Photograph: President Harry S. Truman (foreground, left) awards the Distinguished Service Medal (3rd Oak Leaf Cluster) to General Carl Spaatz, United States Air Force (foreground, center). Left to right: Mrs. Spaatz and family, Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington, Admiral William D. Leahy, General Hoyt S. Vandenberg, and General Omar N. Bradley. All others are unidentified.
Robertson Bruce Graham
A WWII Remembrance - Part IV
Submitted by: Randy Graham © July 2003 Roseville, CA
Action Over The Mediterranean
In a letter to Gran and John R. dated January 30, 1943, dad writes, "My trip to Africa has been grand - and most educational. I have been able to put my education in Spanish and French to very good use. I'm only sorry I didn't take more French, as I remember darn little of it, though I can understand it much better than speak it. Too bad my Frenchman isn't here to translate for me.
"When we first hit foreign territory, I got a helluva bang out of the way the natives took to us. However, now they are getting rather pesky, as all they do is bother you for gum and cigarettes. Seems there is nothing like an American smoke, or pack of gum. You can get darn near anything you want for a stick of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit! And for a pack of Camels, they'd commit murder, I believe.
"The French population is much better than the Arabs. They seem to consider L'American as a savior, but very emphatically resent the British. I've found that true all along the line, so far.
"We are very well fed. Much better than I ever expected. Of course, living quarters aren't like the home front barracks, but they are comfortable, and you never hear anyone complaining. The only ones that do any crying at all are the civilians - and they are treated much better than we are - American civilians too.
"I can't impress upon you too much, the good work the American Red Cross is doing here to keep the boys happy and out of trouble. They have established restaurants, theatre, recreation centers for the boys that are nothing but the best. Officers’ areas welcome as the enlisted men. Any time you or your friends have a chance to help the A.R.C., do so without the slightest hesitation. And urge your friends to give all they can, as they are helping to keep the boys morale up that way. Must close now. Will look for your friend Jimmy at my earliest opportunity."
In another letter dates February 15, 1943, just after going on one his first raids, Dad says "Here's [one of] my letters by candle light. I assume you've been well informed about me through my letters to Mom and Pop - Anyway, I figure you appreciate a personal letter, so here goes.
"I've finally gotten settled in this god-forsaken country. We have quite a cozy dug-out but the darn thing is utterly useless when it rains - and it really rains. Not like those little drizzlers you've got in California. Had an Officer's party last night in an old granary barn. Really had fun. Our squadron has a five piece jive band and they can really make music. We imported 25 nurses for 60 officers(! Ha!) from up the road. I was too busy getting stinko to fool with women though - Besides, I love my Frenchman. It sure is a relief to get drunk after the strain of raids.
"You should see some of the 'homes' the boys have made of their dug-outs. Some are quite ingenious. We dig a hole about three to four feet deep. Around the edge we build up more height with five gallon cans filled with dirt. Then we cover the top with pup tents. The floor is usually straw or cardboard or wood if we can find enough. The walls are lined with tin or cardboard. As for heat - we make our own stove out of cans, and burn gas and oil. Some fellows have bought alcohol stoves from the Arabs, but they are dangerous as they blow up. Several men have been severely burned. Our only source of light is by candles. however, some have been lucky enough to tap the generator and have electricity.
"The nights are cold as hell, but Uncle Sam gives us plenty of blankets to sleep in, plus bed rolls and straw. Haven't been able to see Jimmy yet, as he is well occupied. However, I've made an effort to let him know I'm here. If your name means anything, I should hear from him. The best news I've heard so far is that MacArthur has taken Guadalcanal. You watch that boy move now!"
By this time dad had flown sorties against Rommel and the Germans at Bizerte, Tunisia, bombed a navel convoy north of Sicily, Italy and bombed Cagliari, Sardinia. The 301st received a commendation in General Order Number 16, dated 12 March 1943, as issued by Major General Carl Spatz.
It reads "In recognition of its outstanding performance of duty in which many successful raids against heavily defended objectives have been successfully carried out, I command the Commanding Officer and the entire personnel of the 301st Bomber Group. Despite accurate enemy anti-aircraft fire and fighter opposition, the 301st Bomber Group has inflicted great destruction on enemy [censored] objectives.
"This Group, on February 26th, 1943, attacked a large convoy escorted by enemy aircraft [censored] off the coast of [censored]. Although without escort, the bombers attacked the convoy successfully, leaving several ships burning and sinking. Previous to this mission, the 301st Bomber Group had completed many attacks on [censored]. Regardless of heavy anti-aircraft fire and constant enemy air attack encountered on these missions, assignments given to this organization have always been carried out with great courage, determination and accuracy."
