Twenty-Five

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny*

January 1945

I spent my first two weeks of the war cooling my heels in Paris at the Chateau Rothschild after escorting cases of scotch to senior staff officers fleeing Brussels ahead of German panzers (For the preceding story see My Night in Paris). I heard about the Battle of the Bulge in daily briefings and watched it on 16mm newsreels. Each morning, I put on my uniform, ate a formal breakfast, and reported for duty.

“Orders on hold,” the Captain at the desk said. When I pressed him, he had me sorting mail. The top brass got a lot of mail, mine was held up until they knew where I’d be based.

I wrote to my wife Phyllis in the evening and toured Paris alone during the day: the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, windswept boulevards, wine in the cafes. An unwashed earthy scent hung over the city. Soldiers and sailors wandered about laughing and pointing, officers and enlisted in every sort of uniform. Parisians swept and carried rubble, fixed doors and windows, and washed red and black Nazi regalia from walls.

My fortune changed quickly. “Lieutenant Kenny, 404th Fighter Group, 508 squadron, St. Trond.” The desk Captain checked my orders, looked up, and smiled. “They’ll be real happy to see you, Lieutenant.” He wrote and circled a big red ‘25’ in grease pencil on the first page, handed me my orders with a train ticket, and pointed to the front door. “Jeep’s waiting.”

The train from Paris to St. Trond, Belgium crossed the path taken by German columns a month earlier and in June 1940, when their swift attacks led to the fall of France. Along the route, I saw broken rail ties and twisted rails, and work teams, sledgehammers and rail spikes in hand. Collapsed buildings and bridges marred the view of rolling, green hills.

A-92 at St. Trond

We passed the great bend of the Meuse River at Namur then continued on to St. Trond, a quiet town of about 15,000 people. The town featured a central square, three-spire skyline, Carmelite monastery, narrow side-alleys, and cobblestones. A jeep met me at the train station and took me directly to the base which was designated A-92.

It had belonged to Staffel 12 of NJG 1. (Night Fighter Wing One). There were three crisscrossing concrete runways and dozens of covered revetments, camouflaged by the Germans to resemble barns and blocks of homes. A few smashed planes, Ju-88’s and Me-110’s, remained on the grounds. A large brick-and-concrete hangar and three-story control tower and operations building had been restored to operating condition. Thunderbolt fighters filled the parking aprons and the area in front of the hangar. Maintenance teams climbed over them, checking bullet holes and missing pieces, revving the engines. It was late afternoon and the squadrons had recently returned.

P-47 of the 404th at St. Trond
A P-47 Thunderbolt with the 404th at St. Trond, Belgium

The jeep pulled in front of operations. I hugged my coat tight and cap down against the frosty January wind, grabbed my B-4 bag, and jumped out.

“Lieutenant Kenny?” A sergeant, standing in the doorway, shouted over the roar of a dozen radial engines. I nodded and showed him my orders. He pointed to the red ‘25’ on the front page, gave a thumbs-up, and pointed to another ‘25’, on a banner inside the operations building. “Major Garrigan—he’s 508’s commander—said to send you in as soon as you arrived. Give him a minute; he’s with Captain Shelton.”

A corporal, overhearing our conversation, went quickly to update the roster in the briefing room. He chalked LT. EDWARD KENNY in six-inch letters at the bottom of the list for 508 squadron pilots. Beside it he wrote an outsized ‘25’, underlining it twice.

Damn friendly group, I thought.

“Major’s ready for you now,” the sergeant said, waving me toward the office.

My heart leaped. I felt excited and a bit intimidated. This was a veteran outfit. 404 Group and 508 squadron had led ground attacks into Germany since D-Day. St. Trond was forward deployed to support attacks everywhere along the German border.

I walked in and saluted. The office was Spartan, old wooden desk, trashcan, two wooden chairs, a low dresser used as a filing cabinet. Garrigan returned my salute without standing and gestured to the open chair. He was the designated ‘old man’ of the squadron, though barely twenty-six.

