Excerpt: The Factory

Image Credit: Thurleigh– After each mission, the men of the 306th BG would take a candle and smoke the ceiling of the officers’ club with the date and target for the day’s mission. (The 306th Bomb Group Historical Society, Dr. Thurman Shuller collection.)

1st Mission, Jan 6, 1945 Cologne: Koln

A voice sings out in the pitch black. It was something happy, like a dream melting into something else. I thought there was a boy selling peanuts… .

The rude gray light come on all at once, flooding the barracks where we slept nose to nose, close enough that our dreams started to run all together.

0400. It was only the messenger, saying time to go.

“Up an at em’,” Jenkins mumbles, rolling over in his bunk. “Time to warsh.”

The fellas have had a crack at my accent. Seems to keep the nerves down.

Breakfast is ladled out at 0500. You can tell the Americans that skip on the beans and toast. Black coffee warms the belly. They say we can take some with us. It grows cold quick enough in the jeeps, though. It’s a damp, unsettling kind of cold, that makes the fingers ache and burn. It’s about to get much worse.

Briefing says we are headed for Cologne. My stomach gives a little jump and lurch, but I can’t tell if it’s excitement or nerves or both. The jeeps pick us up and ferry us through the dark to the field, where some lackeys are messing around with the Grey Lady, checking all the gubbins for gremlins.

“Why’d Leigh have to go and call her the Grey Lady,” Jenkins observes, “ and not something sweet like Foxy Lady or Minnie Mouse? Gives me the heebie-jeebies.”

We sat and froze some more against the metal cargo hold while we waited another hour to clear. It was mute as a church, but nobody slept. Then we got the ok to head to our positions. Jenkins took his at the tail to make sure we didn’t get rear ended as we made formation for takeoff. We hit our throat radios in succession to say we were in position. My position was to count ammo, then climb back out of the turret, fiddle with cords, and wait some more.

“In position,” I gurgled. That was that, position-wise.

Leigh got the call that said we were clear, and the engines roared, and off we went bumping and clattering down the taxiway.

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