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Sgt. Roger F. Graham
720th Squadron
Roger Graham

Roger Graham

Roger Graham

Roger Graham

Roger Graham

Roger Graham

Roger Graham

Roger Graham

Roger Graham

 Term Paper                                                                                                                                                                                       English


"Pilot To Navigator, over."

"This is the Navigator, go ahead"

"How far is it to the Coast?"

"Twenty minutes."

                We had just dropped our bombs on the Ora Railroad Bridge in the Brenner Pass, and were on our way back to our base in southern Italy.  The anti-aircraft was light, being drawn by another group to our left.

                Our pilot couldn't control our Number 3 engine and our 1 and 2 engines were slowly loosing power.  Sam Shaw, our engineer, was working feverishly trying to correct the trouble, all to no avail; the Liberator was steadily losing altitude.

                "Pilot to crew!  Pilot to crew!  Prepare to bail out!"

                My heart dropped.  I rolled my turret down.  I opened my turret door and crawled out.  There was Tommy DiSimone, the radio operator, taking off this oxygen equipment.  Schweitzer, the other waist gunner, was doing the same and Leo Fields was scrambling out of the tail turret.  By now we had dropped to 7000 feet from our original 20,000.

                Leo and Tom were trying to light a cigarette, but were so nervous they couldn't hold their hands still enough.  At the time we thought it was because they were cold but later when we had had time to think it over admitted it must have been their nerves. 

                We were over the ocean now and still loosing altitude. The pilot saw we couldn't make it back to our lines, so he swung the big Liberator over the Gulf of Venice toward the mainland.  We could wee the ancient city of Venice off to our left.  Just as we reached the mainland the order came over the interphone to Schweitzer, I can see him to this very day, as he said with a disgusted voice, "Let's go!"

                Tom was first.  He walked to the camera hatch stepped out into the open and bailed down, feet first.  I could see his chute open.  I was next, I sat down with my feet dangling out of the hatch and could feel the wind on my legs as I shoved off.

                Spinning as I left the plane, the earth was a big blur.  First I could see the earth, then the sky.  I waited till I was sure I was clear of the plane then I pulled the rip cord.  Pop!   I could feel the pilot chute open, then with a loud crack and a heavy jerk, I started a slow descent.  Everything seemed so quiet and peaceful except our plane roaring onward, and only its left wing dropped, it circled and headed straight back toward us, as if to claim us as victims to the same fate in store for it.   Just before it reached the first man its right wing dropped and the big plane banked and dove into the ground.  "Whew!"— I breathed a sigh of relief.

                By this time I was settling fast and I could see the Italians gathering in small groups in the vicinity of where they thought we might land.  I made a beautiful landing on the sloping edge of a small country road, and rolling backward into the t ditch I received a nary a scratch nor bruise.  The Italians were now crowding around us jabbering in their native tongue.  They were crossing their arms, pointing and yelling "Tedeske" Tedeske!" I found out afterwards that they were trying to tell us to run and hide but I didn't understand and I let them rave.  I was afraid but also disgusted as I nonchalantly took off my flying equipment and there it at the Italians.  I laid my pistol on the ground and one young Italian picked it up and started away.  I yelled at him to bring it back and he looked at me and put it down.

                Before I had left the plane, I had tied my escape kit to my parachute harness and when I crawled onto the road I left my parachute in the ditch.  It was then gathered up by the Italians and taken away without my knowing it.  When I turned to take off my escape kit, which held my maps, money, and first aid kit, it was gone.  What cod I do?  I couldn't ask for it because I couldn't speak Italian, so I let it go.  I started asking the Italians " Yugoslavia?  Yugoslavia?"  They pointed to the west and with that I was off.


                As I was running it occurred to me that Tom should be nearby and that I might be able to find him.  I soon came upon an open field where I could see more Italians.  I could hear a cart rattling down the road and figured that the Italians were holding him.  All of a sudden a fellow dressed in civilian clothes, raised his hat in the air and yelled "Hey Roger, come over here!"  My heart leaped with joy.  It was Tom!  He had somehow talked the Italians into changing clothes with him.  I ran over to where he was.  An Italian took off his pants and handed them to me.  Tome explained that it would be much easier to escape the Germans and Fascists if we were not in uniform.  Just as I finished changing clothes, Leo Fields ran up.  He threw his arms about us and we jumped around in joy.  Tom, who was the son of an Italian mother and father and had always used the language at home, got Leo some civvies and we three were together in civilian clothes and within 20 minutes after landing.

