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2nd Lt. Warren S.Follett
722nd Squadron

Letters To His Grandson

 

To: Patrick C. Follett From: Warren S. Follett Date November 2, 1995

 

The first couple of weeks in Italy caused almost every soldier to age more rapidly than would normally be the case. The occasional individual who seemed not to be affected, would be someone you would not want as a member of your flight crew. In war, fear is normal. One who does not experience fear, or even seems immune, is abnormal. He may not be dependable in an emergency when his buddies lives depend on rational behavior - - rational reactions.

 

Each of the "I'LL GET BY" crew was genuinely frightened. Each individual coped with fear in his own way. I personally tried to rationalize the day's activities. Only those days on which I flew bombing missions were dangerous, and on those days when we flew, relatively few minutes were cause for alarm; those were when enemy fighters were numerous, and those few minutes when you were near or over the target, and encountering flak. The few things which one could do individually to aid one's survival, I had done. There were the extra flak vests - - - skill at flying a tight formation - - and, keeping physically fit swimming.

 

After his first mission as a co-pilot, Schwab refused to fly again!!! He had simply "lost it" on the first trip over a target. After the bombs had been dropped, the first pilot Schwab was flying with asked him to take over the controls - - there was no response. It soon became apparent that Schwab wasn't listening, but was shaking uncontrollably, and staring straight ahead with no response whatever to further conversation. The first pilot took the plane down to free breathing altitude, and had a couple of crew members remove Schwab from his seat and brought to the rear of the plane, where they were instructed to guard him while they returned to base.

 

The problem was not unique; a small percentage of people in all branches of the service reacted to the stresses of danger in a number of ways, all of which made them totally ineffectual, non functional, and dangerous to all who depended on them to do their job under trying circumstances. The commonly used term for this debilitating condition was "combat fatigue" The Schwab crew was split up and redistributed among other crews which had lost members for one reason or another.

 

John Fred filled a co-pilot's job on one ship while Murf (Jarmolovich) filled in a navigator position on another. Murf and I still went to the beach every chance we got on non mission days, and on mission days which I sat out, I could be found at the beach by myself.

 

In the entire time I was in southern Italy, there was never a solitary cloud in the sky. Never! I was acquiring a tan and swimming regularly while thinking nice thoughts - - most of the time, anyway.. Fly-fishing was one of those thoughts - -- tried not to dwell on the negatives, like flak and bandits.

 

Italian toilets were memorable enough to record here. The latrine (lavatory) building looked, from the outside, just like all of the other base buildings. The white chalk blocks (Tufa) were just soft enough to saw into rough blocks and then finish shaping with a carpenter's axe. The blocks were just below a few feet of soil locally. The inside of the latrine, however, was quite different than one would expect. First, there was a row of three foot square stalls along the back wall without doors (the services were not co-ed at that time, of course) Each cubicle had a basin shaped recess in the floor of approximately twenty inches in diameter and four inches deep. Dead center was a three inch D drain hole, on either side of which were elevated pedestals (one on each side of the drain, and about eighteen inches apart. The pedestals were shaped and the size of a number twelve man's shoe and were at floor level.

 

The idea was to enter the stall backwards placing each shoed foot on a pedestal - - - lower your trousers and shorts - - - - squat - - - -place your personal roll of toilet tissue in your shorts (this had been tucked under your arm up to this point) When the important business at hand was completed, one re-dressed, tucked the roll back under your arm. Only now could you pull the chain and make a mad dash out of your cubicle before the ensuing flood of flush water made you a victim. I don't remember ever seeing anyone come into the latrine with reading matter. The local population was in poverty, and as a result "borrowed" (stole) anything, not nailed down; thus the requirement for each to have his own paper. Ross Perot may have visited here, what with his "giant sucking sound" comments.

 

In any event, I am convinced that the German retreat to the north was enhanced by the plumbing in the south.

 

The last two weeks of May, and the first week of June dragged by. I flew most of the missions with my own crew as there were few replacement crews arriving. On those few days when I did not fly, I purposely avoided hanging around the field; it was just upsetting watching the returning planes and wondering if my gang was among the lucky ones. None of the missions were getting any easier, and as more of your group's planes failed to return, for whatever reason, it became more difficult to maintain a positive attitude.

 

Each flight was a grind at best - - over eight hours round trip deep into Germany or Rumania*. During this time I had been to Ploesti once. This was a city of lOO,OOO population surrounded by twelve oil refineries, and was the most heavily protected (spelled fighters and flak) that the Germans defended. The battle for oil at this site lasted twenty-six months and was reportedly the most thoroughly planned battle, both offensively and defensively, that the world has ever known.

 

Sometime about June twenty-something, I was most upset to learn that our mission that day would be a return trip to Ploesti.

 

There were not many hearty appetites at the morning's breakfast, and the day simply got worse from that point on. The mission was exactly like the last trip to Rumania, except that now we knew exactly what to expect; there would be fighters too numerous to count, and without any fighter escort of our own that far from base, and there would be a sky filled with flashes and black smoke from flak, And there would be a bumpy ride both near and over the target as a result of the flak bursts close to the plane.

 

It turned out just like that - - most intimidating - - and lasting much too long. I could hear flak fragments hitting the plane even over the roar of four engines directly opposite my ears. One fragment hit our top turret at an angle and spun around inside for a couple of seconds. Once we cleared the target area, we could see a few holes in our wing, but everything was still functioning, and the ship got us back home to Manduria.

 

Many of the crews in our group were not so fortunate.

 

This was mission number ten for me, and I was beginning to believe that it would be unlikely that I would complete fifteen more trips to reach the magic number "twenty-five" which was the number of missions for rotation back to the good old USA.

 

I promise to get to the next episode sooner than I did this one.

 

Love ya,

 

* The enclosed book "INTO THE GUNS OF PLOESTI" by L.W.Newby is a gift to you.

Your dad gave it to me some time ago, but at the time I didn't feel up to re-living the war. I read it this past year, and confirmed that I am still carrying a lot of "baggage" even after over fifty years.

 

If you decide to read it at any time, Please do not do so at the expense

of required school work.

 

 



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