P-47 Training – August ‘44

After basic and advance flying instruction in Texas, we went to Seymour Johnson Airfield in North Carolina for combattraining and qualification in the P-47 Thunderbolt, affectionately known as the “Jug”. As soon as we arrived, I headed to the flight line. I found the Jugs parked in perfect alignment, silent, imposing, no-nonsense war machines. I circled the first one, slowly taking in the plane we’d heard so much about. The huge radial engine with two circular banks of nine cylinders and a four-bladed propeller dominated the airframe. I inhaled the scent of metal, rubber, and machine oil and set my jaw, fantasizing this fantastic machine pulling me up through the clouds. I lifted my gaze and shook my head in disbelief. Awe swept over me—this was my war chariot.

P-47 Thunderbolt

Reality struck hard the next morning and filled every minute of the next six days. Our instructors repeated all the previous training for the new fighter: ground school, cockpit familiarization and blindfold checks, simulator engine starts and taxiing demonstrations. The program left little to chance. The written tests and oral questioning were the most thorough of our training—the technically advanced Thunderbolt was far more complicated than any plane we’d flown. Republic Aircraft Corporation built the Thunderbolt in Farmingdale, New York. The Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine with 2,000 horsepower made it the most powerful fighter aircraft ever built.

That radial engine presented one problem. When taxiing with the cowl cooling flaps open at low speeds, the big engine blocked visibility forward over the nose. This required taxiing pilots to make continuous “S” turns to see around the engine and keep the runway in view. The pre-flight briefing for our first solo flight stressed forward visibility, but with takeoff times staggered five minutes apart, I foresaw no problems.

I left the briefing determined, checked off and signed the maintenance form, and climbed into the pilot seat of my assigned aircraft. After one long breath, I strapped in, centered the seat parachute, and aligned the cushion above the pack.  I rechecked the switches, signaled my crew chief, and punched the starter.  Eighteen cylinders fired in rapid sequence and accelerated, bringing the Jug to life and driving the broad-bladed propeller to hurricane speed. In two seconds the engine rumble smoothed to a husky roar. I eased the control stick forward and felt the Jug pull off the line.

The prop wash swept a cool breeze through the cockpit. An open canopy was required for taxiing and taking off. I turned my plane into the line on the taxiway and waited for clearance. Students ahead of me ran up their engines and checked the left and right engine magnetos. At each green signal, one P-47 rolled off the head of the line and onto the runway and accelerated to take off. A couple planes shuddered, jerking left as the rpms kicked up to 2800 and the torque pulled them off center.

My heart pounded and breathing labored. Then my plane bumped forward, chattering and shaking. I heard a loud gnashing sound and swung my Jug about, pulling it off the propeller of another P-47 that had run up on my tail and shredded the control surfaces. My first P-47 solo flight never got off the ground.

 

The next day I felt guilty for the incident, although not my fault, and more so when I found I’d dropped to last in the checkout order. Again I started the engine smoothly and zigzagged to the line. This time, I performed the engine run up without a hitch. I waited to get the green light, lined up, locked my tail wheel, and nervously advanced the throttle to max rpm. Slowly the big warplane rolled ahead, accelerating faster then I expected. Leaning gently forward on the stick, I watched the airspeed indicator climb past 150 miles per hour then eased back.  My Jug lifted effortlessly.

Passing over the end of the runway, I pulled up the landing gear and reached back for the T-handle canopy latch. A hard pull on the T-handle slammed the canopy forward and locked it shut, which can be a tricky maneuver while keeping the plane straight and level. Swinging my arm behind my head, I snagged my elbow in the wires connecting my helmet and radio, sending them out the cockpit to be severed cleanly by the locking canopy. I was now out of communication with the tower and my instructor, but I wasn’t worried—I didn’t know it yet.

Our assignment called for six simulated landings while remaining 10,000 feet above an auxiliary field. This was to give us a feel for the Jug’s low flying and stall characteristics at an altitude high enough to recover if we screwed up. On my fourth simulated landing my landing gear wouldn’t retract. A glance to my instrument panel showed the hydraulic pressure hovering above zero. My usually cockiness drained when I realized, for the first time, that I had no communications or hydraulic pressure in an aircraft I had never landed. I reviewed emergency procedures for gear and radio. Not too bad, as long as the landing gear was down and locked, which it was, and I didn’t exceed 180 miles per hour. The radio was simpler: on approaching the field you rock your wings and watch for the green light to land. The normal approach, however, was a 360-degree turn to synchronize your landing path with other aircraft. This was tricky below 180 mph with landing gear down.

I circled the field about 1,500 feet above the traffic pattern and watched the other planes landing. When I saw a gap, I’d dive into an approach pattern rocking my wings and land. The traffic broke twenty minutes later, and I headed down. Pushing to beat the oncoming traffic, I put in too close to the runway and had to pull up and go around. I climbed back to 3,000 feet and felt good about my plane’s performance. It had the power and handled better then I expected at slow speeds.

My next approach felt good until the mobile control officer waved me off. Was I too fast? I was at the correct landing speed, 150 miles per hour. On my third attempt, I took a wider approach, lowered full flaps a mile out, and touched down in the first five hundred feet. The control officer signaled “thumbs up” as I taxied by. Back at the hangar, I logged the problems for the maintenance crew chief and headed toward squadron operations. My instructor Lt. Jim Worthy looked upset. I reviewed my experience, and he shook his head. Without speaking a word, he touched my back and walked away.

