PIMENTEL'S DIARY |
16 AUGUST 1943
Twenty-eight years ago, about 1:30 p.m., we crash-landed on a beach in Reggio Calabria in Italy, on our way back from a mission over the Foggia Airdrome.
The events are subject to my best memory but we had been briefed the night before and told Foggia would be a milk run.
About 125-150 B-24's took over in the early morning hours on 16 August 1943. We were the tail end of a 4-plane diamond formation.
Our pilot, John Pimentel, was more experienced than Lt. Hager who had been our pilot all through flight training and up to this mission.
The crew was as follows:
Lt. Robert F. Pimentel, Berkeley, CA Pilot
Lt. Carl S. Hager, Glasgow, West Virginia Co-pilot
LT. John D. Mills, Chicago, IL Navigator
Lt. Wallace P. Baker, Pittsburgh, PA Bombardier
S/Sgt. Frank X. Curry, Hershey, PA Engineer
S/Sgt. "Rene" Dones, Bronx, NY Top Turret Gunner
S/Sgt. Bob Blakeney, Newton, MA Right Waist Gunner
S/Sgt. John M. Hess, Uniontown, PA Left Waist Gunner
S/Sgt. Henry R. Farley, Peoria, IL Tail Gunner
S/Sgt. Howard Cliff Woods, Stella, Missouri Radio
We checked the plane, loaded the bombs and checked the ammo; then took off, circled and joined up with the group. We were flying a diamond formation. We were the tail of the diamond. Over the sea, after we had been flying for several hours, each plane dropped some from the formation and we test fired all our 50 calibers. Hess was loading his gun; pulled the ammo box off and all his ammo went on the floor. He reported this to the pilot and Curry came back as we neared the target to hand feed Hess' gun.
About 20 minutes or so before we hit the target at Foggia we saw Ack-Ack. I don't believe it hit any of the planes (B24's).
Thereafter, we saw German fighter planes all over the place. They were Messerschmitts and Fock-Wolfe's and my guess is there were over a hundred of them. Almost before we knew it our right inbound engine (#3) was on fire. I told Hess and our pilot about it. Although it was flaming and smoking, Hager finally feathered it. All of a sudden, the fighters seemed to pick on us. Hess hollered that B-24's were going down on his side. It was horrible to see a B-24 go straight down and around and around, and we yelled for the guys to bail out. We saw 6-8 B-24's go down. On my right, one of the planes in our formation dropped back to fly parallel to us. Next thing I saw the crew in the back of this plane jumped out and I saw their chutes all open. Just before they bailed out, two German
fighters came at us from the right and rear. Everyone was shooting at them and they came in so close I could see the pilots' faces for a second or two Anyhow, all the guns on the right side and tail of cur 24 and the one next to us were shooting at these two fighters and as one of them dropped off, I saw it was smoking and it went down, and the pilot bailed out. By this time, our other inboard engine was on fire.
Then 3-4 fighters came at the two B-24's directly (almost) from the rear. I heard Farley yell over the radio from his tail gun. The fighters hit the Plexiglas and later I saw Farley with Plexiglas in his face and he was bleeding. His guns were okay but the turret would not turn. All this time everyone was firing and one of these 3-4 fighters went down smoking. About this time, I saw the crew in the 24 next to us go out the waist windows. This plane was on fire.
We had already dropped out bombs and were heading out from the target when the big attack came from the fighters.
With the 24 next to us gone down, we had to holler over the radio when the fighters came in so our pilot could try to maneuver up or down to avoid the fighters.
By this time we had a third engine on fire and the wing was smoking. I tried to get the tail turret going but could not. Curry was called up to the front of the plane by Pimentel or Hager to help with the feathering. We knew (and saw) holes in the plane from the fighters' fire but miraculously no one was hit even though we felt ourselves to make sure we were okay.
