Mission 31: The Case of the Missing Goggles

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Goggle instructions

Instructions for Rochester Optical Aviation Goggle Kit, c. 1944. KBL Family Collection

March 19, 2014 — Ephemera of the Day from the KBL Family Collection

I expected to find a set of old mouse-chewed goggles inside the small gray paper box in Dad’s trove of stuff, but there was only a set of instructions from Rochester Optical for the “Flying Goggle Type B-8” and a bunch of little tickets, postcards and letters. I read through the instructions anyway, and they gave me an idea: What if we could see other dimensions or people from other times when we looked through s set of well-used goggles such as those described here?

I put the idea into play in THE TAIL GUNNER and it became an important element of the story, both for Sylvie, the main character, and Penelope, her best friend. But the real use of the goggles was clear. They served as both eye protection and a means to cut the glare. The instructions note how to “fit and wear the goggle,” including how to thread the headstrap through the helmet loops and adjust it to fit over the flyer’s oxygen mask.

The varied color lenses had specific purposes as stated in the instructions. Clear lenses “are to be used when seeing conditions are normal.” Amber lenses “reduce the effect of haze conditions and increases the contrast of the target against the background.” The polar green absorptive lenses were to be used in times of bright sunshine or extreme glare.

In The Tail Gunner novel, Sylvie, the main character, finds Bish’s goggles in the box saved from the burn pile. In real life, the only place we found Dad’s goggles were on his head in a photograph.

—Stephanie Lile

Join THE TAIL GUNNER crew! There’s only a few days left to get on board.

Mission 31: Tracking the Tiber Terrace

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The story behind THE TAIL GUNNER novel, based on the WWII experiences and collection of Keith B. Lile

Tiber Terrace, 1945

We set off with this 1945 photo in hand, looking for the AAF servicemen’s club in Rome called the Tiber Terrace. KBL Family Collection

March 17, 2014 — Before coming to Rome, I had wondered why dad and his buddies would have checked in at one place, only to bail and go stay “downtown.” After finding that Rome’s public bus only goes so far and hoofing it for miles along the winding Tiber River, we figured it out. In fact, since I hadn’t been able to find the place on Google maps, I’d pretty much figured the old Army Air Forces Tiber Terrace Club that had offered a plethora of activities to wartime soldiers had been torn down. After all, it was hardly “classic” Roman architecture–more along the lines of 1930s Deco does Showboat. But we were girls on a mission. So we went hunting anyway.

Girl with map

We thought we knew where we were going…

Our ingredients for discovery included photocopies of a couple old photos, a 1945 handout from said Tiber Terrace, and a map of modern-day Rome. The handout listed all the activities that had once been offered, and yes, the address. We were golden. All we had to do was find #89 Lungo Tevere Flaminio. No problemo, or so we thought.

Now don’t get me wrong. We found Via Flaminio, no problemo. But number 89 was a bit more elusive. We saw some bus drivers hanging out and ran to ask them if they knew where it was. They waved their arms down the street telling us in English as broken as our Italian that it was waaaaaaaaay down thata way. We kept walking, and soon spotted a couple of construction workers taking lunch break on a bench overlooking the river. We showed them the old pictures. “Had they seen this place?” we asked. They looked then shook their heads without a word. So we kept walking. At long last we came to a section of river that had a number of buildings in that signature 1930s-40s style. It felt like we were getting close.

Tiber Terrace notice, 1945.

This was the line-up of fun things to do at the Tiber Terrace in March 1945. KBL Family Collection

We found #79. Another block and we’d be there, surely. It had to be right here. But where? There was no sign of such a building in sight. Instead, all we found was a hedge, and behind the hedge an open lot. I’d been right. It obviously had to have been torn down. Disappointed but used to such discoveries in my History Geek day job, I wandered along the hedge, peering into the hidden zone, speculating about what had been. There was a bridge nearby, so that was where I headed to go get a “Now” picture of the late great Tiber Terrace.

