- Historic Sites
A Flier’s Journal
The planes were fragile and the Boche was tough, but the girls were pretty, the wine was good, and death was something that happened to someone else
December 1969 | Volume 21, Issue 1
August 11 —Up in the morning getting photos from Mars-la-Tour to Conflans. Badham got some good ones. Air full of Boche all day. Had to beat it twice toward friendly clouds during the mission we had in the afternoon. Off to Nancy in the evening. Nancy bombed heavily. One landed on a building less than a hundred feet away, wrecking it completely. A girl companion of one of the gang hid under the bed. The guy grabbed her by the heels, pulled her out, and carried her down to the … cellar where the place was full of partially clad American and French officers, Red Cross girls, and friendly French girls. Now he is a hero for saving his girl instead of leaving her to be bombed as several others did.
August 12 —In Nancy all day. Schaffner in for lunch at La Liégeoise. … After struggling with a French dictionary and a phrase book for several days, Schaffner has decided that French is really just a collection of English words used differently. For example— Je ne sais pas is really “Jenny says Pa.” Bon jour becomes “Eon sure"; S’il vous plait is “silver plate” and a tip or pourboire is “poor boy.” Grammar and construction of sentences are superfluous as far as Schaft is concerned. This afternoon, walking around Nancy, he suddenly said, “Let’s go in this store. I want to buy a nightshirt and don’t interpret for me. I can do it myself.”
He stepped up to a counter, consulted his pocket French-English dictionary, and then, fixing the young girl clerk with a wild stare, he blurted out, “ Nuit chemise, nuit chemise, one nuit chemise .” When the girl seemed puzzled, he repeated it louder and about one octave higher. The clerk, by now a bit scared, shook her head and said, “ Je ne comprend pas, monsieur .” She looked at me and shrugged.
“ Monsieur désire une chemise de nuit ,” I said. “ Ah, oui, oui, je comprend ,” she replied, and promptly brought out her stock of nightshirts for Schaffner to examine.
After he had selected his nightshirt and we were on our way out of the store, he remarked, “These French are not so smart. Just because I got the words turned around, that gal still should have figured out what I wanted. I’ll bet in a case like that, any American boy or girl over twelve years old would know what was wanted if a Frenchman came into an American store to buy something.”
“I don’t know about that,” I argued. “Suppose you were behind the counter in a store back home and a wild-eyed Frenchman came in and started yelling, ‘Alls over,’ ‘Alls over,’ louder and louder at you. Would you know enough to sell him a pair of overalls?”
August 17 —Cloudy again. No flying. Fontaine, broke and needing money to settle his mess bill and “urgent” debts in the squadron, held an auction. He was selling everything—spare uniforms, boots, Sam Browne belts, Colt automatic, and so on. Finally he came to a little Belgian Victoria-model automatic pistol of about .25 caliber that he had gotten somewhere as a souvenir.… I said, “Hugh, I’ll bid 200 francs.” It happened to be just the amount he owed me from a crap game. While everyone looked at me as though I had lost my mind, Hugh walked over and handed me the pistol and the box of ammunition. He knew what it was all about, and I knew that he knew when he said, “You know, George, some day I’ll meet you in hell and you’ll have no water and be terrible thirsty. Then, by God, if I’ve got any, you can have it.”
August 23 — … Took off on another photo mission northwest of Metz. Len Hammond was my observer. He got the pictures all right, but as we had no cover, I got out of the area by flying west to Verdun and then south and home. The Archies were hot as hell. I thought they had me one time. A burst under the left wing kicked the plane over into a spin. Not knowing how to get out of it, I was experimenting with the controls when Hammond called over the speaking tube, “What’s the matter, George?” “We’re in a spin,” I replied. “Can’t you get her out of it?” said Len. “Don’t seem to,” I answered. There was a period of silence and then I heard Hammond’s voice. “Okay, kid, hold it in her and if she faints, fan her.” I couldn’t help laughing and relaxed my deathlike grip on the stick. The nose immediately dropped and the spinning stopped as the plane went into a dive. I gently pulled her out and headed back … west and away from Archie.