A high school graduate volunteers to join the Army Air Force to become a fighter pilot. He fights in Italy. He is shot down and bails out safely. Aided by the partisans he gets back to his side of the lines. After the war he goes to Ga Tech on the GI Bill. Graduates his business takes him back to Italy. Hopefully you will find the story interesting. They live happily ever after.
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The Way It Was
By L Langford Hodges
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 L Langford Hodges
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE WAY IT WAS
The summer of 1942, John Watson had just joined the Army Air Force to become a fighter pilot. He was excited and apprehensive. He was excited thinking about all the unknown challenges that he would face and apprehensive about his ability to handle the challenges. Mainly deep down, he sub consciously was thinking of this as a life changing adventure and maybe a life ending adventure. He had just graduated from high school and was eighteen years old.
He went down stairs and joined his parents and 12 year old sister for breakfast. The talk was mostly about John going to war. There was not a lot of preparation to be done as everything would be supplied' by the Army Air Force. A tooth brush, shaving kit, and comb-that was about all that he would need to take.
John's father owned an Auto Repair Garage. John owned a Ford several years old that he and his Dad had maintained in good condition. They had to decide what to do with the car while he was gone for the next several years. They both realized about the same time that the car was not worth enough to keep and decided for John to sell it. John told his Dad that Perry Weaver had always admired the car so he would ask him if he would like to buy it. Perry was glad to get the car to run around in until he too went into the service.
There were so many young men going to the war that it was not a big deal. No major going away parties were planned for John; he saw all his friends and told them about his enlistment in the Army Air Force and discussed what their plans were. Most planned to wait and see but some had a special service they wanted to join.
The one special person whom he wanted to visit and discuss his situation with and that was his long time friend/ girl friend, Margaret. They had known each other all their lives and had gotten to the serious kissing stage. There were tears with all the uncertainty of not knowing what they were saying "goodbye" to. They promised to write and let each other know what was happening. That would be the only way that John could get news about the other boys who had gone in to the service.
John had been a good athlete in High School and was in top notch condition for an 18 year old, 5/11 tall and 160 pounds. He had gotten a 410 shot gun for Christmas when he was 11 years old. John with his Dad had spent many days hunting, fishing, and camping. He develop good judgment and responsibility. Finally the day came for him to catch the train and report to the West Wind Field at Albany, Georgia. When he came into the gate, he, along with the other cadets, was directed to go to the receiving building. They were checked in to make sure that all the paper work was in order and then they were sworn-in. Now they were officially ready to go and start killing Germans and Japs.
But first before they started killing Germans and Japs: they had to go to stores for the more mundane thing of drawing bedding for their bunk.
John along with 119 other cadets were assigned to a barracks. At 6 o'clock they were ordered to fall out and fall in formation to march to chow. There were 3 drill sergeants that after giving the necessary instructions, formed the cadets into 3 platoons. They would be assigned to the platoon that they were now in for the next 3 months and they would march in formation to chow and all of there places of training in formation.
Their preflight training would included flight, radio, navigation, weather, and bailing out.
Their day started with reveille at 5 AM, 5:30 ordered to fall out and fall in formation and marched to breakfast. Their preflight training included calisthenics, obstacle course, along with their studies. With lights out at 10:00, every spare minute was spent in studying their training courses. Out of a class of 250 about 1/3 washed out during the preflight period.
Now we are ready to learn to y. Although it was dif cult , they tried not to show their nervousness and excitement. After preflight they started in AT-6 training planes with 650 HP. engines. Two weeks were spent in the cockpit on the ground, learning all the instruments and levers, and pedals.
Finally they were allowed to crank the AT-6 and run it on the ground to get the feel. Needless to say, they were thrilled. Their hubris was completely gone at this stage and they were giving their full attention to the instructors explanations. They were working up to soloing. What a thrill when the instructor told John that he was ready to solo. Sorry to say, but there were some who did not come up to the instructors expectations and were washed out at this stage.
Now they were ready to start flying combat fighter planes; P-47 2,000 HP 10 ton fighters. The cadets proclaimed 2,000 horses between their legs and a feather in their -. They learned to y formation, cross country and combat maneuvers. Dive bombing and strafing were saved for last, the William Tell overture part.
The best for last. John had found his place, he and the fighter fit together perfectly and John felt that they were a perfect killing combination. His years as a High School athlete was paying off. It would not be long before he would start killing Germans.
