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Interview with George R. Scanlon [5/5/2001]

Tom Swope:

This is the oral history of World War II veteran George R. Scanlon. Mr. Scanlon was in the United States Army Air Corps, First Fighter Group, 94th Fighter Squadron. Mr. Scanlon's highest rank was technical sergeant, and he was a mechanic with the squadron. He participated in the invasion of North Africa and campaigns in Tunisia, Algeria; Sardinia, Italy, and Corsica. I'm Tom Swope, and we recorded this at Mr. Scanlon's home in Franklin, Pennsylvania, on May 5th, 2001. George's age at the time was 82.

George R. Scanlon:

It was back in '41. Went to Fort Meade. They -- they put me in the medical corps, the 104th Medical Corps. It was a National Guard outfit. And, man, you never -- mince -- you talk about chickenshit. It's a -- I was from Pennsylvania, and they -- they had -- they were from Virginia, and they had a hate for me like you cannot believe. Anyway, I -- I took it as long as I could, and I got into trouble. And they took us -- if you want to hear this.

Tom Swope:

Sure.

George R. Scanlon:

They took us on a 20-mile hike. Now, that didn't bother me because I'd -- I'd worked pipeline and -- and I walked pipeline and I did 12 to 15 miles a day, and, you know, it didn't bother me a bit, summer and winter. But anyway, this particular day, the guy said, "You hurry it up, and we'll just go into a field someplace." And there were some apple orchards around. "We'll eat a few apples and we'll come back." So we really put out.

And when it come to the end of the day, he took us in a gravel pit and give us close -- close-order drill. And I don't know if you ever tried to stand on gravel. And -- and it was full of -- you know, I've got to say this, and you can do whatever you like with it. These little flies, little weeny flies that get in your eyes and ears, well, they -- we referred to them as dog-cock flies. And if you're ever around a farm or a dog, you'll know what I'm talking about. Anyway, I'm standing there and they're up my nose, in my ears and everything else, so I'm moving; I'm wobbling.

This sergeant come up to me and he said, "Scanlon," he said, "what the hell ya think you're doing?" I said, "Well, these GD flies are driving me crazy." He said, "Didn't you ever read your manual? When you're called to attention, no matter what it is, you -- you don't move." I said, "If I had that manual here, I'd shove it up your ass."

And then I -- somebody tapped me on the shoulder, first lieutenant, and he said, "Evidently, you don't like it around here." I said, "You've got that right." Well, anyway, they -- they had me fall out, and the sergeant's taking me back, under arrest, to the barracks. And going down the road, he wanted me to count. I said, "How stupid do I look? You want to count, you count."

And so we got back to the barracks, and that was three miserable days I was there. And the guys kept saying, "Give in, Scanlon, give in." You know, "Don't -- don't let them do this to ya." Anyway, he kicked me one day. I was -- I was on the cot. I was quar -- quarantined or confined to my barracks. He come in, give me a kick. He lifted me right out of the thing. And he was big. I said, "That'll -- that's the last kick you ever get out of me." I said, "I'll -- I'll break your neck."

And in them days, I was powerful. But anyway, I laid there a couple of days and I got to thinking, ah, what the hell. So I just went in, took a shower, put on a clean uniform, and walked out the door. And I went up -- going through Fort Meade, and I -- I was scared because I was A-W-O-L the minute I stepped out of that place.

There was a big sign across the road, and it said, "Air Force needs you." I didn't even know what the hell an air force was. So I thought, well, I'll go in there. So I -- and that guy saved my life. I went in there. This was a huge building, and when I opened the door, you -- I couldn't see a thing. It was black, you know. And so I just stood there. I was gonna turn around and leave, and I -- I heard this voice say, "Come on in," or something like that. And I walked across this floor, and there's a colonel or a -- I don't know if he was a chicken colonel or what, but anyway, he -- he said, "What are you doing, soldier?" I said, "I'm out for a walk." He said, "You got a pass?" or something like that. And I said, "No." I said, "I'm A-W-O-L, I guess."

"What's the problem?" So I told him how I was being treated. And he said, "I'll see what I can do for you." He said, "If you're lying for -- to me," he said, "I'll see that you go to Levenworth, and I'll be right there to lock the door, so you'd never get out." "But," he said, "I'll go down to your outfit and see what I can do." And I said, "Okay." So he said, "And if you're not here when I come back," he said, "I'll hunt you down if I have to go to the end of the earth," or something like that.

Well, I sat there in a chair and I got tired, so I just laid down in the floor and went to sleep. When he come back, he -- he had some papers and stuff, and he said, "You've been here all this time?" I said, "Yeah. I took a nap." He said, "I noticed that." So I got off the floor and he said, "I want you to sign some papers." He had 'em covered up. All there was down there was a black line to sign my name. And so I signed 'em, and he said, "Now, you've gotta go back. You've got to report to the orderly room, to the headquarters, and turn this stuff in."

And he said, "Then you've gotta go back to your barracks and stay there." He said, "Don't do anything. Just don't hit anybody. I know you -- you want to kick hell out of two or three guys." I said, "Yeah, I'll meet 'em later in life," or something like that. And so I went back and, man, this -- the first sergeant, he was on top of me, I'll tell ya, and it's all I could do to keep from punching him. And he said, "Well, you know where you're going." I said, "Yeah, I'm going into the Air Force." And he said, "Heh-heh."

Well, two or three days later, a runner come and told me to report. I went over to the orderly room, and a guy by the name of Nuttall, a doctor, a nice guy -- he was from Pennsylvania, too, and he hated those snakes. Any -- anyway, he said, "Scanlon, I'm sorry you got into all this trouble." He said, "I wish to hell I was going with ya." He said -- I had my barracks bag, and he said, "Where do you have to go?" And I said, "I've gotta walk clear up to the middle of the fort." He said, "Like hell." He went in and I heard him arguing with the first sergeant. He got a six-by-six, or whatever they called it. And he said, "It'll be here in a little bit." He said, "I'll wait 'til it gets here." So he waited. And as I'm walking out, he waved at me and said, "Good luck. I wish I was going with ya."