                Tom was talking to the peasants when a first heard shooting.  This spurred the Italians to act; one fellow motioned for us to follow him.  We didn't know whether we should, but since they had given us their civilian clothing we figured we had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Our guide, an Italian Patriot (one who is loyal to the King), led us further west toward the Adriatic.  After a half hour of walking we came to a large highway.  The patriot led us to a small group of trees within a hundred yards of the highway.  "Here" he said, "is where you shall stay until I return in the evening."  By this time it was 1:30 in the afternoon and the German and Fascist searching parties were out in force.  We could hear them in the distance as they were shooting into fields of corn where they thought we might be hiding.  Tome and Leo pulled out their pocketbooks and started to examine them to determine whether or not they had any information which would be of aid to the Germans.  Tom didn't have anything of military value, but Leo had a G. I. drivers' license which he proceeded to tear up. 

                The rest of the afternoon was spent in waiting.  We talked, and of course our main topic was our folks back home and we wondered what they would think if they could see us now.  At 7:00 o'clock, just as it was getting dark, our friend, the Patriot returned, and after a hurried conversation with Tom we started off through the field to a farmhouse four or five miles distance.  We arrived at 9:30 and our friend went into the farmhouse and came out with some blankets which we took out to the barn.  While we waited on the outside he made up our beds and then signaled with a candle for us to enter.  With that he left us, promising to be back in the morning.

                At dawn he was back, but with a basket of food and when we had eaten he led us across more canals, fields, bringing us to rest in the midst of a corn field where he left us for the day.  The word must have spread quickly that Americans were hiding in the field.  Our first guest was an Italian woman with a basket of food and five children who gave us the once-over as we ate.  They just stood there and stared at us until we thought their eyes would burst.  As the woman left she said, "Ah, at last I have seen an American!"  And so it went all through the day.  By that time we were wishing we could have charged $.05 per look.  We spent that night in the chicken coop.

                The next morning a couple of strangers came out into the back yard where we were hiding.  One of them addressed us in English, "Hello chaps! How are you getting along?"  Gosh, it was good to hear some English again.  We eyed them in some surprise, wondering who they were.  The one who had spoken introduced himself as Peter Keritz, First Lt. South African Expeditionary Forces.  "This is my friend James Chamberlain, Sgt. British Eighth Army."  He then went on to any " We saw you bloody fellows parachute out- - we thought you were going to bomb us- - what happened anyway/"  We told him as best we could about our troubles, mainly our junky Liberator  Pete told us " You fellows were lucky to land where you did.  Three fellows of your crew were captured by the Fascists and two others managed to get away." 

                "Well, let's get going before the Fascists start another day's search for you fellows."  Pete and Jim both had bicycles and after Pete borrowed another we were ready to start. Before we left, we were informed by the peasant that a searching party and been at the house at which we had slept the night before and had found the blankets in the barn. However the family had given the Germans an alibi which must have satisfied them because they hadn't been bothered again.  Tom rode the borrowed bicycle, Leo rode with Jim and I rode with Pete.  After riding along country lanes for about 10 minutes we came to a large urban highway along the Adriatic.

                We started off down the highway and Tom began to sing Italian songs, anything to make us appear inconspicuous to the approaching Germans.  As they passed us, little did they suspect that we, the hunted, were so close at hand. 

                After an hour of riding we arrived at our destination.  Jim pulled up beside us and said, "This is our little kingdom.  We hope you will like it here."

                I was to eat with Jim; Leo and Tom were to eat with Pete.  After we had eaten, Pete was to pick up the other two Americans.  We were all wondering who the other fellows were but we finally decided to wait and see along as we couldn't figures it out. 

                Pete and Jim lived with two separate families but their houses were only about fifty yards apart and separated by a clay road which became impassable in rainy weather.  Thus they felt quite secure.

                I went with Jim over to his house.  All the family was at the dinner table, the men sat at a large table by themselves, and the women and children at another table.  Whenever the men wanted anything they would yell at the women to bring it over to them.  The men, I quickly learned, were the supreme rulers here in Italy. 

