Memories of Dreux

Memories of Dreux
By Bill McLeod

This is a letter I sent to Chuck Lundsford before we started the site.

Chuck - I have read and enjoyed both your books. I hope you will write more. Just reading Departure Message brought back a lot of memories. Things had changed a lot after you left. I think I would have enjoyed flying with a radio operator. When I was flying we only had radio operators for long over water flights or when we went to Berlin. We also had a navigator for those trips. The rest of the time the crew was a pilot, copilot, and me. I think your load of beds could still be out there somewhere. I think I carried them from Germany to England one Christmas Eve. I don't think we ever flew together. I didn't start flying until October of 59. After reading your book it would be real easy to get jealous. It sounds a lot better than my tour.

By the time I started the old sergeants had gave up and decided to stay at Dreux and most of the engineers were A/2 or even A/3. It may have seemed the sergeants had a lot of rank but most of the staff sergeants I knew had like 12 years in grade with no chance of promotion. I made A/2 before I went over and that was it. They offered me the opportunity to transfer to Evreux and be trained as a jet mechanic but I would have had to extend so that I had two years to go. We were ineligible to re-enlist for 91 days after we got out because we were obsolete. That didn't stop them from recalling me that fall though. If I had gone to Alabama National Guard I would have been back at Dreux. I didn't though I went to the Oklahoma National Guard to work on C-97s that were flying to Saigon. (Made A1C though).

Just before I got there the 11th squadron lost thirty some odd pilots thanks to hepatitis (party at one of the officers houses on the local) and I spent the first month or so doing pilot familiarization training. The new guys were all ROTC (except one) and had no idea about loyalty up and down. That is taking care of their men. Evreux had taken over all the long routes. All we had left that people really wanted were trips to Oslo and Athens. The 12th still had the Warsaw trip (but somehow the radio operators had to stay in Copenhagen while the plane went to Warsaw - Tough Duty!). I think I told you we had no training on radios but I think they did replace the VHF radios you used. The ones we used had like 48 or 96 crystals in them. I only had to change crystals once when we had to go into Orly to pick up crystals for the 12th's Warsaw trip..

I started working on C-119's right out of mechanics training. I was assigned to a regular air force detachment setting up a reserve squadron at a new reserve air field at Belle Chase La on the other side of the river from New Orleans. Our runway was at sea level and the rest of the base was less. My first air force plane ride was from there to Keesler AFB. Initially all we had was a C-45 and all the pilots had to fly it to get their flight pay so it flew local frequently and we allowed to go along. We quickly received our C-119Cs and and that summer took the whole squadron to Ellington AFB for summer training. All this time they were hiring civilians to replace us in maintaining the planes and in April of 1959 I arrived in Paris with orders for the 11th troop carrier squadron in Dreux.

I was never in the 60th TCW, when I got there the squadrons were assigned directly to 322 AD. I was flying from Germany down to Dreux when the French Air Traffic Controllers went on strike but the German Controllers continue to direct us all the way to Dreux. When I was there cargo was our main mission. The name was 322nd Air Division -Air logistics support(ALS). The paratroopers still preferred to jump from the 119 so someone was always doing that but I never saw a cargo drop.

The Athens trip I flew Athens - Istanbul-?(some little airfield from WW2 that was on the Dardanelles that we had to fly over and run the sheep off before we landed) and Esmir then back to Athens. Second Day was Athens - Crete and back. Third was back to Dreux. I did not put any oil in my tanks but I did run into a problem with units. When I refueled in Istanbul I talked to the fueler (turkish - we at the international airport) I told him how many gallons of gas I wanted and started fueling. It seemed to take a long time to get half of it in the right wing. I finally stopped and reconfirmed the gallons I wanted. It still didn't seem right so we talked so more. It turned out that he was operating in Imperial gallons and I was operating in US gallons. I think there is about a quart difference per gallon. Now the only thing to do was crank up the apu and find out what the gauges read. I had got all the fuel I wanted into right wing. I now had to get half of it shifted to the left wing. Even through it was not a approved procedure if you pulled the right breakers you could crossfeed from tank to tank. I sat there most of the rest of the time transferring the fuel. I had just enough time to get into the terminal and buy one of the Turkish rings that fell apart when you took them off before we left. It was supposed to be a Turkish wedding ring which let you know if you mate took it off. Most of the girls in Athens could put it back together with one hand and doing it behind their backs. As to you guys using 100/130 fuel. That was all we could get in Esmir when I was there and we always burned it off between there and Athens. Most pilots were smart enough to switch tanks before the engines quit, but I had one that wasn't. When you were sitting there about half asleep and the engines started missing it woke you up fast. My radio operator had just had a single engine experience down the Rhone valley below minimum in route altitude. The engines would miss and he would have his parachute on and cinched up before the pilot could switch tanks.

