~ ~ ~
War Stories, Second Installment
Editor's note: This is another in an occasional series of articles where the 90-year-old author recollects and reflects upon his experiences during World War II and other subjects that arise along the way.
*****
"John the Air Force and See the World!"

It seems like that was the slogan when I joined right after Pearl Harbor. Well, I did see a sizeable chunk of the World, but not from the skies. It was mostly by Army truck, jeep, foot or train from San Antonio to Wichita Falls, thence to Los Angeles, and from there to New York City. A truck to the harbor, the Queen Mary (a converted luxury liner to a 12,000 passenger troop ship) to Liverpool in England, a ferry to Belfast in Northern Ireland, another troop train to Eglington, North Ireland and along the coastline hitchhiking or riding double-decker busses for local travel. While in Ireland awaiting the arrival of our P-38s, the English permitted our pilots to use their Spitfires and trainers to keep them in shape and while there, I bummed a ride with one of our pilots, a Lt. Green, in an English tandem-seat trainer plane. Lt. Green strapped me in the passenger's seat, cautioning me not to touch any of the dual controls. Not to worry, I did not know what lever or button to push or punch. He took me over the Irish countryside at hedgerow level, buzzing the Irish sheepherder and his herd of goats or sheep, scaring them, the herder and me!

He would turn the plane on its wing tip, and I would watch the fuel gauge show empty and wonder about our fuel supply. However when he leveled off, the gauge would show a more adequate fuel supply.

Departing from the cockpit, I do not know which was "greener", Lt Green or I. He was calm and collected; it was I who was shook up. Lt. Green was later reprimanded by our CO (or it might have been the English CO) for flying so low he brought back foliage from the hedgerows on his landing gear. I do know that when our P-38s arrived, the English Commanding Officer gave a stern warning to be delivered to our commanding officers about our group's practice of buzzing the field and countryside. When he found out it was our commanding officers who were leading the buzzing, he calmed down. He turned out to be a regular guy after all. I do know that after my plane ride I became a lot less enthusiastic about becoming a pilot.

I spent time walking around the countryside, hitchhiking to Limavady, and riding double-decker bus to Londonderry. We took trucks and a ferry to Liverpool where we caught a ride on a converted Italian passenger ship (the Frankonai) to North Africa, off the western coast of Spain where we were "dead in their water" several days awaiting ship repairs. I would have been more worried had I known that one of our group who was on duty at the anti-aircraft battery knew as little as I about the gun he was manning. Fortunately, no enemy found us. We safely bedded down on "Mud Hill" about a 20-mile walk from our ship where we could safely watch the enemy trying to sink our ship. We were lucky they did not know we were there. One of our buddies was a scrounger, "Major" Edward B. Keenan, whose title was honorary because he had "military bearing". Anyway, we were grateful to our buddy "Major" for purloining our mattresses, which were better than the mud to sleep on until we found that the straw was loaded with lice. Fortunately we were supplied with canisters of DDT, which caused us to look like we had spent the night in the flour bin. Later, our ever-caring government determined DDT was hazardous to one's health and made the use of DDT illegal. I am now 90, and no telling how long I might have lived had it not been for DDT.

Printed in The DeLeon Free Press newspaper, July 17, 2003