In a letter to Gran and John R. dated February 28, 1943, dad writes of his impressions of the bombing raids. He starts by saying, "Things are under control by young Graham. I've been going native so damn long now; I hardly miss the modern conveniences anymore. We've been working like the devil every day, so I've been too busy to get very lonesome - nights are my worst enemy. I hate to see it come because then is when I start thinking about all the good old times at home - and it makes me miss Lil twice as much.
"I'd like to tell you about the bombing raid we went on, but it's strictly against regulations. I don't think it hurts any to give our impression before and after, though. It's a funny feeling to get in your ship, and know you're going somewhere to be shot at, and might not return. As I take off each time, I just can't help to wonder how many will return. And as you approach the target, the tension grows more and twice as fast.
"You keep glancing at your watch, watching for the precise second when you know you're over the target. Because its there that the guns below start throwing flak at you. I'm so darn busy flying the ship I don't have much time to see what goes on, but I can see the puffs of each ack ack bursting out by my cockpit window. At first it isn't close - but as they get our range, you can begin to hear it burst - then you feel it rock the ship - then you hear it spatter on the plane - Also, you know that somewhere up there with you are German fighters shooting at you, because your plane vibrates with the shots of your own guns and gunners.
"All this time you're sweating out the time the bombardier drops his load of death and you can tell, because all of a sudden the plan lifts like it was sighing because it got a load off its shoulders. Then you feel a helluva lot better, because you're rid of all that explosive. Soon after, you're off the target and away from imminent danger. You can tell everybody on board is O.K. because they all start singing over the enter-phone 'It's Better To Give Than Receive' or 'Praise the Lord', etc.
"Then you relax and sing too, and start to laugh at yourself for being so damned scared - and pat yourself on the back for returning from another one. It's even a thrill to fly over your base upon returning - You can see how tense the ground crews are, because you see them looking up and counting the planes in the formation to see how many came back.
"So that's my impression on a raid. It's truly a thrill - and yet a scare like you've never known."
A post scrip to this letter was written to the military censors. It reads "To the Censor - I'm not too sure whether this letter is passable or not. The only reason I can think about writing it is because I've read such a description in Life. In the event it should be revocable, either return or destroy it. Thank you." The letter came through censorship intact.
The strategy of taking North Africa to gain access to Italy and Southern France had paid off. The next day, March 1, 1943, dad took part in a bombing raid on Palermo, Sicily. On March 8th, dad and the 301st were stationed at St. Donat, Algeria. On March 10th, dad took part in a raid over La Marsala, Tunisia and on March 31 on Cagliari, Sardinia.
In between, it seems he had time to see some of the local sites. In a letter dated March 21, 1943, dad writes to Gran and John R., "We took a trip to a near by city yesterday. Sure enjoyed it and the sights it offered. Saw some old Napoleonic relics Also bought some photo- graphs, but as they divulge my whereabouts, I can't send them. You'll have to wait until I finally get back home"
Dad goes on to say "Things are still the same, but looks like it will pick up any day now. I've been feeling swell, but get darn lonesome every once in a while... Did you receive the letter I wrote concerning how I felt on a bombing raid? I'm afraid it may not have passed the censors. Please let me know if it got through OK."
In a letter dated April 3, 1943 to Gran and John R., dad writes, "Things are rolling on about the same. Since writing last, I took a trip to see some old Roman ruins. They were a sight to see, and worth a trip to Africa in itself. I wrote to the parents about them, so I won't make myself repetitious. I have some pictures of them, which I can't send through the mail, as they would give away locations.
"I think the thing we enjoy most here is early night after lights out. We are then in bed, and talk about the "good old days". About college, old girl friends, vacations, cadet days, and officers we've met. It seems to do us good to reminisce about good old U.S.A. Half of us hadn't realized how happy or lucky we were then...ah well."
Of the Roman ruins, dad wrote, "A truck load of officers, including myself, went to see the old Roman ruins near Timgad today. It must have been a city near 10,000 population spread over a hill very strategically, so as to utilize the law of gravity for their sewage and drainage systems.
"The way the buildings were consolidated shows a degree of how civilized they were 2000 years ago. All civil buildings were in one area, markets, etc., in another, and recreational centers in still a different location. It amused me to learn they had houses of prostitution even then! And for both sexes!!
"Of all the ruins, the Temple of Genis, and the Amphitheater were the most impressive. Among the others were a Christian Monastery, a baptismal basin (very beautiful mosaic work), forum, public baths, and the homes of the population. It was amazing to see that all the buildings were made of stone and marble. Makes one wonder how they could carve hard stone so geometrically with the crude tools they must have used.
