I took the night train from Boston to Washington on Friday, May 15. Larry Shields, a colleague, who met me in the South Station by chance, said that he had never seen anyone look as ill-at-ease as I did in my unfamiliar uniform. Indeed, I began my military career the next morning with a flourish by addressing a full Colonel as Captain.
Saturday was a hot spring day, most of which I spent in getting a hotel room and in traveling from one Army office to another, being sworn in, and filling out endless forms. Finally, in mid-afternoon, I appeared, sweaty and exhausted, at the distant dispensary for my induction physical. The farewell parties, the fatigue, the heat and the nervous excitement all had taken their toll, and both my pulse and my blood-pressure were in excelsis. The doctors refused to pass me, bidding me return the next morning for further readings.
For three more days, they kept me returning, morning and afternoon, for pulse and blood-pressure checks. I was frantic with fear that I would be rejected and have to return to Andover in a humiliating anticlimax to my departure as a soldier to the wars. The result was to establish a conditioned reflex such that ever since the mere sight of a sphygmomanometer sends my blood-pressure soaring.
One of the happiest chances that year and a tremendous boon for me, was the presence in Washington of Pop West, my college roommate, and his wife, Marion. Pop had been called up to active duty in the Naval Reserve a year before, and he and Marion had found a pleasant, comfortable apartment on California Street, at a time when such apartments were still to be found. They had me to dinner the second night after my arrival and both told me in later years that they felt no small concern for my mental state because I kept feeling my pulse all evening. Eventually, on Tuesday, I was passed for active duty. When I told the doctor of my long anxiety, he merely said, "Oh, we intended all the time to pass you." For their own obscure purposes, they had burdened me with a life-long complex.
So I fell to work in Washington, its normally frenetic atmosphere raised to the n-th power by the excitement of the war. As I have observed, the Air Force at that time was still an appendage of the Army, and very much an unloved child, as one forward and bumptious beyond tolerance. (Later, when I was at Pope Field at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Air Force officers were assigned their own Club in a small log cabin and were made to feel distinctly unwelcome in the large and impressive Club sacred to the Artillery and other branches of the old Army.) In the spring of 1942, the Pentagon was still being built and Army Headquarters was in the old Munitions Building, the Navy in a similar building close by. When I first went on active duty, Air Force Intelligence was housed in the Maritime Building. Later we moved to a structure at Gravelly Point which was still under construction. The grounds were very sandy and were still being landscaped, so that with the windows wide open in Washington's summer heat --- air-conditioning was still in its infancy --- we lived in a perpetual dustbowl.
My first days were very exciting, with the piles of classified documents, which seemed much more imposing then than later. In those days, if my memory is correct, the three degrees of restriction were, in ascending order, Restricted, Confidential and Secret. "Top Secret" was a child of the inevitable inflation which attacks all human systems of value.
I was, of course, extremely conscious of the necessity for security. In June, I was sent by Colonel Moss, my superior, to read and report on the secret cables to Marshall, Arnold and others regarding the raid by our planes upon the oil fields at Ploesti in Rumania. It was the first big operation of our bombers in the European Theater, and a disastrous one. I was, naturally, goggle-eyed at documents of such transcendent importance and took exceedingly cryptic notes, then rushed over to Gravelly Point, seeing a Nazi agent on every corner. When I came to make my verbal report to Colonel Moss, my notes were so cryptic that I myself could not read them and my first mission was as unsuccessful as that of the bombers.
If I recall correctly, the Ploesti raid was one of the classic snafus of the war. Radio silence had been ordered, and so, when the wind shifted suddenly after take-off, there was no way to warn the planes to change their navigational calculations. Blown off their course, planes came down all over the Balkans, and by a curious reverse English, the German Intelligence was utterly frustrated as reports of American planes came in from all directions, and the enemy at first suspected that a mass troop-landing was in progress. There was, I believe, a similar story about the much later Sicilian landings, and I am not certain now whether either or both accounts are correct. I do know that there was great anxiety in Washington lest the Germans might have captured the new, highly accurate, and most secret Norden bombsight.
Finding a place to live in wartime Washington was extremely difficult. The Army was no help --- there were no Bachelor Officer Quarters. I spent my first few days in a hotel but then, by a great stroke of luck, found a room in a boarding house at 1312 16th Street, N.W., run by two widows of a certain age and chiefly inhabited by "government girls," with a bare sprinkling of four or five males, either in the Service or about to be drafted. My room, which must have been the Third Kitchen Maid's in the house's great days as a private residence --- someone said the McAdoo's had once lived there --- was a tiny cubby-hole on the top floor, so small that a friend declared that I had to step out into the hall to open a bureau drawer for a handkerchief. The furnishings were a bed, a chair and a bureau --- no table. There was a communal bathroom nearby, which was generally heavily draped with feminine underthings and stockings hung up to dry. The stifling heat of a Washington summer night in that tiny room beneath the eaves passed belief. If I sat writing home, clad only in pajama pants, the perspiration dripped from my face onto the paper. Some nights, I lay mother-naked, with nothing over me, and in the morning the bottom sheet would be as damp as though I had gone to bed without drying myself after a shower.
The redeeming feature of the house was the food. An old Virginia black woman presided in the kitchen with a genuine culinary genius. Sunday morning breakfasts were a particular delight with crisp, fresh waffles. They were, however, marred by the presence of the feminine contingent in dressing gowns and curlers. In fact, any male with lingering illusions about feminine daintiness soon lost them in that house.
It is quite impossible in words to give an adequate picture of wartime Washington --- the vast throngs everywhere, the waiting in line for crowded buses and in packed restaurants, the general air of moral laissez-faire. In those days, the New Morality was just being born and most of the young people came from backgrounds with old-fashioned standards. Nature, for her own purposes, seems always to heighten the sex urge in time of war, and uniforms have always been a form of fetish. Most people found themselves, for the first time in their lives, free from the censorious eyes and gossip of their small hometowns. The men, most of them, were awaiting orders to areas of combat and had the urge to taste all of life's pleasures while there was yet time, and the girls, with the age-old pity for the battle-bound male, were only too willing to accommodate themselves to their desires. Other cities, I was to discover, shared this atmosphere, notably pre-invasion London and, I am told, San Francisco.
When I was about to enter the service I was told an important truth by Ray Shepard, the old Athletic Director at Andover, a veteran of the first World War and one of the wisest men I ever knew. He described the great sense of peace which had descended upon him after he entered the Army --- the realization that he was free of the necessity of making many decisions and of any concern about providing his own food and lodging. All was out of his hands. This was not, of course, quite true in my case during my days in Washington, but I found it entirely so after I went out into the field. And there is no denying that there was an intoxicating sense of freedom in being released from the scrutiny of the myriad eyes which observe one's goings and comings in the microcosm of a boarding school or any other closely integrated social group.
The task assigned me at the office had only the most tangential connection with my supposed expertise in German. I was asked to choose targets for the strategic bombing of Italy! The work called for an expert in economic geography, which I most certainly was not. I found myself studying make-up and operations of coke ovens, oil-cracking plants, electrolytic zinc plants and railways in every aspect --- tunnels, bridges, cuttings, and marshaling yards. All of these targets had to be pinpointed with latitude and longitude to the second, if possible. How I cursed the terrain of southern Italy and Sicily where the railway crossed the stream bed of a fumicello seemingly every hundred yards.
