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Our War Stories

Recollections of the War and Letters Home

from the memoirs of Edward Clinton Knapp, Jr. (777)

Page 1

     The US was preparing for the possibility of involvement in the war in Europe, so men were drafted for one year of training and then being part of the reserve. My brother George was drafted in December 1940 and I was drafted in February 1941. When George’s one year was up, the US was in the war.

      George had been training for a year and soon was sent to North Africa to fight against the Germans led by Rommel. I was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for my basic training with the 8th Infantry. I was assigned to the 4th Division Quartermaster as a truck driver. We continued to train for war and that included marksmanship, parade marching and 30 mile hikes with packs and rifles. I had enough of this and decided to try for pilot training again.

     Our outfit was transferred to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, which was a newly constructed base, and near a nicer town. As a truck driver I would make trips to Atlanta with dirty laundry and pick up clean laundry. I kept my truck in top condition and would tune it up myself. Other drivers asked if I would tune up their trucks so the word got out and I was sent to a mechanics school in Aberdeen, Maryland. This was great because I would hop a train home on weekends.

     At home I got engaged to a high school sweetheart. When the course was over I was transferred to the vehicle maintenance shop. I had brought my 1938 Buick to Georgia. On one trip to town I went to Woolworths to get a birthday card for my fiancée. At the counter there was a cute Georgia Peach. She was being helpful and said "didn't we have a good time last night." I had been at the USO the night before but I didn't remember seeing her. I made a date to see her again.

     On 19 August 1942 I married the "peach," my million dollar baby from a 5&10 cent store. Of course, things weren't so good at home but I had been upset with my fiancée because I'd heard that she had been seeing other soldiers and I wasn't getting mail from her.

      My mother and George’s wife came to the wedding. Our honeymoon was a three-day pass and we stayed in the nicest hotel. The next morning my wife told my mother that Eddie is really the stuff. Down south that would mean that she loved me. My wife’s middle name was Evelyn, I called her Eve. She was really the stuff.

     28 September 1942 I was transferred to the Air Corps. 14 October they sent me to Nashville, Tennessee for physicals and indoctrination. Then to Maxwell Field Alabama for pre-flight school. There we were cadets, similar to West Point underclass and upperclass. This was tough. I passed over 90% and we were sent to Carlestrom Field in Arcadia Florida for Primary Flight training. We had to learn how to fly the single engine biplane in eight hours of instruction or we would washout. All flight courses were nine weeks.

     Then to Basic Training in a single wing, single engine, much more powerful plane in Bainbridge, Georgia. The plane flew at 140 mph - 210 top speed and landed at 100 mph. Next, it was on to Columbus, Mississippi for twin engine flight training. This is where I got my wings and became a Second Lieutenant on 28 July 1943. I applied for fighter pilot, but I wound up as a 4-engine bomber pilot and was sent to B-17 school in Columbus, Ohio. 20 October I was sent to Salt Lake City, Utah for more physicals and assignment. I was told that I would be a B-17 pilot.

     They would make up a crew of two pilots, navigator, bombardier, radio operator, engineer and four gunners. To find out who would be first pilot we were to flip a coin and so I became a co-pilot. Then things really got screwed up - which is normal army routine. They changed our assignment from B-17 to B-24. The pilot designation remained the same and I was a co-pilot on a B-24 with a newer crew.

     I was very upset but now I know that what happened was for the best. We were then sent to Mountain Home, Idaho for more training as a crew. Then to Pocetello, Idaho for phase training which we completed in three months. I was then assigned to the 464th Bombardment Group, 778 Bomb Squadron. Next the war.

     My family kept all my letters home - so most of the information to follow is taken from those letters. We flew as a crew to Topeka, Kansas on 7 February 1944 for more training. The navigator's wife and Eve followed us there. 16 February we flew to Lincoln, Nebraska and the wives had to leave us. 21 February we flew to Morrison Field, Florida. 23 February we flew to Trinidad, 25 February to Belem, Brazil. We developed a gas leak and flew to Fortalaza, Brazil for repairs. We had nice accommodations and the freedom to go to town and the beach. The natives were out with their wares to sell to the soldiers and we had the money. I did buy a few trinkets as souvenirs.

     8 March we crossed the big pond to Dakar, North Africa. Then to Marakech and finally to Tunis where we were temporarily based until our field in Italy was ready. Here we lived in tents and that would be for all of my duty overseas. Training continued and we flew practice missions.

     Before we left the states, the other pilot's brother had given us a puppy which we called "Putt-putt." We named him after our small generator on board the ship - the one used for emergency electricity. The puppy stayed with us and usually would hang out in the shade underneath a nearby truck. One day it happened that the truck moved and poor little Putt-putt was killed. We felt that this was an omen of what could happen to us.

     I missed breakfasts since milk and eggs and coffee were powdered or ersatz. The Arabs would sell us eggs - fifteen for $2.00 - which we cooked on our stove in the tent. This was a treat. About the stove, it was made from half of a 55 gallon drum with the open end at the bottom. We got some parts from the mechanics so that we could run a tube, with a valve to adjust the gas, to flow as a drip. This kept us warm and could also be used as a stove for cooking.

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