The main thing dad said about his whole time in the service
was that he was basically a loner, didn't hang out with large groups, didn't
smoke, drink, cuss or play cards. Despite this, he wasn't very religious either
and so felt like there was no social group that he belonged to. He always said
that he was a loner, had only a small number of friends and generally didn't
get involved in any conversations involving more than one other person.
Dad said that on the way over they rode on a Liberty ship, converted to be a
troopship. He said that at first the ship was not part of any convoy, and the
guys were nervous. After a while a baby flattop (an escort carrier) showed up
and everything went smoother after that. They all knew that with planes around
submarines would have to stay underwater, and underwater they couldn't keep up.
Dad said that when they sailed into Naples, he saw the isle of Capri and Naples looked like a really pretty place, with all white houses, but when he got up close,
he could see that it was just a dirty place.
Dad said that one day a British four engined Halifax bomber visited the field.
He said that when the Halifax took off, it climbed sharply, not like the
lumbering B24s. However, dad said that the Halifax was not carrying any bombs,
not as many guns, and wasn't fully fueled up since it was making a relatively
short flight. Dad said that after that, an older B24, the kind without a nose
turret, was being used as a courier aircraft and it was able to take off just
like the Halifax had done, because it also wasn't carrying any bombs and didn't
have to have a full load of fuel.
Dad said that one day he was working on a prop, and set a wrench down in what
seemed like a convenient place, on the inside of the engine cowling, probably the
intake for the superchargers on the side of the engines. Apparently he forgot
about it and left it there. Later he realized that it was missing, and the
plane flew a mission. Then dad checked the cowling and found his wrench, which
had unofficially gone on a bombing mission.
Dad said that one day some ground crew was having to remove bombs from a bomber
that had been loaded up. He said that the ground crew just dropped them out of
the bomb bay onto the field, realizing that with such a short drop the bombs
wouldn't land nose first on their firing pins, and that the firing pins
wouldn't arm in such a short drop. Dad didn't think that was an exactly kosher
Dad said that the nearest he ever came to the enemy was when one night a German
recon plane flew over the base, circling briefly before departing. Dad said he
couldn't see the plane, but he could hear it.
Dad thought that the part of Italy around the base seemed very poor. He said
there was a lot of farmland, but that it was the poorest farmland that he had
ever seen; he figured that the worst farmland anywhere in the U.S. could produce twice as much as that Italian farmland.
Dad said that one time he was watching a movie, probably an outdoor movie on
the base, and someone interrupted on a public address system to say that B29s
had bombed Japan, and everyone cheered. Dad said that was the very first
B29 raid on Japan (from bases in China) and the first time Japan had been bombed since the Doolittle raid.
Dad said the one time a B24 had lost the top part of the vertical fin and
rudder due to a collision with a close buzzing German fighter, but that the
plane went into normal landing procedure, not claiming damaged status which
would have increased its landing priority.
Dad said that the cottontails were well known for the completely white outer
portions of the rudders (he said the inner portions were painted in normal drab
and gray). He said that at some point the Germans began to really go after the
cottontails with a vengeance, passing up other B24s to wait for the white
tailed planes. He said that because of that, they had to give up that marking
and go with some other marking.
Dad didn't know exactly why the Germans would
single out the Cottontails, but he had two theories, one: that the Cottontails
had really done some major damage on a couple of raids, or two: that a
Cottontail had surrendered by lowering its wheels, and was being escorted to a
German field, when the crew got the idea that they could easily shoot down the
escorting Germans, who were flying close-by at a matching speed, one on each
side, and one behind. Presumable the pilot told the gunners to slowly move
their guns to train on the fighters that looked like sitting ducks, then all
opened fire shooting down the escorts, and escaping. I don't doubt that dad was
repeating a story told to him, but I don't think it was a true story, it seems
to have been kind of an urban legend, a similar story told in different places,
but the details always remaining foggy. I tend to believe that the Germans had
simply got mad at how much damage the Cottontails were doing to them. Speaking
of which, dad told another story about B24s doing some apparently spectacularly
accurate bombing by accident. He said that one time a German hospital was
bombed (actually by accident) and that the bombs only fell on the part where
the German patients were recovering, and didn't harm the American prisoners who
were in a different wing of the hospital so the Germans then thought that the
Americans had superb intelligence and pinpoint bombing accuracy. He said that
another bomb fell right on top of a German soldier on sentry duty near one target, and that
after that, there were some German sentries who covered up their shinny belt
buckle whenever the B24s flew overhead. Incidentally, those referred to as
Germans in these stories could have actually been German allies of various
Dad said that there was a low stone wall close to the end of a runway, and that
crews were often afraid of hitting it, considering how the planes would need a
long take off run with a full load of fuel and bombs, and would initially climb
slowly. He said that one day a B24 either didn't get off the ground or if it
did, it didn't have enough altitude to clear the wall, and hit it, and crashed.
Dad said that the bombs didn't go off, but the plane burned, being full of
fuel. He said that screams could be heard from the wrecked plane, someone
hollering for someone to shoot him. Dad said that the wall was removed after
Dad got out of the service after the war was over, but after
a few years went back in and then retired with twenty years of service in 1965.
After going back into the service, he was assigned to MacDill AFB (where he met
my mom) and then in 1952 went to Kindley AFB Bermuda (where I was born) and
then got out of the service again for a little while in 1954, building a house
near Dade City Florida, then went back in the service in 1955 and was stationed
at MacDill AFB again, then in 1959 went to Hickam AFB Hawaii for four years,
(where my younger brother was born, and I attended school for grades 1-4). Then
in 1963 he was stationed at Seymour Johnson AFB North Carolina for his last two
years, retiring in 1965. Then we all moved back to our house in Florida that he had built in 1954, where he lived for the rest of his life. His health
declined, had a heart attack, then got diabetes, then was diagnosed with
Dad was born on February 28th, 1920, (almost a leap year baby) in Carthage Missouri. His family moved within the state several times, ending up in St. Louis. He attended Normandy High School, playing the tuba in the band. He was still living at home when the Pearl Harbor attack occurred.
Dad enlisted in the Army Air Force within two weeks, despite his mother wanting him to wait until after the New Year, or at least after Christmas.
Dad had three brothers who also enlisted, but the other three served in the Pacific, he was the only one of them sent to the European Theater of operations.
A local St. Louis newspaper even did a story about the family having four sons serving during the war.
He passed away in March of 1986. My sister and her husband and daughter
live in that house today. Dad loved to tell me stories about his time in Italy during the war.
Information courtesy of Norman Carey, son of S/Sgt. Carey
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