Excerpts from Last Roll Call
3 - My Family
I was very happy and proud to see my family doing all we could to help with the war efforts. We did the best we could with our ration cards and were always willing to help out other families who never seemed to have enough food and supplies. Because Dad produced food for the public, he was entitled to more than the usual ration of gasoline which was two gallons a week. My family never went hungry, but we sure did eat a lot of mullet and beans. Even today, fried mullet and lima beans remain one of my favorite meals, maybe with the addition of a little coleslaw.
6 - Camp Blanding near Jacksonville, Florida: Induction & Swearing In
We arrived at Blanding, filed off the bus and were escorted into a large auditorium filled with a bunch of nervous looking civilians, just like us. The guys in uniforms, the ones shouting out directions, stood out like beacons in the crowd of bewildered civilians. The beacons directed us to one of the many lines for in-processing where we were asked endless questions. "Aviation Cadets, Sir," of course was my answer when asked which branch of service I wanted. "So you want to be a hotshot pilot?" was the response I got from the cocky sergeant. My simple reply was, "I just want to be a pilot, Sir."
9 - Santa Ana Army Air Field, California: Classification
We had been there less than two weeks when everybody in my squadron received a letter from General Hap Arnold, Commanding General of the Army Air Corp. That memo would forever change our military dreams. It read something like this: "At this time there are too many personnel in air-crew training. Your squadron will be taken out of training. You will be given your choice of other fields that are experiencing shortfalls."
13 - The Trip Over
So now we knew that we were not going to be joining the illustrious 8th Air Force in England. We were not going to be in an English-speaking country with friendly neighbors and pretty local girls to date. We wouldn't have local pubs to visit or weekend passes to London. There was little chance that Andy Rooney or Walter Cronkite would be paying us a visit. The war correspondents wanted assignments where they had access to comfortable hotels and good meals. No chance that Major Clark Gable would grace us with an appearance. He was a glamour boy who had been assigned to the 8th to help boost their glamorous reputation. Bob Hope's USO Shows probably wouldn't make it to our area either. No, we were headed to the not-so-glamorous 15th Air Force.
14 - Getting Settled
Once the tent was up, we got our cots inside and at least had a dry place to throw our duffle bags. The next order of business was to figure out a way to store our personal gear so it wouild stay safe and dry and out of the way. That was going to be a difficult task since the floor was one big mud puddle.
16 - Making of a Mission
On every mission, I was always so thankful for our crew. The teamwork and dedication displayed by each and every one of those guys was second to none. There was no doubt in my mind that they were each going to play a huge role in getting us all back alive. My biggest fear wasn't of dying - my biggest fear was letting my crew down. There may have been ten of us, but when we got in that plane and prepared for takeoff, we were one. Every time, as we approached enemy territory and I crawled back to my positiion in the tail, I would always be comforted by this thought: "If I die today, it will be with some of the bravest and finest young men I've ever known."
21 - Fighter Escorts
Our favorite escorts were the P-51s from the all black Tuskegee Fighter Escort Group. During briefings, when it was announced that our escort was to be the 332nd, we all cheered. They had something to prove, and we were delighted to be on the receiving end.
25 - Interrogation
After one particularly rough mission, I got a little carried away with the shots. I always took mine and Jack's because he didn't drink. Michael wasn't feeling too well that day so he let me have his. Somebody else offered me another, and I happily threw that one down too. Before I had time to take anybody up on another offer, Dwight took me by the arm and told me I had had enough. He led me out to the truck waiting to take us to interrogation. When we arrived and started climbing out, he pointed his finger at me and said, "Don't you say a damn word."
28 - Isle of Capri: Rest Camp
It appeared that all the hotels on the island had been taken over by the American Government. I was in for a shock when the enlisted men's accommodations turned out to be the beautiful Hotel Piganno Vittoria. The views from every window were just beautiful. The rooms were spacious and so nice and clean; maids came in everyday to straighten up the room and make our beds. What a treat it was to have a bathroom with real plumbing.
30 - Parachutes
I had one expeerience with my parachute deploying, and it didn't happen jumping out of a plane. It was a typical mission, so when we approached enemy territory I began to make my way back to the tail. As usual, I was pushing my chest-pack parachute in front of me as I crawled on the right side of the tail wheel to reach my position. All of a sudden, and for no apparent reason, my chute deployed and immediately filled the tail end with nylon. Quickly, I gathered up the jumble and backed my way out. When I could stand up, I began stuffing the chute in my equipment bag as I tried to figure out what had happened. The culprit turned out to be a rivet pin that had been left sticking out by the sheet-metal guys when they repaired a flak hole. My rip cord caught on the pin as I was pushing the chute forward. Enemy territory was rapidly approaching and so was oxygen altitude.
32 - Combat Mission #1
The day finally arrived, November 19, 1944, the first of my 35 required combat missions. If that wasn't stressful enough, I learned that first-combat missions were never flown with your own crew; instead you flew with an experienced crew. I understood the logic, but it sure was a strange and scary feeling to board that Fortress and prepare for the mission with a bunch of strangers.
33 - Shot Down
As the plane slowed down, we noticed a small crowd had gathered. When we came to a stop, some members of the greeting party moved closer. We were all pretty anxious to get out of that plane, so I quickly opened the door. As long as I live, I will never forget those three women who were standing so close to the door they were actually blocking our exit. They were so scary, my first instinct was to slam the door shut and grab my pistol. Each one of the women was about the size and shape of a refrigerator. Their uniforms looked like they were made out of those olive drab GI blankets. On their caps was the prominent Communist red star. Each one had a bandolier of ammunition with a sub-machine gun slung over their shoulders. Boy, they were mean looking, with no expression on their faces whatsoever. They just stood there, glaring at us, until Dunigan came forward and attempted to get them to back up so we could get out. He wasn't having much luck, and I was beginning to think that maybe we should have ditched in the Adriatic.
37 - Naples
My group was marched down toward the end of the pier where one of those stream-lined cruise ships was docked. My spirits quickly lifted at the thought of sailing home on one of those sleek, fast, luxury liners. Just as we were about to approach the liner, I heard, "Left turn!" We marched down a narrow pier where we were greeted by an old, rusty liberty ship.
39 - Welcome Home
Through the front window, I saw my dad jump up off the steps of the crab house and run toward the bus. When the bus stopped and I stepped out, my dad had almost reached me. He was running from the crab house hollering, "Kenneth's home! Kenneth's home!" When my dad grabbed me, I could feel his body shake with relief. I remember the smell of cooking crabs on his skin and clothes; for once, I rejoiced in that smell. When he finally let me go and I could look at his face, tears were in his eyes - he looked older. 26 Foggia