MacGregor's War



Dear Jamie,
I thought ye might like tae ken your friend Hetrick is still doing well. He is still having a few dizzy spells but he is oop and aboot and wi’ a wee bit of luck he should be oot of here in no time.
I’m sae glad tae hear that ye managed tae get a billet with the motor pool as ye call it. I’ve tried so hard tae keep busy wi’ ye gone but my days at the hospital are nae the same.
Winter is almost upon us once again and the weather has been sae nasty the last few days. I keep thinkin o the night we sat on the sofa taegether at Billy Burnet’s and I can still feel yer hand touching mine. I need ye tae coom back Jamie. Please keep writing tae me. I love getting yer letters even if it is joost a short note.
I still pray every night for the Lord tae keep ye safe.
It was good news to hear that Hetrick was doing ok. He must have had some crack on the head for them to keep him this long though. Every time I got a letter from Gillian, I remembered waking up in Hawick and her being the first person I saw. I also remembered holding her hand while we were at Billy Burnet’s place. I wanted to be alone with her so bad that night but we were only able to manage that one brief moment before I went into the hospital. I would have to get a letter off to her after I got back to the barracks.
I opened the letter from my Mother last.
Dear James,
The mail from overseas is dreadfully slow but we did receive the letter about Hawick and the Cottage Hospital. It’s almost a miracle that your plane came down there and you got to meet my sister Dora and her daughter Victoria.
Your Father was so thrilled to hear that you talked to Billy Burnet. He was such a nice man and we both liked him. Neither of us had met his daughter Anna.
As for Dr. Buchanan, you were right in assuming that Grandma Lizzy was married twice. It must have shocked you to find that out. It must have been quite an experience for you to wake up and find someone there who looked so much like your father.
You will have to write and tell us more about this girl Gillian that you met there. It’s still so hard for me to believe that you are all grown up.
I have to go now as it’s about time for your Father to come home from work.
Wow, so I was right. Dr. Buchanan was my dad’s half brother. I would have to tell Gillian the news. I wonder why my Mother never told me this before. Maybe she thought I was too young to understand such things.
I put both of the letters in my pocket along with the one from Evelyn and headed back to the 6x6 that I was working on. When Sergeant Billings returned I told him that I had put in for the transfer. He wished me luck and told me that he would be sorry to see me go if it got approved.
About a week had passed by and there was not a word about the transfer. I had all but given up on getting it with this much time going by but just after we had all returned from the noon mess, Sergeant Billings came out and told me that Baker had called and Colonel Brey wanted to see me.
I went over to Administration and talked to Sergeant Baker and he told me to have a seat while he checked with the Colonel. In a few minutes he was back and told me the Colonel would see me now.
I walked down the hallway to the end where I had seen Baker go and the Colonel’s name was on the door. I knocked and from within, a master sergeant that I didn’t know opened the door.
“Come in MacGregor”
Once I had entered, the master sergeant went back to his desk and sat down. I stood at attention there facing the Colonel’s desk. He looked up at me and gestured for me to sit.
“At ease MacGregor, have a seat. I have your request here for transfer from the motor pool back to your old bomber group. It’s not often we get men wanting to transfer from non-combat duty to combat duty and I am interested in knowing why.”
“Well sir, I had 15 missions before being shot down and after I got out of the hospital, I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive about going back up again. Right at that time, Master Sergeant Billings had a real need for someone who could teach his men some of the theory about troubleshooting mechanical problems and he felt that I was the one who could do it. I guess he pulled some strings so to speak and got me assigned to the motor pool. It took several months to bring the men over there up to speed. In the meantime, a new man named Smith arrived from the states who had spent years back there doing just what I was doing over at the motor pool. So right now, I feel like an extra man over there and I would like to get back to the job I was trained for, which is a combat tail gunner. Right now, I feel as though I somewhat shirked my duty by taking that job at the motor pool and I don’t want to end up going home with that feeling.”
“MacGregor, let me tell you something. Anyone who has served 15 missions during those early stages of the war without fighter cover has not shirked his duty. I can also fully understand someone who has lost almost the entire crew as the result of a crash being a little hesitant about going back up again. You are always going to have that feeling, each time, each flight. Just the fact that you are here and wanting to do it is a powerful statement about your character. Do you feel that you are ready now to go back up again?”
“Yes sir, I’m ready.”
“We need all the combat personnel we can get right now so I’m going to approve your transfer MacGregor. You can check with Sergeant Baker as to the exact date it will become effective. Good luck.”
“Thank you sir”
It was drizzling rain as I walked out of Administration and back over to the motor pool. It was almost 1400 hours when I walked in and told Sergeant Billings what had happened.
“Well, the Colonel approved my transfer. I don’t know exactly what day it will take effect but not too many days left here in the motor pool now.”
