In Sicily, for a while, I was selected to be the mess officer along with my other duties. We had Sicilian civvies doing menial chores for 35 lira per day. To help, we would donate more lira, cigarettes, candies, and other items, to add to their compensation. The Congress would not authorize more than thirty-five lira.
I had an interpreter, Franco, who was around nineteen years old. The civvies were disgruntled about their low pay and wanted a meeting. Franco and I had the meeting, outside, we standing as they, perhaps twenty of them, sat in a half circle on the ground in front of us.
Translating my words from English to Italian, Franco repeated my explanation as to why we could not pay more than the basic 35 lira per day--that Congress was the authority that governed that. But, I promised that we would attempt to get larger donations from the squadron in the future.
That didn't soothe their grievance, so Franco took me aside and told me that I was being too diplomatic, that they had lived so long under Mussolini that they had to be told boldly. He told me to repeat in Italian a statement that I can't recall now, but to express it loudly and forcefully. This I did, and all of them got up and left, not saying a word. I asked, "Franco, what in the hell did you have me say to them in Italian?" He replied, "Tenente, you said in Italian, 'Blow it out your ass!' " Nuff said, except that we, with compassion, knew that they had a legitimate complaint, and took up a large collection for them at Christmas, which soothed them somewhat.
To get food we made a connection with two or more families that would barter with us for fish, fowl, fruit, and vegetables. In exchange, we would use surpluses in our mess inventories such as sugar, cocoa, and our real contributions, cigarettes and pipe tobacco. This was done in a fishing village south of Comiso and in a town, as I recall, by the name of Punta Secca.
In one instance we were in the market for several chickens. The connection in Punta Secca said that he could get us about thirty chickens, and to meet him at a certain date and time later on. We, the sergeant and I, arrived as scheduled and he took us to a house where there were about twenty Sicilians sitting on the floor, with one or two chickens tied and laid out on the floor. In the side of one wall side was an opening, and a burro was taking in the session from the next room.
After much discussion among the vendors, it turned out that the "going" price was 150 lira per chicken, or around $1.50 American. We accepted that as a basis of bartering and then we made our commitment after considering our available surpluses
The exchange was made with everyone reasonably satisfied. Upon returning to Comiso, the men had put up a small fenced in yard to contain the chickens until they could be used. Within the day or two there was a big rainstorm and the temperature cool down. As a result, two thirds of the birds died tout suite, and we didn't risk eating the remaining ones.
We had some interesting weather in Sicily this "old bird" had never witnessed before. In the fall of 1943, in a three-day period, a sirroco hit the area with winds ranging from 55 mph to over 110 mph. There were gliders there at the time, and all of them were destroyed. Our planes were anchored and none were blown away, but some were damaged. Everyone in the squadron was grounded. There was a bomb shelter outside the living quarters. I don't recall whether anyone entered it, but the wall next to my cot was moving in and out with the high winds. But, they held throughout the storm.