It seems that the fighters followed us for a long time. I cannot remember how long but when they finally left, Dones came to the back of the plane because the pilot told us to put our chutes on and to throw out everything we could to keep altitude. We kept dropping but we threw out ammo and guns and everything we could. As we were doing this, Hess, the nervous one, hollered that we should jump. We were going down gradually and it seemed like we were already too low over the water. I did not relish the idea of jumping over the sea, but we were ready to go on signal by the pilot when we went down more quickly and Hess hollered we were going to crash, I heard some bell sound and those of us in the rear, Hess, myself, Dones and Farley, started to brace ourselves for the crash. We had no flaps and we later learned that we crashed wheels up at about 150-160 mph. Hager and Pimentel made a tremendous landing on the beach in Reggio Calabria. We did not know where we were at the time.
It was about 1:30 in the afternoon when we hit the beach. The sand broke through the bottom door of the plane and flew all over the place. We were just about braced when we hit. The door came off and slammed into us all but fortunately it hit our legs. Hess whacked his head on the bomb bay door and put a hole in his head that bled for hours. Farley got knocked down and hurt a little. Dones and I were not touched. When the plane had almost stopped we heard an explosion that blew out of the bomb bay area. There was no immediate fire, just an explosion. After we hit, Hess was the first one out of the plane hollering for us to get out. We did not know what was happening in the front of the plane until we all got out. Then we saw the whole front part of the plane was on fire. and I tried to go through the bomb bay to help the guys in the front but the flames were tremendous and hot. We got out after taking our parachutes off and keeping our packs.
When we got out, Hess and Farley were getting away from the plane because they thought it would explode again. As Dones and I got out, we heard someone call from the front of the plane. We ran over and helped Hager who was the only one to get out from the front. He took off his flight jacket, Mae West, and parachute and managed to open the side window. He told us he heard the rest of the guys screaming at the flames and he told Lt. Pimentel to take his gear off and go out the window. The flames were too much though. We helped Hager out and away because he was badly burned in the face and hands. His ears were really scorched. He was in wicked pain and Hess was still bleeding. We could not go near the plane after this and it just continued to burn. We heard nothing from inside.
Lt. Hager was in tough shape. Hess was bleeding from the head. Farley was cut in the face by the Plexiglas. Dones and I were okay.
We did not know where we were but there was a farmer going down a dirt road nearby with a cart pulled by an ox, I think. We yelled and we got on, helping Hager and Hess, who thought he was dying. We tried to stop Hess' bleeding and it finally slowed down pretty well. He was weak though from blood loss. Farley was very excited. We could hardly touch Hager to help him without hurting him. Anyhow, about the time we got on the back of the open wagon, soldiers came down the road in a truck. We learned they were Italian soldiers. We were taken into the town (Catanzaro) is what I remember in Reggio Calabria in the heel (or toe) of Italy. They took us into a place that was free of any furniture and there we 'net a very angry small, round and completely bald Italian Colonel. There were about 8-10 soldiers there too.
Instead of fixing or trying to help Hager and Hess, the Colonel pointed out numerous bullet holes in the walls of the room. I learned that fighters had strafed the place a night or two before. The Colonel was mad and he started to ask questions in Italian. Dones spoke Spanish and I understood most of what the Colonel said because of my knowledge of French. Dones and I exchanged our interpretations with glances and gestures and sometime after, when we knew the Italians did not know English, we told the rest of the fellows what was said.
The Colonel kept insisting we tell him where we came from, what kind of a plane we were on, how many planes, what was the target and all other military questions. When he got no satisfaction from us, he kept gesturing he was going to slit our throats and shoot us. I told him to go to hell and Dones swore at him often. Of course, he did not know what we were saying so when a questions was asked, I'd tell him to jump in a lake, and then Dones would swear at him.
This went on for over two hours and the Colonel just got madder and finally told us by gesture, again, he was going to have us shot. All this time, Lt. Hager got no medical treatment. I keep asking for a doctor by pointing to Carl and gesturing for medicine and bandages. They apparently had neither. John Hess' head stopped bleeding entirely after a while and I saw he had a hole as round as a dime in his head.