One fascinating problem developed in the definition of targets when we used Italian maps (of which more anon). We found that our longitudes differed from those of the British by a consistent variant of a few seconds. Now the various European nations do not always use the Greenwich zero parallel; the French, of course, use Paris; the Germans, by some curious historical survival of Portuguese maritime supremacy, a point in Portugal; and the Italians, Rome. We checked and rechecked our figures, always with the same result of a small variant from the British readings. Finally, I discovered the explanation. We were using two different observatories in Rome for our zero, one in the Vatican gardens, the other the Royal Observatory elsewhere in the city.
The equipment with which I began my work was an antiquated Baedeker of Italy, a German translation of a boastful Fascist book on the engineering projects carried out under Mussolini, and our only real help, a complete set of RAF target charts for Italy.
I must here comment upon the shocking inadequacy of American military intelligence at that time. Housed in the latest, most burglar-proof steel filing cabinets were neatly typed and almost entirely valueless reports from our military attachés, (We had been much too much the little gentlemen to use spies, a tradition which the present Senate seems determined to restore.) The reports presented a glittering but soporific account of dinner parties, cocktail parties, teas, all replete with the names of high-ranking Fascists. Occasionally, some regiment or portion of the Italian fleet was reviewed. Of the economic information which I was seeking, there was not a word.
Later, when I worked in RAF Intelligence, I saw some of the British files. These consisted of bulky, old-fashioned scrapbooks with bits and pieces of paper pasted in. Typically crabbed British hands purveyed such items as these, "At No. _Via_ in Gerrara is a small shop making fuses for hand-grenades." "On the western outskirts of Ravenna is a small plant providing rangefinders for the artillery." And, of course, there was abundant information on the more important installations and factories. In those early days we were almost completely dependent upon the British for our information.
I have always been able to make a quick and easy adjustment to new living conditions. This was fortunate, for the change in my circumstances was very great indeed. In the first place, there was a severe financial loss. I had not then begun my present custom of keeping detailed records, but my recollection is that my pay on entering the service was $1,800 a year, plus a small allowance for quarters and maintenance. There was no provision whatever of any recreational facilities for junior officers and no Mess in central Washington, though there was a restaurant at Gravelly Point at which to eat lunch. I once went to a dance for junior officers at the Sulgrave Club and found myself the only officer there over 25, whereas the girls were contemporaries of my Andover students. I tried a USO and found none there save enlisted men, who made me anything but welcome. In short, there was provision for those of field rank and above and for enlisted men, but none for the junior officers. Furthermore, my age put me beyond the pale with most of those of my rank.
I passed my leisure time in three ways. Not only the Wests but my fellow officers James Low and Paul Bloom and their wives were very kind in entertaining me. Secondly, I embarked upon a long program of reading --- Homer, Dante, Tacitus and all of Livy. Thirdly, I acquired a taste for pub-crawling which persisted for many years after the War. I enjoyed the chance encounters and the random conversations; the drinking which went with them was merely the means to an end. Fortunately, both physically and mentally, innate characteristics prevent me from becoming an alcoholic. I am not particularly proud of those wasted hours. Let us call them a sacrifice to the God of Battles which has been made by men-at-arms since wars began.
At first, the work was novel and fascinating, a sort of intellectual detective procedure. I had the use of government transportation --- trucks and buses along scheduled routes, private cars and chauffeurs elsewhere. One had, of course, to register destination and purpose, in general terms, of the trip. I used the word trucks advisedly. It was a sore point with us that the Navy, the President's darling among the services, ran about Washington in long, slick buses or private cars, many of their officers being fetched from home to work in private limousines. For several months, we reached the office by the grossly over-crowded public transportation or in GI trucks, whose seats consisted of a single long board on each side, running lengthwise. Sudden stops entailed for those sitting far to the rear on a nearly empty seat, a rapid slide to the front, complicated only too often by the collection of splinters in the tangential portions of the rider's anatomy. Later, the Army acquired long buses similar to those of the Navy, and we felt less jealous of those whom we referred to as "our allies."
My first place of research had been the Library of Congress, but I soon discovered other, often quite improbable sources of information. Perhaps my greatest triumph was the result of a hint which I picked up from a source which I now forget. During the reconstruction of Europe after World War I, many American banks had loaned money to Italy, many corporations done work there. During the Depression, the Securities Exchange Commission, in the course of its investigations, had gathered all sorts of material upon these investments and loans. Acting on the hint, I went to the SEC and began examining its files. To my delight, I came up with ground plans of the plants of much of Italy's heavy industry, which were at that time engaged in war production.
Someone else turned up in the Library of the University of Chicago, of all unlikely places, a complete set of the Italian General Staff's maps of Italy, so far as they had been completed up to that time. For the areas covered, they were incredibly detailed, even having symbols for the various species of trees. They were the most superb maps I ever saw. By contrast, the French military maps were merely reprints of a series made under Napoleon. (These I saw much later in the files of the RAE in London.) Since I never worked on Germany, I never saw their maps, and since, naturally we were not planning to bomb Britain, I never saw their famous series.
The story of the chance discovery in Chicago, prompted me to propose investigations in Widener Library at Harvard and in the New York Public Library. I applied for travel orders to carry out the search, and had my first encounter with the military mind at its narrowest. The request came back with a letter saying that if I would specify any books I desired, the libraries in question would be requested to send them to us. The higher powers had completely missed the point that this was a fishing expedition.
That trip was never made, but I was allowed to go to Boston to consult the engineering firm of Stone and Webster concerning some construction which they had done in Italy. The gentleman whom I interviewed began by blandly asserting that the firm had never done any work in Italy. "I am sorry to contradict you, sir,' I said, "but I have seen your correspondence in the files of the SEC." His descent from his high horse was precipitate, but I got small results from the interview.
I went to Boston over a weekend, and so had an opportunity to visit my family in nearby Melrose and to go to Andover for the Andover-Exeter football game. The trip was the occasion for my first wearing a splendid new winter overcoat with the handsome Air Force shoulder patch. (We were still wearing Army brown.) It was one of the rare occasions in my life when I have been vain of my appearance, but the fall of pride was more than proverbially swift, for the new coat acquired a conspicuous grease stain from the car door on my way to the station. I think that it was on that trip that I found myself short a nickel to pay a candy vendor on the train and he had no change. Admiral Byrd was standing nearby, and he provided the missing coin, a debt which I never had the opportunity to repay.
I at one time counted up the number of government agencies which were pursuing parallel or identical studies of the politics, military organizations, economics, geography, industry, weather and transportation of Italy. The number was well up in the teens. Yet there was remarkably little communication or sharing of information; indeed each agency seemed to regard the others jealously, as threats to its own existence. I shall mention one or two incidents of this policy of non-communication, which I later came to know as the endemic malady of Washington.
The Meteorological Section of the Air Force had prepared and printed, with abundant maps and statistical tables, an exhaustive study of the climate of Italy in each province and in each month of the year, detailing temperatures, precipitation, winds and cloud conditions. Yet the Army, apparently unaware of this study, sent our troops into a winter campaign in Italy clad in summer uniforms. I have myself seen snow in Naples and Sicily and have been bitterly cold in Rome.
By accident, I had established a friendly personal relationship with a civilian employee in Naval Intelligence, which was notoriously unwilling to share information. Thanks to this friendship and a mutual policy of give and take, I was often able to save days of slow progress through "channels" and obtain needed intelligence immediately.