Next morning, when I saw I wasn’t scheduled on the big board, I looked for my instructor. “Lt. Worthy, sir, what’s cooking? I don’t have an assignment listed for today’s training.”

Glancing up from his clipboard, he mumbled, “Oh, yah, Kenny, today you’ll be flying with Major Johnson.”

“Yes sir.” I responded, confused. “I thought the training syllabus said we needed three P-47 solos before we flew formation.”

“The boss wants to fly with you.” This time Worthy didn’t look up.

My first reaction was excitement. Major Johnson was not just the squadron commander. In this fast war, he already had over 100 missions in the European theater and became an ace in a single day when he intercepted Junker JU-52 transports evacuating Rommel’s Afrika Korps from North Africa.

Then it dawned on me, this was a test. It could be my last P-47 flight.

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Fighter Pilot Training – 1944

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny.

After officer candidate school at Kent State in Ohio, I went to San Antonio, Texas, for classification—the qualifying process that determined whether I would be trained as a pilot, navigator, or bombardier, and whether I’d be flying fighters, bombers, or transports. As hoped, I qualified to become a fighter pilot. Then came ground school and pre-flight training. I marched and countermarched, sabre in hand, learned Morse Code, hand-to-hand combat, and aircraft recognition.

My flight training was all in Texas: Bonham for primary training in the Fairchild PT-19; Greenville for basic training in the Vultee BT-13; and Victoria for advanced flying in the North American AT-6 Texan.

I received my wings in Victoria then began combat training in the venerable Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, the plane made famous by the “Flying Tigers.” The air gunnery range was at Matagorda Island off the Texas gulf coast.

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My new wife Phyllis had followed me for an entire year, post to post, renting rooms off base. We got together whenever I got a pass, and sometimes when I didn’t. When the post commander withheld passes, usually for minor infractions, a cigarette butt, can, or candy wrapper found around the barracks, I went AWOL (away without leave). For a bottle of hooch, a tech sergeant let me hide in the trunk of his Ford then picked me up on Monday in time to make the morning muster. For Phyl and me, every re-acquaintance became a celebration and an opportunity to share stories.

She had found a room in a boarding house just off the end of the runway. One morning when I took off, I saw her hanging wash on the clothesline in the yard behind her room. I wagged my wings as I flew over, a pilot’s wave, and she waved back. After that whenever she heard a fighter plane overhead, she’d run out and wave, always getting a return wing wag. It wasn’t long before I heard comments at the morning mission briefing. Who was the cute redhead who liked all the pilots? When I told them, everyone started looking for her to get a sendoff wave and always wagged their wings back. When I saw Phyl that weekend, her first comment was, “You flew quite a bit this week.”

At Matagorda I walked guard shifts several nights a week, rifle on shoulder, up and down the beach. U-boats had sunk merchant ships off the coast, often in sight of shore, and we’d heard reports that agents and saboteurs had landed in small inflatable dinghies. Our fighter planes made tempting targets. Passwords were changed daily and were made hard to guess.

One moonless night, I heard a sound. A dolphin jumping and striking the water? Then I heard a mechanical twist and click, followed by scraping in the sand. Maybe a Mauser rifle chambering a round and a small boat dragged on shore?

“Who goes there?” I demanded. “Give the password. Advance and be recognized.” I raised my rifle and chambered a round. The sound stopped, and it was several seconds before I got a response.

“I – I forgot the password,” said a slurred voice low on the sand.

I found the tech sergeant on his belly unable to stand, a crumpled beer can in his fist.

We each training phase took me to a new base: long-range, high-altitude bomber escort, low-altitude tactical escort—where fighters join medium bombers in bombing attacks—fighter-on-fighter combat (aka dogfighting), and tactical support for ground troops. The latter included dispensing smoke in front of advancing allied troops to cover their attack and make it harder for German machine gunners to spot them.

One morning at a range outside Dover, Delaware, my smoke dispenser locked up, and I had to return to base. My landing pattern took me low over the city, and it seems all the bedding and underwear in Dover was out on the line that morning when my smoke dispenser misfired. Willy Pete (white phosphorous) is an excellent smoking agent at the correct altitude but an incendiary at low altitude. Fortunately, I was not low enough to start major fires. But my Willy Pete burned tiny holes in every sheet, pillowcase, and delicate in the city that day.

The training commandant got a call from the mayor before I pulled up to the maintenance hangar. He hauled me into his office. The bill ran to several thousands of dollars for damaged laundry, several years’ pay. He said the Army Air Force would pick it up, but I’d be walking extra tours and inspecting barracks and latrines until I completed training.

The mayor’s office compiled the bills to submit to my training commandant, and he sent a copy to me. It was in Phyl’s hand when I arrived home that weekend. I assured her it had been taken care of then explained weekend passes were going to be harder to come by.

The Wise First Became Fools

Sacred relics, hidden by ninth century Vikings, arrive at the Medieval Studies Department of Nimueh College. Ernest and Lisa, with the annoying presence of Dean Gilders’ nephew Bryton, begin restoring and interpreting six runic scrolls, and hope to discern the purpose of a leather object concealed behind a secret panel. (See “Fool’s Cap” and “Pity Not the Fool”)

When Earnest entered the lab next morning, Lisa was already hard at work. “Ahhh, Lisa. Anything interesting?”

