El Djem, Tunisia
The flight to El Djem provided some exciting moments. From Casablanca, I was on duty to Algiers, where we touched down for a few minutes. We may have picked up some fuel. During that leg, we set a course plan for the pilots to take one heading, then an inland one for El Djem. This was done because Commander Pierce said that I could sleep for an hour or so. Sometime later I awoke and Pierce was sound asleep on the floor close by. Waking him up, I saw Hutto in the driver's seat and the flight engineer Franklin looking at the map.
All I could see through the window was the Mediterranean straight ahead. That was not where we should be. At that point in time we should have been inland. We were actually lost. Hutto wanted to proceed on the course he had taken, and I disagreed. Pierce decided to proceed on Hutto's heading. I advised not for longer than 30 minutes because it was beginning to get dark. After 30 minutes, it was agreed that we were not on course for the 16th airstrip. Fortunately we had seen a strip along the beaches earlier, traced back and set down in the dark with landing lights. We no sooner landed and taxied to a stop that a mob of Arabs assaulted the ship, pounding on the doors and climbing on the wings. We had heard bad stories about American airmen being brutally humiliated and killed who had forced or crash landings, and were alone.
We had two rifles and three 45's on board, and were ready to use them if the Arabs broke in the door--but God was our saving Pilot. A small detachment of British had seen our landing from a nearby camp, they charged the plane firing Tommy guns, and drove the Arabs away. They also provided warm food for us and ringed our ship with four Central Africa guards, huge in size and armed with swords. We rotated watch all night to keep an eye on the guards and any Arabs that might return.
Thanking the British we took a new heading in early morning and checked into 16th headquarters comosed of tents, tents, and more tents. The first thing I saw besides tents and planes, was a three-seater, or was it a four-seater latrine out in the desert, quite a way distant, with a couple of guys probably slapping off flies and swapping jokes!
We had a new DC-3. Major Cerny, later Col Cerny, was the 16th squadron commander at that time. Later was group commander. He liked the looks of that ship and it became #1 for Cerny. Perhaps he liked the looks of a nice blonde in bathing suit painted on the nose. Franklin and I were the only married ones of the crew, both married to blondes, both named Elizabeth. The crew allowed Franklin to paint the blonde and the ship was christened "Beth".
Would you believe that Cerny had to crash-land it a few weeks later somewhere with only a crew aboard. One of the props sheared off and went into the side of the fuselage. God was on the side of the 64th again. No injuries. Beth was inoperative thereafter, Never heard any thing more in detail about the cause of the forced landing.