“Good to see you, Ed. Quite a setup, huh?” He gestured around the room and out the window. “Sorry your orders got held up. Blame the Germans. Two panzer divisions passed fifty miles south of here—last week a recon unit came within twenty-five. We almost pulled out. Anyway, I wanted to welcome you to the 508. Have you looked around? Need anything? Any questions?”

“My driver brought me here first,” I said. “He pointed out the mess hall and officers’ billets as we drove in. I haven’t seen my mail for a month.”

“In good weather, a gooney bird drops off the mail each morning. I’m sure you’ll get a bag full. Anything else?” Before I could speak, Garrigan added, “We’re having a little ‘Hail and Farewell’ drink at the O-club this afternoon. Starts in a few minutes. You’re the guest of honor. If that’s all, Ops briefing’s at 0400.”

He must have seen me hesitate. “Don’t worry, Ed. On your first mission, you’ll be my deputy’s wingman. No slight to you. The Germans are on the run, but they’ve still got some wolves up there … good machines, good pilots, and a lot more flying experience than we’ve got.”

I nodded and asked. “One question.” Garrigan leaned forward. “Being twenty-five is a big deal in this squadron. I guess we’re at full strength—with twenty-five pilots, I mean?”

Garrigan smiled. “Twenty-five’s a special number for us because we’re only authorized twenty-four pilots. That means somebody gets to go home.” He stared past me. “No one’s left any squadron in the 404th for some time, not unless they were in really bad shape. Some of these guys have flown over a hundred missions, and some volunteered for extra missions, did two or three a day.” He took a breath and looked back at me. “Any more questions?”

That thought brought the war home to me, fast. “No, sir. Thank you.” I turned to leave.

“Save a drink for me, Ed. I’ll be over as soon as I wrap up.”

The party that evening was short and spirited—everyone had to fly the next morning. We had a honky-tonk piano and a hot jazz group. Some of the guys took a break off the flight line just to have a beer with twenty-five—me. Local Belgian beer, wine, cheeses, and bread arrived in a horse-drawn cart.

Some of the guys tried to teach the Belgian girls to jitterbug, but a couple nurses from the local nursing school jitterbugged better than the guys.

Toward the end of the party, I met Captain Jack Tueller of Morgan, Utah. Jack was the happiest to see me. Tomorrow his name came off the top of the roster, and mine moved from twenty-five up to twenty-four. Jack was going home to his wife and two little girls.

Beside me, Jack raised his beer and shouted, “I love you guys, and I’ll never forget you, but tomorrow, January 27, 1945, I’m going home.”

Everyone cheered and raised their glasses, and it struck me. Not 25 but 21. Tomorrow was January 27, my birthday. I would be 21 and I was going on my first combat mission.

 

* Special thanks to Andrew F. Wilson, Ex-404th Fighter Group, Ex-507th Squadron S-2, for  much of the background provided in his book, Leap Off the Combat History of the 404th Fighter Group. In Wilson’s forward he writes, “This book is designed to give those who were members of the 404th Fighter Group during the period 1943-1945 some basis of fact around which they can weave their own fairy tales of personal wartime experience.”

P-47 Final Checkout – November 1944

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny.

My first flight in the P-47 Thunderbolt never got off the ground, and the second met with both mechanical and human failure—mine. I figured the change in flight schedule meant I was on the chopping block. The skipper wanted to check me out for himself. One of our top aces, Major Johnson had come back from the war to teach us a few things that would keep us from getting killed.

I sat for the mission brief, heart pounding, waiting as the other men got their instructions. The operations clerk chalked each name and aircraft assignment as they were called, and the pilot left for the flight line. For ten minutes, I sat alone in the quiet briefing room.

Maj. Johnson walked in in flying gear. He gave me a few functional directions: our flight call sign, start-engine time, and hand and aircraft signals. I’d fly formation with him; perfect for a flight check. We would take off individually. I was to join up on his wing after we became airborne.