“Good morning, Ernie. The scrolls are beginning to uncurl. I brushed the creases with gelatin to keep them from splitting.” She picked one up and read the runes along the top, “Til ao hindra veikindi hlatur er besta lyf.”

“Which means?” Lisa’s Nordic was better than his.

“Roughly, ‘To deter sickness, laughter is the best medicine’. It appears this has medicinal incantations. But in the next line I found a reference to heimskingjans hettu, the fool’s cap.”

“Oooh, I do hope so.” Ernest lifted his eyes to the ceiling, mouth wide.

Lisa brought the triangular panels from the back shelf. “I worked more Neatsfoot oil in this morning. The stitching is silk.” She unfolded the wedges gently into a cone, six-panels, alternating dark green and red, with leather appendages.

“Excellent.” He smiled at Lisa’s enthusiasm. “Take it slow, and keep working in the oil. I’ll get some leather cleaner.” He checked the drawer below the lab bench.

Lisa set the cap upright over a stand then returned to the scrolls on the table. “The header on this scroll reads, ‘Negotiating with Christians’. What’s that about?”

“Ahh … I had a feeling.” Ernest clutched his head with both hands and gave a silent thank you. “Old Testament scriptures speak of other gods, but European Christians could never abide them. The Jestercians were a Nordic-Druidic order, pre-Christian. The Jester was said to speak those godly tongues. I suspect she was the top diplomat dealing with the Christian Franks.

Lisa raised a finger then leaned over the flattening table. She tested the uncurling edges of the scrolls. “Each must serve a different function. But until we unroll them, I can only read a line or two. This one is beautifully illuminated.” She peered at the barely separated edge and shined her light magnifier. “Heimskinginn Fero, fool’s manual, map, no, guide … ‘A Guide for the Fool’s Journey.’ That must be the master scroll.”

She glanced at Ernest across the table and saw his eyes twinkling. She gave a soft handclap then dove back in. “Okay, six scrolls: the master guide, medical and negotiation scrolls, then three others.”

Lisa turned the steamer to mist the three scrolls then tried each of their edges again. “These have simple runes for short incantations.” She pulled all three toward her and lined them up. Ernest leaned in. She appreciated his patience.

Several hours later, she looked up from the table, stretched her arms and shoulders back, and took a cleansing breath. Ernest rolled a hand, beckoning her to reveal her discovery.

Lisa rested her hand on the last three scrolls in sequence. “One for good fortune, one for sexual potency, and one for anger—a pacifier.” She stepped back, held her arms up, and bowed to all sides as if to a gallery of appreciative viewers.

“Hurrah, excellently done,” Ernest said, applauding. “Your interpretation confirms what we believed about Jestercian theology. In the illuminated scroll, the fool’s journey is a metaphor for the journey each of us must take. We begin life as fools and return to that state at each transition: leaving home, entering a trade, selecting a mate, all major life decisions. Apprentice Jesters were called great fools because they made many transitions, and here we have scrolls for five of them. Special caps assisted their training and also warned others.”

“Awesome hat, Ernie!” They turned to see Bryton pulling the fool’s cap over his unwashed hair and hopping about like a drunken marionette. He wore the same smiley-face tee shirt with some new ketchup stains. “I could wear this for the party tonight.”

“Bryton, please take that off,” Ernest said through clenched teeth.

“It’s part of our research,” Lisa said, “very fragile and very valuable.”

“Weeell aaall right. You know, you guys are real bummers.” He shuffled his feet, doffed the cap, and bowed, sweeping the cap low. “Milady Liz, Bryton Gilders at your service.” He handed it to Lisa then plopped into the stuffed armchair.

Lisa looked at Earnest, who could barely contain his anger, then back at Bryton. “I want to study the scrolls a little more tonight,” she said. “Maybe tomorrow you can help flatten and repair the creases with me. I’ll show you how that’s done.”

Bryton looked pleased. “Okay, tomorrow I work … but tonight I play.” He jumped up. “How about you two? Pot’o Gold? This is a special night, and you should celebrate your big discovery.”

“Special night? Did I miss something?” Lisa asked, shifting her gaze to Ernest.

Bryton rolled his eyes. “Just St. Patty’s Day. Hey dudes! Time for the green. Pot’o Gold’s having a big party … beer, song, dance, all the good stuff.” He threw his arms wide and rocked in his seat.

“For once, Bryton might have a good idea,” Ernest said. “It’s been a long while since we took a break, and we do have something to celebrate.” Lisa nodded tentatively.

Right we do. Of course, we do.” Bryton grinned at his win. “What time shall we go?”

“How about we meet you over there?” Lisa said. “Dr. Woerth, do you know the way? I’d need a lift.” She pointed a finger at Bryton. “And you, how about changing that shirt?”

“No prob, Liz, it’s Friday night … wash night … and I’m not wearing any green.” He pulled at his stained smiley shirt then jumped up from his chair and headed to the door. “Got to go rest up for tonight.

The Pot’o Gold was crowded and smelled of spilt beer, old wood, and fresh corned beef and cabbage. Laborers, students, and a few police officers and firemen filled most of the tables. A fiddler played an Irish tune to the vigorous accompaniment of a drum, flute, and tin whistle.

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Lisa and Ernest each ordered a Guinness and agreed to share an order of fish and chips, which arrived quickly as the bartender had everything lined along the bar. Lisa leaned across the table so she wouldn’t have to shout over the music. “A fortuitous day, would you say?”

“Fortuitous, indeed. A good word all considering.” Ernest lifted his tall mug, and Lisa did likewise. “To the Jestercians.”