We practiced low level corridor flying which sounds like your low level flying but we did it in formation. It was because of the alert duty you describe with the bombs. If war started we were supposed to low level corridor down to France. By the time I got there we were only carrying the nuclear part of the bombs in what they called bird cages. The trip where you had the guy with the tester for the radioactive gas was interesting because by the time I got there they had decided that the 119 was leaky enough they didn't need to worry about it. The C130 had an elaborate emergency ventilation procedure if the tester when off. We had one crew member for each birdcage if we got in trouble the birdcages went out the back and a crew member went with them. This was the only time they issued us firearms while I was over there. We got a 38 revolver with 5 bullets and a shoulder holster. Among ourselves we figured the gun and bullets were so we could shoot ourselves if we got in trouble. The five bullets were necessary because anyone dumb enough to jump with the core of a bomb probably needed that many to hit his head.

We did our survival training at Ramstein and it was a bit more organized. I don't know if it was any better. I did it in October and the next class had a lot of frostbite. They taught us for about three days. How to find our directions using the stars. How to use the half parachute we had to keep warm. After that they dropped us off and gave us our destination which we were supposed to get to by a certain date. As you guys did we quickly learned we need walking sticks that were a little taller than we were to probe ahead in the dark for holes and low branches. We broke up into teams of two and took off-Army everywhere, Red Starred caps and all. I was lucky and made all the way. There was at least one time when the army had the choice of my team or another and took the other. The advantage was only that we had to do less time as a POW. As soon as we got there they gave us a cup of coffee and loaded us into a 6 by 6 and drove us down the road about a mile and turned us over to the army. They did the same interrogations techniques. We had to kneel on a round pipe with our forehead on the floor while they questioned us and pounded on the floor beside our head. I had a rough patch of skin on my head for weeks afterward. If we did the name, rank, and serial number, After shoving us around for a while they stuck us in the hot box next next to the furnace, which since we had been freezing we thought was pretty good. I understand they also put some of the guys in wall lockers and pounded on them with shovels. About the time they started to serious the first guys captured staged a prison break that got most of them , out. How I don't know but that pretty well ended the training. As in your case they apparently broke some of the class. The interrogators were good. They almost made you want to talk to them. My evaluation was that if it happened for real, I would probably get some broken bones then they would leave me alone.

We also had to be cleared Top Secret - Nuclear because of the alert duty and because we sometimes had nuclear parts which had to be escorted. As a part of this we had to be qualified to fly in the F100. They had a couple with two seats. So in addition to the ditching training we got to go to Ramstein and do ejection seat and explosive decompression training.

I never did get to use it. I was like you in that drinking and prostitutes were not my thing. That was why I only made one trip to Athens. As you said when the fleet was in it was wall to wall sailors. They had what was called cinderella liberty, they had to be back on the ship by midnight. After midnight the girls would take their air force boyfriend for the rest of the night. One trip to Pigalle was enough for me.

About the plane beached in Italy. You seemed to have done a lot of work on what happened. What we heard at the time was different. Right after the first hearing I was flying in same area and the pilots were talking about it. They said that the crew had a propeller that was not controlling but each time that it sped up they would milk toward feather until it came down. Since the prop used a accumulator to power it into feather, you do this a couple of times you use up the charge and can no longer feather. ( We used the same basic propeller in the CV-580 conversion but Aeroproducts had added a feathering pump.) Apparently and again this was from my pilots the crew told the hearing that was what they did. They wanted me to understand that if we had an emergency after we got on the ground we would review what we should have done and that was our story. Also at that time we were told that the plane was given to the Italians.

I only made one trip to Berlin to drop the 10th Special Forces but I agree with you on difference. We did a night drop in the German mountains in the middle of winter and I swear that some of them slept until the green light went on. Regards Bill

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