Robertson Bruce Graham
A WWII Remembrance-Part VII
Submitted by: Randy Graham © July 2003 Roseville, CA
Back In Action – Part 2
On August 8, 1943, the 301st was stationed at Tunis, Tunisia. On August 11th dad and the 301st raided Terni, Italy and then on August 13th, participated in another raid on Rome (Lorenzo). Dad had a couple of days in-between missions and wrote the following to Gran and John R. on his birth date, August 16, 1943.
"Received your letter of July 19th, Gran, and glad to hear that you have all under control and keeping John R. out of trouble. They tell me that he is getting pretty wild since he has retired. How about that John?
"The last letter I received from you, JR, is the one you wrote July 3, and sent all the clippings. Our mail has slowed up again so I imagine you have a couple of letters waiting for me somewhere. Of course, I hear from my Frenchman quite regularly, and Mom writes a couple times a week.
"Bob Hope and company were at our base the other day and put on about a 2 hour show. He kept us in stitches every second of it. Frances Langford was with him, and the fellows really went for her. You know it is darn seldom that we get to see a good old American beauty. She sang several nice songs, and the boys would hardly let her leave the platform.
"You notice I'm using a typewriter--I asked for some extra job to keep me busy when I'm not flying, so they gave me a supply job. A combat flying officer is not supposed to bother with anything but flying, but I am awfully fed up lying around, and just thinking about things I can't do. There isn't much work to it, as all the enlisted men do that labor. All I have to do is over see their job, and sign requisitions.
"I took a jeep ride around the country the other day on the pretense of being on supply business. We took in all the battleground between Tunis and Mateur. Such destruction and desolation I've never seen before--Nothing but wrecked German equipment such as tanks, guns, half-tracks, trucks and planes. I would have liked to get a souvenir off of them but we were told that some still had booby traps in them, so we left them alone. I've also seen the destruction we laid on the Tunis docks and warehouses-- No wonder the Jerries didn't last long here. We sure leveled them. And the town itself was untouched by our precision bombing.
"We have been having wonderful chow lately--steaks (that's where all your meat is), fresh vegetables, watermelon and even hot breads. We have some darn good cooks in the outfit, and they make hot rolls and biscuits once a week. We have hotcakes every other morning. the only thing I didn't like about our chow is the damn Spam. I used to like that, but we had it so much it turns my stomach now. Like Dad having mutton during the war-to-end-all-wars in merry ol' England, I guess.
"You know, after our first raid on Rome...Mussolini gave up. Well, we raided it for the second time the other day and now they've declared it an open city. I don't imagine it will be very long before they give up for good."
Not more than three weeks later, on September 8, 1943, the Italians surrendered to the Allies. The Italian fleet sailed out to join the Allies at Malta, and the Italian army prepared to help Eisenhower's troops drive the Germans from Italy. The Germans rallied, however, and in a few short hours, had complete control of Italy. The bombings, therefore, continued full force. On August 19th, dad participated in the first bombing of Foggia, Italy. It was also his last sortie before being transferred home on September 27, 1943.
In a private letter to his dad, Jack, dated September 1, 1943, dad admits to fatigue and the strain of war. In the letter he says, "Felt like writing to you tonight, so thought I'd drop you a separate letter. Had a long talk with the Flight Surgeon today, and wanted you to know a few things. The damn Doc surprised me, or I didn't realize he had been watching me so closely.
"I don't quite know how we ever got started on our topic of conversation, but I do know the old quack is a pretty slick guy when it comes to getting talk out of a man. Anyhow, we were on the subject of pilot fatigue, and he comes right out and says, 'Bruce, whether you know it or not, you have pilot's fatigue, and a bad case of it. I've been sweating you out for the last month, but didn't want to tell you until last week'. Well, I knew it and have been doing my darndest to hide it because I didn't want him to notice it.
"He says he doesn't think I've reached the degree of being dangerous as a pilot, but it won't be long at the rate we're going now. He told me he knew damn well that the only reason I've gone on the last few raids is from shear guts. He says my combat record shows that no other man in the squadron has been through more hell, wounded, or had the narrow escapes that I have, and hasn't quit or broken down.
"I only have a few more missions left before I'm finished, any way, but from the way he talks, he is trying to have me pulled off before. Also, I think the bastard is going to send me off to rest camp soon. Half of my old crew are finished and on their way home. The other half is finished and leaving for home this week. If I hadn't been wounded, I'd be on my way too.
"So - like all good pilots, I've finally reached my old fatigue limit, but a good rest back with you will make me a new man. I have 700 flying hours now, 250 of them are in combat. Also, I have almost 50 missions. Pretty good, huh! Have seven clusters to my Air Medal including one silver cluster.
"I'm getting pretty damned tired, though pop. It's a helluva lot harder to fight a war than I figured. I don't know how much credit the news editors give General Spatz and our 12th Air Force but we've done and are doing one damn fine job. The Limeys have a few planes here too, but those fancy-talking bastards can't hit the Mediterranean, let alone a harbor or marshaling yard.
"Gen. Montgomery and his Eight Army get all the publicity for the Tunisia Campaign, but he was fighting guys with no supplies or Air Force. Ask Hitler why he lacked those two things!!! My 23rd birthday is just around the corner - Never believed I'd spend one in Africa! Hope to celebrate my 24th in the good ol' U.S.A. darn it. If I stay over here much longer, I'll begin to look like an Arab.
"Guess I'd better sign off, Pop. Keep the home fires burning, and Bruce will come flying home again. If I possibly can, I'd like to fly my own ship right into Merced. Do the big ones land at the Municipal, or your field? I'll get one in at M.A.F.S. if I have to bring her in crossways. P.S. If a Fort ever gives you two buzz jobs in a row - you know who!”
Eight days later dad sent the following "V Mail" letter to his mom and dad. It reads "Maybe I'm counting bridges before they hatch, but by the time you receive this, I hope to be well on my way home, or at least got a good start. I pray that I'm not too darn optimistic, but the C.O. says it's in the bag.
"However, I haven't been in the Air Force for a year and a half for nothing - I'll believe it when I see it. A news flash just came over the radio that Italy surrendered! Hurrah!!! Look out Hitler!!!! Sure hope it doesn't hinder my coming home! I'll go to S.F. first, and then to Merced. Will let you know as soon as I'm in San Francisco or Merced. Don't sweat me out yet, there is still a chance I may have to stay here, and even if I don't, it may be a month or more before I even get started home. Keep writing until you hear from me definitely one way or the other, and pray that I return, but quickly."
To be continued . . .
Submitted by: Randy Graham © July 2003 Roseville, CA
Published in U S Legacies Magazine October 2004