“To the Jestercians,” she repeated then added, “and to the anonymous donor for our wondrous gifts.”

Ernest nodded, took another pull on his Guinness, and noted patches of red and green peeking from Lisa’s purse. “You brought the fool’s cap?”

“After Bryton’s episode, I didn’t want to chance him appropriating it for his costume tonight. It also inspires my studies. I took a few notes before I left the lab this evening to get ready for our date.”

Ernest smiled, and Lisa was pleased to see he also considered this a date. They looked like a couple—unconsciously, both had chosen to wear cream-colored, Irish turtlenecks and ornamental shamrocks.

The lights darkened before Earnest could speak and the room quieted. A costumed woman stood in the spotlight and sang an Irish ballad.

Steal away, let’s steal away
No reason left to stay
For me and you, let’s start anew
And Darlin’ let’s steal away

Ernest slid his chair beside Lisa’s so they could watch together. The lilting soprano transfixed them, but not everyone in the pub.

Asshole,” came a shout from across the room. A chair slammed to the floor, followed by a young man, a student no doubt, flying backwards to rebound off a wall. The felled student twisted to pull himself onto his elbows.

Lisa recognized the slightly less-stained, smiley-face tee shirt and the mop of matted, black hair. Three Nimueh jocks in matching sports jerseys pushed tables aside to go after him.

Without thinking, Lisa slid the cap from her purse and onto her head. “An farandverkefni Viking hættir a hus bonda …” she said and two other lines. The toughs continued coming but began to smile and laugh, along with the rest of the pub. Reaching Bryton, they lifted him to his feet, dusted him off, and ordered a fresh beer to be brought to their table. Bryton looked confused but rejoined their group.

“What was that?” Ernest asked, checking the room. No one else seemed to notice Lisa’s intervention.

“That’s from the Reioi. I told those guys that Bryton was a fine fellow who said stupid things, like they sometimes did.” She shrugged and flashed a sheepish grin.

“Hey Liz, Ernie,” Bryton shouted and waved then rose to join them. Lisa tucked the cap back into her purse. “Did you two see that?” Bryton pointed back. “I thought those guys were really mad at me.” Lisa suppressed a smirk. Bryton glanced between her and Ernest. “You look pretty cozy over here. Don’t want to break things up.  Sooo …” He scanned the room. “I think the girls over there need my attention.” Bryton lifted his chin to a pair of young women at the bar and trotted over. They averted their eyes, put their heads together, and laughed.

Conversations picked up and the fiddler returned to the stage. Ernest leaned over and whispered, “Reioi?”

Lisa waited for a waiter to pass their table. “Hindra reioi, the scroll for deterring anger. It’s the last thing I remember from my notes this afternoon. I was going to ask you to look them over just before this happened.”

“Those men couldn’t have understood what you said.” Ernest gave Lisa an admiring, open-mouthed smile. “The fool’s cap, it works for you. You are the new Jester. The cap selected you.”

He looked at the check on the edge of the table. “Since we’re calling this a date, may I pick up the tab?”

Lisa half smiled and lifted an eyebrow.

 

After twelve centuries, the Fool’s Cap of the Druidic order of Jestercians—entrusted to the Vikings in the ninth century and buried at Dorestad castle— found a new home at Nimueh College west of St. Louis, and a worthy apprentice in Lisa Svanetti.

Pity Not the Fool

The story begins twelve hundred years earlier with Vikings concealing a mystical trunk to keep it out of the hands of Frankish heretics. (See “Fool’s Cap”)

By the time Ernest Woerth reached the lab, the trunk had arrived, and Lisa Svanetti was signing the paperwork. She was a graduate student in medieval history and an expert in Nordic runes. She had read his paper on the Jestercians and come to Nimueh College to work with him.

“Excellent,” Ernest said, checking the trunk’s seal and general condition. The oak trunk was twenty inches long by twelve high and wide, and bound with brass hinges and fittings. The boards were caulked and seams sealed with pitch and pine tar, like ship hulls in the ninth century.

“Is this the Dorestad cache?” Lisa asked, pointing to the tar-stained seal. When Ernest nodded, she squealed and danced around in a circle.

“They should make for an excellent thesis,” Ernest said. “I want you to take the lead.” She jumped to embrace him. “But before we celebrate, let’s make sure there is something inside.” He went to the tool cabinet for a chisel.

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While they talked, a young man came in, plopped himself in a side chair, and swung his legs over the arm. “Hi, Ernie. I see my project arrived. Uncle Scott said you needed some help.”

“Indeed, I do, Bryton,” Ernest said, drawing a thin smile and regretting his promise to Dean Gilders to keep his nephew Bryton busy.

Bryton scratched his patchy beard then pulled the smiley-face emblem on his tee shirt to free it from sticking to his body. The smell of fried potatoes and stale sweat wafted into the room. Ernest glanced at the unopened trunk then at Lisa, who covered her mouth with her hand.

“Hi, Bryton.” Lisa nodded in the young man’s direction. I’m Lisa Svanetti, Dr. Woerth’s graduate intern.”

“Nice to meet you, Liz,” he raised his hand as if to wave then ran fingers through his matted hair. “Yer kinda like the formal type, huh? And real booky.”

“Yup. And you’re a quick one.”

“My mother always told me that.”

“Enough chat,” Ernest said. “Time to get to work.”