At some point in time, I guest now about 5:00-6:00 p.m., we were told to march out into the street and taken to the upstairs of another house and locked in a room. It had a slanted wooden partition on the floor and I helped Hager while Dones helped Hess to lay down. By this time and before, Hager was in bad shock. We still had our parachute packs, which had emergency rations in them. The Colonel never had us searched nor did they search the packs. We gave Hager some chocolate and Hess, too. I cannot recall everything in the packs but they're hard and big chocolate pieces, sugar candy and other stuff. Hager could not sleep. I put my flight jacket under his head but the poor guy was in agony. We, Dones, Farley and I, talked about what they were going to do with us and that all we had to give was our name, rank and serial number. Farley thought they were going to shoot us but Dones and I did not think so.
Later, maybe 8:00-9:00 p.m. or after, we heard the guards come up the stairs to get us. Fortunately, it was to feed us. I wanted one of us to stay with Hager but they would not even let Carl stay in the room, so we all went downstairs. Whatever the food was, it was okay and we were all starved. The guards tried to talk with us again and one of them started speaking French - I knew what he was saying and we kind of whispered to each other about it. Somebody came in and had some bandages and some kind of salve or lotion. I tried some of the lotion or salve on Carl's hand first to see his reaction. I first put some on my own hand because I did not know what it was. The soldier in charge was blabbing to me and I gathered he figured I didn't trust them to give Carl the right stuff. I just didn't want to give him anything harmful Anyway, Carl stammered that the hand was okay with the stuff on it so we did his face as gently as possible, but just to touch his face and hands and ears caused Carl to moan in pain. I'll tell you, I never in my life saw a guy with the courage Carl had with all the pain his burns caused him. I think he was in shock for maybe 4, 5 or 6 days and every time he was bandaged and I had to pull the bandages off, it almost killed him with pain and, of course, opened up the wounds again. There was puss coming out of the blisters and his ears were the worst.
After we ate, they took us back to the room upstairs and locked us in again. Carl got sick to his stomach and we used whatever clothing we had to let him lay on. The rest of us slept on the concrete floor; mostly sitting up against a wall. No one slept because either John or Carl kept moving or moaning. There was no place to go to the bathroom either-the two windows had bars on them.
In the very early morning I told Dones and Farley that I was going to try to get the "Eyties" to take Carl and John to a hospital. I didn't know where they were going to take us next, but Carl, especially, needed medical care. I think now that we had some medication, sulfur or other compound in our packs and we used it, all of it, the first night. Dones and Farley said the Eyties wouldn't know what we were asking and I told them the hell with it. I'd talk French to the Sergeant and he'd understand. We agreed the Sergeant and Colonel would probably be damn mad when they found out I understood the Sergeant's French the day before, but Hager had to have help. So we agreed that's what we'd do.
The next morning they took us down to eat again. Hess was weak and we had to help him and Carl. Downstairs the same Sergeant was there and I asked him in my best French, "Avez vous un hospital?" and I pointed to Carl and John. The Sergeant was surprised, no doubt, but instead of running out to get the Colonel, he asked me if I spoke French and something about the Colonel being mad if he found out. Fortunately, the Sergeant had some compassion and did not send for the Colonel. He spoke French to me and indicated there was a hospital in another town. Carl didn't want to leave us although I told him John Hess would go with him to the hospital. He still refused to go, so all we could do was try to get the bandages, dirty ones, off and put clean ones on. It wag slow and painful. Anyhow, we had a cup of coffee and some stale bread, and after going back to the room for a few hours, the guards came after us about noon. We were loaded in one truck with an Italian driver and 4 guards. I do not remember now what the town was where we stopped that night, but I do know we were on the road all afternoon and most of the night, and we went up and down and around mountains or high hills. The driver was always talking to the guard with him and he was a lousy driver. There were no rails on the sides of the road.
During the ride, we still had our parachute packs with us and, fortunately, there were chocolate bars and sweets in them. We were able to sneak them out of the packs without being seen. Half the time, one or two of the guards were asleep anyhow. We talked of jumping off the truck and I think we probably had some good opportunities, but Hager and Hess could not go so we didn't try, but we talked of getting away if the chance came up later when Carl and John felt better.