One day, high priority messages came from European Air Force Headquarters demanding soonest possible information about the German submarine pens on the Atlantic coast of France. I was despatched hurriedly to the Navy Building with a civilian employee to learn from my friend what we could on the subject. We were back in an hour with valuable data. Within a very short time, my immediate superior was besieged with furious phone calls from the Air Force officer who was liaison man with Naval Intelligence. We had committed the unforgivable sin in all bureaucracies --- failure to go through channels. The fact that we had accomplished in hours what would have consumed days through channels, counted for nothing. I was forbidden ever to use my Naval friend's help again.
I suppose no war is strictly popular, but surely none in our history enjoyed wider popular support than World War II, thanks to the egregious error of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Yet even the general dedication to victory did not wholly suppress the forces of egoism, ambition, and jealousy. Before giving a specific example, I should like to make one general observation.
As in nearly every other aspect of human conduct, there is good and bad in the fierce particularism of military entities. On the bad side, this hampers efficiency and vastly increases expense, as in the separate purchasing systems of the services. On the other hand, the unhappy aspect of the pride which is called morale, is a more valuable element in achieving victory than all the dollars which might be saved in centralized purchasing of shoes and skivvies. Patton was a prickly martinet but no one who saw his forces could deny that their high morale matched the spruce appearance which set them off from the too-often-slovenly troops under other commanders. And their battlefield performance proved the value of this morale. Perhaps it was my patent admiration for high morale and neat appearance which was the basis for my generally smooth relationships with the notoriously difficult paratroops when I later came to deal with them.
On my way back to Washington from the Boston trip, I had an amusing, and somewhat deflating experience. When the train stopped at Newark, a group of thoroughly inebriated GI's lurched into the car. One of them came up the aisle shouting an unbroken stream of obscenities. As he came opposite me, I said quietly, "Take it easy, soldier."
"What d'ya mean, take it easy?" he cried and lurched on. I arose and went in search of the MP's, with whom the train had been swarming between Boston and New York. Apparently all had gotten off at New York. I returned to my seat, resigning myself to swallowing the gesture of disrespect. Suddenly, a presence appeared at my side, an aura of beer washed over me, and a voice said thickly, "Permission to speak to the Captain?" "Permission granted," I replied. "Sir," said my friend, "I want to apologize for my conduct. I've been taught to respect the uniform, no matter who wears it."
As fall wore on, I began to perceive the quarrels and jealousies which make up far too much of life at Headquarters.
A great debate was going on between the British and American Air Forces as to techniques of strategic bombing. The British favored areal (not to be confused with aerial) bombing, that is, massive night raids in which whole areas of a city were blanketed with bombs, with little attempt to pinpoint targets. Indeed, the intention was to include the residential quarters of the industrial workers in order that the resultant casualties and discomfort might affect the work and morale of the labor force. The great proponent of this technique was an RAF Vice-Marshall nicknamed Butcher Harris. The Americans, proud of the new Norden bombsight, wished to try precision bombing by daylight, relying on heavy fighter escort for protection. Their enthusiasm was later somewhat dampened by the terrible losses suffered in such raids as that on Schweinfurt. At the height of the dispute, my immediate superior, Major Lowe, asked me to do a study of the problem. I came to the unwelcome conclusion that the British were right. This so angered the Major that he turned even redder than his usual color and shoved the report into the back of a safe, where, so far as I know, it still reposes. This was my first lesson in the perils of disagreement with military superiors, although Major Lowe was too fair a person to allow his momentary anger to affect our subsequent relationship.
The primary strategic problem of the Air Force was the choice of targets best calculated to cripple the enemy's war effort. (I must make plain that I worked only on the European war.) I saw a long series become prime favorites, only to be dropped from favor as the effects of their destruction or damage proved trivial or evanescent. Transportation targets were an early favorite, but the enemy proved capable of repairing marshalling yards and bridges with amazing, and, to us, disappointing speed, and tunnels were soon abandoned because effective hits proved so difficult. (Bombing of transportation facilities was resumed in the spring of 1944 as part of the "Interdiction Program" designed to hamper the flow of troops and supplies to the German forces in France.) The destruction of oil wells and refineries seemed to cause the enemy only transient embarrassment. Then there was the great excitement over bombing coke ovens, the source of innumerable vital coal tar products. But these proved far too numerous and too easily repaired to make satisfactory targets. Next, some brilliant mind conceived the idea that a mechanized army moves on ball bearings. Germany's plants producing these bearings were few, one of the most important being at Schweinfurt, the bombing of which was, as I have said, one of the most costly raids of the war in losses of men and planes. Yet whatever damage was caused was quickly compensated by the complaisant and obliging Swedes, who had a flourishing ball bearing industry.
I well recall a morning in the winter of 1944, when I was stationed in England with the Eighth Air Force. At a staff meeting of Intelligence officers, I heard the Director of Intelligence say, "Gentlemen, can't anyone of you come up with a suggestion of something to bomb?" Personally, I was never able to be entirely objective on the subject, being always conscious of the human lives and fortunes involved, both for the bombers and the bombed, and I thought then, as I often have since, of the frailty of those whose random, ill-informed decisions meant death to so many innocent and helpless folk.
In so many aspects of life, the same gift may be at once a blessing and a curse. The capacity for abstract thought is, I suppose, the secret of man's rise to his dominant position in the natural world. Yet that very capacity enables him to conceive and carry out designs which entail enormous suffering upon his fellow creatures, man and dumb animals alike. He sees the shining fur, not the torture of the animal in the trap's jaws; the splendid trophy, not the agony of the hunted. He can coldly plan the wiping out of a regiment, the destruction of a city and they are only abstract concepts to him; he does not actually visualize the terror and the pain. Only rare and twisted minds delight in inflicting pain on others. If the majority of mankind could visualize the airman dying in the flames, the child's broken body in the ruins, wars would be few. Perhaps the television coverage of the war in Vietnam may have done something to bring reality before us.
In typical American style, it was decided to turn out regional folders listing bombing targets in various sections of Italy. The British had already prepared a set of individual target sheets, poorly printed, apparently mimeographed, on a cheap quality of paper. let the contract for printing our folders to the Time Life organization, which produced handsome and costly brochures with elegant maps printed in various colors. The folders were, of course, Top Secret and were supposedly printed under the strictest precautions to maintain security. However, one dramatic day, the word came back that a shipping error at the printing plant had sent out the first bundles of target folders in the place of that week's issue of Life. What a crisis that was! Only the most frenzied activity at every level averted the disaster of the American public picking up our target folders at the corner newsstand.
This recalls another security leak with likewise comic overtones. Each evening, at the close of work, all office wastebaskets were carefully emptied and their contents, which often contained bits of highly secret information, were carefully burned in a special furnace. One evening, a new and inexperienced man was operating the furnace. He turned on the blast before the paper was fully aflame and scraps of vital secrets were blown all over the Washington landscape. Luckily, apparently no spies chanced upon this treasure.
As fall passed into winter, my sense of elation at the vital importance of my work began to fade. It gradually became apparent that we were working too far from the scene of operations. The rapid and spectacular development of aerial photo-intelligence made possible swift and crucial changes in plans in offices much closer to the actual war zone, where bombing crews fresh from raids could add their evidence to that of photographs taken just a few hours before. Other photographs, taken shortly after the raids, facilitated prompt assessment of the results. Our handsome and costly folders were obsolete before they were off the press. I cannot speak with regard to the Pacific theater, with which I had no contact at any time, but the millions expended on target folders of Europe in the Washington offices were almost wholly thrown away. Later, when I was working in our RAF-AAF office in London, a joint intelligence operation, I found piles of our folders gathering dust on the top shelf of a closet. Almost anyone who has ever taken part in any military operation knows the enormous waste, the millions and millions of dollars worth of material carelessly thrown away.