“Sure ‘nuff, Ernie.” Bryton slid one leg off the chair arm and shifted his body to watch. While Lisa softened the pine tar with linseed oil, Ernest worked the seals. The last one parted a half-hour later.

“You superstitious?” Ernest asked Lisa.

“About the curse? I’ll risk it to be the first to lift the trunk lid,” she said, and Ernest nodded for her to go ahead.

The stale odor of desiccation overwhelmed the smell of French fries coming off Bryton. Lisa inhaled deeply, and Ernest motioned her to continue. Inside she found six scrolls, each individually bound with a leather strap and sequestered in its own pigeonhole.

“Those the doorstops?” Bryton asked, leaning forward without shifting a leg. “They look like rolls of old newspaper.”

“The Dorestad Scrolls,” Ernest corrected, turning one in his hand. “Sheepskin vellum, ninth century. Paper didn’t reach northern Europe until the 13th century. The Franks never found them when they overran Dorestad—probably the last Viking stronghold in Germany.”

Lisa transferred the scrolls to plastic sleeves then prepared the lab table to re-hydrate, unroll, flatten, and repair them: spatulas, surgical knives, magnifiers, ink, brushes, fountain pens, oil, leather preservative, sprayer, steamer, document spreader, all tucked in bins along the lab table.

Bryton stretched his body across the arms of the chair and yawned. “You know, dudes, I’m not big into crafts. Think I’ll get a bite in the cafeteria. No rules against lunch, right?”

“None at all, Bryton,” Ernest said without looking up. “Go ahead. We’ll be along.”

Lisa lifted the rough-hewn trunk to clear space then set it back to complete her examination. “They wanted this watertight. It’s makeshift but solid. Look at the hinges.” She lifted the lid wide, and Ernest brought headlamp magnifiers for the two of them. Feeling inside, Lisa detected another seal and tapped the lid. Hollow.

Ernest reached for the chisel. “Looks like there’s something the Jester didn’t want found—a treasure perhaps,” he said. Lisa’s eyebrows arched. The panel came free in one minute, and with it, a stack of wedges, alternating red and green and sown along the edges.

“Leather?” Lisa wondered aloud as she turned the stack under the light. “

“Give it a little Neatsfoot oil and let it soak.” Ernest checked his watch. “We missed the cafeteria.”

“I’m too excited to eat. All I can think about is reading the scrolls.”

“Very well,” Ernest said. “I’ll help you unroll them. Tomorrow we can work on the leather stack.”

“What do you think it is?”

“What I hope it is.” His eyes shifted wistfully upward. “According to legend, the Jester gave her apprentice mage a device to help him master the scrolls, a fool’s cap. It designated his training status and bestowed immunity from punishment should he screw something up in his training.”

“Like Mickey Mouse’s cap in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ in Fantasia?” Ernest nodded.

Lisa cocked her head and asked, “So why do we only think of fool’s caps being worn by court comedians?”

“When the Franks and later medieval kingdoms couldn’t get any of the Jestercian incantations to work, they made fun of them. The fool’s cap became a sign of derision, the same as the Jester. They wore replicas to mock Vikings and Druids. We might have found the original fool’s cap or one of the replicas—or it might just be a leather purse.”

Will the Fool’s Cap be a blessing or a curse? Next week’s blog post.

Fool’s Cap

Rolf shouted as he dashed into the vaulted hall of Dorestad castle, “Ragnar, the Franks overran our camp at Nijmegen, now they’re headed here. Has the Jester sailed?” Rolf steadied himself and set his helmet on the oak trestle table. Blood streamed from his leather sleeve and pooled beneath his arm.

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“The Jester sailed yesterday,” Ragnar called, leaning heavily on his cane as he entered the hall. “She took the skalds with her. She said they’d go to Kirkwall for supplies then meet us at Dun Aengus.”

“Dun Aengus.” Rolf winced and dropped his head to his chest. “They’ll trap her there. Thorvald’s joined the Franks. He knows our plans—they’ll send ships straight away. Did the scrolls go with her?”

“Only the meister scroll. She left the proselyte scrolls and the fool’s cap for Áedán to bring in the Karvi longship.”

Rolf looked confused. “The Karvi’s at the bottom of the inlet. As I rode in, I saw the mast and crosstree sloping from the water off the end of the pier.”

“Áedán took an ax to the hull then cut her loose before he ran off.” Ragnar pulled a gnarled hand down over his gray beard. “Áedán left his training materials. Said the fool’s cap never worked for him anyway. He didn’t want anything that would link him to the Jester.” Unsteady, Ragnar sought a chair alongside the table and sat. “All the materials are safe, packed for shipping before Áedán went on his rampage, the trunk sealed inside and out.”

Rolf pressed burning sweat from his eyes, reclaimed his helmet, and lifted a long-shafted, battle-ax from a crossed display on the stone wall. “I’ll try to hold them at the Dorestad gate. You have the servants bury thetrunk somewhere on the grounds. Don’t tell me where. The Franks will keep me alive and try to make me talk. When you’re done, arm yourself and the others and join me at the gate.” He cut the air with a wide sweep of the ax.

“We’ll meet the Jester in Valhalla.”

 

Twelve hundred years later, next week’s blog post,

read how the trunk is discovered and opened.

My Night in Paris

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny

January 1945

I arrived in Paris, delivered supplies for allied officers staying at the Chateau Rothschild, and was directed to remain at the chateau until my new orders arrived (See previous post, Over There). My unit, the 404th Fighter Group, was in Belgium and cut off by German panzers in the Battle of the Bulge.