I soon discovered the bridge–a monument in it’s own right–turned out to be the gateway to the 1960 Olympic Stadium. We’d had no idea. Just as I had no idea that once out on the bridge, the ancient gods and goddesses of curiosity would turn my head the other way–to look away from the vacant lot, beyond the bridge, across a tennis court, and through the tree cover to a rounded outcropping of a building that was so familiar I knew at once that I’d been mistaken.

Tiber Terrace, Rome

The Tiber Terrace as it looked in World War II—a rest leave club in Rome. KBL Family Collection

It was the portholes that gave it away. The old Tiber Terrace was there, sans the old signage, in full glowing color. That’s the one thing you miss in old photos, the color. But here in the afternoon light, the terracotta paint job gleamed. I’m pretty sure the clouds parted and the winged statues on the bridge began to sing.

Tiber Terrace, Rome

Standing on the bridge to the Olympic Stadium, I turned to find the very building I was looking for—the Tiber Terrace. Once a club for servicemen, now a sports club for everyone. Stephanie Lile photo, 2009.

We ran from bridge to front door of what was now #16 Via Flaminio (what happened to #89 we’ll never know) prepared to beg our way in. But we didn’t have to. Thanks to a big birthday party, we just charged right in like were invited (which we were, only the guys were long since gone). It was a hot day, and the basketball court-turned pool called to us. The roller skating rink and ping pong tables seemed to have long since disappeared, but the spirit and function of a recreation center certainly remained.

Tiber Terrace entrance.

The street-side entrance didn’t appear the same at all, no wonder it had been hard to spot.

One guy, who looked like he ran the place, kept eyeing us as if wondering whether we were spies. Was it the camera and the fact I kept taking snap shots? Was it the determined way Han followed him into the “staff only” area? Was it that we perched under a tree near the birthday party happenings but carried no birthday gifts? Who knows? All I really cared about was that we’d found the prize, lived it, and photographed it in the “now.”

Tiber Terrace games, 1945.

Recreation abounded at the Tiber Terrace in 1945. KBL Family Collection.

I suspected this Tiber Terrace was the place where Dad had picked up a pamphlet titled “A Soldier’s Guide to Rome,” where the pictures of him roller skating were taken, and where he’d done a little dancing with the local girls despite having left a fiancee back in the States.  But like him, we picked up our gear, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed back into town.

We were set to meet a tour group the next day, and Dad had a plane to catch back to the island of Corsica, back to battle.

—Stephanie Lile

Next Post: Letters From Home

Mission 31: Rest Leave in Roma

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The story behind THE TAIL GUNNER novel, based on the WWII experiences and collection of Keith B. Lile

Rome vista

The rooftops of Roma. Dad stood in nearly this exact spot back in 1945. Stephanie Lile photo, 2009.

March 16, 2014 — I feel pretty darn certain that Dad purchased his little red diary while on rest leave in Rome. He and a couple of buddies hitched a flight to the Eternal City and stayed there for about three days. He was about 30 missions in and was no doubt more than due for a little break. Lucky for me he left enough notes and pictures for me to follow his trail.

Armed with Dad’s diary from 1945, a few photos, and selected addresses from tickets and papers in Dad’s collection, I went to find a pair of 60-year-old footprints amongst the millions in Rome.  It was June 2009, and I had three destinations in mind. Thanks to my best friend and many-time Roma Traveler, we found them, but not without a few hiccups.

#8 Via Bellasario, Rome

Number 8, Via Belasario in Rome in 2009, 64 years after my Dad stayed in an apartment there on a 3-day rest leave pass. Stephanie Lile photo.

We began with the search for Dad’s “room in town at Via Belisario 8, Apt 18 – 5th floor. $1.50 p/night.” I’d Googled the address before flying halfway around the world so had discovered that there was actually a B&B there now as well. We found the place easily enough, even a directory near the door showing an Apt 18. But the building had transformed from “apartment-hotel” of the 1940s to individual residences with the B&B Pars located there in one downstairs unit.