And I went to get in the cab, and the kid said, "I got orders. Nobody rides in this cab." So I threw my bag in the back end, and just as I got my hands on the tailgate, he popped the clutch. He damn near tore my arms off. Anyway, I -- I pulled myself in. And he knew where he was going. When he got there, he slammed the brakes on, and I come up against that -- that cab. I never said anything. I threw my bag off. I jumped up on the -- on the -- the hood and I tramped that hood right -- I tried to get it down on his head. And I jumped from that down on the hood and then off on the -- the road and I said, "Now come out here and talk to me."

{Demonstrating}

-- away he goes. But that was the parting of -- that was leaving Fort Meade. The guy that signed me up for -- for three years, you know, he was talking swimming pools and all this stuff. Now, he -- he did me a favor, so nobody's complaining about that, but going to Texas was something else. Going to Texas. You -- you ride in -- going and coming, going out and coming back to go to war, you ride in old cars and box -- they had a -- the one time -- they had -- they put a couple of boxcars where they put the kitchen in and stoves and stuff, but you couldn't get the windows open on these things. Hot. Anyway, I get to Texas. Well, the first thing, they want to give me more shots. I said, "Nope, I won't take 'em." And the guy said, "Why?" I said, "Already had 'em." "Well, they didn't send your stuff." I said, "I don't care. I'm taking no more shots." "Well, you know, we can take care of you."

And there was a sergeant by the name of Courageous. That was his real name. And he was courageous because he drank Mennen Shaving Lotion all day long. Well, he stepped up and he said, "Scanlon," he said, "I want to talk to you." So he takes me off on the side and he said, "I'll take ya over to my barracks, he said, "but we gotta make a deal." I said, "What the hell do I have to do for you?" He said, "Well," he said, "I drink a little Mennen Shaving Lotion, and, he said, I'm known all over the post, so I can't buy it anymore. And when I run out, I lose my mind." So he said, "You -- you guarantee me that you'll keep me supplied, I'll give you the money." And he said, "I want you" -- he said, "I'll give you a bunk right outside my door, so, you know, if I go crazy some night, you'll keep me from jumping out the window or something like that." And he said, "You won't have to do nothing. You're gonna make a roll call. After you say 'here,' if you can sneak away without getting caught, nothing will ever be said. You get caught, too bad." And that's the way it was all the time I was there, but --

Tom Swope:

What camp was this in Texas?

George R. Scanlon:

This was at Sheppard Field. It -- that's where the airplane mechanics' school is. It -- we -- we drilled -- what -- they were giving -- breaking them in for close-order drill and stuff, and then after you do that -- I'd already had that. Then you go to school. I was there 'til Pearl Harbor. The morning -- the morning of Pearl Harbor, we -- we were -- we -- we got up at 4 o'clock in the morning. We had to scrub our floor, make our beds, go down for roll call, go to chow, come back, and then go to school.

We were standing out front of the barracks when the first thing that the guy said, "There's -- there's no Christmas holidays." And I'm thinking, Jesus. We'd -- I'd made a deal with a guy who knew another guy who had a small airplane. He was gonna get us to Pittsburgh, and then we were gonna bring him home with us and then, you know, go back that way. He said, "All flights -- flights are canceled. Nobody can get off this base," and blah, blah, blah. And he mentioned Pearl Harbor. And we didn't know what the hell he was talking about. But I had a rare time there, man, I'll tell ya. That town of Wichita Falls, you talk about getting screwed, I mean, both ways, but --

Tom Swope:

{Laughing}.

George R. Scanlon:

We had civilian clothes and we had -- you know, you couldn't wear them anymore. And I had a suit; I think it cost me 60-some bucks. Back in those days, that was a lot of money. It was a sharkskin suit. I'm color blind, red and green. And, Christ, this guy sold me a green suit.

And it was almost blue to me, but it was -- I thought it was pretty, and so did everybody else. But I went into a shark's place at -- to sell it, and nine dollars was the most I could get out of that. And I called him a son of a bitch. I called him everything I could think of, offered to give him the first punch and everything else, and he just stood there and grinned. He was back of a counter, though. But anyway, what do you do? So I sold it for nine bucks. Of course, I spent that in an hour.

Tom Swope:

Why did you sell the suit? You just didn't --

George R. Scanlon:

You couldn't pack 'em, you know.

Tom Swope:

This is when you were getting ready --

George R. Scanlon:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

-- to go overseas?

George R. Scanlon:

Yeah. They said get rid of everything. It was -- it was something else, I'll tell ya.

Tom Swope:

And what unit were you with then?

George R. Scanlon:

I was -- I was in the -- well, I ended up in the 94th Fighter Squadron, which was Eddie Rickenbacker's old World War outfit. But I was just a -- a zero at that time. I wasn't assigned. But after we graduated, then so many guys went here, so many went there, and I went with the -- the 94th Fighter Squad. It was the First Fighter Group. And I was trying to think of -- we were at Long Beach. We were only there a short period of time because -- then we shipped over -- we shipped back to the east coast. That was a ride to remember, boy, I'll tell ya.

It was hot. I had two barracks bags full of booze. A guy by the name of O'Neal, we gave him money and he went to get the liquor. Well, the train was pulling out and he's coming with this stuff. And we're screaming and hollering, two guys holding me, and I reach over and get the two bags and lift them on the train. Most guys played cards and stuff. We took the ladies restroom and drank from there. The only time we saw the light of day is, we had to get out to exercise. We were crocked. You know, we didn't know what the hell we were looking at. Geeze.

Tom Swope:

How long did that trip take?