With a hollow feeling that this was going to be my last P-47 flight, I hit the starter, felt the prop wash, and inhaled the metallic engine fumes. We taxied out together and lined up on the runway. Johnson gave the wind up signal to rev engines and started his takeoff roll. I followed after he was 100 feet down the runway then into the sky. He took a gentle turn to the left for me to join up on the outside. I moved into position, taking care to keep exactly 45 degrees off his nose with one wing clearance. Johnson rolled out and climbed to 20,000 feet. He made easy turns as he climbed, banking about 20 degrees. I stuck to him. We leveled out, adjusting the throttle and fuel mixture for the engine rpm and altitude. We hadn’t talked about the actual mission. I didn’t know what to expect.

Johnson took a sudden dive and turn right, then switched left and back to right. At 15,000 feet we leveled. Johnson’s sharp turns away and toward my plane gave me a feel for the Jug’s handling under pressure. I was determined to stick on his wing—he wasn’t going to shake me. I reacted to each tactic as quickly as my reflexes would respond.

P-47 Formation

He pumped his stick up and down, the signal for me to drop back in trail position. Then he accelerated into climbing turns, called chandelles, barrel rolls, and tight diving turns. Sweat beaded my face and poured down my neck. My flight suit wrung with sweat, and my breathing struggled.

Flying acrobatics in formation takes total concentration: left hand throttle adjustments, both feet working rudder pedals, right arm pulling and twisting the stick to match each maneuver precisely with instant measured pressure. Stay on your leader is the name of the game. It’s a combat simulation … keeping your foe … your leader … on target, in gun range, at all times.

We dropped to 10,000 feet, and Maj. Johnson rocked his wings for me to join back up on his wing. Once I was in position, he went into a long dive pulling up into a chandelle climb, followed by a barrel roll, and ending up five miles off the runway aligned with the entry leg to the landing pattern.

We approached the field normally, turning 360 degrees overhead and dropping into a gap in traffic on the downwind leg. Our final approach, landing, taxiing to the ramp, and parking ended the flight. I leaned into my seat. My drenched arms dropped to my side. On the way to flight ops, I grabbed a Form One maintenance sheet to log a possible magneto problem.

“Good flight, Kenny,” Maj. Johnson said as he pulled off his flying helmet. “You know, you don’t have to fly thatclose.” He winked and pointed his chin toward the Officer’s Club. “Let’s grab a cool one.”

 

The next Thunderbolt flights built our experience and skills. We did formation flying and high and low altitude navigation, sometimes called legal buzzing. Our low-level flights only got above fifty feet at takeoff and landing. This was tough because there were so few checkpoints. We flew by time and heading, scanning constantly for signs, water towers, or bridges—training I’d put to good use.

I had nearly one hunderd hours in the P-47 by the time we began working with air-to-air cameras. My instructor led our flight of two on takeoff. We were to climb to 20,000 feet and pair off to simulate combat maneuvers.

My engine hummed like a Rolex locomotive as I broke ground, pulled up the landing gear, and banked into a left turn out of traffic. The heavy rhythmic roar stopped without a cough, leaving only the sound of the wind whistling through my dead engine. It was the living nightmare of all single-engine pilots.

I reacted quickly, putting the nose down to hold air under my wings. A slip now was an immediate crash. I estimated I could probably turn up to 30 degrees left or right. My gauge read 150 mph. I had to trade that speed for a little distance.

A cornfield came up to my left, and my heart leaped—two ditches to cross and a road. I dropped my flaps and aimed for the road’s center. At the first ditch, my speed was 140, dropping quickly. I was twenty feet up as I sailed over the road and into the cornfield. I pulled the stick back to touch the tail down first. The nose came up suddenly as my plane settled in softer than I expected. The big Jug bent over cornrows as it skidded. Furiously, I shut down fuel and electrical switches as the plane came to rest, fifty feet short of a gravel road. I unbelted and dove out the cockpit in a single motion. Quick checking for broken bones and cuts, I couldn’t find even a bruise. My luck was holding.

The crash and fire truck crews raced up and circled my plane, checking and nodding as they quickly scanned the aircraft. I later heard that the drive-gear mechanism had broken, a freak accident causing sudden engine stop. My plane was back in the air in six weeks.

 

Our final training was Advanced Gunnery School at Dover Field. We learned about the focused killing power of eight, 50-caliber machine guns, which could chop a vehicle in two or leave a road lined with enemy soldiers looking like a freshly plowed field. We returned to Seymour Johnson for graduation and a final squadron fly-by and landing.