I bathed with ample hot water and perfumed soap—neither of which I’d known during the depression—then slipped on my best uniform to join the other officers in the chateau ballroom.

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Chateau Rothschild as it appears today. After the war, it was never reoccupied

Generals and admirals surrounded by senior staff officers and spike-heeled French ladies stood and talked under the high-vaulted ceiling. Red-uniformed Algerian staff brought trays of hors d’oeuvres and drinks, wine and champagne.

A tuxedoed, string quartet played in one corner of the ballroom. A lavish buffet on one wall offered assorted breads, cheeses and caviar, followed by sliced pork, duck, and salmon carved and served by the Algerian staff.

When none of the groups opened a space for me, I went to the bar for a beer. I selected an Alsatian brand over the caramel-dark concoction the bartender said the Germans preferred.

“Those hobnobs got in last week,” said a Midwest accent behind me. The Army Air Corps Captain had silver pilot’s wings on his jacket and a glass of dark beer in his hand.

I tipped my bottle toward the multi-starred uniforms and their girlfriends. “I guess you’re not with them?”

He shook his head. “I’m at Beauvais with the 322nd Bomb Group. Came down to speed up supply … but this is useless. Only supply these desk jockeys worry about is whiskey and champagne. Heard they skedaddled out of Brussels soon as the panzers rolled over the border.”

“I just got in, escorted a dozen cases of Scotch here from England.”

“That’s explains how you ended up here.” He took a pull on his beer. “How about we grab a bite and I show you the town.”

Charlie flew the A-26 Marauder, medium bomber, and had been in the war since D-Day. He was also from Toledo and a Detroit Tiger fan, so we talked about Hank Greenberg, their first baseman, and agreed that Ty Cobb was a greater ball player than Babe Ruth.

Charlie’s favorite part of Paris was an area near Sacré-Cœur at the foot of Montmartre. He said it was called Place Pigalle and there was a metro stop. I later found out US servicemen since World War One had called it “Pig Alley,” the famous red light district. Even though it wasn’t my idea, I didn’t tell Phyl this story until years later.

It was close to midnight, but all the city lights were on. Paris is known as The City of Light. The street was jammed with servicemen of all ranks and all services, and in all states of intoxication. They stumbled about—in spite of the cutting winter wind—bottles in hand, shouting, singing, hanging on each other and on skimpily dressed women.

I looked on in silence as we walked. Charlie read my expression, laughed, and pointed to a narrow, open doorway down a short flight of steps.

In the dim light and blue tobacco smoke, I saw high-heeled, naked legs kicking from a row of stools. Charlie pushed me in. The bar on the narrow back wall provided most of the light. Candles on small round tables provided the rest.

We grabbed an empty table in the corner. A small Frenchman in a red-striped shirt took an empty bottle from the table and brought two glasses. Charlie ordered a bottle of Bordeaux and offered a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes in exchange.

Most of the customers were boisterous young Americans in want of decent bathing. A sultry woman sang a mournful French tune and leaned over a black piano player.

I shrank into the corner. Charlie patted my shoulder. “Relax, Ed, this may be the only R&R you get.” He shook a pack of Luckies at me until one emerged. I lit it off the table candle and took a draw. The waiter showed Charlie the Bordeaux label, poured our glasses half full, and left the bottle. My first night in Paris, I thought, sipping my wine and taking another draw on my cigarette.

“Hey you, flyboy,” a gruff voice blasted over the crowd. The place got quiet. I looked up. “Yah, you.” A beefy, infantry sergeant pointed his ham-like fist at me. Charlie backed away. The piano player stopped. The chanteuse shifted to lean on the piano, eyes curious.

“You’re a fighter pilot, aren’t ya?” He was Polish. I knew the accent.

“Yes,” I cleared my throat, “I am.” I hadn’t flown a minute in combat, but I was a certified fighter pilot.

“P-47?”

“Right.” Charlie shifted his chair further away. The big sergeant pushed his table back and crossed the room in four steps.

“This pilot,” he shouted back to the room then checked my nametag, “Lieutenant Kenny here, he saved my sorry ass.” He wrapped his ball-mitt-size fists around my upper arms, lifted me out of my seat, and set me on the bar. I’d leaned down since basic but still weighed 160 pounds and stood six feet tall.

Sergeant Pulaski pointed to the bar’s top shelf. “I want to buy Lieutenant Kenny a drink, the best in the place.” He then turned to the room. “I’m going to tell all of you our little story, and I want you to listen.”

Chairs rattled as they turned toward us. The bartender stepped onto a stool and brought down a dusty, black bottle. He wiped it with his apron then twisted off the cork and set and filled two glasses. The sergeant handed one to me and took the other.

“Me, my wife, my three kids, and all my friends here,” he waved his glass to the soldiers who raised their glasses, “we thank you and all P-47 pilots. God bless you.” He tossed it back. I did the same and coughed at the burn.

“Good, huh?” he growled and squeezed my arm.

“Reeeal smooth,” I said, hardly able to draw a breath.