George R. Scanlon:

Day and night, probably three days. We weren't allowed to talk to anybody. In every place we stopped, the officers' wives was there, friends of other people, you know. And, oh, they had us all -- our hair all cut off, so we looked like, you know, prisoners of war. And when we went overseas, the same thing. Everybody looked at us thought they got us out of prison. But every -- you know, the thing I remember that burned me up, really burned me up, a guy by the name of Masisak was sitting beside me, and we pulled into Pittsburgh and he started to cry. And I said, "Mass, what the hell's matter with ya?" He said, "Look out the window. Look up the street." I said, "For what?" He said, "That's my mother and father sitting there on the porch swing." And he said, "I can't" -- I said, "Kick the window out, for Christ' sakes." He said, "Well, I'll go to jail." "So what? They're not gonna kill ya yet."

On the other side of the train was the officers and their wives and their grandmothers and everybody else, and there we sat. And, you know, I had a hate on for authority before I went in because my old man and I didn't get on until later in life. But I never forgot that. I could have -- I was screaming and hollering, and they said, "What the hell's the matter?" And I said, "Take a look up there," you know.

But it -- it seemed to me every time you turned around, you know, you -- there's no way you can win, so you have to put up with it. But I tried to make it just as miserable for everybody else as it -- as it was for me. But you've gotta be tough, I'll tell ya. But getting on the ship, that's a hoot. They wait until it's dark. We went over on the Queen Elizabeth, which is a beautiful ship. We're down in the bottom. You don't even get to look at it. But anyway, they wait 'til it's dark. The train's there with all the blinds pulled down. They got the plainclothes military, privately, to make sure nobody jumps -- you know, gets away.

And you get on there in the quiet, you know, and just move 'til you get to the -- there was trains you can ride in the side of a ship. You know, it's -- Anyway, we get -- we got in that bay. I never saw the Statue of Liberty. We never got to open a porthole, nothing. But it only took us, I think, three and a half or four days from New York to -- to England. But I tried to -- I said to a guy, "I'm gonna look this ship over." Well, you get to this section of big, wide steps, marble and all. You know, Christ, it was -- it was like going to heaven. These great big, long steps going up. I thought, man, I'd like -- the music was playing, and I could see just heads dancing by, you know, officers and nurses or whoever.

I got to the second landing. Two MPs come out of nowhere, took me under the armpits and lifted me right off the steps, turned around and {demonstrating} set me down on the deck. They said, "The next time, you go to jail." That's -- that's the treatment. So I never did get up there. But you might get a kick out of this: They had us stationed -- each guy had a -- on every level, you had a guy at a door. And your orders were, you took turns standing there guarding that. If you get torpedoed {coughs} -- pardon me -- your job was to shut that door and lock it. You know when you're doing that, somebody's locking one on you.

But anyway, you swear that you have to do it. But I'm standing there, and it was right off of -- just -- of course, an English ship. And the cooks were getting ready to feed the officers. We never saw the -- they had frozen chicken. And this guy come in with a case of chicken, and he said, "Them freakin' officers." And he threw that case down on the -- on the floor and it exploded. You know, Christ, pieces of chicken flew everywhere, and he's kicking them here, kicking them there. And the other cook said, "What the hell ya doing?" He said, "I hope it kills those sons of bitches." And -- so they scooped all those chicken up and put them in a -- I don't know what they did with them, but they -- they -- and the English, you know, they probably don't want to hear this, but they're not the cleanest people on earth on their ships, boy.

They had a big vat where they made tea. I'm telling ya, that vat would be -- well, it would probably be this far across and about this high, and a guy could stand with gumboots on and a big paddle, and he'd walk around stirring that. Then they'd throw it on the floor or they'd spit on the floor. The first rolls we got, fish -- the smell of fish would drive you crazy. I don't know where the hell they got 'em, but they must have been dried, and then they -- they'd dunk them in hot water, I suppose. But they were green. I didn't know they were green because I'm color blind to green, but everybody else said, "I won't eat that goddam stuff. It's green." Well, anyway, I said, "Whew, look at those nice rolls. You've got raisins in 'em." I break them open, the raisins are worms.

Tom Swope:

Um.

George R. Scanlon:

So you picked the worms out. And then I think I only ate about one meal. But outside of that, it -- it wasn't a bad deal. Now, we slept -- we slept in -- that's all in the book, you know. Of course, I'm --

Tom Swope:

That's fine.

George R. Scanlon:

Yeah. In the stateroom we were in, we -- we were -- we had -- it was a room for two, and we -- there were six of us in there, and one guy slept in the bathtub. So, you know, now, you -- it wasn't a bad ride. They -- they tacked back and forth. We went alone. There was no escort because there wasn't anything that could keep up with it. But that old ship just never stopped, just did a slow row like that.

To get fed, you would stand in line all day. You'd start for breakfast, if you ate. By the time you got back, you started all over again. It -- it was an endless thing. And I figured, what the hell. I'd just as soon starve, which we did.

But we landed at a place called Goric. That was in Scotland. And we got on a train and then we -- we went to -- the place we went in England is -- it was either -- God. It was just a little village. I remember the bar. There was only one bar in the town. It was the first and last. It was the first one in and the last one going the other direction. But we were near -- we were about 19 miles south of London. I only got there once. We were -- we went to a -- it's Springthorpe. It was on the -- on the coast towards France. And we -- we were stupid. You know, we got our first pass, and you couldn't find a room anywhere. And a guy said, "Well, you can sleep on the third floor."

We said, "Hell, yeah." Well, nobody'd sleep on the third floor because of the bombing raids, you know. We realized that, too, the first night we were there. But I say this about England: I never got treated any better in my life. They -- they -- the only thing is, once -- we were warned, and most of us listened. Any recruits that come in were already brainwashed that we're the best in the world. So they started crapping on the people in England, and every place we went, it -- there was days I was ashamed to go -- go to a town.

