Mission 31: Target in Sight

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Newspaper clipping

A newspaper clipping from the KBL Family Collection, special for this last day of our mission.

March 31, 2014 — We’ll end Mission 31 with one last blast from the past, a newspaper clipping the tail gunner saved from this day 69 years ago, Easter Sunday 1945.

The war ended a month a half later for the 12th Army Air Force, leaving the tail gunner just one mission short of a full tour. This campaign is essentially the tail gunner’s last mission, the effort to make his and his buddy’s efforts known and remembered. That’s why this blog and fund-raising campaign go way beyond me, a daughter and writer, to all of you and the rest of the world. Each person who has joined the crew to make a contribution to the effort, has helped preserve an important and little-known effort in history.

It is with the utmost respect and gratitude that I honor all those who were brave enough to step on board and trust our team to see the project through. If there were two things I inherited from my 59-mission surviving Dad it was tenacity and determination. Like Dad’s diary entries, his praise was often sparse, but one morning after I’d been up typing most of the night on one of my first magazine articles, he walked through his den, stopped and said, “Steph, I’m proud of you. You took an idea and made it happen.” Those words have stayed with me throughout my life, and every day I try to live up to them.

Now I’m aiming to hit our target by 100%, just like Dad’s crew did on their last mission in March, 1945.

“Flew 38th Mission. Started to (close to Ala) – got on I.P. and broke off. Went to Chiari RR Bridge. Took two runs on target. Jackson Lend Bombardier. Hit pretty good. North approach 3:45 hrs. HIT TARGET 100%.”

We’re on course to complete the real tail gunner’s 60th mission. Thanks to the many folks who have shown their support for the project, the book will be out this summer 2014.

 

 

 

Mission 31: Gear up!

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Just 4 days left to join The Tail Gunner crew! Order your copy today.

Just 4 days left to join The Tail Gunner crew! Gear up and jump on board.

March 29, 2014 — With just four days left in the Tail Gunner campaign, we’re 76% of the way to our goal—that means we have just over $800 to raise before April 1st. As a fixed funding campaign, it’s an all-or-nothing deal, just as the men of the 445th squadron faced every time they were sent on a mission.

There were times, however, that the men had to stand down due to weather, illness, or other circumstances beyond their control. On this day in 1945, Dad wrote,

March 29: Standown today again. I went down to the 310th I saw Marcus, Joe Pizarro, and his Engineer – All the Boys are doing alright. Saw Rankin, (from cadets) he’s doing O.K. Says Armorers are making Tech Sgt down there. Went to a show tonight – Bring on the Girls. Patton is soon going into Russia, and how. No mail. 

From those days on stand down came the great days when targets were hit at 100%. We’re aiming for that, and with your help, we can make it. So if you haven’t yet joined the crew and made a contribution to the production of the book and the preservation of the Tail Gunner collection, there is still time to gear up and get on board.

—Stephanie Lile

Join THE TAIL GUNNER crew! There’s a few days left to help fund production of the novel and save the WWII collection that inspired it.

 

 

Mission 31: News From Home

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Just 6 days left to join The Tail Gunner crew! Order your copy today.

Just 6 days left to join The Tail Gunner crew! Order your copy today.

March 27, 2014 — In digging through Dad’s stash of WWII images and ephemera, I came across this little newspaper clipping, no doubt sent to him in one of his letters from home. While there is no date on the clipping, based on the info it reports, it has to date to around March 1945. The clipping states that Dad (Keith) was on Corsica, and by April, Dad and his squadron had pulled up stakes and moved from Corsica to the base at Ancona, Italy.

1945 News clipping

A news clipping from home gives a sense of all the ways men served the war effort, both on the front and at home.                        c. March 1945.          KBL Family Collection

On this day in 1945, Dad writes in his diary:

March 27: Standown on mission again today. Lowry & I are flying with Doe. Missions were Plan A and Plan B – we were on both of them.

I got sick tonight – plenty sick – brother – and how. I think I will lay off taking these adaprin tablets. I heard from Mrs. Houbler – Betty – Morgan and the little book from the church. Too sick to answer anything.

Air Corps Camp, Solenzara

This image is believed to be the 445th Squadron camp at Solenzara, Corsica, where the real tail gunner lived for many months. c. March 1945. The actual print is about a third the size of this image. KBL Family Collection

Although I’ve never found any of the letters Dad wrote to others during the war, I did realize why his diary entries were so sparse; he wrote all of his big news in his letters home. In THE TAIL GUNNER novel, I was able to use some of the letters he received in part, but the letters from him to others had to be pieced together from the clues he left behind. What has appeared in this blog series is but a smattering of the complete collection.

—Stephanie Lile

Join THE TAIL GUNNER crew! Just 5 days left to help fund production of the novel and save the WWII collection that inspired it.

 

 

Mission 31: Art in the Sky

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Nose art from the KBL WWII Collection

B25 bomber

Heaven Can Wait, a
WWII B-25 bomber. Note the bombs painted on her nose—each one represents a mission. KBL Family Collection

March 23, 2014 — Among the planes of the 321st, many were identified by their distinctive nose art. Bombers and fighters both, Dad snapped pictures of many—as if he were a guy in a gallery of famous paintings. To the men who flew them, these planes did have their own kind of fame and the personalities to match.

Dad always said “his” plane was Miss Fancy Pants, but in his collection were pictures of many others and their nose art. Heaven Can Wait, Modern Design, Reddie Teddie, and Shit House Mouse were a few.

Reddie Teddie

Reddie Teddie, a B25 bomber, flew with the 447th squadron of the 321st  bomb wing. KBL Family Collection

 

Shit House Mouse

WWII B25 bomber Shit House Mouse just after its 100th mission. Corsica 1945. KBL Family Collection

Fighter planes, too, were painted for personality. There were the P47 Black Scorpions, Fighting Cocks, and the Terminators. These identifiers no doubt also served as both protective and adrenaline-boosting symbols.

WII P47 and pilot

An unidentified pilot and a plane believed to be a P47 painted with distinctive shark teeth. KBL Family Collection

All of these images provided background for the creation of THE TAIL GUNNER novel. They were the real-life references for when Dad wrote about going down to see how the “painting on the ship” was coming. Entire books have been written on the topic of nose art. What I’ve shown here is but a smidgeon of the wide ranging nose art that skirted the skies above Mount Vesuvius.

—Stephanie Lile

Join THE TAIL GUNNER crew! There’s a few days left to help fund production of the novel and save the WWII collection that inspired it.

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: 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