At this writing, although that incident took place sixty-six years ago, I cannot ever tell it without my eyes welling up with tears.
I was a troop carrier pilot during World War II in Europe. As such, along with the other air crews, I flew a variety of missions. During combat it was dropping paratroopers, towing gliders loaded with Infantry and munitions and dropping supplies to them.
In between actual combat missions we flew supplies of gasoline, ammunition and food, mostly in support of General Patton’s tank troops. At other times it was to evacuate wounded and released war prisoners. So we were pretty busy.
One mission was to fly to England from our base in France to transport members of the 17th Paratroop Brigade to the front lines to be used as infrantry troops. This was in the dead of winter in 1944. The troopers were mostly teenagers, who were disappointed that they were not going to be para-dropped into Germany and “Win the war.”
About a month later, I had to fly to the front to evacuate wounded troops. These were the same troops I delivered to the front about a month before. Fourteen troops in litters were loaded into my airplane. As I entered my plane I noticed that the troopers were covered with blankets but their feet were not. I started to pull the blanket to cover the feet of the nearest trooper. The flight nurse pulled my hand away and pushed the blanket back up, leaving his feet bare. She asked me to step out of the plane and told me that all fourteen of the troopers feet were frozen solid from standing in wet trenches for extended periods.
The nurse cautioned me not to turn any heat once we were airborne, because if there was any thawing, it would drive the troopers with pain that would be so excruciating that they would be driven so wild that they could physically tear the airplane apart. I was stunned, and asked the nurse what would happen to the troopers. She said that all of them would have their feet amputated.
At this writing, although that incident took place sixty-six years ago, I cannot ever tell it without my eyes welling up with tears. To this day also, I do not know how I held my emotions in check to fly those troopers to a hospital. It was my saddest day!