                After dinner, we all went to the fields were we hid in a large ditch.  This was to be our hang-out for the next twenty-five days.  An hour later, back came Pete with Same Shaw, our engineer, and Joseph Odom, the nose gunner. They had landed close together and started off cross-country in the direction of Yugoslavia.  After walking for a day, they came upon a family who knew of Pete, the Englishman, who was befriending fugitives.  The family had set word to Pete that they had two Americans and had kept the two until Pete came to their aid.

                Later that afternoon Pete went around to the different Italian families in the close vicinity and asked them if they would keep an American for awhile.  Not one family wanted to do so because of the risk involved.  After much persuasion, he finally talked the families into taking us.  When dusk came we all went back to peasant houses and had supper; then Pete took each of us our separate "homes."

                I was introduced to the family as "Rugerro."  This was my home for the next twenty-five days.  I had a bed with a mattress of corn husks, two sheets and two blankets- -which was the best bed I had during my seven months' stay in Northern Italy.

                Every day, we five Americans would meet in our original ditch; although I would spend nearly every morning working in the fields with the family.

                After the first couple of weeks we had met all the English, South African, and New Zealand fellows in this area.  They would come over and visit us as they were all known throughout the locality.  Our presence in the community was supposed to be a secret, but somehow the information leaked out and our "families" became afraid and asked Pete to get us out. 


                On the tenth of October Pete moved us to a different area about twenty miles away.  It was further north toward the mountains on this Pieve River to a town by the name of Benson Di Fieave.  This community had a well-organized band of Partisans headed by a count who arranged for our places to stay and also helped to furnish our clothing and tobacco.  During my stay here I was the grape season so my time was spent (between air raids) helping the family cut their grapes and haul them into the house.  There the grapes were put into large vats and left to ferment.  After a few days the peasants would climb into the vats and stomp the juice from the hulls with their bare feet.  After a few more days they would drain off the wine, put it into barrels and seal it. 

                Here, as back at Passarella, we fellows would meet either in the fields or at each other's homes; we spent most of our time playing cards or talking of home or of how we could get out of here. 

                Leo had been very impatient and eager to attempt an escape, but we had always stalled him off, thinking that the front might crack; but this was the rainy season and the armies were bogged down, so on the 13th of October Leo and Buck (a New Zealander) decided to make a try for it.  We bid them farewell and wished them luck, but later heard that they had been taken prisoner.  Shortly after Leo and Buck left four other of our group got the fever to escape.  Sam Shaw teamed with another New Zealander and Tom DiSimone with our bombardier.

                It was through the Count that Pete met an Italian doctor who was willing to assist the boys in their escape by supplying them with bicycles and money.  Tom and Rosco each received $150 and two new bicycles and Sam and Mac, $100 and some moral support.  I received enough material for a suit and an overcoat and also $100.  In exchange for this help we gave him written receipts with which he hoped to convince the Allied Military Government that he was not a Fascist- -whether he was or not, we didn't know, but we didn't are as long as we got the money.

                On the 4th of November Sam and Leo hit the trail.  The Partisans gave them a start by giving them a ride by bicycles for about twenty miles.  After that they were on their own.  We didn't know how they made out until we got to Bari, the headquarters of the 15th Air Force.   There Sam reported conditions behind enemy lines. (1)

                On November 5 Tom and Rosco headed for the front; and again we didn't receive any information about them until we arrived at Bari.

                I was now the only American left in this area, Joe having gone back to Passarella, and before I left the Count asked me if I would care to join the Partisans.  My answer, of course, was "No." (2)

1.        W. Z. Granecki – "I Wouldn't Stay a Prisoner"

Saturday Evening Post 217,  July 14, 1945, 22


2.        White, William L. – "Some Affairs of Honor"

Readers' Digest 47,  December 1945.  136-154            

                On Sunday, November 5, Levini, the padrone, (1) returned from church.  He appeared frightened and I asked him what was wrong.  He replied, "After church five different parties asked me if I had an American staying at my house.  Of course I denied it, but they wouldn't believe me.  I'm afraid I will have to ask you to go."  I asked him to tell the Count.

