Excerpt from "Winter Journey through the Ninth"

by Harry A. Franck

But this morning the forty planes were warmed up and read­ied for the take-off--two boxes of eighteen each and four spares (which turn back if they are not needed). Bulldozers and gangs of Frenchmen had scraped some of the snow from the runways and truckloads of coarse salt had been strewn along them to combat the ice. I dropped in at the 669th Squadron operations shack, roasting with a too-big, almost red-hot stove, to pick up the flying equipment I lacked. Let's see; I had on: One union BVD, a suit of "long-handled" khaki-colored heavy woolen underwear, a wool shirt, two pairs of woolen trousers, a wool sweater, a leather flight jacket, a field jacket, a knitted wool cap, heavy gloves, three pairs of socks, two of them wool and one of them thick and high, infantry boots, a long heavy woolen overcoat (usual Army Officer's type), a web belt with a first aid kit, a canteen of water, a .45 automatic with two extra clips of cartridges. Oh, yes, and a very dirty coverall suit loaned me by some kind soul--before adding the special equipment required for going on a mission. This consisted of fleece-lined trousers and flier's jacket, a flak helmet, which is about the same as an ordinary "tin," except for hinged metal earflaps‑-and fleece-lined flier's boots. However, I could not get the largest available pair of these on over my oversize campaign boots, so I put them on instead and carried the leather boots with me. "Tie 'em to your waist when you bail out," someone said. It seems that flier's boots are often yanked off when the parachute opens and I would need something besides bare feet, or even socks, to walk back home in. Over all this went the parachute, chest strap buckled, but--here there was a difference of opinion--not the two leg straps. "Do that later," someone advised, "and you won't feel so much like a trussed elephant."

Another truck took us to the hardstand where I was to meet my pilot. Moving like a rheumatic octogenarian in so much equipment, I managed to climb up the toe-holed side of and into the A-26 flown by First Lieutenant Donald W. Sorrels, 24, of Seat­tle, an electrician before joining the Air Corps. Then, as if I were not ponderous enough already, once in the ship a flak suit was draped over me, in two parts, front and back, by the crew chief, standing on the slippery wing. Not a few pilots take along an extra flak suit to sit on--not a bad idea, since most flak comes up from below. The flak suit is a veritable armor, without appearing so--thus we go back to the Middle Ages.

This was Sorrels' twenty-first mission and of course our request to be sent with pilots who had always come back had been granted! Naturally, since the others were not there. Porter and Scott were in other planes, also A-26s, and in other squadrons--not only did we want at least one of us to get back and finish our assignment but an A-26 can hardly carry more than one passenger, and even that one not very comfortably. I sat on a loose, rusty iron box like a strap-iron orange crate...and began at once to get colder and colder. Just about the time the motors were warmed up it occurred to me that I had neglected to buckle my leg straps. Try as I would I could not got them buckled in the plane, crowded and trussed up as I was. Sorrels asked me if I wanted to get out and scrub the mission as far as I was concerned, but naturally I could not show that much white feather. After another vain struggle I gave up and Sorrels said, "Oh well, you probably won't have to bail out anyway." It would have been nice if I could have blue-penciled that "probably."