I then had my first and, I thank God, my last experience with that powerful Washington bureaucracy which none of our Presidents has ever attacked with success. Though our reason for existence became more and more dubious, Colonel Moss was determined to maintain and enlarge his staff, since, according to military custom, his rank rose in direct proportion to the number of his subordinates. It was notorious that he seldom gave anyone a release from his staff to other duty.
I had set up an entire pattern for the strategic bombing of Italy, marking out geographical divisions and writing and editing the target folders. One day, in the early winter, I was called in by Major Morgan, Colonel Moss's next in command, and abruptly ordered to hand over all my material on Italy to another officer who had been left idle because his work on the African campaign was finished. Since this officer knew nothing about Italy, had never been there, and commanded not a word of Italian, I asked the reason for the transfer. "Because he has nothing to do," said Major Morgan.
"Are we here to win the war or to give people jobs?" I inquired. The question was not well received nor was it answered, and I am sure that from that day my separation from the office was inevitable. Shortly, I found myself passing my daily eight hours of duty reading detective stories.
I had for some time been acting as liaison officer between Air Intelligence at Gravelly Point and the Italian Section of Army Intelligence, G-2, in the newly opened Pentagon. Incidentally, as an illustration of the laxness of security there, I once went over and fetched back to our office the Top Secret strategic bombing plans for Italy without once being asked to show any identification whatsoever save my word and my uniform. The Head of the Italian Section was a Colonel Bakeless, in civilian life a professor of English at Yale. On the original basis of a common dislike for a certain person at Harvard, he and I had struck up a warm friendship.
Just when my morale in my Air Force job was at its lowest, Bakeless asked me if I would like to come over and work with him. Naturally, I was delighted. It was agreed that if I could obtain a release from Colonel Moss, Bakeless would put in a request for my services.
The problem was in obtaining the release, for, as I have said, Colonel Moss was notoriously unwilling to grant them. It seemed that heroic measures were demanded. Accordingly, when the Colonel asked why I wished to be released, I said, "Because this is the worst run office I have ever been in." (I did not think it necessary to add that it was the one.) Pressed for instances, I mentioned the removal of my able but impolitic superior officer and friend, Captain James Lowe, to some meaningless post in the pentagon, whereas some notoriously ineffective but politically astute officers were regularly advanced. The Colonel looked taken aback and then said, "If that is the way you feel, perhaps you had better leave."
I caught the next bus to the Pentagon and rushed all radiant into Colonel Bakeless' office to tell him that I was all his. His face fell and in an embarrassed tone he said, "We've just had a freeze on personnel; I can't take you."
So I returned to Gravelly Point, where, having burned my bridges, I sat for several days in idleness awaiting sentence. I had been thrown into the "pool" of unemployed officers, whence only chance would determine which angler would extract me. Eventually, I received orders to report to the Headquarters of Troop Carrier Command in Indianapolis. So, early one April evening, Pop West saw me aboard the sleeper for that city. At this point, the good fortune that has followed me most of my life stepped firmly into command.
I was happy to leave Headquarters, being weary of the politics, jealousies and treacheries which seem always to inhabit them. Yet I was full of apprehension, for I had had no field experience whatever and the only military training which I had was that acquired in a few weekly sessions at Fort Myers. I had there learned, somewhat to my surprise, that I enjoyed close order drill, which my friend Major Lowe so hated that on the afternoon of our "final examination," when each of us had to drill a squad, he had spent the entire time hiding in the latrine. There were other humorous incidents, as when, on a rainy afternoon, we were drilling in the old cavalry hall and an officer who had his squad marching directly toward the wall suddenly could not recall the command "Halt!" and, at the last possible moment shouted "Whoa!" Even more amusing were the apoplectic struggles of the tough old regular army drill sergeants entrusted with our training. Since we were officers, they were enjoined from employing on us their customary rich profanity; instead, scarlet with repressed fury, they would choke out, "Excuse me, Lieutenant, left, not right!" "Beg pardon, Captain, you wait for the word 'March!'" The deepest impression which I carried away from the course was that from the lecture on the duties of an officer where it was explained to us that no good officer slept until his men had the best shelter possible under prevailing conditions or ate until he saw that his men had been fed. The later antagonism between officers and men, nurtured so sedulously by sniveling novelists and dramatists, was fed by those unprincipled officers who exploited the privileges of rank and shirked its responsibilities. RHIP should never take precedence over RHID. The concept of an officer's duty to his men goes directly back to the code of chivalry, and beyond that to one of the noblest of social traditions. Xenophon in his sketches of great officers and David in his refusal of the water from the well at Bethlehem already knew it. The popular denigration of officers and of the military in general is a fatal error in a society and one for which we shall, I fear, pay in due time a great price.
Army transportation met me at the Indianapolis station and drove me out to Stout Field, where I reported to Colonel Verrill, the personnel officer. He glanced through my 201 file and at once remarked, "I see that you teach at Andover."
"Yes," I replied, "I've been there since 1934."
"Do you know Jim Gould who was my friend at Yale?"
"He's one of my best friends." (Jim was Treasurer of the Academy.)
"Now, Captain Chase, where would you like to go?"
"To Europe, since I know the languages."
"Well, I think that can be arranged. But first, I must send you in the opposite direction, to the Troop Carrier Base at Alliance, Nebraska. You can fly out tomorrow."
The next day I flew to the Air Base at Sedalia, Missouri. It was my first trip in a military aircraft, which, unlike the civilian planes I had taken on my two previous flights, did not have its windows blacked out as a wartime measure. I enjoyed the scenery, particularly the crossing of the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri. From high above, it was fascinating to watch the muddy waters of the latter flow at first side by side with the clear stream of the Mississippi and then gradually contaminate it. We spent the night at Sedalia, where I had a chance encounter with a former Andover student in the Officers' Club, an experience which was to be repeated many, many times in the next three years.
The next day's flight to Alliance was enlivened first by the grim descriptions of my new base by my fellow-travelers. Indian raids, they said, were frequent; the winter snows fell not vertically but horizontally because of the violence of the wind; and the spring mud was deep enough to devour incautious pedestrians without trace.
At one point, the plane dropped suddenly, then leveled out, then surged up again. The pilot, I was told, was "buzzing" the home of his girl friend. This was my first, but, unhappily, not my last experience with this odious and perilous practice and my first taste of that mad-cap spirit which was so conspicuous an ingredient in the character of our young pilots. My friends in the staider services deplored it, but although I did not enjoy it, I defended it as necessary in men who were to face the mad risks and challenges of wartime aviation.
Alliance is in western Nebraska, where the flat prairies begin to rise in long waves to meet the Rockies. I had not believed that such places still existed outside Western movie sets. There were buildings on the main street with the old false fronts of second stories, and on Saturday nights cowboys and Indians roamed the streets. Vistas were limitless, and my friend Bill Wade put it succinctly when he said that he had never been in a place where one could look so far and see so little. The altitude is a mile above sea level. In summer, the days are very hot and dry, but each evening there would be a thunder shower, after which the temperature dropped sharply and blankets were welcome. We used to have physical training and volleyball at the end of the day's work, get up a fine sweat, then run up a mile long slope to the BOQ, shower, change to fresh suntans, and go to dinner. Never in my life, before or since, have I known such physical well-being.