#8 Via Bellasario, Rome

At the door, we pushed the call button for #18, but there was no answer. Finally a nice lady who ran a B&B opened the door. Stephanie Lile photo.

We pushed the call button for Apartment 18, but there was no answer. The owner of the B&B, a delightful woman who spends time both in Italy and Canada, was kind enough to greet us instead. She had been there two years and claimed that the building had never been a hotel. But the abandoned Porter’s office and curved-glass clerk’s booth in the building lobby gave away its past. Even the old key and message boxes were still intact. I imagined my pop grabbing the key, tossing it into the air, and catching it again as his buddies ran up the five flights of stairs to Apartment 18. Rome was waiting. All those hours he’d spent studying ancient history in high school Latin club were about to pay off.

The trip was paying off for me, too. After my first travel writing job that required me to write about places I’d never been to, I vowed to ever after go to the places I was writing about. Call me a “method” writer, but there is no better way for the sounds, smells, and human interactions of a place to become ingrained in the story than to go there.

St. Peter's square, Rome

In 2009, it was difficult to get close to the statue. Stephanie Lile photo.

Saint Peter, 1945

The statue of St. Paul as it appeared in 1945. KBL Family Collection.

From the apartment in Rome, we followed Dad’s footsteps to the statue of St. Paul we found in his photo. The statue stands outside St. Peter’s Basilica and presides over St. Peter’s Square adjacent to the Vatican. We were able to identify the statue in Dad’s photograph by the scroll he held. The square’s namesake, St. Peter, holds “the keys to heaven.” This photo was key to finding the very location where Dad had taken his picture.

From that spot, we were not far from the Vatican Museum, the ticket to which Dad had saved for nearly half a century along with his “Soldier’s Guide to Rome.” For those of you who enjoyed the recent film “Monuments Men” you’ll be happy to hear that Major DeWald, Director of the Monuments and Fine Arts Sub-Commission was its author. In fact, there were many monuments men and women who worked together to save art all over North Africa and Europe. You can still join that hunt through the Monuments Men Foundation.

Pamphlet and tickets, Italy

Maybe Dad saved these tickets and guide to prove he was actually there. The Soldier’s Guide to Rome and tickets to the Vatican Museum and ruins of Pompeii, were proof enough for me. KBL Family Collection

In the forward of the soldier’s guide, General HR Alexander says, “Let us remember that Rome is the first capital city to be entered by us in our task of liberating Europe. Rome is the heritage of all the world and not only of Italy — Rome is the fountain of civilization. The eyes of all the world are upon our actions in the “Eternal City” and we will show the world by our example the high standard of conduct and bearing of our victorious Allied Armies.

English-Italian phrase book.

This English-Italian phrase book served as inspiration for sending the characters Sylvie and Pen to Italy. In the book, they use it much as it was no doubt intended for WWII servicemen.

With my ticket to the Vatican Museum, I followed Dad and hundreds of ghostly soldiers through the hall of maps and into the Sistine Chapel. For all of my years of studying art history, I couldn’t help but be astounded at how “small” the chapel was. Even DeWald states that, “Michelangelo felt cramped by the enclosing space of the vault, so he painted out the vault and painted in an extra story of architecture to make the ceiling seem higher, and in between and on top of this architecture he painted figures which look like the sculpture.”

No doubt Dad was as fascinated with Rome as I was. Along with its ancient treasures, it was also a city of modern style. Dodging between ruins and majestic sculptures to get back to our bus stop, we decided that the next day would be devoted to finding Dad’s “Tiber Terrace,” a rest leave club for enlisted men.

