled the pin on that thing, getting ready to throw it; so he threw it over on the other side of the road and when it went off, we were just lucky that it didn’t go in the truck.

I’m getting way ahead of myself, and I’m sorry. We had this one guerrilla, his name was Nick, in fact two of them [were named Nick]. But this one, he was sort of an intern, they called him a student of medicine. And he had my address, [and] I had his. Of course, we had all their addresses. But I’d been back in the States for quite a little while and I got a letter from this young man. And most of it was wrote in Yugoslavian, so a friend of mine was a Yugoslavian fella; I took it to him and he read it for me. And then I wrote back to him a couple of times and now I don’t know, we just don’t hear from each other any more. But then this other Nick, he was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. Went to school in Anaconda, Montana. And then his father worked in Pittsburgh, so they moved to Pittsburgh. And when he was sixteen, they moved back to Yugoslavia. So he always considered himself an American. And he was our guide, our main guide, going through the mountains. So every time we’d get ready to go somewhere, he’d say, “Let’s we be go you fourteen Americans”; there was thirteen of us and he’d count himself fourteen!

So anyhow, they got us to this one place where they’d got the planes in to fly us south. But… Gosh, I’m so sorry because there’s so many things and I just can’t think of them all any more. You’d think you’d never forget this stuff, but some things have just kind of slipped by, because I don’t know if I’m getting old and ain’t got a good memory or what, but anyhow I hope that this will help you. I can’t think of anything else right now, but I tell you what I will do. I’ll send you this tape and I will hang on to this other tape that you gave me, and in case I can think of anything else I will put it down and send it. And if I can’t think of anything else, I’ll see that you get your tape back. I guess when you get older, you forget a lot of things; and some things I really want to forget, to be honest with you, because some of these things I’m very ashamed of what I did, and I didn’t want people to know about it. But I hope this does help you, ma’am, I really do.

Oh, I know. When they come to fly us out of there, these guerrillas had made an airfield on top of this mountain, and I mean just about big enough for a plane to land and take off again. Some of the fellas, they’d got a radio and contacted the Allied Forces. So one night, well, they got a radio message back [that] there would be a fella landing, an OSS man. Sure enough, a plane come in there one night. First thing you know, we seen this chute and we got all excited about this guy coming in. And what they did is, they came in to double-check; to make sure, you know, it wasn’t some kind of a ruse or something like that. So he landed and he said, “Well,” he said, “tomorrow let’s call back the Allies.” Tomorrow night, these planes would come in.

Well, anyhow, when they finally got us to the first drop there was 220 of us; that’s how many they had brought to this one place, 220 people. And when [the OSS agent had] come down, he had several cartons of cigarettes with him. Now, we’d been smoking these… we called them Green Death cigarettes. They were about as big around as an old penny pencil; and doggone, they about took your breath away until you got used to them. So he come in, and he had some Camel cigarettes, and we’d got so used to them small ones, that [the Camels] looked to be as big around as our little finger, and we thought they’d been making them bigger for the boys in the service. That’s how small them other ones were, and we were so used to them.

So the next night, they had us line up in [groups of] twenty, and the minute that plane hit that runway and stopped, twenty guys run out, piled into the C-47, it turned and it kept right on a-going, took off. So there was an airfield right at the bottom of the mountain. Well, I say at the bottom; I would say it was a mile, maybe a little farther. And hell, believe it or not, there was fighter planes and bombers strafing and bombing that airfield to keep them planes on the ground so they couldn’t get to us.

All the chetniks said that they wanted different things [of ours] now. I told Nick, I said, “Yeah,” I said, “when I get on that plane,” I said, “I’ll throw you my clothes.” And so I did. When I went and jumped in the plane, I shed my jacket and stuff that he wanted, and I don’t know whether he got it or one of the other fellas got it, but I imagine he did because he was the fella that was really their leader, you know, of the guerrillas to get us out to this place.

But anyhow, they got us out, and we come back to Allied [territory]. We had to be deloused, because we had lice on us, oh man, that you wouldn’t believe! They looked as big as cockroaches, some of them. But we got deloused, and fed, some new clothes [were] given to us; some of them didn’t fit. So we finally got to go back to our airbase. We was there standing around and this young fella (I felt so sorry for him), he come up and he said, “You fellas just come in?” To which one fella name of Jones, he was quite a comedian; he said, “Yeah, we just got in today.” So this young kid, he said, “Well, you hear a lot of stories. But,” he said, “it ain’t so bad.” Jones said, “I hear it’s pretty rough over here.” “Ah,” he said, “it ain’t so bad,” he said. “You have any trouble,” he said, “just come and ask some of us old-timers.” So Jonesy said, perfect timing: “Oh,” he said, “you’re one?” “Oh, yeah,” the kid says, “I got three missions in already.” “Oh,” Jonesy said, “I don’t know,” he said, “whether I want to stick around or not!” It was so funny.

This major come up, I’ll never forget it. He said, “Well, fellas,” he said, “you about ready to go home?” Jonesy said, “Yeah,” he said. “This young fella here was just telling me things get pretty rough over here.” This fella, I guess he could have slunk into a hole, but Jonesy was really playing him like a fish. And I looked over at him (Jonesy)… “Aw,” he said. “Heck,” he said, “I’m just having some fun with the kid,” he said. Maybe some day he’ll have some fun with somebody else that way. And the other fellas was all lined up for chow, so we got to eat in the officer’s mess tent with them, you know.

But anyhow, the best part of it is, we come back. The United States won the war. This is the greatest country that God ever put on Earth. And with all the fault that we find with it, and I know everybody does; we find fault with the government, we find fault with this [and that]… But what other great country can you ever live in that you have the freedom that we have?

I’m hoping that you can make sense out of this, lady, because I sure can’t, because I just don’t know how to talk, I don’t know how to write, what I’m telling you. If I can think of anything else, I’ll put it on that other tape; and if not, I’m positive and I’m sure that I’ll send it to you. So this is old Pappy saying so long, goodbye, and God bless you.



Axis Sally: 1

Cassino, bombing mission: 3

Chetniks: 6-12

Douglas C 47 Skytrain: 12

German pilot, treatment by chetniks: 8

King Peter of Yugoslavia: 9

Mihalovich, General Draza: 9

Marrakesh: 2
Marrakesh, Arab and Berber natives: 2

OSS agent: 11

OSS and chetniks: 11

Ploesti, bombing mission: 4-5

Rome, bombing mission: 3

Rommel, Field Marshal Erwin: 3

Sofia, Bulgaria: 5

Tito, Marshal: 9

Tunis, bombing mission: 3


Pappy Crandall, plane and crew.  Pappy is on the right end of the front row.

Pappy Crandall, plane and crew. Pappy is on the right end of the front row.