My sensations as I started upon service in the field were not unlike those before I set out for Washington. Again, I was entering a life of which I was entirely ignorant and for which I was wholly unprepared. I was doubtful of my ability to exercise command, and I had never been fond of roughing it.
There were, however, some points in my favor:
|most important of all, I was aware of my own ignorance and not afraid to ask for, and heed, advice;
|my friendship with Lee Purser was of great value, since, as I have said earlier, from him I had learned that the non-commissioned officers, specifically the top sergeants and the chief petty officers, really run the services. I took care to be on friendly terms with the "Top Kick" in every squadron I was with, listening to him and using him to administer such minor discipline as I found necessary. This paid handsome dividends. Too many officers directly commissioned from civilian life or OCS tried to "pull rank" upon non-coms, whom they considered an inferior breed. The revenge of the latter was swift and sure; they could make or break a neophyte with ease;
|thirdly, my experience with boys in class, and particularly in dormitory, helped me generally in dealing with the men under me; indeed, the majority of them were little more than boys, and even professional soldiers always retain boyish traits. I tried to be both friendly and firm, and though some made the error of trying to take advantage of the friendliness, I soon set them right. On one or two occasions, I made the grave error of losing my temper, and therewith my dignity, but by and large my relationship with my men was good. I think they particularly appreciated my refraining from those vexatious, unnecessary claims of privilege which, as I have said, more than any other factor led to the dislike for officers and their denigration in postwar fiction;
|finally, I discovered an entirely unsuspected adaptability and a real enjoyment of field service. I had about the usual number of "changes of station" and grew so accustomed to them that as soon as I had unpacked, hung up my clothes and set out my small and precious store of books, I was chez moi. I learned to make the easy, transient friendships of service life, and I enjoyed the military exercises, the rough humor, and the sense of unity and comradeship which sprang therefrom.
I must explain that my memories of that spring and summer are a confluence of two periods at Alliance which involved four round trips between there and the east coast. I went out originally as Assistant Intelligence Officer of the 63rd Troop Carrier Squadron. I had arrived at the base on April 22. On April 30, my squadron began a long and circuitous rail journey to Pope Field at Fort Bragg, near Fayetteville, NC. There we engaged in various exercises with gliders in preparation for shipment overseas.
I have vivid memories of the carefree journey on the troop train and pleasant recollections of the lovely North Carolina spring. I was the only commissioned officer in a barracks occupied otherwise by glider pilots, who held the rank of warrant officer. They were the stepchildren of the Air Force, for the authorities could not decide how or where or when to use them. Their time passed in an alternation of long spells of boring idleness, interspersed with short spells of intensive training. Furthermore, their rank was a constant irritant, as they hung suspended like Mohammed's coffin between the heaven of commissioned rank and the solid earth of the recognized prestige of the sergeants. Their morale was abysmal, their conduct often deplorable. I was pitied by my fellow officers for occupying a room in their midst, but I understood them and treated them as equals. But I learned never to come out of my room late in the evening, when the empty bottles began to fly up and down the corridor.
I had become rather friendly with a shy unsophisticated lad named Burns, from a good and pious home, who was alien to the cavortings of most of his peers. The night of June 7-8, 1943, was one of violent thunderstorms. After midnight, I heard voices in the hall calling for flight officers to go on a plane to a nearby field for exercises. The barracks resounded with heavy steps and the cheerful grumbling of young voices, and then silence fell as they left. The next morning, I learned that the plane had crashed in a squall, with the loss of all twenty aboard, including my friend Burns. His death was the first of the many I was to suffer among my friends, the great majority of them in olanes. Later. 1 used to look at the noses of the craft parked along the line and fancy that they resembled those of sharks awaiting their prey.
My brief period at Fort Bragg was full of adventure and amusing incident. We went on maneuvers down in the northern part of South Carolina, where we set up and improvised the airfield on an old race track in a swampy area. My immediate superior was a Captain Wallace, who suffered the mistaken impression, not uncommon among many on their first acquaintance with me, that my smiling and affable appearance betokened a somewhat weak and easy-going disposition. (This mistake had resulted in volcanic explosions of my Irish temper in Washington.) In any case, Captain Wallace was moved to admonish me that I should not hesitate to assert my authority as an officer.
One of my first duties was to set up mock machine gun nests to guard the periphery of the airfield. (I knew absolutely nothing about such a procedure, but common sense proved an adequate counselor.) Next came a check of the camouflage of the camp. The men were in tents among trees, which were supposed to offer adequate concealment. However, there was a general tendency to hang white towels and flashing, brand-new mess kits on the front poles of the tents, where, of course, they provided instant revelation of our presence. I got all these stowed out of sight, and an officer who inspected us from the air pronounced our cover satisfactory.
Later that day, as I walked down the dusty broad by our camp, a jeep came up carrying a major-general. "Captain!" he shouted.
I approached the jeep, saluted, and said, "Yes, sir!"
"The camouflage of this camp is inadequate," he barked.
"Sir," I replied, "It was inspected from the air and pronounced satisfactory."
He glared at me in amazement. Contradiction from captains is not a common experience of major-generals. However, he contented himself with snapping, "Well, it's not," and drove off, while I trudged away to inspect the tents once more.
Later, when I told Captain Wallace of the incident, he said, "My God, Chase, when I told you to assert your authority I didn't mean on major generals."
It was while walking down that same dusty road that I was instructed by a certain red-headed Lieutenant Lee in the great trio of service acronyms, of which only the first, SNAFU, ever became common knowledge. SNAFU, of course, meant, "Situation normal, all fouled up." (The true version employs a more earthy term than "fouled.") The two variants were TARFU, "Things are really fouled up," and FUBAR, "Fouled up beyond all recognition."
One night of torrential rain I spent the evening in a tent with a group of officers, including a fundamentalist chaplain and an agnostic medical officer. A religious discussion was beginning to become heated when we noticed flood waters creeping under the edge of the tent. Captain Wallace, feeling ill, climbed into an ambulance. I do not recall what refuge the others sought, but I withdrew to one of the old wooden buildings once used by the race track. I was soon joined there by a throng of enlisted men, whose tents, on low ground, had been rapidly flooded. When the change of guard took place, the men coming off duty reported that when they had stepped out of the jeep to take their posts they had stepped into water up to their thighs. The night was full of those good-humored complaints which are one of the reliefs of service life. At one point, the lights went out, and through the darkness a voice called, "I wish to God I'd joined the Navy; at least they give you a boat." I added my small, and unintentional, share to the hilarity when, trying to make myself heard, I called for silence with the command, "Attention!" instead of the proper, "At ease!"
It was during this exercise, or, perhaps a later one, that I slept in a tent which was the command post. I remember awakening sometime during the night and seeing through the door of the tent, framed against a patch of bright lantern light, two or three relaxed figures of soldiers which reminded me of some of Winslow Homer's pictures of troops in the Civil War.
As a consequence of a glider exercise, we left a number of gliders stranded throughout the countryside. To guard these against looters, I was given a small squad of enlisted men, a jeep, and two C-47 planes and told to land on a small airstrip near the gliders and set up guard over them for one night. It proved a rather hilarious assignment, though not without its perils. The jeep occupied one plane, my guard and I the other. Our pilot and copilot were in a frolicsome mood and soon fell to buzzing barnyards and scaring chickens, cattle, pigs and dogs. My guardsmen, quite green to air travel, were soon gathered around a tub in the cabin being horribly airsick. I went and told the jesters that unless they returned to "straight and level," my troops would be unfit for duty when we landed. Eventually, we did, although on that airstrip the successful completion of any operation was a miracle. The jeep was coaxed out of its plane, and I set off with an overload of lads to assign them to their posts.