Many of the cadets had washed out in the final weeks of training. Although they did not make it as fighter pilots, instead of being washed out, many of the cadets were assigned as bomber pilots or transport pilots. Some who did not make it as pilots were assigned as bombardiers and navigators.
The ones who did not wash out, regardless of what they had been assigned to do; were all commissioned 2nd Lt. at the graduation ceremony. Now they were anxious to get their orders for their new assignment. John received orders to report in 14 days to a staging area in Virginia for shipment overseas. Putting your life on the line; the ultimate excitement and apprehension. John was blessed with courage and confidence. He went home for his 14 day leave before going overseas.
Because of the danger in his combat flying there was an undercurrent that subdued the joy and pride of his accomplishment. Pilots do not have nine lives like a cat, one mistake is usually all they were allowed. A combat fighter pilot has one of the most dangerous job in the service. Several of his class mates had already been killed in training.
They went out to visit all their friends and relatives and show off their Officer Combat Fighter Pilot son.
John spent most of his spare time with Margaret. There was a great deal of levity in spite of his planned journey. They found out that they were much more in love than they had realized. They discussed their future together, but they were mature enough to know that with all the uncertainty, that it was not smart for them to make any plans for the future. As soon as John got his overseas address he would send it to her.
John had the information of the Ferry Service. The Ferry Service flew the transport planes overseas to North Africa. Their headquarters were in Miami. Checking with them, he found out that if he was willing to leave a day early he could hitch a ride with them to North Africa and avoid the dangerous crossing on a crowded packed troop transport ship. This was not an unusual procedure. It was common practice for an Army Air Force enlisted or officer to hitch a ride on a plane going their way. John thought it over and decided that anything would be better than going by the dangerous troop transport. That is what he did, hitched a ride with the Ferry Service.
This was April 1943. The Germans had been cleared out of North Africa. John hitched his way to Algiers, the location of his assigned Headquarters, the 15th Air Force.
Chapter TwoJohn reported to the receiving building. He had been assigned to squadron #310 before he had left the states. After checking in he went to supply and got his bedding. At receiving he had been assigned to officers quarters and he took his bedding there. Another officer had just arrived. John introduced himself and the other officer introduced himself, He said his name was Howard McGuire from Oklahoma. John told Howard he was from Georgia.
Howard said "I have just arrived from the states. I came on a troop ship and was glad to get to -dry land"
John ventured "It must have been a rough crossing?"
Howard explained "We could only go as fast as the slowest ship. We were almost like sitting ducks for the German subs. We were in a convoy of 20 ships. We were escorted by 3 destroyers, and those destroyers had. their hands full trying to fend off the sub attacks."
John asked "what happened?" Howard replied "there was one alert after another. For an alert each man dons his life preserver and as many as possible go to the deck."
One troop ship was sunk and a few days later another was damaged. The ship that was sunk lost a few soldiers and crew, but most of them were saved and transferred to the other ships. The second ship that was damaged lost a few men to the torpedo explosion. They tried to tow it with lines secured to two other troop ships, but they were too slow. The damaged ship was evacuated. All the troops and crew were taken off and the ship was sunk."
John with a little grin said" I was lucky to avoid the troop ship route. I hitched a ride with the Ferry Command and made it over in two days, uneventful I might add."
"The kind I like" said Howard.
It was about noon so they decided to go to the officers mess for lunch. The food was nothing fancy , but after their trips they were glad to get some good solid food.
There was a briefing scheduled for all officers at 2 o'clock. They decided to hangout in the lounge and relax until the briefing.
The briefing started a few minutes late. Colonel Wayne Elder was leading the briefing. He said "Everything is in a state of flux here. We are in the process of moving to Sicily. There is a field near Messina that the Germans are not going to be needing any more so we will use it. It is near the fighting and being closer, we will have more combat flying time. We are asking for your complete cooperation on this move. We don't have a neat program mapped out. Some of you will be asked to ferry a plane over to the field. We want all of you fliers to report to the field early tomorrow. Being in a war, when you are flying all planes must be fully armed at all times. When you are flying you will be on the alert for German fighters. You do not have to worry about the German bombers' they are not looking for you, they are trying to avoid you. We want to" get organized on the run so that we will be available to support the ground troops without delay. This support will be bombing and strafing in that order. The pilots who are going into combat for the first time will be assigned as wing men for the pilots who have already been in combat. I don't think I mentioned it, but we will y in formation over to Messina. We will check all the recognition signals that we need so that we can get settled in without any problems. There was a terrible mix-up and friendly re killing when we invaded Sicily. We must make every effort to avoid shooting each other. Kill Germans. There is transportation provided to go to the field. Major Grady Veale will assign you to your flying unit for tomorrow. Ordnance and armories will be there. Make sure the machine guns in the plane to which you are assigned is fully armed. Major Veale do you have anything that you would like to add?"