If I saw a group of guys, I went the other direction. But in England -- and they were starving to death, man, I'll tell ya. We went from beefsteak and stuff here -- the first meat I saw was horsemeat, and it was cut thin enough you could read a newspaper through it. We had fried tomatoes. Which I never ate a tomato in my life until after I got to Italy, and the reason I didn't, my old man thought that everybody ought to eat a tomato. And right out in that kitchen, he would -- he said, "You eat that tomato or I'm gonna stuff it down your neck." He would shove that -- my nose down in it, shove it in my mouth, hold my mouth shut to try to make me swallow. Then I'd choke and I'd -- I'd have tomatoes coming out my nose, if you can picture that. That's the reason I've hated a few people in my lifetime, but I got over that. But where were --

Tom Swope:

What was your rank?

George R. Scanlon:

Well, I went in at, you know, PFC. And I -- I never cared for any rank, but I ended up -- if you outlive everybody or they go home, I ended up a tech sergeant. That's three up and two down. And I got that towards the end, but it doesn't mean anything. Hell, I was digging shit holes when I was a tech sergeant, because there -- I was the only guy in that -- in the outfit that could run a pick and shovel. I dug foxholes for guys.

I dug a foxhole in Africa, and we had a bombing raid. And I come out of the tent. It was full of guys. I went back in, loaded my rifle and come out. I had a jack, too. I said, "Okay. You're dead." "What do you mean, Scanlon?" I said, "You're in my foxhole. Get out 'til I get in." So I -- they all got out, I jumped in. They jumped right in on top of me. And you're digging a shit hole, crapper, they'd line up with the toilet paper in their hand until you'd get the hole down. Wouldn't do nothing.

Tom Swope:

So what -- what exactly was your job, your military job?

George R. Scanlon:

I was an airplane mechanic, P-38 airplane mechanic. And there again, you know, the mechanics' school we went to, they didn't have nothing. They had pictures on the wall. The biggest thing that excited us is they had a mockup of a -- you worked a hydraulic pump, and it made this landing gear go up and it turned another thing and it come down. And we'd be standing there bullshitting and pumping that thing up and down. We had pictures. They had charts.

When I first went in, I pulled guard at Fort Meade with a broom handle with a board nailed on the bottom of it, you know, like the -- like the stock. And you had to stop traffic. One night -- I'm jumping back and forth, but to give you an idea, I'm on guard duty, Fort Meade. The civilian traffic went through it every direction you can think of. Well, it was going back toward the motor pool.

So they said, "Nobody gets by here." Okay. Here comes a -- some darkies in a -- you know, we called 'em other things, but those days are gone. We didn't know what a -- an African-American was. Fishing poles sticking out the windows, all drunk. You know, and {demonstrating}.

And I -- I said, "Whoa," you know. And they skidded to a halt, and that guy said, "What the hell you doing there, white man? We got -- I'll get out and shove that broom handle up your ass." And I said, "That's okay. Go ahead," I said, "but the next guy you see's got a shotgun," and he did.

They go down the road there, singing and hollering. The next thing, boom -- {demonstrating} -- up the road they come. They shook their fists at me and said, "You son of a bitch, we'll get you later." I said, "I warned ya." They -- those guys come back one night to steal -- you know, you could lift the hood on a truck, you could get a generator, something that was -- whatever was easy to get, cut a belt, couple of nuts and bolts. They -- they killed a guy, blew his head off, practically, for stealing. But, hell, at Fort Meade, I had a '28 Chevy and I had -- I didn't have any rank. But when I saw that a civilian could drive back and forth, me and a couple of the guys, we went in with our civilian clothes on, drove just a little ways out of the fort, but it was still in that area.

And we drove down in the woods, cut some little trees, put them over the -- the Chevy and got out our uniforms and walked out on the road. And we did that for days until it -- you know, the -- they were going on maneuvers and I didn't go. They -- you know, I'd gone into the Air Force. But I had to take it out of there and drive it home. But Jesus.

Tom Swope:

So what was your next stop after England, then?

George R. Scanlon:

I was in England from June until November. We got in a convoy in November, and we were 19 days. It was -- would be in October, because November the 8th was the invasion. We were --

Tom Swope:

So it would be '42?

George R. Scanlon:

It would be '42. It was -- we were 19 days waiting for a convoy to come from the United States. Can you believe that? And I'm on a ship that -- we didn't know that we -- it until we got on it and, you know, we're out there. It's a -- it's loaded with oil to -- to service these little Corvettes. And they got ammunition stacked on the ass end of that ship up as high as you can see. Well, my idea of being a rat -- you know, I thought to hell with it. So at night, I'd sneak out, and I'd found a hole in that stack of ammunition. Because I figured I was gonna die anyway. At least I'd get fresh air.

And there was a -- there was a pocket in there where I could crawl in and turn around and face out either way. And I swiped some blankets that somebody weren't standing there watching. So I had a nice little bed in that place. But the wild part was, you'd get a rough sea, and the propeller comes up and you're up there and it'll go {demonstrating} like this, and then it goes down {demonstrating}. The first day we started servicing a Corvette, they let that spaghetti out. You know, it's a big hose, and then they pick it up, and there you sit.

The convoy moves away without you. The sirens are blowing, warning for submarines, and there we sit. And you're thinking, oh, Christ. Well, then they -- the ship we were on, they -- they had a -- they had a thing where they could rocket a pontoon plane. You know, it was just an old timer, but they could fire it off. Well, they sent him up, and he couldn't do nothing, you know. But anyway, he finally landed and we picked him up. But every time we fed one of those babies, you know, a hummingbird, Jesus. But 19 days. I can remember going past -- we went between -- the Rock of Gibraltar, you couldn't see it. It was blacked out completely.