On our way, we had to descend a long hill, with a bridge at its base wide enough for the passage of only one vehicle at a time. As we began the descent, I saw, coming from the opposite side, a farmer driving an old-fashioned horse-drawn hay rake. It was plain that we were due at the bridge at approximately the same moment, so I pressed down on the brake pedal to slow our approach. Nothing happened; my jeep was effectively brakeless; and our speed increased with the pull of gravity. In that strange stillness which envelops one in such moments of crisis, I clung grimly to the wheel as we raced toward certain death or injury. The rake entered the bridge and drew slowly towards us. Finally, at the very last moment, he cleared the bridge and I steered widely around him and across the bridge in safety.
I posted the guards for the night, each of us availing ourselves of the shelter of one of the grounded gliders. At midnight, I went the rounds of inspection carrying a flashlight and taking very good care to identify myself as I approached, for these were green troops with live ammunition and bound to be trigger-happy at any unexpected sound or presence. All passed serenely, and my chief memory remains that of the overpowering sweetness of the air on a spring night in the deep South.
We managed to fly back safely the next day and I made my first business a call at the motor pool, where I spoke winged words on the subject of sending men out with brakeless jeeps.
There was another aspect, not so pleasant, of that warm and languorous spring. The Air Force Messes were separate from those of the Army and we had our own supplies. Four refrigerator cars were shipped to us, presumably one of beef, one of lamb, one of pork and one of poultry. However, in a typical service SNAFU, what arrived were four cars of pork, and so, in the increasing heat, we ate, not without protest, pork, three times a day until the supply was exhausted. Presumably, to have arranged some sort of exchange with the much larger Army Mess nearby would have demanded months of communications "through channels."
After our return from guarding the gliders, I was dispatched upon another mission. As the gliders were set free from the towing planes, the tow ropes were dropped to earth. These were not, strange to say, considered expendable, and it was our mission to discover and bring back as many as possible from the scattered locations about the countryside where they had chanced to fall. I was given a jeep and a truck and some half-dozen enlisted men. My jeep driver looked and spoke exactly like a movie conception of a Brooklyn cab driver, which, in fact, he was. The day lingers in my memory as one of utter, carefree happiness, as we wandered through the smiling, fragrant country on a sort of treasure hunt. The tow ropes --- nylon, I believe --- had threads of different colors woven into them, each color denoting the particular squadron to which the rope belonged. We were in far too high spirits to bother with such minutiae; what we found, we gathered up. We returned that evening sunburned and happy, with far more tow-ropes than any other party, careless of the fact that only a portion were our own. Our superiors smiled upon us, but our popularity was confined to our own squadron.
On the afternoon of Sunday, June 6, I heard from friends, who had seen the orders on the notice board, that I was to be sent back to Alliance to replace the hospitalized intelligence officer of the 73rd Troop Carrier Squadron. My commanding officer had tried to have the orders changed, since he preferred to lose Captain Ryan, the handsome but vile-tempered intelligence officer of the 63rd. But, for once, the Air Force showed eminent wisdom; the 63rd was being sent to the Far East, whereas the 73rd was destined for Europe, where my languages might be of some use. The 73rd would be all summer training in Alliance in preparation for movement overseas. So I once more said farewell to a group of friends and began the long journey by rail back to Nebraska.
That journey was typical of wartime travel. I had a comfortable trip in a lower berth from Fayetteville to Atlanta but there my troubles began. Though I had a first class ticket and was traveling on military orders, no space was available in the chair car from Atlanta to Nashville. I had words with the conductor when two small boys were allowed to occupy seats in the club car while I rode in the washroom. (My contemporaries will remember the touching advertisement called The Kid in Upper or some such phrase, in which the railways extolled their paternal care for our boys in uniform.)
We reached Nashville in the late afternoon. There was no pullman on the train to St. Louis, and no diner. I rode in the day coach and found the company enchanting. In the midst of the throng of troops was a friendly dancing girl who was on her way to Boston to dance in one of the Washington Street bars. (Why she was going from Nashville to Boston by way of St. Louis, she left unexplained.) She had a bottle of whiskey in her bag which she passed around among us all. There was a good deal of singing, but eventually we settled down to an uneasy slumber. A young paratrooper who shared my seat slept with his head confidingly on my shoulder.
We reached St. Louis the next morning, dirty, unshaven and bleary-eyed. I was able to shave and get breakfast, my first real meal in 24 hours. Then I boarded another day coach for Kansas City. We arrived, once more foodless, late in the afternoon. I found the train for Alliance waiting to pull out. When it proved that it had no sleeper, no diner, and no food whatever, I said, "To hell with the Air Force, I'm getting a night's sleep and a decent meal." So, I wired Alliance that I was delaying overnight in Kansas City. (I was later docked a day's pay for unnecessary delay, but it was well worth it.) On the street I encountered an old Andover student, Charles Mulcahy, now legal counsel for the Boston Bruins. The Navy for its own occult reasons, had stationed him in Kansas City, about as far from either sea as possible.
That evening, I telephoned the home of Hudson Luce, another one of my old students. Hudson was away in the service, but his mother and his sister Jane filled the next day for me. We visited the family luggage business, run by Mrs. Luce, which was then making foot lockers for the Army; we toured the beautiful Country Club residential section; and I was taken to lunch.
I obtained an upper berth on that evening's train for Alliance and had another typical wartime journey in the company of a Navy CPO; a young sailor; an old, old man (I quote my diary); and a Kansas City lawyer, who fell out of his upper berth during the night. Being quite drunk, he was unhurt, and proceeded to make a long speech, standing in the aisle.
That summer is now 34 years past, and my recollections are the usual mixture of the vivid and the obscure which comes from so long a distance. My work, I confess, was far too light --managing a section of seven or eight enlisted men meant chiefly a frantic effort to keep them busy. I remember hailing as a wonderful windfall a flood of maps which descended upon us and enabled me to set the section to work at sorting and cataloguing them. My responsibility to make reports on all accidents presented its problems, since I had no mechanical knowledge whatever. One very specific duty was that of giving classes in aircraft identification to our pilots. Again, I had so much less knowledge than my pupils that I was embarrassed to face them. They, for their part, were totally uninterested. I had to reprimand them for reading newspapers and magazines during class, and scheduling classes was a nightmare, since Operations was given to setting flight exercises at any time, regardless of my painfully worked out schedule. When I protested, they simply replied that our most important task was teaching pilots to fly, and this I could not dispute.
I did some censoring of enlisted men's mail and soon agreed with other officers that it was a task both boring and distasteful, since one always had the sensation of eavesdropping on private conversations, but the letter-writers soon shed any inhibitions and the revelations in their letters were now shocking, now pathetic, and now comic. I soon discovered that no four-letter word existed that did not turn up quite casually in some letters. I proved a welcome newcomer to one Greek enlisted man, who, because of my Greek, was enabled to write his parents in their native language. I never let on how inadequate was my command of modern Greek and how unused I was to the modern cursive script; had he had any weighty military secrets to impart, I should never have recognized them.