My spotty introduction to the P-47 Thunderbolt never clouded my feelings for the plane. Pilots fortunate enough to fly her brought back unbelievable tales of power and near indestructibility. The Jug dealt out and took punishment like no other fighter and had a proven facility for bringing pilots back alive. It was as loved by our pilots as it was feared by the Germans.

P-47 Training – August ‘44

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny.

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—I was being tested. This could be my last flight.

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.

332122859_f75e13516e_b

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.

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.

a132m19v03f11
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.”

The Yanks Are Coming

As told to Keith by his father Edward Kenny

We were the Class of ’41, Lincoln High School, Van Dyke Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Graduation was in June, seven months before Pearl Harbor, and I was seventeen.

Jobs were scarce that summer—the country was climbing out of the depression—but all my buddies from school had found some sort of work. We called ourselves the “Cherokee Club.” When I wasn’t working or visiting with my high school sweetheart, Phyllis ‘Phyl’ Bender, I met with them to play basketball or have fun. The war changed everything.

We all decided to go down and enlist in the United States Army Air Corps and become flyers. Of the 28, eight managed to pass the physical and mental tests, and three eventually qualified for flight training. Bob Schronic died the year after he was called up in a flight school accident. Bob Brown made flight officer but shifted to bombardier training.

It was several months before I got into the Aviation Cadet Program for ground school. I was called to active duty in February 1943 and shipped to Miami Beach, Florida, for Army Basic. That May I was sent to Kent State University in Ohio for Officer’s Candidate School, meteorology, and geography. There I was appointed student officer of cadets.

Phyl had written to me every day and was my lifeline throughout training. We married on campus in the chapel of Kent State University on June 27, 1943. It was a quick wedding. Her family drove down from Detroit. We got a license at the county clerk’s office. Phyl changed to her wedding dress at the back of the office, and I wore my uniform. All my buddies attended. They’d taken up a collection for a present, twenty-one dollars, mostly in pennies.

That night, we had dinner at a hotel in Dayton. Next morning after breakfast, Phyl’s family left for home. When the sergeant told me that my two-day pass had not been approved, I went AWOL for the weekend. I was back for muster Monday morning. The sergeant gave me fifty guard tours for punishment—it was worth it. Phyl took a room off campus, and we got together whenever I could get a pass.

Graduation came later that summer. After the ceremony, the sergeant handed me rail and meal tickets for the entire class of 110 students. As Officer of Cadets, I was in charge of getting us from Kent State to the Aviation Cadet Center in San Antonio, Texas. We boarded three buses for Cleveland early the next morning, everyone in crisp tan uniforms, dark ties, and brown leather jackets. We caught the Nickel Plate train that ran from Cleveland to Chicago on the Kankakee line. We were to have lunch in Chicago and change trains to head South.

We pulled into Chicago a little late, but veteran services had our lunches ready on the platform; a row of picnic tables with bags of sandwiches, fried potatoes, soft drinks, and, of course, popcorn balls, all served by pretty girls and their mothers in bright print dresses. The popcorn balls had names and mailing addresses rolled up inside—in case a soldier wanted to write a girl back home. While the cadets ate, I looked for depot number three, where we were to catch the train to San Antonio.

The stationmaster checked our tickets and boarding time then scratched under the bill of his uniform cap. “Sir, these are for the CB&Q, the Burlington train leaving Union Station on Canal Street. This is Central Station, Michigan Avenue.”

chicago-train-station-frank-winters

“How do we get over there?” I asked, noting the boarding time.

“You could wait for a bus, but you can’t all get on one, and it’s not due for another twenty minutes. It’s not a long walk. A little over a mile and a half.” He pointed the way. “Cross Michigan Avenue Boulevard, take 12th Street West across the Chicago River, turn right on Canal Street North. Takes you right to the Canal Street station.”

I ran back down the platform to rouse the cadets from their lunches and conversations. “Gotta march, boys. Grab your bags. We’ll finish eating on the way.” I heard some grumbling, but no one lingered. We lined up smartly and headed out two-by-two. When we crossed Michigan Avenue, the walkway narrowed and our march slowed. A Chicago policeman rode up on a motorcycle.