                Three days later at high noon Jim came from Passarella to pick me up.  About the only thing of interest during the trip back to Passarella other than our landscape, was three bomb craters so large that we had to get off our bicycles and walk around them.  At about 4:00 P.M. we were back where we had spent our first month.   I was left with a family of 22 people where I stayed through the 14th of December, when again I was forced to leave.  This time I wasn't the only one to have to leave; I was accompanied by a New Zealander who had narrowly escaped capture because e had been sleeping in the fields when the Fascists raided his house.  The Fascist had been tipped off that Bill was staying with the family and before they left they beat up the padrone trying to get information, but try as they might, he wouldn't tell them where Bill was.  After the Fascists left the badly frightened family told Bill that he would have to leave.  My trouble was that a Fascist soldier had accidently stumbled on to a fellow-American in the same area, and although the American had escaped this started a large sale searching of the entire locality.  So my family also told me to be on my way.  It was just by luck that Bill and I were forced together.  We then decided to cross the Old Piave.

                Early the next morning we contacted a boatman who ferried us across the river.  Joseph, who had taken us to the landing told us to lie low because at 6:00 the German patrol would come along.  With that he was off; ten minutes later he was back with the boatman.  By this time the first grey streaks of dawn were stretching into the sky.  We climbed into the boat and started across the river.  This reminded me of a nightmare or horror story one reads or sees in the movies.   In a moment we were on the other side.  Joseph and the boatman gave us our last instructions and we were off.  We had a little basket the Italians had given us - - it was packed with rolls of salome, a loaf of bread, a liter of grasps, which is their equivalent to our whiskey.

                We were walking down the road with houses on both sides- -we were afraid, though we had been told that there were no Fascists or Germans on the island.  Then we began to search for a new home.  We approached the first house which looked as if its occupants might be friendly.  The ma of the house was doing his shores when we entered the yard.  My buddy, who spoke Italian fluently, greeted the peasant, "Bon jorno, Amico!"  With this the peasant wanted to know who we were.  Bill said, "I am a New Zealander and my friend is an American."  After this the peasant seemed very friendly and invited us into his house for some breakfast.  During the course of the meal we told him our story, being very careful not to mention any names or localities where we had stayed previously for the reason that we dint' want any of our friends to be taken prisoner because of our loose talk.

1.        Padrone is the Italian name given to the head man of the family- -usually the oldest one.

After breakfast the peasant told us regretfully that he wouldn't help us because the Germans came every morning to collect fish he had caught in his nets and traps, but he did tell us to follow the road to the last island where he thought we might be safe.  We set out, stopping at every farmhouse asking for help.  The people all seemed very friendly and would have helped us if it hadn't been for the fact that they were afraid- -afraid for their homes, families, and their lives.  They all asked us questions much as our age, our home, whether we were married or not, and always, "Who is winning the war?" and "When will it be over?"  As if we knew.


This continued all morning, even to the last island, where lay our last hope of safety.  All was to no avail—so we started back, hopeless.


                It was late afternoon when we reached our original starting point—the house at which we first stopped that morning.  The peasant greeted us with no surprise and invited us in to supper.  We asked him if we could sleep in his stable.  He let us stay only on the condition that we would leave early next morning. 

                The next morning we again contacted a boatman to ferry us bank across the Piave.  Again we stopped a t Joseph's place and he gave us breakfast and also connected to letting us hide in his fields for a few days.  On the evening of December 23 we went back to Passarella and here allowed to stay at the home of the family who had been frightened into getting rid of me.  They had not been bothered by the Fascists since my departure of several days ago.  Bill and I stayed there over Christmas with no more important events.

                On the morning of December 28 we again started off; this time toward Benson De Riave.  There we thought it might be cooler.  On the way we stopped and had dinner with a family who were friends of Bill's.  As we were eating dinner we heard people shouting as we ran to see what the trouble was.  The connection was caused by an American B-24 Liberator in trouble.  The crew was bailing out.  The first eight came out in good order, then all of a sudden the plane went into a nose dive and just as it reached the coast it went into a dive at about 5000 feet and blew up.  Out of the explosion came one parachute, but it was afire and he plummeted to his death.  Knowing that the Fascists and Germans would be looking for the parachutists we revised our plan and headed back toward the Old Piave area.  We spent that night sleeping in a German-prepared machine gun post which was a part of elaborate fortifications that had prepared in case the Allies cracked the front at Bologna.  On the early morning of the 27th we stopped at several large farms and asked if they would help us but everyone refused.  As we were nearing Joseph's place we spotted a beautiful field of corn stalks all close together so we stopped and built ourselves a small hut of the stalks.  When we had finished we thought we were nicely settled for the day, when out came the family to plow.  We remained in hiding, however, until the dogs discovered us.  The peasants, hearing the dogs barking, stopped work to find out what the trouble was, there as longs as we wanted to.  We remained there for the following four months.  We only had two blankets and one overcoat to protect us from the snow and cold winter blasts.