But Spanish Morocco. There's French and Spanish Morocco. You just -- it -- it was totally dark, but it was just like looking into a neon tube where -- where Spanish Morocco was. You saw all this glitter and everything else and -- and reflection in the sky, and then there's nothing. And somebody said, "Wonder what the hell that" -- well, we didn't know until later what the hell we were looking at. But we'd go into -- I got off at 5 o'clock at night, you know, and they were raising hell. You can believe it or not: We get in a -- we never had any practice getting off a ship. Never went down one of those nets. Didn't know doodley squat. All they said, "If you let go, if somebody stands on your hands, don't jerk 'em out because you're gonna -- you're gonna" -- full pack, rifle and everything else, and here's this little landing craft bobbing up and down. No practice, like I said. We get in this thing, and how the hell I got to the front I'll never know, because I wasn't one of those up-to-the-front guys. But anyway, we got as far as it would go, and -- and the guy must have had a -- {laughing} you're liable to --

Tom Swope:

Sorry. {Laughing}.

George R. Scanlon:

They must have had a hydraulic press on that thing, because the minute that lid went down -- {demonstrating} -- out we go. Well, I got one foot on the -- on the lid, and off I went. The water was about as high as -- I went down to about as high as the top of that door. Here I'm standing with a rifle and stuff, and I'm thinking, Jesus. But anyway, I was facing towards the shore. Well, when I walked out, got my head above water for air, somebody said, "Christ, there he is." You know, "He isn't dead."

Anyway, the minute we got onto land, an officer come up to me, Major Bellows, and he said, Scanlon, you and Wozniak take the safe." I said, "Safe? What the hell's -- kind of a safe?" A squadron safe they took in on the invasion. Can you imagine that? And that son of a bitch must have weighed -- I'll bet it weighed almost 200 pounds. It had a big thing on each side. We're carrying all our stuff and we're going up this mountain. I mean, it went up and back and forth and back and forth. We got off at a place called Arzu. It's not even on the map, I don't think.

Anyway, by the time we got up to the top of that mountain, we were exhausted. I set that baby down. I said to Bellows, "Don't even mention it to me, ever, just shoot me, because I'll never touch that son of a bitch as long as I live." Now, we're cold. It's dark -- well, it got dark quick. Trucks are going by. They're firing cannons and stuff over in here, and they're trying to get traffic moved back and forth.

And we're jumping in and jumping out, jumping in. A little guy about my size, an officer, infantry, he said, "Who the hell are you?" I said, "I'm one of this outfit." "What outfit's that?" "The 94th Fighter Squadron." "What's that?" "Air Force." "What the hell are they doing here?" I said, "I don't know." He said, "Who's in charge here?" I said, "Well, a shoe salesman." I said -- he said, "What?" I said -- right now, I can't remember his name. Anyway, it's in the book.

Tom Swope:

Where did you land?

George R. Scanlon:

At a place called Arzu.

Tom Swope:

That landing was Arzu in what country?

George R. Scanlon:

That -- that was in Tunisia.

Tom Swope:

Tunisia.

George R. Scanlon:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

Africa.

George R. Scanlon:

Yeah. He said to me -- I think Woods was the -- the officer's name. He said, "A shoe salesman?" He said, "That figures." And then he started hollering. Nobody answered. And he -- he screamed out, "You son of a bitch, where are you?" Well, he gets him up there, and he said, "What the hell are you doing with these men?" "Nothing." "Where you going?" He said, "I don't know." And he says to this guy, "You don't know." He said a couple of other things. Then he said, "You get them the hell out." He said, "I don't know what to do with them." He said, "Don't give me a" -- he said, "You get them off this road. Right or left, I don't give a God." So he said, "Okay, boys, up over there."

And you couldn't see anything. Well, he could have -- couldn't have picked a worse spot. This was a -- a grape orchard full of cow shit. They -- they cut all the grapes down to about this far and then smeared cow shit all over the thing. Now, I'm wringing wet from getting a dunking. So he said, "Okay, boys. Pitch your tents. I said to Wozniak, "Why, that son of a bitch. I ain't pitching nothing."

I threw my pack down, laid my rifle across my legs and leaned and went to sleep. I honest to God woke up at -- that Wozniak had opened his pack and put his blankets over me. He was leaned up against me. When I woke up in the morning, you know, the sun was up. We were covered up with -- we called them turd rollers. They're dung beetles, but we didn't know that until we got the "Geographic" magazine after we got home. But they were about that big around, all over us. And what they do is -- if you care to know, they roll -- they -- male and female work together, and they make a -- a ball about that big around, and then she puts her eggs in that. Then they roll it over here and scoop out the ground, put it down. So when the babies wake up, they got something to eat. Then they go out and start collecting, same thing.

And the reason it was fascinating to us, we didn't have toilets at first. You just -- they teach you to kick a hole with your heel, crap in that and cover it up. Well, sometimes we didn't do any kicking. We just crapped and moved on. If you're going by there the next day, it's gone. And we was wondering, who the hell's collecting crap? You know, well, it was those turd rollers. Where are we?

Tom Swope:

Wherever.

George R. Scanlon:

{Laughing}.

Tom Swope:

Wherever you want to go now. Where did you go from there?

George R. Scanlon:

Well, we -- we were there five days with nothing to eat, no food of -- well, take it back. We had -- I had two -- every man had two chocolate bars, chocolate. You couldn't bite it. You had to have a hammer and chisel. And what it was -- now, it was full of vitamins, probably. I melted mine in hot water and drank it like cocoa. And we each had one can of hash, and that was it for five days. Nobody knew how to build a fire but me, and I waited and waited and waited.

I -- I wanted them all to starve, you know, because -- either dig a hole or make a fire, everybody's right there. And I figured, to hell with them. Anyway, you talk about stupid. I got a little fire going, you know, just small, and punched a couple holes in the can, you know, so the steam could get out. And what I did, I went all the way around and left the -- I put the holes in first, and I thought, oh, hell, how am I going to hold it? So I -- you peel the lid back, then you can hang onto that. Anyway, mine got warm, and I just walked away.