We finally stopped at this town (I cannot recall the name now) and drove about 1-2 miles out of the town to a stone building. They made us get out and, frankly, we were relieved to get out. They put us all in one room, and it looked and felt like a dungeon because it was down in the basement of the building. There was a dirt floor, I think, or concrete with some hay. There was a hole in the ground at one end and obviously this was the men's room. It stunk. We got nothing to eat. I made Carl as comfortable as possible but, boy, he was bad at this time. He was in extreme pain and the shock seemed to be worse. He was moaning. We had nothing to help him. So we started to yell for the guard and 3 of them came to the outside of the cell. I told them Carl needed medical care and medicine. They said there was no doctor. I told them, with gestures and some French, that there might be medicine in the packs they finally took from us and I wanted to go look. I remember they would not let me out but they motioned to Dones, who was small, maybe 5'5" or 5'6" in height, that he could go. I told Dones to strip all the packs of any food and anything else and could find that could help up -- Dones spoke Spanish to the guards and they understood him.
Anyhow, Dones finally came back with everything from the packs which wasn't much -- some chocolate, sugar or sweet cubes is all I can remember, plus some gauze. Poor Carl was in such a bad way, we thought he was going to die. So when Dones came back I again tried to get the guard to get a doctor. They gave us a hard time. I gathered something about flyers shooting up the town a few days or nights before and they just weren't about to do anything for us. Dones and I got mad and we were really spouting off, so much so that they called the other guards down, plus an officer, I believe, and they started the same business of gesturing they'd cut our throats, etc. I remember inviting them in but, of course, the door was locked on us. It's funny, but as afraid as we might have been, the fear gets overwhelmed by anger and then there is no fear. I think that night if they had opened the door to shut us up, Dones and I would have gone out after them. The anger came from a feeling that Carl was dying and we couldn't do anything to help and they wouldn't do anything for him.
For 4 nights and 3 days, we were kept in this dungeon. The stink got worse; Carl got worse and Hess got better. They gave us one meal of macaroni a day, usually about 4:00-5:00 p.m. We didn't eat the chocolate. We decided we'd only give the chocolate and the cubes to Carl. Farley and Dones were good. I was always afraid that Farley would crack up. He was a young and very immature 19 or 20. He had kind of a hunched back; he wasn't bright and he was more scared than the rest of us. But we treated each other well and equally. I think this helped Farley and as long as he could follow somebody else, I figured he'd be okay. And he was.
During our stay, we again talked about putting Carl to sleep. But you couldn't hit him and he did manage, from exhaustion, to sleep in fits and spells I remember trying to stay up with him as long as I could, but I'd still doze off and wake up in the morning. We complained about the stink in the place but got nowhere. Rarely during the day did we see any guards. They stayed away from us.
To the best of my memory, on the 3rd or last night we were there the guards brought in a Lieutenant, named Wilson, from somewhere in the Midwest we learned. We all remembered that the enemy planted people among prisoners and, boy, I guess Lt. Wilson thought we were either the rudest or most stupid people he had ever seen. I told the bays not to say anything in his presence. He, of course, heard me say this. He insisted he had been a P-38 pilot and was shot down a few days before. He was glad to see us but we weren't too happy to see him. As I recall, he was about 5'8" or 5'9"; wore a flyer's suit; had a mustache and I guess he was about 25-30 years old. We never trusted the poor guy and as I learned years later from Hager, Lt. Wilson was an army flyer in P-38's and he went to a German camp in Germany where Hager lost track of him.
On the morning we left the dungeon, we got into a truck again with the same 4 guards. Carl was in bad shape but I think he was a little better though. I don't remember where we went, through which town, or for how many days, but finally we got to one town with a railroad station and it looked like half an army (Italian and German) guarding it.
August 16, 1983 (40 years later)
The town was Taranto. We stayed there for hours and were finally put on another train, a cattle car, and taken to the town of Ban. It was here that we had the toughest time. The guards took us off the train and walked us from the square down some street. Before we left the square, there were people lined up on both side of the street, yelling and raising their hands. They were young and old and they were getting stirred up. We were in for it. They pointed to bullet holes in houses and just screamed at us. The guards did and said nothing. One elderly lady raised a stick as though to hit Hager and I raised my hand to take the blow -- about this time things were very bad and someone mentioned we were going to be mobbed. The guards did nothing.