The medical officers at the base were frantically bored with their humdrum duties --- I have mentioned the salubrious climate --and soon began performing a good many operations of which the necessity was more than suspect. A great favorite was the operation for hemorrhoids, and soon GIs and officers alike were shunning the hospital on the well-founded suspicion that any who entered its doors were seized and rushed off for this fundamental procedure.
As I have said above, that summer was one of the happiest of my life. For the first time, I realized what had always been a basic desire and need of mine, membership in an all-male society. I once commented that I never knew a group of men who got on so well with one another and so badly with everyone else as the 73rd Squadron. This is, of course, at least in the latter phrase, exaggeration for the sake of antithesis, but the fact is that there was a very tight bond of loyalty and even of affection among all the members of the squadron, both enlisted men and officers, and that we were regarded by outsiders as rather a prickly outfit --- in Dumas' famous phrase --- one for all and all for one. We had some rather formidable and pugnacious members. On one famous night, from which I was, probably fortunately, absent, a group of our pilots took on a group of the proverbially tough paratroopers at the Officers' Club and cleaned them up. (The only other case in which I knew the paratroopers to have more than enough was when they tangled with some of Monty's Desert Rats in an English pub.) I am sure that our CO, Captain Terry Hutton, had some share in maintaining our fine esprit de corps. He was a superb pilot, with a sunny disposition, yet firm when firmness was required. I became very fond of him and regret that our paths diverged too soon and never have crossed since the War.
My best friend was Bill Wade, the intelligence officer in another squadron of the same group. He was a former Yale football player and a delightful companion with a wonderful sense of humor. I have already quoted his comment upon the Nebraska landscape. Of a Saturday night, when inspired by a few extra drinks, he used to take a stand in front of the BOQ and call out the names of all the railway stations between New York and Poughkeepsie. On another occasion, when we were served some very tough steaks at the Mess, he remarked tersely, "I've lost on this nag before."
Among a series of roommates whom I had at this time, two in particular dwell in my memory. One was an Indian, I believe a Navajo, inevitably nicknamed "Chief." He was the original silent man, yet I was fond of him and would have liked to know him better. He followed an unvarying routine. Every evening, after the day's duties he went off and drank. He would come home in mid-evening, never loudly or obviously drunk, go silently to bed and arise as silently in the early light of dawn to go off to the next day's flying. On his dresser stood a photograph of a beautiful Indian girl; I never knew whether she was wife or sweetheart and never felt free to ask, so resolute was his awe-inspiring but courteous reserve. I dare say that we did not exchange a hundred words in our companionship, if I may use that word, of two or three weeks.
I do not know whether it is a fact recognized by students of the Indian mind, but in my limited experience, it appeared that there are a disproportionate number of that people who possess high mathematical aptitude, for I frequently found Indians in the post of finance officer.
The most memorable of my roommates was Hugh Gunn, if I recall the name correctly. He was a big, good-natured former oilfield roustabout or rigger, who was the prototype of all accident-prone people. I was very happy with him as a roommate, but no conceivable inducement could have persuaded me to fly with him. My first introduction to his propensity for accidents came when I sat on a court-martial of him and his co-pilot. Practice flying over Kansas one day, they spied a farmer trundling along in his truck on one of the straight midwestern roads. At once they succumbed to the temptation to buzz him. They swooped so low over him that the petot tubes, part of the hydraulic system beneath the nose of the plane, actually struck the top of the truck and broke. Miraculously, they did not crash, nor did the farmer, but he must have received a paralyzing fright. I cannot recall the punishment meted out, but Hugh was flying again a few days later.
The next incident began when, as I sat in my office one summer morning, the accident alarm went off. I could see smoke arising not far away, so I had my driver take me to the scene of the crash. A C-47 was down, with smoke pouring from one engine. The door of the plane opened and my roommate appeared, wobbling a bit, but unharmed save for a profusely bleeding gash on his forehead.
Hugh's next escapade, though not an accident, caused an equal furor. On our hop-skip-and-jump progress overseas, we spent a night or two at Bluie West in Greenland. The landing strip and camp were laid out at the mouth of one of the glaciers that descend from the ice cap. The morning after our arrival Hugh could not be found. His bunk had not been slept in. Knowing his history, we feared lest he might have wandered off with some idea of climbing up to the glacier. Search parties were sent off in all directions with no results. Suddenly, late in the morning, Hugh appeared, safe, and puzzled by all the excitement that he had caused. He had spent the evening drinking with some of the crew on one of the ships in the harbor and had simply decided to spend the night on board.
I lost touch with Hugh when an accident separated me from the squadron immediately after our arrival in the ETO. But I did hear of one more of his mishaps, certainly the most blood-curdling of all. At the squadron's English base one day, as his plane was taxiing along a runway, an English civilian employee walked directly into one of the propellers, which beheaded him. I do not know whether Hugh survived the war, but I would be willing to wager that he did. To misquote President Wilson's favorite limerick:
In those pleasant spring and summer days, I often went up in planes on practice flights merely for the pleasure of it. I had largely overcome my initial fear of heights and had gained confidence because of the expertise of several of our pilots. One man in particular, whose name now escapes me, had been pilot of the private plane of Marshall Field, Jr., or so the story went. He was the best pilot with whom I have ever flown, and could set a C47 down so gently that one could not tell when the wheels touched the ground. I have thought of him fondly when experiencing some teeth-jarring touchdowns in today's huge jets. I do, however, understand that their problems are much more difficult because of landing speed and weight.
Since all flying officers had to have so many air hours per month, there were always planes taking off. I recall one flight past the faces on Mount Rushmore when the pilot seemed nearly to brush the sculptured features with his wing tip. Often at the close of the day, the cry would go up, "Who wants to fly up to Rapid City for a steak?" The bomber base in that South Dakota town had a very superior mess which we loved to patronize. One such flight I recall as one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. There was a full moon, which flooded the vast prairies and turned the many ponds and streams to silver mirrors. The plane had been used that day for dropping paratroopers and so the cabin door had been removed. I was alone in the cabin, with the moonlight pouring in. Recalling Goethe's account of his self-disciplinary ascent of the tower of Strassburg Cathedral, I decided to try a similar course against my acrophobia. I went and stood in the very door of the cabin and watched the earth rush swiftly past beneath me. But my basic fear of heights was not completely eradicated.
Disenchantment with flying began abruptly on July 4, 1943. Our squadron, which we claimed was always given the disagreeable assignments, was ordered to fly to Denver and drop paratroops as part of the day's patriotic exercises. We took three planes, each with its crew and a complement of paratroopers. I went along because I had been detailed to handle public relations for the event. I was in the lead plane, piloted by Captain Hutton. Unfortunately, several people wished to go to Denver for their own purposes and had "hooked a ride" on our plane, thereby overloading it badly. When Terry reduced our speed to that necessary for dropping the paratroops, both of our engines stalled, the plane shuddered, the nose dropped, and we began the earthward plunge. Terry's skill saved us, for he got the engines going and pulled out of the dive; and as soon as we were on a level course, the paratroops jumped. This, of course, relieved us of our overload and we had no more trouble. Understandably, I have loathed and feared flying ever since that moment.
It was, however, an ill-starred exercise, for someone had forgotten to consider how much thinner the air was at Denver's mile high altitude and some of the troops came down very hard indeed, at the cost of broken limbs and broken backs. Fortunately, no one was killed.
That afternoon we flew back with empty cabins --- I have forgotten when the paratroops were to return. In mid-flight, Terry called me into the cockpit and said, "Here, Al, take over." So, I found myself flying a plane for the first and only time in my life. It was merely straight and level flight, with the co-pilot at hand to correct any error on my part, and I actually enjoyed it, at least until I found that I was flying formation, with a plane on either wing, whereupon I hastened to relinquish the controls.
