Spider's Journey

 JAMES "Spider" McCORMICK LM202

 

 

 

I was one of the replacements who arrived after the NORTH AFRICA CAMPAIGN and left before the BRENNER PASS MISSIONS. I have no notes or records of individual missions, so I give you what I remember. I arrived in August 1943 and departed in May 1944.

 

In 1941, I was attending U.C. Davis and my future wife, Mary, was attending Santa Barbara State College, both in California. One weekend, my classmate George and I decided to hitchhike to Santa Barbara and visit the gals. On the way home we were picked up by a young man in a convertible who had on a pretty pink and green uniform. We asked what it was and he said he was in the Army Air Corps. He did a sales job on us and when we returned to school we decided to go to Sacramento and take the cadet exam. We both passed!!!!!

 

I had preflight Santa Ana, primary in Tulare, CA (PT-17) and basic in Lancaster, CA ( BT-13, BT-15). Then I went on to Roswell, NM for advanced (AT-9, AT-17 and B-25). We were class 43-D graduates.

 

(While at Lancaster, I had a three-day pass over Christmas. Mary and I used that time to borrow her dad's car and go to Yuma, AZ and got married on Christmas Eve 1942).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe and Mary McCormick (1942)

 

During my combat tour of about 10 months and 57 missions we operated from 5 different fields and every field has its own character.

 

I picked up my nickname "SPIDER" along the way because I was a very skinny---6' 3"tall and when I was in the cockpit all they could see were arms and legs.

 

CATANIA:

 

We arrived at a camp on the beach with bushes all around the tents after dark. One of the guys meeting us turned out to be a classmate from my high school (DAVID MAYES-more about him at San Pan).

 

We were flying support for the British 8th Army and Capt Shealy, our adjutant, got us attached for rations: Tea, mutton, all that good stuff and a bottle of gin and scotch for each man.

 

The group was mainly flying support for the Salerno Invasion of Italy at this time.

 

 My first mission was as copilot for Capt Fete on a night mission to the Naples Area. We flew as individual ships and you could see the flashes as the ships in front of us entered the target area, minutes and minutes of fear building. We lost one ship that night near Mt. Etna, the crew bailed out and was OK except the pilot Fred Blaney was killed.

 

After a few missions with John Fete and Peter Bunce, I was given Capt Fete's plane "I'LL TAKE YOU HOME AGAIN KATHLEEN" and began as pilot. The beachhead was secure and we moved to San Pancrazio on the heel of the boot known as ITALY.

 

 SAN PANCRATZIO:

 

This field had a short concrete runway cut through a vineyard, which was good and bad. The hard surface was great, but with a full bomb load on long missions it was possible to pick up vines in the nacelles when the wheels came up as you lifted off.

 

This field had a few pillboxes from the Italian or German army using the field before us. David Mayes and a couple of others were going to take over one to live in. They sprayed 100-octane gas in it to get rid of the bugs. One of them lit a cigarette and there were some bad burns from that, Dave was evacuated to the states.

 

The good part of the place was there was an underground vat of DAGO RED--- all clubs had plenty of VINO !!!

 

One mission to Athens was a long one: It was a mass effort with many groups and a long way to go. We flew nine ship formations at that time and I was flying #2 on the lead ship of the squadron and after takeoff we had to climb thru the overcast to reach our assigned altitude. As we rejoined above the overcast, we were behind schedule and the lead ship was trying to catch up. As we came off the target we were still behind and the lead ship was still trying to catch up. My gauges were telling me my fuel situation was such that I thought we would not make it to our home field. I knew the 8th and 9th slot guys were in worse shape fuel wise. I tried to get the attention of the lead ship to get them to throttle back to conserve fuel, to no avail. So I unlocked the gun switch, fired a burst to get his attention. I then peeled out of formation and went into long range cruise. I caught it from the operations officer when we got back.

 

 On another mission, we were joining up and I came in too fast, chopped the throttles and attempted to slow the critter down. The bottom dropped out and I lost 4000 feet before I recovered. I aborted and returned home. Upon reviewing it later, I thought it was a high-speed stall; however, Capt Nafe, the engineering officer, thought it might be a rigging problem so he and I went up and I tried to recreate the situation, no luck.

 

The bomb line was moving north so they decided we had to get closer to the action: Orders came to move to FOGGIA.

 

 FOGGIA:

 

This is a flat area on the north side of Italy, the home of the 12th and 15th Air Forces Headquarters:

 

I flew my crew to the new field and we were supposed to meet the advance ground party at the new field, but they didn't show up. It was raining and cold so we put up a tent and waited for them to arrive. The tent only fell down once in the mud---what a day.

 

We had great quarters this time. The Italian government had erected many farmhouses along the main road. The houses had rooms upstairs and on the ground floor was the kitchen and stables with a cellar below.

 

About eight officers were assigned the top floor and the family lived below. At night the grandpa would invite us to sit around a bruiser of live coals and to share his vino.

 

There was an oval oven in the side yard and the lady of the house made pizza for us. My first pizza!!!

