In 1943, I was twenty-five years old and anyone over fifty was "old" to me. We would take a can of Prince Albert pipe tobacco, with no strings attached, to an "old" man who was the attendant of a lighthouse on the Mediterranean Sea. He was perhaps sixty and went bananas when he got some tobacco. It was "gold" on the black market, and he could not afford it.
We saw that the children got their share of sweets, candies, and chewing gum. We tipped people that worked for us, which was income over and above what the US government could provide. This is not to suggest that we were puritans, but there were times that we were caring and generous.
Not having kept a personal diary, the dates are not handy. But, I believe that we had completed the move to the air base in Comiso, Sicily, from Tunisia, by September 1, 1943. Our missions before and after Salerno were runs from Comiso to various North Africa areas, to Algiers, Tunis, Bizerte, Tripoli, Benghazi, Alexandria, and Sardinia. These were the areas that I flew to.
The invasion of Italy at the Salerno beachhead was at the time the most exciting challenge. Again, I don't recall the nature of the briefing for our part in the invasion, but really do recall turning all my personal effects over to the adjutant and receiving a survival kit before boarding the plane for take off. Suddenly, the seriousness of the moment suggested that this was no tourist excursion--this was "unreal" realism, not a movie, but something very, very personal.
The mission was at midnight, under a "bombers or full moon" with interval takeoffs. I don't recall formation flying. It was an uneventful flight until we neared the beachhead. All of a sudden we encountered the largest display of fireworks this "humble" being had ever seen. The memory says that we flew slightly to right of the beachhead, and it seemed that all of the firing and explosions were in our direction. We headed up a valley to the drop zone, which was about forty miles behind German lines.
As navigator, it was my duty to signal the jumpmaster when it was time to ready the paratroopers. On my left, one trooper was on his knees praying, before he shifted to the other side to hook up for the drop. My heart sank for him, and for the others as they courageously left the plane. Since then, I've learned that courage is going ahead with what has to be done, even though being scared.
That was probably the case for all those fifteen to eighteen young men on that jump. Our 16th returned practically unscathed, but my soul ached like hell. One of our planes was missing for a few hours. We hoped for the best, and it turned out all right. The pilots decided for whatever reason to fly to Corsica just to see what there was to see. Don't know whether the boss man reamed them out, but everyone was happy that they made it back.
Not very long afterwards we were in a briefing with Colonel Taylor of the 101st Airborne, and with Ridgeway of the 82nd Paratrooper Division. We were being briefed on a plan to pull gliders of infantry to the Island of Stromboli at night, where a naval ship would signal whether or not to continue on to a landing zone south of Rome.
We went so far as pulling gliders to Gela, but the mission was called off and we returned to Comiso. Some part of the plan had not been completed and it was washed.