Major Veale "Welcome to 310 and I will see you out at the field"
Colonel Elder "Thank you for your attention. That's all."
They loaded up on the jeeps first and the over flow climbed into the duce and a half trucks. No body walked in this army.
When they reached the field Major Veale looked at the roster, using name, rank, and date of commission; he then made the assignments. John went to his assigned P-47. Falling back on his extensive training he felt right at home. He shook hands with an important part of this fighting package, his crew chief. They introduced them selves. His name was Staff Sgt Powell Wheeler from Alabama, a few years older than John. Sgt Wheeler came over in the Torch invasion November 1942. They liked each other immediately and John felt that he would be a real asset to his success and survival. They checked all of the machine guns and found that they were fully loaded. No bombs were on board because they were not going on an attack mission. John made a visual check completely around the plane, everything looked to be ship-shape. John met his squadron leader, Captain Ralph Wells, home state Pennsylvania.) several years older than John and Capt. Wells had come over in the Torch invasion of North Africa.
The next morning reveille was at 5:30, breakfast was at 6:00. Shortly after 6 G-2 (intelligence) reported that there was enemy air activity in the area and it appeared that they were headed to the field near Messina. Orders were given to scramble all the fighter planes to meet the bombers. The German bombers were escorted by fighters. It appeared that John's first engagement was going to be a hot one.
Major Veale consulted with G-2 and decided to limit the defense to 24 planes, 4 squadrons. The other squadrons would be held in reserve. John's was not one of the 4 that was going to fight. Five of the 12 bombers were shot down along with 3 fighters at a cost of 4 US fighters. There were some planes on both sides damaged, but it was impossible to sort that out, it depends on who you talk to. John found out that he was ready to fight. He was disappointed not to get his chance today.
The next day John would get his first mission. He was going to be Capt. Wells wingman. At the 8:00 briefing they were given a mission to bomb and then strafe a German strong point. Needless to say they, and especially John, paid close attention to the briefing. After the briefing they had a few minutes before they went to their planes. Capt. Wells wanted that time to go over with John how he and his wingman worked together. Capt. Wells plan was very similar to what John was used to doing in training. He was comfortable with Wells.
The take off was uneventful. When they arrived at the target Wells said here we go. John replied Roger. John was excited but he was going to be a lot more excited in a very few minutes. After bombing, now strafing. At that moment of confusion they saw the German fighters.
There were too many to count and it would have been easy to forget that you were Wells wingman. With a sky full of bullets in all directions John began to get the feel for attacking and trying not to get shot. John had seen one of theirs and one of our planes go down. John found that he kelp shooting after his target was gone. He was trying to correct that when he got a German in his sights and was sure that he had hit the German. Immediately there was re and smoke and the German was going down. John was sure that he had taken some hits himself but the performance of the plane was normal. Wells had given him the signal to return to base and John headed for home.
When John was in the revetment Sgt. Wheeler joined him and examined the damage. Sgt. Wheeler judged that the plane would have to be repaired before it should be own again.
John went to debriefing. John put in a claim for one plane shot down. After weighing all the evidence John was award 1/2 kill. Some one else had a legitimate claim so they each got 1/2.
Three planes each had been lost. John was happy with his performance; once he was engaged in the battle he felt that he was one with his plane. John told Wheeler that he would like to have his guns zeroed -in and that he wanted to observe so that he could see how it was done. They also needed to make a judgment on the barrels of the guns and decide if they needed to be replaced. John also remembered to himself that he needed to take his thumb off his butterfly trigger sooner at the end of a pursuit.
The next day at briefing there was a big special announcement. The Allies were making an invasion of Italy at Salerno. The first thing that everyone wanted to know, where is Salerno? On the map they found out that it is on the west coast of Italy, not far north of Sicily. The troops would be supported by the guns on the ships, but there would be plenty of work for the fighter pilots. Most of the work for the fighters would be to interrupt German troop movement. Also interrupt supplies. Anything that the fighters could do to destroy troops and supply buildup. They the fighter pilots would learn exactly what their job would be at the briefings.
Excerpted from The Way It Was by L Langford Hodges Copyright © 2012 by L Langford Hodges. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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