Just at this time, there were machine guns fired and 2 German motorcycle soldiers roared down the street firing into the air. The people dispersed rather quickly. They were afraid of the Germans.
We were then taken to a German headquarters for questioning we guessed. I told the guys, name, rank and serial number and to say nothing else. Hess and Dones said they weren't going to salute any German or Italian officer and, in fact, when Hess came out he told us he did not salute and did not stand at attention -- this wasn't right and I told him so.
When I went in, there were 3 officers at a table, two Germans, one Italian. I clicked my heels and saluted. I heard one of the officers say "bona soldaten" and I was glad I saluted.
They then took us to a temporary prison camp in Ban. We took care of Hess and Lt. Hager who was feeling better but his face was still swollen and hands bandaged. I changed his clothes for him, dressed him, washed him and sometimes we had to feed him It was here we met about 25-30 other American airmen, all shot down at Foggia with us. We were there 3, 4 or 5 days; one meal a day about 5:00 p.m., usually just macaroni and hard tack - no Red Cross packages. We spent the time doing nothing except a little boxing with each other because one of the Italians was a professional boxer and had some gloves. He sparred with one of the officers and tried to knock his head off but took a beating instead.
It was here that allied planes used to flyover on some bombing mission. The funny part was that they had an air raid shelter at the camp and when the planes came over, the siren went off and all the guards ran for the shelter while all of us Americans would run outside and cheer the planes.
We left Ban the same way -- walked through the streets to the train station, BUT with German guards. They put us in two cattle cars and went through and over mountains in the central part of Italy. They had to stop at every steep hill; unloosen all but one cab and take one cab over at a time. I don't know how long it took. I cannot remember exactly where we were when they separated the enlisted men from the officers who were taken to Germany and prison camps there. The enlisted men went to a prison camp in Sulmona, Italy, somewhere east, and I believe north of Rome. It was in a valley surrounded by mountains.
When we got to the prison camp in Sulmona, there were some 3,000 to 4,000 other prisoners -- English, French, Turks (Greeks?) and whatever, and we were the only Americans, 16 to 18 of us.
The first night, an English Colonel came into our barracks and laid the law down -- he was in charge. We were to do nothing, including trying to escape without his knowing and permitting it. We did NOT like him. It was now into September, 1943.
We had German and Italian guards around the prison at various stations. There was a tall stone wall and to my knowledge only one gate. I remember barbed wire at the top of the wall.
They had a dirt field on which we played softball. They a priest (Italian) and a small church area. I got a prayer book from this priest and which I still have at home. I always wore my rosary beads while flying and I still had them around my neck.
We all wondered and talked about the others who were killed in the crash. We talked about whether our families knew we were all right.
We had one meal a day -- macaroni and hard tack and you get so hungry it started to taste good. We received only 1 or 2 Red Cross packages while we were there -- can't recall what was in them but I remember it was great -- chocolate malts and crackers especially.
We were in the Sulmona prison camp about 4-6 weeks. We lost track of dates. The weather always seemed to be good. We slept on straw or concrete. It was uncomfortable at first but you can get used to it. I don't recall any interrogation of us while we were there. On one or two occasions we saw our bombers flying over and, of course, we hollered and waved to give them hell. One day at the camp was like another - except for softball we did nothing. Sometimes we exercised a little. All of us were still wearing our flight suits and jackets. I do not recall any of the Americans with us ever complaining except about the food. We all lost weight, I am sure.
During the time we were there, rumors kept spreading around camp that Italy had capitulated in September. After awhile we noticed that some Italian guards seemed to be missing. We were told they left for home when they heard Italy was out of the war. Anyhow, as the days went by, there were fewer Italian guards on the walls around the camp. We saw considerable German troop movements by truck. Sgt. Jett had talked with one of the German officers who apparently told him Italy was out of the war and who warned him not to try to escape or we would be shot.
One day in October it appeared that there weren't too many guards on the corners of the wall and somehow the gate did not appear to be closed. About late afternoon, maybe early evening, all 16-18 of us wandered toward the gate. We flung it open and we all raced to some nearby woods and then up the side of the mountain. While we were racing up the side of the mountain, east of the camp, we heard gunfire. Whether it was aimed at us or perhaps others who were trying to escape out the gate, I don't know. We were all too busy breaking the mile record going uphill.