—Stephanie Lile

Next Post: In Search of the Tiber Terrace (March 17)

Mission 31: On to Austria

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The story behind THE TAIL GUNNER novel, based on the WWII experiences and collection of Keith B. Lile

B-25s over Italy

B-25s soar over a target in Italy, c. 1944-45. KBL Family Collection

March 15, 2014 — On this day in 1945 Dad wrote:

1945 Diary

This plain, rough-edged diary was basically Dad recorded the second half of his missions. Hand scrawled notes not only spell out the targets, they allude to the event sand frustrations of the day. KBL Family Collection

Flew 34rd mission today— Started to Austria for first time. Couldn’t get in due to the weather. We were going to Bomb Canal Dia Azzingo, didn’t get up to it. Went over the Hoodinii Air Field a couple of times. Didn’t have any escort – plenty worried. Finally on way back to Italy our Area cover showed up. Knapp came back with tail prop on bomb gone and bounced all over the runway, lucky he didn’t blow up. Heard from Mac – got two pictures. 11th day since Rome.

The next day, the 445th, “Briefed for Austria again – standown. Went up to sick call – very good shape – I went out to line to clean my guns – good shape. I wrote Mac tonight. No mail in first bunch. Went to show and stopped at 47th to see Painter for ship. Went to show with Stumpe. Got more mail – Wendell, Phyllis, Carol & 3 from Betty. Finished letter [I] had to Betty told her I was very displeased. I didn’t sign other than name. Feel pretty low. (Sigh La Geni) Returned Keels letter, (wrong address).”

Keith Lile with B-25 tail guns

This tiny contact print revealed a surprising shot of Keith Lile cleaning the plexi-glas blister and the tail guns of a B-25 just as he had noted in his diary. Probably on Corsica, 1944-45. KBL Family Collection

These entries are embedded with little clues that took me months of studying the collection and other sources to connect. A tiny contact print that I’d overlooked a dozen times revealed the candid shot of Dad down at the line, cleaning the guns on his plane.

Miss Fancy Pants nose art

Nose art for the B-25 “Miss Fancy Pants.” She was girl everyone wanted to fly with. KBL Family Collection

The painter he referred to was working on the darling of the 445th, Miss Fancy Pants, painted on the nose of a B-25. I have a feeling everybody stopped by to check on her progress.

The various squadrons, Dad mentions the 447th, were camped out along the shores of Corsica. Men were often ferried to the airfield in jeeps for their missions, but probably had to walk everywhere else most of the time.

I wondered most of all about Dad’s reference to “La Geni.” A Google search turned up “Le geni du mal” a famous sculpture in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Liege, Belgium that is the personification of Lucifer, or more accurately “the spirit of despair.” I don’t know if this artwork was what Dad was referring to, but it would certainly fit the feeling he no doubt had at the suspicion that he was losing his girl.

le génie du mal

“Le génie du mal” a sculpture in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Belgium. Was this personification of despair what Dad was referring to? Courtesy Marco Di Lucca web.

All of these little clues simmer in the writer’s subconscious to form scenes and plot points. Some make it into the book; some become “nice-but-not-necessary.” One of the toughest parts of revision is recognizing which tidbit is which. For me, THE TAIL GUNNER, and Dad, it was the Betty storyline that eventually got cut.

On March 17, a not-so-lucky St. Patrick’s Day, Dad wrote, “Have been grounded for medical – Mission went to pass again – target was Ora. Didn’t get in – went to alternate. Finkhouse didn’t do so hot – Brown either. Knauss made 1st Lt. today. I didn’t fly with them. I wrote Betty a pretty rough  letter I guess – she needs a scolding too. Has been going out with some 4-F.”

Men who were declared unfit for military duty (for a variety of reasons) were classified as 4-F. Neither Dad nor his brother, Wendell, held 4-Fs in very high esteem. That Dad’s girl was spending time with a 4-F while he was dodging flak no doubt made him “plenty PO’d.”

Tiber Terrace, Rome

The Tiber Terrace as it looked in World War II—a rest leave club in Rome. KBL Family Collection

All this was happening while Dad was grounded for medical. Since he couldn’t go shoot at bad guys, he spent his time instead developing “shots of Rome.” It was from those photos that I was able to track his adventures some 60 years later through that ancient city.