“Good, I’ll miss you around here. In the meantime, I would like you to get with Sergeant Smith and show him where you are with the sessions so that he can pick up from where you left off.”
“Ok Sarge”
It was October 20 before I got the word to move my gear over to the bomber squadron. It was pouring down rain so I had Johnson run me and my stuff over there. I was assigned to the 359th and even though I had been working in the motor pool, I already had all of my clothing and equipment that I needed. After I had checked in and got my barracks assignment, I joined the others is training classes on plane identification. Due to bad weather, it was almost two weeks before anything flew out of Molesworth so I was pretty well up to speed by November 3, 1943, the date of my 16th mission.
Our target area was the Dock Yards at Wilhelmshaven, Germany and the Colonel was right, I did have the lump in my throat as we roared up into the morning sky. Our group arrived at the target area shortly after 1300 hours and although there was some flak, it was nothing compared to some that I had seen on previous missions. There were some enemy fighters out there but not many of them challenged the formation. This was due in part to the excellent P-38 Fighter coverage. We released our load of 500 pounders and then shortly after, the squadron returned to the base. It was a 6 hour mission and ended with no losses of planes or men. This was the first mission flown by the 8th Air Force that had over 500 planes and I for one, noticed the large build-up in our forces compared to just 6 months ago.
Our next mission was only 2 days later, this time it was the marshalling yards and oil plants at Gelsenkirchen, Germany. We lost a plane on this mission but chutes were reported. Once we got back to Molesworth, the weather took another turn for the worse keeping us in-active for about 10 days.
By the middle of December, I had completed 25 of the 30 missions required and I knew there would be no way that I was going to get home this year. My 26th mission proved to be very costly for our group with two crews being lost and quite a few killed in action. It was always a bad feeling to return without the entire group.
The weather turned bad again and I took the opportunity to get a letter off to Gillian. It was hard knowing what to say at times but I did the best I could.
Dear Gillian,
Just a short note to let you know that all is well with me. I have transferred back to my old unit and flying combat missions once again. I’m not sure if that was a good idea or not but one way or another, I have to do my part to finish this ugly war.
I can’t stop thinking about the night we went to Billy Burnet’s and how wonderful it felt to kiss you that night. I still remember your words and something tells me I will return to Hawick and we can spend more time with each other. America seems so far away right now and Hawick so close but both of them out of reach for the moment.
I will write again as time permits.
For some reason I could not bring myself to tell Gillian about the letter I had received from Evelyn. With all this bad weather, my hopes for getting back the States seemed to be quite a ways off yet. Damn, I was still so mixed up about this but every time I re-read Evelyn’s letter, it became more obvious that our relationship was over and done with. I could not bring myself to write any more letters and decided to head over to the motor pool and see how things were going over there. It was Friday, the 17th of December and most of the motor pool guys had taken off to London on a weekend pass but Sergeant Billings was there and I went into his office.
“Hi Sarge, just thought I would come over and see how things on your side of the base are going.”
“MacGregor, how the hell are you? You’re just the guy I wanted to see.
“What’s up?”
“We got a truck that has a broken transmission case and I looked in all the training material you prepared to see if there was anything on fixing it and sure enough you had a couple of pages on how to weld it. One of the things you said in there was that it had to cool really slow and you suggested putting it in vermiculite. What the hell is vermiculite?”
“Vermiculite is and insulator. It’s made from mica I think and it’s the best thing for doing a slow cool on a hot transmission box. If you don’t have any of that, the next best thing is to cool it in sand. Just fill a trash can about half full of sand and put the hot box in there right after you are done welding and then cover it over with sand.”
“That’s it, sand?”
“Yeah, let it cool for about 3 days.”
“I’ll be damned. Is this another thing you got from the old man back home?”
“Yep, he was the best welder I ever saw. I don’t know where he learned all the stuff he did but I’m sure glad he passed it on to me.”
“So what’s going on over at the Bomber Squadron. This bad weather got you guys shut down for a few days?”
“Yeah, this lousy weather is what’s holding up the completion of my missions. I only have 5 more to go and I’ll be heading home. I was hoping to be home for Christmas but I guess that’s out.”
“That’s got to be pretty scary shit up there getting shot at for half an hour or so and hoping you don’t get a hit that takes you down”
“It is scary. When I was talking to the Colonel he told me I would get this sick feeling in my gut every time I went up and he was right. We’ve lost 6 planes in the short time that I’ve been back. I’m close to the end now though so I am very anxious to get it over with”
“You thought any more about that gal of yours back home?”
“Yeah, I’ve read that dear john letter a hundred times and it still says the same thing……’s over.”
“Yep, you might as well face it MacGregor, she’s found someone else and that’s just the way things are.”
We talked on for several hours and then I headed back to the barracks, the rain just a drizzle now but dark clouds continued to fill the Molesworth skies. All I could think now was getting my missions completed.