We grouped together at one point and we decided we'd have a better chance if we split into pairs, or into threes. There was one English soldier with us -- a fellow named Graham who came from Lowell, as I recall, and who had joined the Army in Canada. John Hess and I decided to pair off. Farley & Dones went with a Sgt. Henderson (Texas). The rest split into small groups. By this time it was getting or was dark. John and I kept going to the top of the mountain where the woods were thick. We kept moving most of the night and slept little. By the next morning we felt we put in a good distance from the camp. We were hungry. We took no food with us. But we wanted to stay in the mountains for better cover and we did so the rest of the way.
That evening I remember we were so hungry we came upon a farm area. We dug out some potatoes and ate them raw. We also took some tomatoes and ate them. We had no matches for a fire and we didn't want to light one anyhow. We had raw potatoes for 3-4 days and some tomatoes. Later on when we came on some fig trees we ate the figs. Unfortunately, diarrhea followed. It is difficult to remember the days thereafter but primarily figs and tomatoes were our diet. We were both sick once each so we had to stop and hole up for 24 hours or so. We never saw any of our group again.
One night we were so hungry we approached a farmhouse. We were out about 6-7 days by this time. I remember talking in French to the Italian at the house and getting some bread. We decided we'd not sleep in his barn but in the pile of hay (with mosquitoes) in the field. I remember John waking me up during the night and telling me he saw the Italian leave the house and seemed to head toward a village. John figured he was going to turn us in so we got up and ran again for as long as we could.
Our compass was the sun. Although we heard rumors in the prison camp that the Allies had invaded north of Rome and from the east coast to Italy, we felt our best bet was to head south as directly as possible. Although we did most of our walking during dark, we marked some area as south during the day and we did the best we could to go that way.
We both had diarrhea badly a few times. We lost considerable weight. We lived mostly on the figs and some water and tomatoes.
One evening we stopped at another farmhouse. There was only a man and his wife there and I'd say they were in their 50's or early 60's so we felt safe. We watched the house for awhile and because we were so hungry we approached it. I again spoke some of my French to them. They gave us some hot goat's milk cheese. It was delicious. We had some bread, too. We took some bread with us for the next day. They seemed like nice people. But we did not stay. We kept going.
Every night we slept on the ground or in rocky areas. We stayed in the mountains. We did very little walking in daylight.
Finally, we reached a town near Campobasso. It was Ielsi. The first night we watched near a farmhouse. We saw considerable German troop movement at night by truck. They were going up a road toward Campobasso. We tried to count the trucks. We couldn't get close enough to see or to count the troops in the trucks.
Outside the town of Ielsi was a farmhouse. An old Italian farmer was there. When he was alone in the field one day we went up to him. He spoke broken English and he understood what we were saying. We did not tell him we were escaped prisoners. We only told him we had been shot down. He told us he had a son in Chicago and last he heard his son was in the American Army. We knew him only as 'Sam.' We were so tired and hungry and he seemed so sincere we stayed at this farm, but in the woods, for 3 days. His wife was afraid the Germans would see us in the house, but still she cooked bread for us and we even had a chicken once. We also got back to the macaroni. All of it was great. I think we had some more goat's milk cheese there and, again, it was great. Anyhow, this family and a few of their relatives next door were very good to John and me.
Come the day we had to leave, John and I felt better with some food in us. We knew the Germans were doing considerable moving and we heard exchanges of artillery every now and then, so we knew our lines had to be close by. We told Sam we were going. He insisted that his nephew, or son, I don't recall, show us the way to the front lines. This guy had been in the Italian Army and came home while we were there. He wore a sidearm.
We started out after we had seen a German patrol of about 6-8 soldiers several hundred years away. We now foolishly had civilian clothes.