 

The missions continued, but one non-mission flying experience stuck in my mind:

 

The operations officer Capt Dozier told me a Colonel from one of the headquarters wanted to get in some flying time and I was selected to fly with him.

 

This old guy came out to the plane and I asked him if he wanted right or left seat? He said don't worry, Sonny, I take care of everything as he entered the left seat.

 

He started the engines-rolled to the end of the runway-pushed the throttles wide open- put two hands on the control column and we were away as I tried to clean up everything he overlooked in the cockpit. He tried some fun things like power-off stalls then we landed at a fighter strip. It was a P-51 Group and the C.O. pulled me aside and said "Get that S.O.B. out of here!!!" Right after we took off the colonel told me to take us home; I guess he had enough flying for the day

 

The Anzio invasion was the next business, so we had to get closer to the action: On to Pompeii.

 

 POMPEII:

 

The field was tucked right next to Mt. VESUVIUS with Naples on the other side of the mountain, and Anzio not far to the north. It made for some short missions.

 

There was a lot of history made in the area and we could go to Naples if we could borrow a jeep. One night we found an Italian military vehicle by the side of the road and towed it to the flight line. Rocky Petrozi, my crew chief, used it for transportation for awhile.

 

We had nice quarters again in a two-room house in a small village, six officers to a room. The family was close by to keep an eye on things. It had a flat roof and solid walls. Both items came in handy:

 

Solid Walls: We used a 100-octane gas heater for heat and cooking late-night snacks. One night the 5-gallon fuel tank overheated and it was shooting flame across the room like a flamethrower. We rushed in between blasts to get our things out. No damage---the solid earth walls saved the day.

 

 Flat Roof: When MT VESUVIUS erupted, we woke up to six inches of wet ash on the roof—we had to shovel it off to keep the roof from falling in. Some of the ash was the size of footballs with a hot center.

 

Missions were short, supporting the ANZIO INVASION. Some missions were flown at 5000 feet—5 seconds to time the flak is not good.

 

I was scheduled to fly copilot with Lt Swope on the group lead on one mission and at the last minute the group commander, Col Jones, bumped me. They were lost over the target.

 

 The new group commander, Col Chapman, lead the group to the end of the war.

 

One mission stood out: We caught a lot of flak and I was coming in too slow and too close following the ship in front of me. I got in bad prop wash and the right wing was pointing at the ground. My copilot (GAT Ross) jumped on the controls to help me. We over corrected and landed on the left wheel, as we slowed down we ground looped because the right tire was shredded by flak. The luck of he Irish saved us.

 

I got sent to the ISLE OF CAPRI rest camp while in Pompeii.

 

While there I met a Navy Warrant Officer who was an engineering officer for a PT BOAT squadron in Tunis (He had worked for Packard Motor Car Co and the boats had two Packard V-12 engines in them).

 

He said if I got to Tunis, he would let me drive a PT BOAT if I would give him a ride in a B-25.

 

Mt Vesuvius erupted and the ash damaged all our planes and we moved by truck to Pastium.

 

 

 

PASTIUM:

 

It was back to tents again, no more of the good life. As it was in Pompeii, there was much to see in the area.

 

The missions were a little interesting because they picked up planes all over the Theater to replace those lost at Pompeii. Many planes were lacking armor plate and guns.

 

 

 I took a ship to Tunis to have armor plate installed and I was able to look up the navy warrant officer that I met on Capri. He got his ride in a B-25 and I got to drive a PT-Boat. They had LST's as mother ships that had ice cream machines installed and we had real American ice cream with our meals. What a treat!!

 

The head shed decided it was time for us to move again, this time to leave the mainland of Italy and move to Corsica. The ground personnel got a boat ride and we flew our ships over.

 

 CORSICA:

 

I was getting to the end of my tour, so I was thinking a lot about going home. Capt Dozier, the operations officer, had a new directive that set up a program where they exchanged ground combat troops and air corps crewmen so they would appreciate the other’s problems.

 

Not long after that I had an artillery major fly a mission with me and I was about to be placed on orders to go to the front lines. We discussed that and decided I was too close to the end of my tour, so they sent someone else. I think it was my friend Bill Laney (I met Bill at the Columbia Reunion in 1992 for the first time since WWII).

 

We got an R and R trip to Cairo, Egypt during this time and had a great time being tourists. Marty O'Toole was the pilot on that trip and I was the copilot---it was the first time we that been scheduled together since joining the squadron.

 

I finished my 57th mission in early May 1944 and was given the choice of flying a war weary B-25 to the states or going by troop ship. I chose to fly and went to Tunis to pickup an aircraft.

 

THE TRIP HOME:

 

I picked up a B-25G with some 75mm ammo still aboard. It was a pickup crew and the only one I knew was the Bombardier-Navigator, ED STOTLER from the 486TH.

 

My orders were to pick up the aircraft in Tunis and fly as a solo ship to Brooks Field in San Antonio, TX via the southern route.