"The majority of the walls (in homes and buildings) were about two feet thick, the stones being cut out of solid rock in perfect rectangular blocks, and held together by a kind of cement that is as strong today as the day the built it, 2,000 years in the past. On the streets, and especially in the passageways of the arches, one could see grooves, or tracks, made by the chariot wheels. We also saw an arena where the boys were 'thrown to the lions'. Some of the fellows found old Roman money around."
On April 6, 1943, dad took part in bombing an enemy convoy off the coast of Tunisia. As reported in a January 1944 article in the Merced Sun-Star, dad's unit was commended for "outstanding performance of duty in the Mediterranean theatre of war April 6, 1943" and received a Distinguished Unit Citation. The citation says:
'During the nine months preceding the daring and highly successful attack by this unit on an enemy convoy carrying important supplies for the Axis defense of Tunisia, the ground and air crews of this unit became so proficient that when word was received that an earlier attack on an enemy convoy making for Bizerte Harbor had failed, this unit serviced airplanes, loaded bombs, and was airborne and on course two hours after orders were received.
'All personnel participating realized the hazards of this mission since the order called for an attack altitude of 10,500 feet through known veritable curtain of anti-aircraft fire from heavy ground defenses, the convoy itself and navy escort. They also realized a heavy aerial battle would necessarily follow their low level invasion of the Bizerte area.
'Undaunted, they proceeded to the target, driving through the wall of fire. The principal merchant vessel of the convoy was blown from the water. Another vessel and a naval escort ship were seriously damaged. Despite intense enemy fire and numbers of enemy fighters attacking the formation, all crews completed the mission that resulted in maximum damage to the enemy.
'Because of the high order of professional skill and devotion to duty of the ground crews together with the aggressive courage and daring of the air crews, it was possible to strike a decisive and crippling blow at a critical point in the battle for Tunisia, hastening the destruction and defeat of the entire enemy force, thereby reflecting great credit on themselves and the armed forces of the United States.' Graham, who manned a turret gun instead of the pilot's wheel during the emergency flight, shot down a Messerschmidt 109."
Another article, without reference but probably the Merced Sun star about this same time, published one of dad's letters describing this raid. The first line is printed with "April 6, to sister" and is followed with "As I was writing Mother and Dad today I was called on to go on a raid. It was to go bomb some ships taking German supplies to Bizerte. There were 18 Fortresses. We found the convoy about 20 miles from Bizerte and sank four out of six ships. But here's a good one! I shot down a German Messerschmidt. The Major rode on our ship so I let him fly in my place going up. I went down to the 'Greenhouse' - bombardier nose - and watched the bombs drop, so I used one of the nose guns. Some stuff, huh?
"Boy, you should have seen the bombs hit one ship. The explosion was so big we could feel it because it knocked us out of formation. There were thirty or more German fighters attacking us today. We didn't loose a ship but knocked down 10 German fighters. I've never enjoyed myself so much in my life".
The defeat of the Axis powers in Tunisia came just a month later on May 13. Another spectacular raid occurred 4 days later. Dad writes about the bombing of the Italian Cruiser "Trieste" as it lay in harbor, protected by anti-submarine nets. Twenty four B-17s took part in the raid, dropping bombs from 18,750 feet at a target only 645 feet long. Within minutes the Trieste had been sunk demonstrating the level of precision attained in high altitude bombing.
On the same day after the bombing of the Trieste, dad writes to Gran and John R. "Just returned from a mission and found your letter of March 23...Our raid was a honey today. We sank two Italian heavy cruisers in two minutes, plus damage to docks and navel yards. Encountered no resistance at all, no fighters, and little flak. From the news today, and the success of our missions, the war in Africa will end damn soon. I'd say three weeks at the least."
By the time dad wrote again to Gran and John R., he had participated in raids over Palermo, Sicily, Ferryville and Bizerte, Tunisia. He writes on April 24, 1943 that "Things are well under control and we are surprisingly happy - getting fatter every day. My face is as round as a dollar! We had an officer's party last night in company of British and American nurses. I was introduced to a British gal as a director from Hollywood. Had a helluva time getting rid of her then. She wants to be in pictures! We Californians are all from the film capitol to them. Sure makes me laugh. She was from Essex in England.
"Speaking of Californians, we sure take a beating over here! Especially from the boys from the East and mostly Texas. There is a never ending feud between us and the Texans. They don't even consider Texas as part of the States but as part of the 'Texas Empire'. Sure makes me mad."
Submitted by: Randy Graham © July 2003 Roseville, CA
Published in U S Legacies Magazine October 2004