—Stephanie Lile

Next Post: Rest Leave in Rome

Mission 31: More Mystery Men of the 321st

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The story behind THE TAIL GUNNER novel, based on the WWII experiences and collection of Keith B. Lile

March 14, 2014 — On this day in 1945 Dad wrote:

1945 Diary

This plain, rough-edged diary was where Dad recorded the second half of his missions. Hand scrawled notes not only spell out the targets, they allude to the events and frustrations of the day. KBL Family Collection

Flew 33rd Mission — Vitegro Bridge by Campo. 1 hole by tail. Knauss pilot. Mac & George got in a little a little scramble. Got a swell picture of Betty today. It looks swell. Heard from Carol and it was good to hear too. No letter from Betty. Kink heard Ruth was getting hitched.

Betty was Bish’s fiancée and Carol was his oldest sister. Mac, George, and Kink are mystery men. Reid Knauss was one of the very few men Dad kept in touch with after the war. I recall him and his wife visiting a couple of times when I was a kid. They lived in Moses Lake, WA.

While Dad’s diary entries are pretty sparse, I realized later that he was keeping his own mission journal. For some reason, it seems that the base recorders were no longer adding to his typed list.

WWII soldier, Corsica.

Stand down on Corsica. While the subject of this photo is unconfirmed, he may be the mysterious George or Mac that Dad named in his diary. KBL Family Collection

To that, however, his diary is far more interesting than a list of missions and targets only. His entries at least give a sense of what made the missions worth it. They were flying for the Bettys, Carols, Ruths, and other folks back home.

WWII soldier in taverna.

Was this “Kink” after he heard the news that Ruth was getting hitched? Her loss, perhaps. Based on the style of architecture in the bar, my best guess is that it is somewhere on Corsica. KBL Family Collection

These young guys, most of them between 18 and 24, were doing what it took to survive. The pictures here are likely the pictures snapped to send back home—to prove that they were still alive even though they’d seen and done things they’d rarely, if ever, talk about later.

Their stories are hidden in time, but are slowly emerging as more people connect through groups like the 57th Bomb wing Association.

Boys on Corsica

The fine men of Corsica. The young one may be Dominique Taddei. Location is likely Bastia. KBL Family Collection

If you know any of these men, please post a comment below or email me so that I can update these posts. Dad noted some names in his diary, but not much more.

—Stephanie Lile

 Next Post: Briefed for Austria

Mission 31: Mystery Men of the 321st

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The story behind THE TAIL GUNNER novel, based on the WWII experiences and collection of Keith B. Lile

Men from the 321st.

Two unidentified men from Dad’s collection became the guide spirits “Valentine and StuBoy” in the novel. KBL Family Collection.

March 13, 2014 — At one point in the novel when the main character Sylvie shows her friend Penelope the box of World War II photos and letters she saved, Penelope asks Sylvie to call someone out for her. “I need a World War boyfriend,” she says, pawing through the box to find a suitable fella. She spots a guy in a cap and sweatshirt and declares that he’s the one. “You need one, too,” she says, selecting a strong sultry guy sitting in a windowsill for Sylvie. At first Sylvie refuses to play, but gives in since she knows that Penelope will just bug her until she caves. Sylvie pretends to have some magic powers, only to find that the two fellows in the photos Pen slipped onto the table have, indeed, emerged from their photographs.

The two spirits are StuBoy and Valentine. They offer both important insight and comic relief throughout the story. Who they are in real life, I have no idea. These were just two of the multitude of unidentified men in Dad’s collection.

The character Franco"

I call him “Franco” but what his real name was, I don’t know. He became the model for the bartender at the base bar on Corsica. KBL Family Collection

Other mystery men from the box of photographs became characters in the book as well, providing me with faces to picture as I wrote.

