The Return to Austria:  Chapter Two
    When my grandfather enlisted in the army, he did so because he knew he’d probably be drafted anyway.  He and some of his friends enlisted together, hoping that they would be able to secure the positions they wanted in the armed forces; for my grandfather, that meant becoming a pilot.  In February of 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, my grandfather enlisted with the armed forces, because he heard that the army was accepting aviation cadets.
    My grandfather underwent preliminary training as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Force.  Shortly before graduating, my grandfather started keeping a logbook.  The entries were short – they contained a few lines about what he did each day.  Oftentimes, a day would consist of a few nondescript lines such as “Rain - no flying. Ground school in the afternoon. Stayed in and read in the evening.” Although these entries are seemingly choppy and contain little detail, a few stories are told throughout the logbook, which make it very interesting to read.  The purpose of this book, however, is not to retell the stories contained in my grandfather’s logbook, but to tell the story surrounding the logbook.
    Dennis spent ten months in the United States before setting sail for leaving the country.  He was stationed throughout the southern states – primarily Florida, Mississippi, and South Carolina.  In October of 1943, however, he set sail from Lee Hall, Virginia for an unknown destination.  He assumed that they would be heading to Africa or Sicily.  As it turned out, he was right – they arrived 16 days later in Casablanca, Morocco.
    Casablanca was quite a change from my grandfather’s suburban Massachusetts hometown; he was clearly enthralled by the different cultures he saw in Morocco.  In his journal, he quips, “All of the unmarried women are veiled and so all you can see is their eyes. Some of the eyes looked okay but I couldn't even guess as to what the rest of them looked like.”  These innocent, and at times naïve, views of the world and its cultures are what make the logbook so worthwhile to read.  The views expressed in the logbook are not of a scholar looking back on World War II; they are first person accounts of one American soldier’s view on life.
After a short stay in Casablanca, the 439th squadron moved to Tunisia.  They had a few routine flying missions, and then went back to Casablanca to transport more P-47 airplanes to Tunisia.  My grandfather was very excited at this point in time; he loved the cities and he loved flying.  In early December, 1943, the routine missions were over; it was time for my grandfather to move to Foggia, Italy, a city close to the large European battlefields of the war.
    It wasn’t long before my grandfather flew in his first combat mission.  His mood was still very much excited.  He wrote, on December 19th, 1943, “I got to go on my first combat mission today!”  He flew from his base in Foggia to Venice, Italy, functioning as an escort.  The journal entries after this become much longer and more detailed as my grandfather was now actively involved in combat missions.  He remained in Foggia until March 29, 1943, still in a state of excitement and yearning to see “action”.  
    At this point in the war, the United States was beginning its invasion of the Rome area and Northern Italy, which were still under German control.  My grandfather’s group moved north towards those areas.  They first moved from “Foggia main” to “Foggia #1”, 7 miles north.  On March 29, they proceeded north again to Lesina, Italy.  His stay there was short lived, however, because on April 12, 1943, on a mission escorting a bomber to Wiener Neustadt, Austria, he bailed out of his airplane near Grünbach am Schneeberg.  In 1994, my grandfather wrote this epilogue to his journal:
 
On April 12th 1944, I was forced to "bail-out" of my P-47 Thunderbolt over the small town of Grünbach, Austria. It was an escort mission to Wiener Neustadt, Austria and I had trouble over the target as I couldn't release my right wing-tank. In an attempt to take evasive action from a couple of approaching ME-109's I flipped over into an inverted flat spin. I spun from 22,000 feet down to about 5000 feet before I was able to recover. As I pulled out of it, my canopy became covered with oil and my oil pressure gauge was at zero. I was travelling too fast to bail-out safely so I pulled up into a loop to slow down; at the top I opened the canopy, unbuckled my safety belt and dropped out of the airplane… And so I began my thirteen months as a prisoner of war in Germany. It wasn't long before I was reunited with some old friends.
 
    Before my grandfather was turned over to the Nazis, however, he spent some time in the village.  The first contact he had with the Austrian people was made by six women – three teenage sisters, two sisters in their early 20s, and the mother of the latter sisters.  The mother of the two girls extended her hand to my grandfather, which was later reported to the police, because some people felt this was helping the enemy.  
She defended herself by stating that her son was fighting for Germany on the Russian front.  She told the police that if her son were a prisoner of war, she would have wanted someone to offer him a hand and some food.
    When my grandfather tells the story about how he was treated after he landed in Grünbach, he laughs and tells everyone that he was treated well and given beer and cherry pie.  He often quips that he thought, “This isn’t so bad!”  After the initial welcoming gestures, however, it was made clear that he was the enemy.  He was made to walk with a police escort from his parachute site to the bürgermeister of Grünbach.  Many of the villagers were interested in watching the American pilot who had crashed his plane in their community.  Although their area was considered a war zone because there were mines situated in Grünbach, residents of the area have stated that not many events that happened there were exciting as when my grandfather came
for his short visit.
    Once he reached the bürgermeister’s office, my grandfather remembers that a gas tank from the wing of his airplane was on the porch of the office.  He recounts the bürgermeister questioning him with, “was ist das?”, or “what is that?”  My grandfather couldn’t speak German and the bürgermeister couldn’t speak English, so communication did not occur.  Ironically, after the questioning, my grandfather finally reached Weiner Neustadt, the target of his mission, but as a prisoner of war.
    In Wiener Neustadt, he was imprisoned for a day or two, before he was taken to Frankfurt, Germany, to Dulag Luft, a
Dennis (left), with a resident of Grünbach, April 12, 1944.
large Nazi interrogation camp.  There he was interrogated, but, as my grandfather says, even if he told the Nazis anything, it wouldn’t have been anything they didn’t know.  That began his year as a prisoner of war in Germany.