Author's note: Following is the first in a series of short stories about the WWII glider pilot program. I've done a lot of research about these guys recently and got inspired to write a little something about what I imagine life was like for them.
Before anyone asks… Yes, the program was real. No, these are not the names of any actual pilots that I know of, but I did put in and plan to add more bits and pieces based on their real life stories.
Please enjoy and leave feedback!
G is For Guts
They're army issue!
No matter what they tell you, countries do not send men to war. They send boys. Boys, or young men as the military likes to call them, follow orders, fall in line. They don't have enough life behind them to know any better while men know enough to ask questions. Armies need soldiers who will do as they are told. I'm not knocking the system here. I'm a part of this efficient system that has worked for centuries and will continue to do so for many more. I am willing to lay down my life for the Stars and Stripes, for all the people and ideals that I love. The year is 1945; the Allies are beating back the Axis in a war unlike anything the world has ever known. At this very moment British and American forces drive the Nazi's back into their homeland from the west while the Red Army of the Soviets pushes towards Berlin from the East. Victory in Europe can't be far off, but then again many thought the Great War would only last a month, so anything can happen.
My name is Charles Bennett, but everyone around here calls me Buckles. I am flight officer in the United States Army Air Force, and I fly gliders. My fellow glider pilots and I aren't the civilian glider enthusiasts who fly tiny gliders for fun at air shows. We fly cargo gliders often behind enemy lines to deliver troops and supplies past thick flak in craft made of wood and canvas. Our pilots wings have a "G" in the center which to us stands for "guts," because we fly to crash every time we go into combat. Would you volunteer to do that? We did. None of us were drafted into the glider pilot program. We signed up. Some of us did it because we failed the pilot cadet program, others because we were too old for it, still more because we flew before the war, but we all joined because we wanted to fly. I joined up because I was deemed "unfit" to be a power pilot, but the glider program said I was a prime candidate.
After months of glider training, along with infantry, mechanic, and weapons courses, interwoven with army-style hurry up and wait, I was shipped off to England late 1943. I arrived at Aldermaston, a RAF and USAAF joint base, as a part of the 9th Troop Carrier Command, 53rd Troop Carrier Wing, 434th Group, 75th Squadron made up exclusively of glider pilots. They dropped us off, gave us our orders to train until more orders came, and left young twenty-something's alone with officer ranks. Nothing could go wrong, right? We didn't get in too much trouble. We just had some fun when we weren't busy doing training flights and drills.
Life on base can be mind numbingly boring. If the army had its way we would do nothing but train, eat bad food, polish boots, and sleep with only the occasional show to entertain us, so the boys and I got creative. One April of 1944 afternoon, it was at least 90 degree outside which is hot for England. The RAF boys visiting the base looked like they were about to give up the ghost still sitting around in their uniforms, but we Americans knew exactly what to do. A few of us, who were off duty, were already sitting outside building No.5 (our bunk house) playing cards and smoking, wearing our lighter summer uniforms when Benny Frazzoli, this little Italian guy from Brooklyn, comes strutting out in nothing but his army issue underpants, boots, and crusher cap like he owned the place.
"Deal me in boys," he said as he wriggled in between me and Joe King on a cot we had commandeered to use as a bench. Frazzoli was the squadron jokester. He loved to make people laugh and even better to make people laugh at their peers. Without any hint of shame, he sat there in his undies like it was typical behavior.
We all laughed. I started dealing the next poker hand.
"Frazzolli, you're a nutter, ya know that right?" said 2nd Lt. Leo Murphy, a Georgia southern gentlemen in olive drab coveralls.
"And you, sir, are a square," countered Frazzoli drawing the shape with his fingers. "I'm bakin' over here. I'm not gonna sit around in my Class-A's in this heat when I'm off duty."
I snorted. "So your underwear was what you picked instead?"
"They're army issue!"
We all laughed again. Scott Walsh raised his beloved camera and snapped a photo of Frazzoli, King, and I. I could see the army examiner's censor stamp on the back of the print now. 'For personal use only. Not for publication.'
Frazzoli continued teasing us. "Come on boys, it's hotter than Hades today, and you wanna wear your uniform? You afraid one of the non-existent dames is gonna walk by and see?"
We looked at each other trying to gage what the rest were thinking. Bob Henson, one of the taller glider pilots at 6 feet tall, got up off his camp stool and started unbuttoning his shirt. "I'll meet you half way, but I'm not wondering around in my briefs."
Within minutes, all of us were either in our underpants or trousers, except Murphy who said it wasn't hot enough yet. He claimed that in Georgia it wasn't hot until it reached 100. We sat around laughing and horsing around like young men will do. Just before I managed to clean Frazzoli out of his pocket change, a group of off duty RAF power pilots on temporary assignment to the base, walked past in their sweaty summer uniforms and paused.
"What is God's name are you Yanks up to?" one of the prim yet soggy officers asked. His compatriots chuckled behind him derisively. They evidently thought we were a bunch of idiots.
Murphy cleared his throat and said in his best southern drawl. "I'll thank you not to call me a Yank, sir. I'm a proud son of the South."
A different officer spoke up, ignoring Murphy's remarks. "Do Americans have an aversion to proper uniforms? Or is it just glider pilots?"
"No engines and no trouser?" joked another one.
"We like clothes just fine," I said.
Joe King spoke up next. "You obviously don't have an aversion to sweat stains like we do though."
Our group of glider pilots exploded in laughter, leaving the British power pilots speechless.
Frazzoli popped up from the cot, darted over to the Brits, and struck a pose next to the one in front. Walsh instinctively snapped the picture before they realized what was going on. We laughed even harder as they made their retreat.
"Have a good day, your Majesties!" Frazzoli called after them with a deep bow.
Henson fell off his stool because he was laughing so hard.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING, FRAZZOLI?" shouted a voice from the opposite direction. It was the voice of Capt. Dick Watson, one of the glider squadron commanders at Aldermaston. You would expect a captain in the military to be at least out of his 20's, but Watson was only 27, and had been in the military for only a year longer than I had. He took his job seriously, and was a damn fine glider pilot, who expected only the best out of the men under his command.
We all snapped to attention as Capt. Watson marched around in front of the group.
"I'll ask you again Frazzoli, what are you doing?" he asked in a firm voice.
Without a hint of a smile Frazzoli barked back, "Goading British power pilots, sir."
The Captain's face relaxed. "Oh, carry on then."
None of us stood down. We stood there waiting for Watson to get angry again. There was no way that Watson was okay with this.
"At ease, gentlemen. The bastards deserve it." He pulled up a stool and grabbed a cigarette out of my box. We slowly retook out places still not talking. Watson looked at Frazzoli again after he lit the smoke. "Frazzoli at least take off the hat. The only thing I want to see topless in one of those is a pin up girl."
Frazzoli blushed and whipped of the cap. A few of us snickered at him. Watson gathered up the cards and started dealing. "Okay, boys, the game's five card stud. Aces are high and no wilds."