 

Out of Marrakesh there was some weather over the mountains so we went around that and had no other problems except for not getting radio position or weather reports. No one aboard had any training in the 75mm gun so we dumped the ammo in a river to get rid of the weight before crossing the ocean.

 

Upon reaching Ascension Island we were met by a signal corps 2nd Lt and he asked me if he could talk to my radio operator. It seems my radio operator had been asking for weather reports for thirty minutes on the international distress frequency! It turned out the radioman had taken a short radio course in England so he could get on a combat crew. He never used the radio on his combat tour so he had forgotten a lot. I asked him why he didn't tell me his problem? He said I would have kicked him off the crew, which I would have. We laid over for three days and he was retrained and everyone was happy again.

 

We arrived in Miami and most of the crew was from the east coast so Ed Stotler and I decided to fly to Brooks Field without them and they could go home early.

 

Our first stop was New Orleans. We went to the Roosevelt Hotel and encountered a long room check-in line. We got in line and a hotel employee asked Ed if that was a purple heart he was wearing. Ed said yes it was, so we got immediate action on rooms.

 

The next day we were about 40 minutes out of New Orleans and lost an engine. We set down in an airfield in Lafayette, LA. An engineering officer flew up from the Lake Charles depot and signed for the plane. I took the train to Brooks Field to clear my orders.

 

I asked at Brooks flight operations if I could get a flight home to San Diego and they said if I was not returning overseas I had no priority and no priority, no flight. I took the train home.

 

HOME!!

 

It was great meeting everyone, especially my son JOHN who was born on March 12, 1944 while I was in Pompeii.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe, John, and Don

 

We lived in a nice duplex, the owners were a nice old couple and they adopted us as part of their family. We were on a schedule of 24 hours on and 24 hours off; we had morning, afternoon and evening flight schedules and then a day off. We had three instructors from the 486th that I remember: Rocky Root, CJ Clarke and Ivan Olsen.

 

Ivan and I decided to try our hands at golf on our days off. We went to the Country Club and purchased a set of used clubs ($35 sounds about right). Mary pushed our son John around the course in a four-wheeled baby carriage to be with us. (To this day Mary says it is a silly game. John and I still play golf regularly.)

 

The flying was normal RTU stuff: instrument, cross country, bombing, skip bombing, gunnery and piloting skills.

 

We had one interesting event I remember quite vividly; there was a hurricane down south of us and the Navy was being evacuated to our air base. I was up with a student crew and the navy planes were using their carrier approach on landing. We were coming in faster and closing in too close behind the navy aircraft. The student kept getting closer and closer behind them and finally I took over. We aborted the landing; however, I think we broke some windows in the officers club in the process.

 

I arranged for a cross country trip to Monroe, LA. The Air Corps had the navigators school there. My younger brother DON was an aviation cadet in training at Monroe and I had not seen him in awhile. Fitting the B-25 into the AT-11 navigation planes traffic pattern reminded me of the recent Navy experience. Don and some of his buddies wanted a ride in a B-25, so I made their day with a short hop. The following is about my brother’s career:

 

The Air Corps had a points system to see who could be released from active duty and my number came up. Mary and I decided to leave the service. We were ordered to Camp Beale in Marysville, CA for discharge processing. I left the service on 3 Aug 1945.

 

 I heard about the 57th Bomb Wing Reunions in 1979 and attended my first reunion in 1980 at Seattle.

 

 

 

SPIDER

Combat crews were formed at RTU in Florence, SC and I was assigned as copilot on Marty O'Toole's crew.

 

There were a lot of newly-married 2nd Lts and for the training time there we were not allowed to live off base. We faked it with improvised ID cards and lived off base until one day we got caught and met the Base Exec to discuss it!!!

 

Not long after that we were on a cross-country flight to Tampa and lost a prop seal and had to lay over. Marty O'Toole, Joe Meredith (instructor bombardier) and I were out after curfew and got caught by a 2nd Lt MP. He seemed nice enough and said he would not report us if we went straight back to our hotel; however, he needed our names in case we were caught later that night. About three weeks later Marty, Joe and I were told to report to the Base Exec's office. Never trust a 2nd Lt MP!!

 

We went overseas via the southern route riding on ATC planes and were dropped off in Rabat French Morocco for further training. Mostly fun flying without rules!!! ATC ride then to Sicily.

 

While getting ready to go to the redistribution center in Santa Monica for tests and reassignment, I loaded the gas tank on Mary's 1939 Dodge coupe for the trip. The next morning I smelled gasoline fumes and looked under the car. The tank had been almost empty for a long time and weight of the added gas had caused the leaking. A mechanic came over and soldered a patch on the tank and the problem was solved.

 

The trip to Santa Monica was great--it was the honeymoon we had missed when we got married.

 

During the processing they asked where and what type of assignment I desired: I asked for the West Coast Area flying AT-11's or a similar plane. In the true army way they ordered me to Greenville, South Carolina as a B-25 instructor.

  486th Bomb Squadron

    340th Bomb Group

© 2015 by  J. C. Gilley  Last updated  2019

  • Facebook App Icon
  • Twitter App Icon
  • Google+ App Icon