One morning a couple of our men from Transportation causally mentioned that they knew where there was an abandoned trailer, and was I interested? They knew darned well that I wanted to graduate from tents and would jump at the chance. When we arrived at the location in our 2-1/2 ton truck we found the trailer was still there. It turned out that it had French markings, and during the night some guy had taken up residence. Apparently the trailer had been abandoned because of a break in the hitch, but our resourceful guys knew that they could jury-rig it and get it back to camp where it would be easy to fix. We were hooking up while they were explaining all this to me when the Frenchman came out of the trailer in alarm. He did everything except turn somersaults trying to tell us something -- to no avail because he did not speak English and we did not speak French. He was not fully dressed actually (I guess we had awakened him) and I thought he must be a deserter who had found a convenient place to sleep.
It so happened we had some cigarettes with us (one never knew when bartering opportunities would come about). I took a carton of cigarettes with me while the Frenchman guided me into the trailer no doubt trying to convince me to leave the trailer alone. I was thinking along other lines and offered him 4 or 5 packs of cigarettes. He refused, and there was an obvious impasse. I looked out the door and saw the men were ready to pull out, so I waved them on. The Frenchman panicked and screamed as I handed him the carton of cigarettes and helped him gently out the door to the ground. When the driver found a place to turn around, he stopped so I could get from the trailer to the truck. On passing back by the area our lonesome Frenchman was nowhere in sight, but the story didn't end there!
By the next morning, the trailer hitch had been spliced and welded, and Paul O'Pizzi and I were planning certain interior decorations. I do not recall at what stage our painters had progressed with the exterior conversion when George Duwe came to see us in a great state of agitation and alarm. No one had thought to tell him about our new trailer, so he very forcefully denied on a recent telephone call from somebody's Adjutant General that we could -- by any stretch of the imagination -- have in our camp the house trailer which rightfully belonged to the Commanding General of the Free French Army in Italy. We had no idea that the trailer belonged to him either (his name was spelled Juin or Guin or something like that) but we had an idea that we were in big trouble! I made myself very scarce when the gaggle of people came to retrieve their boss's trailer. It was obvious that I owed a debt of gratitude to the men who made such a good repair job on the hitch, to George Duwe's statesmanship and diplomacy, and a case of whiskey -- for saving my hide!
My last duty on that tour was to fly over to Corsica from our Montalto base with the Group Commander, Col. Lydon, and representatives of the other two Squadrons. We surveyed the field we would fly from and flipped coins for selection of Squadron areas. I won the toss and chose the highest ground. If anyone suspected that we would be re-equipped with new P-47's it was a well kept secret. All along we had been getting P-40's of other outfits when they were re-equipped. We had even been given the 99th Fighter Squadrons birds when they received brand new P-47's. The 99th was the famous Negro squadron, so (admitting that there were at that time some lingering biases) getting their worn out birds was the last straw. When Headquarters 12th explained that we were doomed to be the last owners of P-40's in the theatre because our Squadron and Group had the best maintenance record, it was decidedly no consolation.
On the beach near Montalto di Castro we had a 324th Group "Organization Day" picnic, our second anniversary. It was a big turnout, including a lot of visitors from 12th Headquarters. Many of us were presented with medals by our Commanding General during an afternoon ceremony and it was a big day all around.
James Troy Johnson receiving award
Others will have to write the story from that point until late November at Dole-Tavaux, France. Col. Lydon, the day after the picnic, called me, Bill Barns, and other high mission pilots to his trailer. There were about a dozen of us all together. Without any preliminaries, he said, "You can have a two week rest leave in Cairo, a 90-day leave to the U.S. and return, or you can go home PCS -- J.T., what do you want to do?" I wished he had asked someone else first so that I could have had time to think it over, but I doubt it would have made any difference. I had flown 165 sorties by that time. So I said, "I've been to Cairo so I'd like to go home -- for good!" Bill and a couple of others chose the 90-day Stateside trip and the rest chose Cairo.
As soon as I reached my new duty station in Thomasville, Ga., after a short leave, I had a notion that I should be back with the Squadron. So I put in my request along with a letter from Col Lydon, which I had obtained just in case. I "monitored" the request with phone calls and a trip each to Headquarters in Tampa and the Pentagon. I bummed rides with Air Transport people to Casablanca, Air Evac to Naples, a B-26 to Corsica, and a B-25 to France, arriving in Dole-Tavaux the hard way only a few days after Bill Barns had returned. I wound up being appointed Squadron Commander with Bill as Ops Officer.
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