We were sitting on a hill with this guy when suddenly we heard artillery booming ahead of us and behind us. We apparently were in the middle of somewhere -- it seemed that the shells coming toward us were getting closer. I turned to our hero guy who was going to show us the Allied lines but he was running back toward his house. John and I came close to laughing. We then moved forward toward where we figured our guns were. We stopped at a farmhouse, again an elderly man and his wife, and we asked for some water. As she was giving us water she spotted a German patrol and unfortunately, she screamed "Tedeschi" - we looked; we saw and we ran like hell and we heard no gunfire and put plenty of distance from that place before we stopped to rest. We were now on a hillside with a wide open field in front of us and woods beyond the field. We hesitated thinking this field had to be mined but we knew we had to cross it. I took out the prayer book and read a prayer to the Blessed Mother. I gave the book to John and told him to read the same prayer. He did. John was not a religious person.
So, we then ran as fast as we could across that open field about 100-200 years wide -- no gunfire -- no mines --when we reached the woods we rested. We saw empty cans of food with German markings. We touched nothing. We kept going through the woods and in a distance saw another
farmhouse. I peeked around the corner of the house while John stayed back in the woods. I saw guns and just the heads of some soldiers but without helmets. I went back and told John. We waited until the elderly Italian lady came to the back of the house for some reason and quietly I asked her who the soldiers were -- again my French came in handy and I got from her that the soldiers were Canadians. I had John stay in the woods because he had real blond hair and with the name Hess, he'd be mistaken for a German before I would.
I walked back with the woman and spouted out, 'Je suis Americain and I kept yelling it. One of the solders answered in English and I explained we were escaped prisoners and my buddy was in the woods. John came out and I recall one of the Canadians remarking it was a good thing John did not come out first. We were now safe. We made it to the Canadian 5th Army. We were talking to a Major (John) MacDonald (Canadian Army) but who lived in Hartford, Connecticut. We stayed with them for 3 days and nights, giving them all of the information we had about German movements and locations.
Next, we were given a ride back to American Headquarters. Ironically, back to Foggia which we had been bombing when we were shot down. The ride back was on a motorcycle -- the first and only time I've ever been on a motorcycle.
After briefing and interrogations by American Officers who told us that several other prisoners had made it back to Foggia a few days before, we were clothed and fed and it was good to be back in uniform. We were taken to the Foggia Airport and I believe on a C-47 and flown back to Tunis.
We had asked the pilot if he could fly over Reggio Calabria where our plane went down. He did. We saw only the tail section left of the plane. The rest had been burned to ashes.
This was the end of the story from August 16, 1943 to sometime in October-November of 1943.
Leave in London (20 days) and decorated by General Eaker.
Robert W. Blakeney
Finished this writing on August 6, 1985
In July of 1984, June Hager called me to advise that Carl had passed away in Florida.
Each year for the past 25 years or more I have called on each August 16th - Carl Hager; John Hess and Lorene Long in Rocky Comfort, Missouri Sgt. Woods' sister.
I went to Glasgow, West Virginia in 1984 to see Lt. Hager and thereafter we saw them twice in Bethesda, Maryland. I have been to John Hess' twice and he came on to Needham with his family once. Have not seen him since about 1968. lost track of Dones and Farley. Our original Navigator, Lt. Latimer was killed over Germany in 1944. John and I saw him when we got back to England (Shipdham) in November, 1943. Our original Co-Pilot, Lt. Greyhofsky, survived the war. He and I disliked each other -- he was too loud and vulgar and we nearly had it out once in Africa.
I got home for Christmas 1943 on a 20-day leave. I weighed 127 pounds. I spent 10 days of my leave in Pensacola with my brother, John, a Marine pilot. Went up with him 3 times out of the rear seat of an SNJ.
Thereafter, Mitchell Field Hospital in Long Island, New York for 3-4 weeks. Then to Rest Home and Hospital in Pawling, New York (Wilson Presbyterian School now) and stayed there from January-June of 1944. Malaria again and yellow jaundice.
Then to Atlantic City for reassignment and then Fort Myers, Florida and Laredo, Texas to Instructor's School.
Back to Atlantic City - reassigned to Westover Air Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Flew as radio and gunnery instructor (got promotion to Technical Sergeant) with new combat crews.
While at Westover, in March, 1945, taken off flying status -- sent to Denver, Colorado for M. P. training in May-June, 1945. Returned to Westover and guarded German prisoners of war until war ended. Discharged November 5, 1945.