[Disclaimer: 'Louey' is not my friend's real name]
Visited my new friend 'Louey' in the nursing home yesterday. This time, I picked him up a reading lamp with a gooseneck because he was having trouble reading. His bed is in a double room with a curtain down the middle, and he is away from the window. The only light is a flourescent light halfway up the wall and it does not shed enough light for him to read, either in bed or in his chair. The new light will do the trick. We gave it a 'test-read'.
We got to talking about England, as we've both been there--he in 1943-44, me last summer. Louey was stationed at a fighter base near Cambridge, which worked out nicely because he loved to play golf. The hard part was getting to the golf course. Fighter pilots at his base were not allowed to drive, because the CO was afraid they might get hurt and be unable to fly. Louey would hitch rides to Cambridge and then find a golf partner when he got there. Most of his partners were teachers at Cambridge, as they were some of the only men still around after the British draft. Louey gave up golf some years ago "when it became more work than fun" in his words.Cambridge, England.
We talked a little about the duties of a fighter pilot in the 8th AF in '44. According to Louey, the P-51s spent most of their time on heavy bomber escort, protecting the B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberators that flew out of England and bombed Occupied Europe. It was in this capacity that Louey got his three aerial victories. None were ground victories, which he discounted as "not being worth a damn".
After escorting the heavies, the P-51 pilots were allowed to drop down to very low altitude and attack ground targets. However, when the pilots "went over the Ditch"--back across the English Channel--they would climb back to high altitude, because the British anti-aircraft gunners would shoot at them. "They didn't care who was up there. They didn't really like us very much--we drank all their beer." We laughed about the common British expression that American troops in England were "overpaid, oversexed and over here". As the war went on, rationing in England became strict. The bartenders gave the Americans "soldier beer"--meaning watered down. However, they told the pilots up front that they were getting the weaker version. Also, Louey told me that not all British beer was served warm. Cold beer was also available.
In London, Louey liked to hit the private clubs or take in a show.
Louey's tour ended when he hit the required number of flying hours. "It wasn't hard to do, because we flew four to five hours at a time," he says.
Louey is now in his nineties, and spends his days reading or watching television, except for the two or three times a week some strange guy shows up to visit. It is an honor to talk with this old flyboy and share a few stories and laughs three times a week.