And all these -- these wannabees come with their stuff, never -- I never said, don't sit there; it will blow up. The guy -- the first guy sets his down, you know, and I got off about the length of this house. When -- when that thing, boom, blew the can all to hell, blew it all over, "Christ, what happened?" I said, "Geeze, it must have been a bomb, you know." Dumb. We got -- we got strafed. We were laying there, you know, nothing to do, and I see two little airplanes coming along. And a guy said, "Wonder what those are?" And I said, "Well, that front one looks like a -- a Spitfire." You know, we'd seen them in England. But what was behind him was a 109. Well, the Spitfire -- I'll take it back. It was a 109 and a Spitfire. The 109 looks down and sees us. He dives down and starts strafing us. You know, he figured, well, we'll shoot -- shoot at the other one, which we did.

That pilot was an American who joined the English Air Force. He came back to speak to some -- we never saw him. But he -- he chased that guy out to sea, the Mediterranean, and shot him down. Come back and he landed on the beach because -- it wasn't me. I wasn't shooting at him, but somebody filled him full of holes. And he come back. He was looking for the CO that had a bunch of dumb bastards that couldn't tell what an airplane looked like. But there was greenhorns.

There was some guys on an ack-ack gun. Some guy with a tommy gun, you know, got excited, and he just cut those guys in half while he was looking up at the airplane. I'm laying there. I'd rolled over. I thought, oh, the hell with it. He had the -- what the hell? I'm trying to think of the guy's name. Red -- Red Ewing was in front of -- like this was -- the stem on a -- on the grapevine was about that size and just about that high. I'm laying there and I -- {demonstrating]. I thought, oh. Now, somebody was shooting at me from a village, and that would be probably from here down to the gas station.

Zoot, the second one. Then this guy over here, Ewing, he said, "Oh, my God, oh, my God." He grabbed ahold of that -- that stem, got behind it. I said, "What the hell are you doing?" He said, "Oh, I don't know. I don't know." He never did come to the reunion because he knew I knew that. And I -- I wouldn't have told on him in a bet.

But anyway, I turned around. I figured if I'm going to get the next one, he's liable to put it right through me. And I see what we call a raghead. This guy had a turban on. He was -- he was on the top of a building, but he was -- he could just peek over it. And I see this movement. I never shot that gun. I had an Eddie Stone rifle that I never saw before. First World War, nine and a half pounds. And they had a thing on there like a little ladder you put up for -- so you could gauge it. So I tried -- I took a guess at how far that was, and I laid that on my -- my bag, and I'm waiting for that guy to pop up.

And when he popped up, I pulled the trigger. It turned me halfway around, but it hit about that far from his head. A big puff of cement or whatever hell it was. Well, that's the last shot he took. But I couldn't believe that gun, and I couldn't believe how -- the guessing, how I did it. But we didn't have anything modern. You know, it was terrible. We did -- we didn't have gasoline when the planes finally got there. We had to field -- fill those airplanes with five-gallon cans. Take all night. One guy -- now, I could walk right under that airplane. What you'd -- what you'd do is, you'd open the -- screw the cap off, then it had a sealer on it. You'd poke a hole. You had to be careful because, you know, it was high-test gas. You'd get that little thing out. And then you -- you put it on the back of your hand like this and shove it up, and the guy up there gets ahold of it. And he -- he's got a hand-made funnel, and the guy holds that while he pours it in. And that's the way we worked. You know why we didn't -- when we were in England, they had a -- they had a -- a group of -- they were little pumps, portable pumps that would pump gasoline.

The officers stole them and made little carts so that they could ride them -- little cars. They'd ride back and forth to -- to chow, and they left them there. It's -- it's -- you know, you just -- I often thought about that while we were hand -- hand filling those airplanes. And then, you know, you'd get them all done, and you had belly tanks, and they'd change the mission. Well, you've got 150 gallons in each tank. You can't drink it. So you'd just get up there in and push the button like you're dropping a bomb. Down it comes. They split and run right down into the ground. Then they tried to give us hell because we were burning gasoline to keep warm when it got cold. Some of the chow, you -- we -- we got into a place called Tebessa. Now, Tebessa was just a short distance from the Kasserine Pass, where the Germans just kicked the shit out of us. Anyway, the Kasserine Pass is in -- in Africa. It would be in --

Tom Swope:

Is that still Tunisia?

George R. Scanlon:

It would probably be Tunisia.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

George R. Scanlon:

I'd have to look it up. But --

Tom Swope:

I can --

George R. Scanlon:

It would be in the book somewhere.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

George R. Scanlon:

What happened there was -- was they pushed the Germans back. A guy from my -- my -- this town was there, and I -- I met him -- I met him later in Italy, believe it or not. And I'll tell you that story, if you remind me. But they pushed the Germans back. The officers of this group of guys -- they were ack-ack guys -- said, "No use making our own. Just get in there and use the Germans'."

Well, now, the Germans had that all plotted. They knew exactly where it was. And as soon as they got set up down in the valley further, they just turned around and blew them -- blew them all to hell, then turn right around and come back. And old Sammy, this friend of mine, he -- he was telling me. He said -- I think there was two or three guys got out, that's all. And he was down on the road and he -- he looked and he saw a German tank coming, so he started to run. And he said he looked over his shoulder, and the hatch opened up and there was a guy.

You know, the guy said, "How fast do you think you can run?" Perfect English. And the guy trained the cannon on him, which would have pulverized him. He said, "Why don't you just keep on going back the way we're coming, and somebody will scoop you up. You'll be okay." Making him a prisoner, see. Well, they don't know where -- he didn't know where the tank guy went. He didn't see him again. So he -- he's walking along a road, and a guy's coming in a jeep, American. So he flags him down and he gets in with him. They're going down the road, and a little 109 goes over and looks down and sees them.

