Monday, January 3, 2011

Amanuensis Monday: WWII Letter - Lt. Ross D. Livesay, B17 Pilot

Ross Dudley Livesay 1918 - 2002
782 Bombardment Squadron

Photo via "The Commons" - Allied planes (B17s) over Holland

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

The following letter was originally handwritten by my paternal (half) granduncle Ross Dudley Livesay to his wife Meta Videra (Norris) Livesay. Ross asked Meta to share it with the rest of the family so she made typewritten copies for various family members. Ross's sister Myrtle sent her copy to me a couple of years ago to photocopy and return. There is no date. 

Dear folks,
Yesterday I got a very interesting letter from Ross, and since he is pretty busy, he didn't think he'd have time to write all the details to all of you, so he asked me to share the letter with you. So here 'tis, in full:

          "Am not flying yet but have been very busy the last few days preparing for winter in all this good weather we're having. We came out by truck to our permanent home the other day - a big field, with the camp on top of a round treeless hill and the field below us in the flats. All the offices are in the old Italian buildings and villas and newly built stone buildings. Some of the permanent officers have stone huts, too, but the combat crews all live in tents. Feiten, Kern, Hegel, and I are in one tent (they are the regular GI pyramidal type). It has just been set up and we're making it liveable. By the end of the week we expect to have it airtight, with a door, shelves, clothes rack, desk, a stove, chairs, and a wash stand. There are no materials available besides junked airplanes - very little lumber - so the good old yankee ingenuity is really strained.
          "You see they would have had a place for us, only more crews are coming in than are going out of the squadron and so they have to put up more men than they expected to have. The first nite we didn't even have a tent to sleep in. We were taken in by some kind hearted officers with real old southern Italy hospitality, and we slept on the floor of the tent in our sleeping bags. They have a tiny, chubby pup, hardly bigger than a man's hand, whom they call Flak. You'd go crazy over him - I did too. He is the most energetic little dog you ever saw - always on the go. He sleeps about ten minutes every hour in the little bed they have fixed for him, and the other fifty minutes, day and nite, he is playing around. While we were sleeping on the floor that nite he was always crawling over us, licking our faces, and cuddling up next to our faces. I'll have to take a picture of him for you. While I was in town one day, I was in the PX and a tiny little dog - he was even smaller than Flak - honest, he was no bigger than a full grown rat - came in the door dragging a Hershey bar wrapper. He was indubitably of German Daschund ancestry (just like some of the blond babies all over Italy - German ancestry) and was he playful. He stopped business in the PX right there. I've been kicking myself ever since for not bringing him with me.
          "You asked about the boys from Pueblo. They are scattered all over Italy now - just replacement crews. Note the new address. I am now with the 782nd Bombardment Squadron of the 465th Bombardment Group of the 55th wing of the great 15th Air Force. Out of all loyalty to my new outfit let me say before I forget it that the 15th Air Force is just as good and doing just as good work - if not better - than the 8th A.F.  Of course, we don't get as much publicity because the writers and photographers find it more uncomfortable to live in Italy than in London - and that's a fact.
          "We have a darned good camp here - for combat. We have good food, a nice officer's club with a bar and a reading room with some good, if out of date, magazines. We even have hot showers rigged up by our ingenious mechanics, also hot water for shaving, if we do have to use our steel helmets for wash pans. The group even has a good moving picture every nite, for free, too!
          "Speaking of our ingenious mechanics, those fellows never will be given enough glory. Those boys are really winning this war - just ask any flyer. I don't know why it is that the d--fool newspapermen will always play up the glorious birdmen and ignore the really important man who is always on the job, tuning the poor abused engines, patching flack holes, doing the thousand things necessary to a big bomber before every flight - sometimes even building complete airplanes out of spare parts. If you ever meet anybody who is an aircraft mechanic treat him with respect and give him my regards.
          "I'm going to ask you again not to worry. The losses here are very light and what we do lose many, many times walk back through Yugoslavia with the aid of Marshall Tito's partisans and many more land in Germany and are made prisoners. You'd be surprised at how many men have come back to this group after having "hit the silk" over enemy territory. So if I show up "missing in action" don't give me up for lost for a few weeks. You'll be notified by the quickest means possible when the army learns what happened to me.
          "We'll have to finish at least fifty missions before we come back to the states, but they go pretty fast in good weather. Some of the missions count double if the target is especially tough, and you can walk from plane to plane on the flak!!
          "I haven't time to write a letter like this to everybody, as much as I'd like to have them all know about the adventures of a GI tourist. Would it be too much trouble to lend this letter to Dad, Sula, Hobart, Myrtle and Mrs. Miller? From now on I can probably keep them all informed myself, since there won't be so much to tell.
          "PS Hegel has a nice radio in the tent and we get all kinds of stations. Of course we can't understand most of the talking, but we get some swell music.
          "PPS I meant to tell you that we have cots to sleep on now. Also to tell you what a typical stove consists of: the top half cut off of a gasoline drum, fed by airplane tubing from an oxygen tank outside of the tent. For smoke pipes we use flare cans or 3 inch anti-aircraft shell hulls with the flanges cut off and placed end to end. All procured by "moonlight requisitioning", a great institution over here."

          That's the end of the letter. The new address he refers to is this:
                    Lt. R.D.. 0713498
                    782 Bomb. Sqdn.  465 Bomb. Grp.
                    A.P.O. #50 C/o Postmaster
                    New York, N.Y.    


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