My next, and most traumatic experience of that summer, began in the squadron room down on the line. A group of young pilots were whiling away the time prior to a flying exercise by discussing the squadron dance scheduled for that evening. One of them said, "I wish to hell I did not have to go, but my wife is bound we shall."
They went off to their planes, and I, shortly afterward, to lunch.
I was in my office, late in the afternoon, when word came that two of our planes had collided in mid-flight and both were down. The operations officer and I took a command car and two enlisted men and set off for the scene of the crash. We found the wreckage of the planes still burning, far out on the prairie. It seems that they had been practicing maneuvers and the wing of one had touched the tail of the other, causing both to crash in flames.
It was decided that the operations officer should return to the base and dispatch a detail of MP's to guard the wreckage against the curious, the souvenir hunters, and the inevitable ghouls who are drawn to the scene of every disaster. Until the MP's should arrive, the two GI's and I stood guard.
Night fell over the desolate prairie as the dying flames played fitfully among the fragments of the planes and the broken bodies of their crews. The young pilot had his wish; there would be no dance for him that night.
A third incident occurred on our return from a bivouac in the Black Hills. I cherish the memory of the bivouac itself --- the flight up and the landing in a field where an old rancher came out on his horse to watch us unload a jeep from a second plane; our encampment beside a beautiful beaver stream where we swam below some rocky falls; my modest triumph when the tent I had pitched for myself was the only one, or, at least, one of very few, that did not blow down in a violent thunderstorm during the night. By day the weather was glorious, with the peculiarly exhilarating quality of the pure air at that altitude.
It was on the return flight that I had another brush with death. Most of the squadron had come up by road. (As intelligence officer, I was required to fly with the planes, of which more later.) Terry Hutton, who had a great deal of the small boy in him, spied our motor convoy below us as we returned. Heedless of the fact that we were flying in formation, he swooped down to buzz the long line of trucks. When he pulled out of the dive, the whole plane shuddering with the effort, he narrowly missed touching the wing of the plane on our right, which had to bank dangerously to avoid the contact.
I had just been congratulating myself upon having escaped the oppressive Washington summer when, on August 1, I was suddenly ordered to Fort Washington, down the Potomac from the capital, for a two weeks course in censorship. There was the usual tedious rail journey --- by now I knew every telegraph pole between Alliance and the East Coast --- and two unbelievably uncomfortable weeks in a heat even worse than Washington's. The post was run with a maximum disregard for our convenience. We were in lectures all morning and afternoon, yet the only office at which checks could be cashed closed during our noon hour. We ended the day with an hour of physical training in the leaden heat between 4 and 5pm; the only late afternoon bus for the city left at a time which made it impossible for us to shower and change in time to catch it. I did, however, manage to spend some time on the weekend with the Wests and with my old friends on 16th Street and from Gravelly Point.
The school brought home to me one sad and disconcerting fact --- that I was growing older. During all my student days, I had enjoyed a superb memory. Read once, facts remained indelibly impressed on my mind. But now this was no longer so. My first examination, which I entered full of confidence, was a shattering disillusionment; the facts which I had read the night before simply would not come when summoned. I discovered that I had to go over and over material, as others less fortunate had always been obliged to do. It was a humbling and salutary experience, and I am sure that as a consequence I was a better and more sympathetic teacher in later years.
Since our group was about to take off for overseas, I was granted a delay enroute on my return, so that I might visit my family before we left. I saw them and my Andover friends, but of course, could not reveal my immediate plans. My mother, bless her heart, never suspected the nature of my leave. With that curious feminine preoccupation with the personal, she later confessed, upon learning that I was already in Europe, that she had been confident that they would never send me overseas.
Shortly after my return, I was chosen from among the intelligence officers, because of my experience in public speaking, to address the entire group upon the subject of security, both in conversation and in correspondence. I can still sec that large sea of faces assembled before me in a vast hangar, where, without benefit of any public address system, I strove to make myself heard above the roar of nearby planes. Luckily, my voice carries well---as I have sometimes found to my sorrow --- and I had that articulateness which most teachers develop in the course of years of addressing classes. On occasions, it is an advantage, but too often it is a gift which wins few friends.
One of the duties of the intelligence officers was to take turns in summarizing the current military situation for their fellow S-2's. On one occasion, when I had been complimented by the group S-2 on my talk, Bill Wade came up afterward and said, 'Chase, you damned fraud, you cribbed that out of the 'Denver Post'." I readily admitted my crime; after all, we had no other source of information at our remote station. Occasionally, one of us made a recording of such a summary, which was played to captive audiences at the base's Saturday night movies. Then, for the first time, I learned to my horror how I sounded to others. All my background --- Maine, Massachusetts, Harvard and Cambridge -- was there in a horrible mishmash.
My Boston accent always aroused amused comment, but none was so terse as that made by the wife of one young flight officer as I was dancing with her at a squadron party. Conversation was difficult, and I resorted to asking her whence she came. "Denver," she replied, and indeed her flat vowels had already pointed westward.
"Where do you come from?" she asked, obedient to the rules of conversational tennis.
"Can't you tell?" I challenged. "I'm from Boston."
"Oh," said she, "I knew you talked funny, but I thought you were putting it on."
On my arrival at Alliance to join the 73rd, I had been greeted with the greatest warmth and kindness by Captain McGail, tall, gray-haired, genial Irishman who was the group intelligence officer for our squadron. I at once learned that his kindness had made him beloved by my three fellow Squadron Intelligence Officers. For some unknown reason, he had fallen into the bad graces of Wing. His greatest desire was to go overseas with us, and when, shortly before our departure for the ETO, orders came that he was to be transferred to a training field in Texas, the sense of heartbreak was common to us all.
His successor was an unimaginative, stupid, little man, exacting in all the punctilios which can make military life a hell. Even the best of men succeeding Captain McGail would have received a frosty reception from us, and this man's pettiness inspired an intense dislike. Bill Wade and I used to take delight in making a fool of him by asking stupid questions with straight faces. However, as almost inevitably happens in such situations, he had his revenge.
One of our tasks was that of towing gliders, piloted by the warrant officers whom I have mentioned earlier. The powers above had finally decided that the glider was a serious weapon and the training program was stepped up. The very nature of the glider, which put it at the mercy of winds and thermals, ensured a large amount of damage in landing. We must have averaged at least one crack-up a day, and often there were several. Either because of the pilots' skill or from sheer good luck, I cannot recall a single instance of severe personal injury. Our Group Intelligence Officer --- predictably, I have forgotten his name --- was a stickler for detailed reports on every glider crash, and these became an infernal nuisance.
One hot afternoon late in the summer, I sat down to write another of the hated papers, and the devil suggested that I compose a parody. So, in precise military style, I wrote a Glider Accident Report to end all Glider Accident Reports, including every statistic my imagination could summon up --- day, hour and minute; place; cloud formations; temperature; direction and force of wind; pilot's temperature and blood pressure; his psychological state; and other matters which I have forgotten. I turned it in with a straight face and awaited results with interest. They were exactly what I, but not my innocent fellows, deserved. At our next meeting, the Group G2 announced: "Captain Chase has handed in a Glider Accident Report so excellent that from now on it will be SOP (standard operating procedure) for such reports. I was exceedingly unpopular with my comrades for the remainder of the training period.