So Sammy said, "Pull this son of a bitch over where we can get out and hide." The guy said, "Not me," Well, Sammy jumps out. This guy drives down the road, drives over in a field, and the guy blew him up. Well, Sam gets caught again. And I don't know how -- I can't remember now how he got away from that guy, unless somebody come down and started bombing the tank, and he crawled down in a hole along side the road until somebody come by.

Now, I haven't seen this guy in years, since we were in high school. Now I'll take you to Italy. And we're going into a -- to a USO in Italy, and we're on the second floor. And I'm with some guys, and I hear a fella talking. He had a speech impediment. And I said, "I'll bet you guys five bucks I know who's talking." Now, we're about from here to the kitchen. And they said, "Who is it?" I said, "A guy by the name of Sammy (Fratcher)." And I said, "I'll tell you what he'll say when I say, 'Hello, Sammy.'" And another five bucks. So we step in the door, and there's Sammy sitting there. And I said -- I said, "Sammy, how are ya?" He said, "Jesus Christ, Georgie, is that you?" {Laughing}.

Tom Swope:

{Laughing}.

George R. Scanlon:

And I said, "Pay me." I never repeated that back to poor old Sammy, but he's -- I think he's still alive. I saw him one day, oh, a month or two ago. He looks terrible. But now I'll take you where -- where you -- you know, it's hard to -- unless I'm going from a script.

Tom Swope:

Right. Exactly. That's -- that's the way most of these work --

George R. Scanlon:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

-- is that something triggers something, you remember something else. It's always out of sequence. And that's just the way they are.

George R. Scanlon:

Is that right?

Tom Swope:

It happens like that. Just exactly the same, yes. Because you want to remember what you can remember, and you don't necessarily -- you know.

George R. Scanlon:

It's -- it's hard to -- when you're sitting down concentrating, you can -- you can --

Tom Swope:

Right. Well, if you have time to put it -- then that's all right.

George R. Scanlon:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

I mean, that's the nature of oral histories.

[END OF SIDE ONE, TAPE ONE]

[BEGIN SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE]

Tom Swope:

Remember whatever you can possibly remember, and it does not have to be chronological.

George R. Scanlon:

I'll tell you something that would shake ya up. We were on the island of Corsica. Now, this is when they were going into -- to -- for the big invasion in France. And our outfit and the ones that were on Corsica were gonna be bombing and strafing, dive bombing southern France. We were right at the end of the runway. And one day, I look up and I -- I see a B-17 coming. Now, these B -- B-17s, we had -- our group had one. What it was for, it was made up of three other shot-up B-17s that wasn't fit for a bombing raid, but they used them to haul supplies. Like the officers would go over to Egypt. They'd get booze, liquor and stuff. In fact, they called them cock wagons. That's what the B-17 was.

I saw this B-17 coming in and another airplane come in, and they fired up. He was -- the plane that's in trouble has the preference to land. The guy flying the 17 was a fighter pilot. You know, he -- and full of beer and 18 guys. So when he sees this flaring -- somebody must have got him on the radio -- he racks back on this 17, and it went up right like that and just hung there, and then it just slowly turned and come down.

Well, it missed me like from across -- from here across the street. And I had to run like hell to get away from it, you know, and all I had on was -- I had on my underwear and a pair of shoes. We used to take our shoes and cut the top -- this off and cut them under here, so when you walked, it sucked the air through your -- underneath your feet. And, of course, it was illegal, too, but -- Anyway, this plane goes down. Didn't blow up. And I -- there was -- there was another guy. We were near a great, big crane. This thing was big enough to pick up an airplane. Anyway, I run over to the -- to the 17, and you can hear guys. They were alive yet, some of them. The guys in the front wouldn't have been, but -- the pilots wasn't.

Anyway, they're screaming and hollering, "Help, get us out." So I turn around. I saw this -- this giant crane, and there was a guy standing there. And I said, "Can you run this thing?" And he said, "Yeah." I said, "Back that son of a bitch over here, and I'll pull the cable out." It had a big, long cable. I said, "I'll throw it up over the tail and hook it, and we'll pull that airplane away from the engines and stuff and the wings." And I just got it up in the air to heave it when an officer come up. He said, "What the hell do you think you're doing?" I said, "That's full of guys." I said, "We're gonna try and pull that airplane." He said, "Do you realize you're using government property?" And I said, "Well, what the hell is it for?" He said, "I can have you shot. This is war." He said, "You unhook that cable."

Well, I hadn't unhooked it yet, but I held tension on it while this kid rolled it back up. I walked over to this thing, and it had one of these pick axes, you know, the firemen -- fire trucks have. I grabbed one of those. I walked up there. I said, "Do you mind if I use this?" He never said a word. He turned around and walked away. So this kid and I go over, and I -- I didn't know anything about the guts in a 17. I found out one thing: You just don't chop holes in them with an ax. I got two holes going, got nowhere, and that kid said to me -- I said, "You -- you let me know when you think it's gonna blow." Finally, he whacked me on the back. He said, "Man, it's going. I'm leaving." And just as he said that, I hung onto the ax and turned around and we started to run, when it blew, and the blast -- you know, we were running like on our tiptoes, you know, the -- the concussion.

Anyway, I looked back over my shoulder, and it looked like this thing you see in Hawaii 5-O where -- that big ocean wave. Well, we were running under these flames. They were up above our head. And when -- they come so close, it singed the hair -- I don't have any hair on the back of my legs anymore. It wasn't from that. Too old. Anyway, it singed the hair on both our legs. And we stood there. You know, I cried. I was so goddam mad, I had my fingernails going right into my hands.