                During the last of December through January 5 the weather was beautiful and Bill and I would gather up our blankets and sit in a ravine which was well sheltered from outside view.   Most of our time was spent in playing cards.  It was on the afternoon of the fifth that our first snow came.  We were holed up in our corn shock and as the snow struck the hut it melted and before long we were drenched to the skin.  The only thing that kept us in good spirits was the wine that the generous Italians had given to us.

                It was a long dull winter, but we spent many an evening at Joseph's place.  There we would all sit around the firm place and roast field corn in the hot ashes of the ire and when they were as near popping as they would get, we would cool them off.  Then as we ate the corn, we drank wine.  Gosh it was good.  I could go for some right now!

                All during the winter Pete and Jim had been working toward a way to get out of this country and back to Allied control.  Finally on the afternoon of the 11th of April we received word to be ready to leave next morning.  That night Bill and I bid all our good Italian friends adieu and the next morning we were off.   There were in the vicinity ten others who were going to leave with us.  We walked in pairs and spread over an area of 6 miles of highway.  Two of the fellows had bicycles and rode back and forth keeping an eye to the front and to rear in case of approaching danger.  On the way we passed through an area of elaborate German fortifications.   The trip came off without a hitch for all of us and we finally arrived at our destination to find 6 fellows who had been ahead of us.  They had gathered together at a farmhouse where two New Zealanders had stayed 19 months without even as much as a scare.  We called this our staging area.  We all slept in a hay stack that night.  Maybe I shouldn't say "slept" because I don't believe any of us slept.  We were all too excited at the prospects of getting home.

                Also one of our members was a German soldier who had deserted the German Army.  He had previously been an interpreter for the German Command at San Dona and through his contacts with the Italians decided to desert.  He had teamed up with a South African whom I only knew as Frank.  They had lived together for four months.  At first we thought the German might be a spy but decided he was sincere, since after a month he still hadn't reported us.  He claimed not to be a Nazi but we all doubted him.

                All during Friday the 13th of April we hid in the hay—at the closing of day we received orders to march.  We were now eight miles from the coast.  We covered the first five miles by cart.  Maybe you can imagine what it looked like—all fourteen of us loaded onto the horse-drawn cart with our feet dangling.  We soon drew up to a large group of buildings called "The Agency."  Here the Partisans had gathered, close to 35 of them.  They certainly were a tough-looking lot with mixed clothing of German, Italian, English and American uniforms, their ammunition belts slung over their shoulders, pistols and knives at their sides.  Some were carrying English Bren guns, others had German and Italian rifles and lost but not least, there was an American-made rubber life raft with which they were to ferry us across canals and swamps.

                We left the agency about 9:00 P.M. and after crossing the first canal we walked single file keeping as quiet as possible as we passed by German machine gun posts, homes where German soldiers were billeted, across a railway bridge which rang with every step—I still don't understand how we ever crossed that without being detected—and finally after what seemed like years we reached the coast.  We passed through a heavily mined area, where the Partisan had dug up just enough mines to clear a path.   When we arrived at the coast we were told to sit and wait.  The head Partisan who was an American spy went to the water's edge and with a strong signal lamp started sending out the letter "H" in Morse Code.  As we sat all tense and excited we could hear a powerful high-speed engine way out at sea; it kept growing in volume nearer and nearer, then all at once it out, not another sound was heard.  After another twenty minutes of suspense a boat loomed up in the dark.  We all felt like jumping up and down and yelling for joy, but of course we couldn't spoil it now.  As the boat drew up to the shore we were told to stay out of the way while they unloaded the supplies for the Partisans and as a British Captain was giving instructions to the Partisan leader, we jumped into three rubber rafts that were tied behind the lead boat and we were off for home!  God what a day!

                It was at 1:00 A.M. on the morning of April 14 when we arrived at the P-T boat.  As we boarded the craft there was an American Colonel awaiting.  The first thing he had to say was, "Have you heard the latest news?"  Our answer of course was "No."  "President Roosevelt died yesterday."  After a brief pause he said, "Well, we'll be at Arcona by 9:00 if we don't hit a mine."

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