The Sergeant leaned into the room and fixed each customer with his gaze. “You boys in the 1st Infantry, you know we stopped ’em at Elsenborn Ridge. That’s why them Nazzzi’s decided to go south through Bastogne.” All the soldiers nodded solemnly. “I was in town, in the rubble of the courtyard, cleanin’ up whatever we mighta missed. A shell exploded, splintering the stone wall behind me. A pillar fell, raining slabs of concrete that blocked the courtyard rear exit. At the entrance, stones and gravel slid from a buried Tiger tank. Its big ‘88’ cranked and ratcheted toward me while machinegun bullets rattled and ricocheted, keeping me pinned.” The Sergeant scanned the room and dropped his voice low. “I said my prayer, and I said goodbye to Maria as I watched through a crack in the stone.”

The Sergeant suddenly pointed to the ceiling at the back of the room and shouted, “There he was, high in the sky behind the Tiger, Lieutenant Kenny in his P-47.” The Sergeant’s hands and arms brought his words to life. “He winged over and swooped down like an eagle from heaven. I hardly breathed as I watched that sweet five-hundred-pounder drop away—watched it plunge into the Tiger’s engine compartment. Kaboom! I ducked. The turret bounced past me.” He turned to the bar and shook me with both hands.

Cheers went up. Other soldiers slapped my back. All evening, they bought Charlie and me drinks. We stumbled to the metro just before dawn.

Back at the chateau, Charlie thanked me for a great evening. He said this was his last night and wished me luck. By the time I got up for breakfast, he’d already left. I never heard what became of him.

Over There

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny

December 1944 to January 1945

I finished gunnery training and final pilot qualification for the P-47 Thunderbolt in Dover, Delaware. On December 16 the same week, the Nazi’s launched their counter attack in the Ardennes and were driving US forces back through Belgium. The Battle of the Bulge dominated the news, and I wasn’t surprised when orders came for Europe—the P-47 was our primary ground attack fighter. I was assigned to the 404thFighter Group but, with the front constantly shifting, my final orders wouldn’t come until I got over there.

Phyllis had been with me since we were married in June, following me camp to camp after I completed Officer Candidate School. She was nineteen; I was twenty. My Dad drove down from Detroit to see me off and take Phyl home. Delaware was our first real goodbye.

Our last night together would have to last a long time.

I boarded the Queen Elizabeth outbound from Port Newark for the UK. The Royal Navy had requisitioned the Queen Elizabeth and reconfigured the luxury liner to be a troop transport. I got the standard upgrade for new officers: a stateroom with eighteen other officers stacked in bunks three high. Mine was the dockside low bunk. We piled our B4 bags in a corner with pints of Southern Comfort. B4s were standard Army Air Force garment bags; the Southern Comfort came courtesy of the distiller.

The Queen Elizabeth was one of the fastest ships afloat. We ran at thirty knots with running lights ablaze and no escort ships—they couldn’t keep up. Neither submarines nor torpedoes could catch her, and degaussing coils kept floating, proximity mines from activating.

The voyage took five days. We didn’t move around the ship much because of the crowding. The food was standard military chow, brown, greasy, and piled high. Despite stabilizers against wave action, some officers and men got sick—not the pilots, since motion sickness would have keep us from flight status. We passed the time playing bridge, penny a point. The game was continuous. When anyone needed a break, they cashed out and another officer sat in. By the time we docked in Clyde, Scotland, I’d made fifty-six dollars and nineteen cents—a good month’s pay before the war.

Stepping from the gangplank, I was directed to a line of idling buses and lorries. I threw my B4 bag into the first lorry and climbed up. The bus behind us moved forward and started to fill as soon as we drove off. The drive from Clyde to the USAAF depot at Newcastle was 160 miles and took us through the English countryside. As soon as we jumped out, the lorry took a ‘U’ turn into a long gas line then headed back to Clyde.

I was waved to the mess tent and fell in at the end of the chow line. After dinner, a sergeant pointed me to a cot in another tent. “Be back here at 0400 tomorrow.” Next morning, I saw the bus waiting. I rushed through the breakfast line, folded a burnt meat patty into a slice of hard toast, and hopped aboard as the bus pulled out.

The Newcastle aerodrome comprised two paved runways, a control tower and a terminal building. Three WWI-vintage wooden hangars were north of the terminal. In the shadow of the open bays, mechanics leaned over workbenches and engine components mounted on frames and dollies. Four planes awaited service out front: three twin-engine Lockheed Hudson bombers and a single-engine P-40 Warhawk. A blackened engine hung from a wheeled crane beside the Hudsons. Behind the hangars was the stripped fuselage of an obsolete Brewster Buffalo. Seeing all the shot-up and discarded planes, I wondered how the pilots had fared.

As I stepped off the bus, a twin-engine C-47 transport two-hopped a landing. It wheeled onto a connecting link, taxied toward us, and revved its sputtering engines before shutting down.

“That’s yours,” shouted the sergeant above the roar of another taxiing transport. He gestured his pencil toward the newly arrived C-47 and made a check on his clipboard.

“What?” I shouted back, cupping my ear.

“Lieutenant Edward Kenny?” He sheltered his eyes from the prop wash.

“Yes.”

“That’s your flight to Paris.”

Paris? He showed me the entry on his board. “Thank you, Sergeant.” I stepped toward the plane as the cargo doors slid open.

“Here, Lieutenant, take this.” The sergeant lifted a sheet from his clipboard, a manifest for a shipment to the quartermaster at the Rothschild mansion. “You’re senior cargo officer this trip, so you’re in charge of the delivery … particularly these.” He pointed his pencil to twelve wooden crates being wheeled up to the cargo bay. “Sign here.” I initialed and signed for the fifty supply crates and the twelve listed as “highest priority.”