Franco is the gangly bartender who mixed strong drinks and listened to boys’ woes. It’s on the night that Bish is crumpled into the bar with a Cinq Frances note that Franco tries to console him. Bish won’t have it and makes a drunken dash into the hills where he is ultimately found by the signadori and her ewe.

Young Air Corps Kid

This young recruit was the model for the character “Jimbo” in THE TAIL GUNNER. His “part” was ultimately cut, but the kid will always be Jimbo to me. KBL Family Collection

Another character who emerged from the box was little Jimbo. In a previous post, I relayed the outtake of the boys’ Atlantic crossing. While Jimbo doesn’t fare well on that journey, this photo provided me with a face to go with a made-up name.

Other key characters in the story were Smitty and Poe. To Sylvie, Smitty was “Granda Chuck.” To Bish, Smitty was the nickname of a clever chameleon who could blend in anywhere, anytime, a quality that landed him in military intelligence.

Poe, on the other hand, was the quiet poet-pilot character who was handsome enough to snatch any girl who came his way, only he didn’t.

Unidentified man of the 321st.

This mystery man was the model for the character “Poe” in THE TAIL GUNNER. From the KBL Family Collection.

If you know the true identities of any of these men, please post a comment below or email me to add to the knowledge base. Dad noted some names in his diary, but not much more. These are the men I owe this story to. They are the unknown men of the 445th brought to life in the pages of THE TAIL GUNNER.

—Stephanie Lile

Next Post: More Mystery Men of the 321st.

Mission 31: Men of the 321st

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The story behind THE TAIL GUNNER novel, based on the WWII experiences and collection of Keith B. Lile

B-25 crew from the 321st, 445th. From left to right front: Carney, Lile, Lowrey; Top: Doe, Knauss, Epstein.

B-25 crew from the 321st, 445th. From left to right front: Carney, Lile, Lowrey; Top: Doe, Knauss, Epstein. Courtesy KBL Family Collection.

March 12, 2014 — As I sorted through Dad’s collection, I found that a few of the photos were actually marked or signed with people’s names. Those people became the anchors of my research, providing launch points for looking up information such as enlistment records and mission reports. Thanks to the dedicated people at the 57th Bomb Wing Association, I was able to identify the men in the only crew shots Dad kept—those from his training crew in South Carolina and the crew of Dad’s Mission 17, the only time that training crew flew in combat together.

Captain Bowling, c. 1944

This bent and mouse-chewed photo is marked “Captain Bowling.” The patch on his jacket identifies him as being with the 445th bomb squadron. Photo c. 1944-45. Courtesy KBL Family Collection

Today’s post features what I call “The Captains.” This set of images is among the best photographic quality of the bunch, most of which were probably taken by an Army photographer. During the war, many photographers were trained to take reconnaissance photos but no doubt snapped pics around base as well. These portraits appear to have been taken at the camp on Corsica.

If you know any of these men, please post a comment below or email me to add to the knowledge base. I know the names as Dad noted them on each photo, but I don’t know much of anything else. Thanks to all of the friends, family, and interested historians who continue to put faces with names and lives.

Captain Webb, c. 1944-45

This photo is marked “Capt Webb.” From the KBL Family Collection.

Captain Weld, c. 1944-45

Photo marked “Captain Weld.” Looks like it’s time for mail call. c. 1944-45. From the KBL Family Collection.

Captain Skeeby

This photo just says, “Skeeby” but I put him with the captains due to the hat and the similarity of photo type. c. 1944-45. From the KBL Family Collection.

Paul Hannah

Further research will no doubt tell me if this photo marked “Paul Hannah” should be with the “captains” but nonetheless, the photo quality and composition is remarkable. Check out the silhouette in the door window. From the KBL Family Collection.

For reference, the 321st Bombardment Group contained the 445th, 446th, 447th, and 448th squadrons. Each squadron contained about 460 men.

As you might imagine, identifying all of these men is a daunting task, but little by little, we discover their stories. Little by little we unearth their buried lives.

Thanks for following.

—Stephanie Lile

Next Post: More Men of the 321st

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