“Officer,” I showed him the tickets, “we’re supposed to be on the Burlington train leaving the Canal Street station at 4:40.” He nodded, waved us from the walkway onto the road then led us up the street. At the next corner, he talked to two policemen directing traffic. They jumped in a patrol car and sped off, clearing our path to the Canal Street.

We lined up four-abreast and made good time marching in the center of the road. About a quarter mile out, one of the cadets took up singing and everyone joined in.

Over there, over there,

Send the word, send the word, over there

That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming

The drums rum-tumming everywhere …

Other songs followed. It was a beautiful sunny day. People left the shops and sang with us; some marched with us, too. Musicians pulled up chairs along the sidewalk, played, smiled and waved. We turned north on Canal, and the crowd followed. Policemen stopped traffic and waved us along.

As soon as the station came in sight, we broke into a run. By the time we reached the platform on our tickets, our train was nearly out of sight. We’d missed it.

“Whatcha got,” the stationmaster asked, waving me over. He was a short, heavy-set man in a tight, dark uniform and a billed, conical cap. I showed him our tickets, and he checked them against the passenger train schedule.

“Next train out to St. Louie ’ll be here Thursday, three days.” My face dropped and my arms fell to my sides. The stationmaster added, “Course that won’t get you to San Antone. These tickets call for switchin’ trains in St. Louie, I—” He looked at the tickets again then at a pocket watch he pulled from his vest. “Hmmm. There’s a three-hour lay over.”

He walked into the station house, cranked up the wall phone, held the speaker to his ear, and leaned into the mouthpiece. “Helen, Charlie, be a doll and connect me to the president CB&Q. Got a problem at Union Station, Canal Street.”

I looked back at my 110 pilot cadets. One played “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” on his harmonica. Most sat on their bags or leaned on platform posts, smoking or waiting silently.

The stationmaster hung up the phone then hurried to collar an engineer and conductor coming off shift. They had a quick exchange. Both men looked at me, nodded, and ran off across the yard. The stationmaster strolled back with a swagger in his step and a wide smile on his muffin face.

“Mister, we got you a train to St. Lou. A fast ‘n, too, so you should make your connection to San Antone.”

“How—?”

“Courtesy of my boss, the President of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.” His smile told me he held something back. “You said a hundred and ten cadets?” I nodded and he nodded back. “I told the engineer to hook up five Pullman sleepers and a diner car, so you’ll be ridin’ in style.” Hearing that, my cadets cheered, jumped up, and began talking loudly.

Slide1

The locomotive was the Burlington Zephyr Rocket, top of the line, with seven cars attached. The conductor helped me get everyone settled in their bunks and cleared it with the diner to accept our meal tickets. We’d had a long day, so it wasn’t long before everyone turned in. I heard a long, sharp whistle, felt the train lurch, and saw the lights of the Canal Street station slip slowly past the windows.

I thanked the conductor, a tall, lean, black man who never lost his smile, then said, “Now I need to find some place to curl up.”

“No thanks necessary, sir. Come with me.” He led me to the back of the train to the last car, unlocked the door, and motioned inside. “The President of CB&Q Railroad said you was to have his personal coach.” He showed me around. It was a millionaire’s executive rail car, done up like a nineteenth-century luxury hotel room, polished brass, cut glass, imported furniture, and a full bath.

“You’ll want to say goodbye,” the conductor said, leading me outside onto the rear platform. I heard the wind rush by, the powerful chugging of the engine, and the clickety-clack of wheels running over the rails.

As the city lights receded in the distance, the conductor handed me a cold bottle of Old Milwaukee beer. “Sir,” he said, holding up one of his own.

We clicked bottles, and I offered a toast, “To your fine city, to Chicago, and to fine folks like yourself.” We drank down the beers and had a couple more.

As I looked out and listened to the clickety-clack, clickety-clack, I thought of Phyl taking another train to San Antonio. She followed me throughout my year of training, camp-to-camp, and took rooms off post.