The ground crew loaded the cargo, distributed it around the deck for weight balance, and strapped it down. The engines restarted. I climbed in, a corporal after me. He slid the door closed and latched it from the inside then went forward.

The plane wheeled and threw me off balance. I braced with the ceiling straps and brackets along the fuselage wall then stumbled to the tube-frame seat bolted on the deck. The pilot had remained strapped in; the corporal took a seat behind him. After a short run, we hopped into the air and turned south to follow the coast. We reached the mouth of the Thames then turned east to cross the channel.

douglas_c47-a_skytrain_n1944a_cotswoldairshow_2010_arp

The Douglas C-47 Skytrain was also called the Dakota, but its affectionate nickname was “Gooney Bird,” probably in recognition of its ungainly takeoffs and landings. It did the heavy lifting throughout the war and was our main supply line. The C-47 was painted like our fighter planes to keep nervous gunners from confusing it with similar German aircraft, five wide stripes alternating white and black on each wing and around the rear fuselage. Because the Gooney Bird had a reputation for reliability and endurance, supply personnel frequently loaded them beyond listed capacity.

I’d always wanted to go to Paris. All I knew came from newsreels of Nazi’s marching under the Arc de Triomphe, and earlier, when I was three years old, of Charles Lindbergh circling the Eiffel Tower after he crossed the Atlantic. I’d seen pictures of Lindy landing at Le Bourget and crowds surrounding his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis. That’s where we were headed.

We arrived midday, almost four hours after takeoff. There were no banners or flag-waving crowds for us. Nazi symbols and flags had been whitewashed or painted over with the French tri-color.

Le Bourget was a bombed disaster of cratered concrete, blackened buildings, smashed vehicles, and smoldering mountains of trash. Aircraft, mostly German but a few American and British, were crushed like snuffed out cigarette butts and shoved off the runway. C-47’s waited on refueling aprons, props turning, hoses stretched to them from trucks holding fifty-gallon drums. We taxied past to an open tarmac beside a warehouse and cut the engines.

I unbuckled. The pilot came back, and he and the corporal shoved the cargo door open. Three men walked out from the warehouse. Two privates began removing and stacking our cargo.

“Sorry, Lieutenant,” the Sergeant shouted over another C-47 cranking up, “can’t take these off your hands. You’ll have to wait for the Quartermaster.” He could see in my eyes that I didn’t understand. “Just wait here. Until he arrives, they’re still your responsibility.”

“Okay,” I shouted back. I set my B4 bag on the crates, sat beside it, and cinched my greatcoat tight against the winter wind blowing across the open field. A jeep drove up an hour later with a major and an enlisted driver followed by a deuce-and-a-half cargo truck. The sergeant waved them to me. The major walked over, and we exchanged salutes.

“You have the manifest, Lieutenant?” he asked.

“Yes, Sir. And you are the Quartermaster for the Rothschild mansion?”

He showed me his orders. I showed him the manifest. He counted the crates and cases, checked for possible pilferage, signed his name beside shipment received, and handed it back to me.

“Thank you, Lieutenant Kenny, hop in the jeep.” He waved to his crew to load the regular supplies in the deuce-and-a-half. The dozen priorities were loaded behind us in the jeep.

Chateau Rothschild was five miles from Notre Dame in Paris, beyond the lush green lawn of Edmond de Rothschild Park. The Rothschild’s, one of the greatest banking dynasties in history, had amassed a huge private fortune. Early in the war, they had abandoned their neo-Louis XIV castle. The Nazi military elite took it over during their four-year occupation and plundered most of its art and sculptures. US soldiers followed and contributed to the damage. The graffitied estate would never be reoccupied.

“Check-in’s inside.” The major pointed up the wide stone staircase. “Until new orders are cut and you’re cleared to head out to the 404th, you’ll be staying here at the chateau. Oh, and for your honesty,” he pried a board off one of the cases with a claw hammer, “take these.” He handed me two bottles of 12-year single-malt Scotch. “Cocktails at four, dinner at six, wine all day.” He smiled, saluted, and motioned for the jeep and truck to drive around back.

Snow had drifted into the corners of the cut-stone steps, and patch ice filled hollows on the veranda. I climbed then walked quickly to get out of the cold, passing through the alcove and entering through a wide doorway. The foyer reminded me of luxury hotels in the movies—except there was a large black eagle painted high on the wall. The eagle’s head had been whitewashed and given a distinctly American eagle hook to its beak. The eagle’s chest was also painted over with a red-white-and-blue American shield.

The desk clerk, a French army corporal, gave me a room key and directed a slightly built Algerian private to take my B4 and Scotch bottles to my room. “Lieutenant Kenny, you may wish to join the other officers for drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the salon,” the desk clerk said in his Maurice Chevalier accent.

“Thank you. I need to wash up first.”

“Yes, Sir.” He nodded to the Algerian private, who led me up the stairs.

My room was spacious and bare of furniture except for two cots on opposite walls. Green marble streaked white and yellow covered the lower third of the twelve-foot walls. Frescos of angels and demons adorned the upper walls and ceiling. The floor was stone mosaic with a raised corner platform and a bathtub of lavender and pink marble. Since there were no closets, I tossed my B4 on an empty cot.

The Algerian attendant drew my bath, laid out towels, refused a tip, and bowed on the way out, taking my soiled clothes and boots to be cleaned.

So far, the war was going well.

Next week see “My Night in Paris.”