Welcome to the 8th Air Force

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At Bassingbourn, the 91st BG, 324th Sq. procedure for new crews was to split them up and assign them to experienced crews for the first three or four missions. The alert list posted every evening listed the names and crews for the mission next morning. One night we saw our pilot, bombardier, radioman, and tail gunner's names posted for their first mission. They went to bed early, but as my name was not posted, I drifted into an all night poker game. I dropped out about 2 A.M. to get some sleep. I was awakened by a flashlight shining in my eye, a heavy hand shaking my shoulder and a gruff voice telling me to rise and shine. It did no good to protest he had the wrong guy, that I was not on the alert list. Are you Halpert, he asked. I said yes. You're the guy, he said, get moving, you're late. I asked him what the hell was going on. He told me that a navigator had taken sick at briefing and I was the next navigator on the roster. Let's go, he said, it is 4:30, you missed breakfast and briefing is just about over. I'll drive you out to the ship. We climbed into a jeep and he stopped at the equipment hut for me to pick up my flying gear and parachute. By the time he dropped me off at the ship, the crew was warming themselves in front of a fire in an old oil barrel. Greetings, said the pilot, I haven't seen you around before. He didn't seem too pleased to hear that was because it was my first mission. And when I asked him where we were going, he threw his coffee away in disgust. Ludwigshafen, he said, goddam Ludwigshafen again. I told him that I had never heard of the place. He walked away to keep from exploding, and I was alone with the rest of the crew who were looking at me in a strange way. The pilot returned with some maps and showed me the location of Ludwigshafen. He told me to keep the maps and not to worry, he was going to stay close to the formation, but I'd better damn sure know where we were if we had to leave the formation for any reason.
That first mission was one hell of an experience. After the mission, I saw Captain Klette, our squadron C.O. who later went on to fly the most pilot missions in the entire 8th Air Force. How did it go, he asked. Hell, I said, I went on my first mission without sleep, breakfast or briefing. He looked me up and down before snarling, are you bragging or complaining. Neither, I said, just a point of information, sir. Point noted, he said, and stand at attention when addressing a superior officer. I tried, without much success, to steer clear of him for the rest of my tour of missions.

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