April, 9 1945

 

Dearest Esme:  

 

Two weeks have now passed so I am free to tell you of certain personal experiences and incidents that have happened on a recent combat mission.

There was tension in the air for days before. It was like a calm that precedes the storm.  I could feel that there was a big job coming and coming soon.  I wished it would come in a hurry, for the suspense of anticipation was growing and I could feel the tension building and affecting the others. 

I had a feeling that this time we were going to get it.  I don't know why.  Maybe because I read in the Alumni paper about so many of our buddies who were killed or missing in action.  One of my best friends, the fellow who was in the room next to me, was killed in action a few days earlier. 

We were briefed for the mission, and placed under armed guard, and restricted to the Squadron Area.  I knew that 12 hours later we'd be flying across the Rhine,in two gliders into Germany -- the Nazi Fatherland! Yes, we would fly in there, but how many of us would come back?  I felt sure many wouldn't. I cleaned and oiled my pistol and loaded my clips. Then I packed my emergency rations and sat down to polish my already razor-sharp trench knife.  John had suggested that I wear leather gloves, in case of fire, to protect my hands. Little did he know.
 I got my leather summer flying gloves out and set them with my other equipment.  I walked around the tent--how much I wanted to go home.  I didn't want to see them die -- I was afraid to see it. It was midnight then, and the Sergeant came to my tent to tell me that the Majors were at the Orderly Room.  I went down there, got my orders and they issued me a pair of fully stocked medic's bags and sent me back to rest.

All were all up before daybreak the next morning.  Attended the final briefing and went to our ship.

At the ship we met our crew chief and radio operator.  As yet, they didn't know where we were going; that is, exactly where.  Sgt. Rittel had the ship as clean as a whistle.  Nothing that was not absolutely necessary was left on the ship. Even the door was taken out -- so we could get out in a hurry if we had to.

We were loaded into the gliders, ready to go. Never had silence been so loud.

John flew from the left seat -- Harry was in the right.  He took off and flew for 15 min.  They changed off every 15 minutes thereafter.  John flew, Harry flew. There was quite a bit of propwash in the formation which kept them busy on the controls.  

Just before the Rhine came in sight, John started flying his 15 minute stretch. Visibility was low due to the smoke screen laid by the British.  Just as we came into sight of the Rhine, I saw a plane hurl earthwards, hit and go up in a bright red flash of flame immediately followed by black smoke.  It all happened in a split second.  I couldn't tell if it was a fighter or transport, or allied or enemy. It was a plane -- that's all I saw.

The Rhine looked small.  I could swim it if I had to. I could see those deadly inky black puffs of smoke -- heavy flak!  There was another loud BOOM!  which made me forget what had just happened.  The gliders shook, the plane lurched forward, and sent the two gliders free.  I watched as Harry made a climbing turn out of there and headed back for the Rhine. Our glider sailed silently downward landing with a horrendous crash in a small field, luckily we escaped any enemy attention. Sadly we lost 3 of our boys who were killed on impact. They never saw a thing. The remaining 10 of us silently gathered the scattered supplies and headed towards our point of rendezvous.

I will write again soon, my love. We have new casualties and I must go.

I love you

Forever yours,
Carlisle

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