And I said to that guy -- well, first of all, we're standing there, and out of this wall of flame, a guy walked. He had a -- oh, like coveralls. They call them something else. But they were nice little uniforms. He had his sleeves rolled up to about here. From there down, all the flesh -- all he was -- was hanging out this way was his bones and I think the tendons. The skin was hanging down there like black leaves on a banana, you know, the skins. His hair was gone, his ears were gone, and his head was smoking. And he got -- he got within -- from here to that bench from me, and I'm thinking, oh, Jesus, what am I gonna do with him? And he just -- {demonstrating} -- fell over dead.

A guy got blown out. Not a mark on his uniform. Laying there, and I noticed his -- his ankle was broke. Anyway, by this time, a doctor got up to him, and he was -- the doc was going like this. I'm thinking, Jesus, I hope he's going to give him something. And he went like this to open the kid's eyes. He said, "I'm okay." He recognized -- he saw the insignia. He said, "I'm okay, doc." He said, "Get the rest of 'em." And died right there. Shock. You know, your blood just turns to soup -- well, gets thick. Won't go through the arteries. Died.

There's a picture of that plane in that -- in that book. There's a guy standing there. He's dead, too. But I went back and got my knife. Had what they call bail-out knives. They're about this big. Each pilot had one. You could use them for a hatchet or a machete or whatever. And I had it honed. Boy, I could shave with it. And I made my mind up, I'll cut that bastard's heart out. I walked all night. Never saw him again. And -- and I'll tell you, for years I thought about that. It's strange how your mind works, because one time -- we used to talk about it at the reunions. And I could -- I had that guy's face burned right into my brain, and one day there was nothing, nothing, gone.

But when we were on Sardinia -- that's an island this side of Corsica. We went in there. A P-38 tried to land. He hit a soggy spot and flipped over. Well, we all run out. We got underneath the tail, and they picked it up. Me and another guy crawled under it. Now, the plexiglass windows, on that model they had two pieces of metal that went like this on the inside to beef 'em up. Anyway, with the plane being twisted, we couldn't get them down. And I'm trying to kick them out, and you couldn't kick them out. So we said, "We've got to get something." We're talking to the pilot and we said, "Now, just stay calm. We're not going to leave you here."

An officer walks up. I don't hear him, you know, until somebody yells at me to come on out. The last thing I said to the guy, "Hey, we'll be right back." This officer said, "Put that plane down. Send somebody to get the -- the wrecker." When he came back a half an hour later with the wrecker, they picked the airplane up, the guy was dead. What happened was, he got confused and he was trying to get out of his harness, and he got ahold of the -- there's the little thing there for your Mae West that's got that little cylinder in it that blows it up. He pulled that. It went up around his neck and choked him to death. Christ, his eyes are bugging out like cherries. I said, "Well, what's the name of that son of a bitch?" The word got back to the orderly room. We never saw him again.

Tom Swope:

Now, as a mechanic, did you have -- were you responsible for a particular airplane, then?

George R. Scanlon:

Yes. You had -- you'd have a crew chief assistant, a radioman, and a gunner. A gunner took care of the guns. And then we all worked together, you know. My forte was I could take a big Phillips head screwdriver and balance myself on it. Now, I'm up on the boom of an airplane, and we were changing superchargers. Now, this is where the -- the exhaust gas turns this thing and blows off the tail. Well, from all that heat, those little screws are welded right in there, and you've got to be a powerful guy to get 'em out.

Well, you take a rawhide hammer, hammer the hell out of them, and I'd get right on top of that screwdriver and start walking around, and I could break 'em loose. So, you know, if somebody was working on something like that, I'd help 'em out. Then I had tools made. You're in -- you know, getting down at the -- at the plugs on the inside of those engines, oh, God. You couldn't see 'em. You could feel 'em.

And I had a -- a -- you know, I would liberate things that I needed that was laying around, somebody didn't take care of them. And I had a friend that was a welder, and I had tools. So I could go down there and go around a corner and still make it work.

But lots of things, man, I'll tell ya. We slept one place in -- in Italy, we slept right with the airplane. And we had -- they had some black guys there that did guard duty. The white guys didn't want to do it. And they come around. We didn't see 'em. They offered to pull guard on ours, and our CO, said, "No, buddy, we pull our own guard." So you sleep out there, you know. Jesus.

Tom Swope:

Did your unit see a lot of action, then? Did your pilot make it out okay?

George R. Scanlon:

Oh, no. We lost -- when we got into Africa, we're up to -- against the finest pilots that the Germans had. Now, you picture a Mack truck trying to maneuver with a flea, and that's the way. Now, the P-38 had a lot of good qualities. The big thing was, the pilots -- some of the pilots figured it was a lemon. The men -- the guys that survived it would brag 'em to heaven. But one thing about 'em, they were built -- you've got an engine on each side of the cockpit. That was surrounded underneath and all around with metal. You know, it -- it would have to take a direct hit coming down to get the pilot. They were pretty well protected. And it would fly on one engine.

But there -- I saw guys killed because they didn't know how to switch the tanks, didn't know how to feather the prop. And you -- we used to teach 'em. We got guys towards the end that they were shipping over that never -- never saw a P-38, never flew a twin-engine airplane. And we'd get 'em in it and talk to 'em and show 'em how this worked. The only thing we couldn't do is pick the thing up to show 'em how the wheels worked. You know, then you've got it down on the ground.

But they put those tail-end Charlies out, and they got knocked off maybe the first -- maybe three missions. It -- I saw one lucky guy. He -- he shook so bad, I took him -- I laid on the wing and took him down to the end of the runway, and I -- and I -- on a P-38, that particular plane, or any of 'em, you can't let 'em sit and idle. They get hot. And then, you know, they'll do -- you can't predict what the hell they're gonna do. So I told him -- I said, "You're gonna have to go." Well, he was shaking like this, and he couldn't let -- the brakes on a P-38, you pump 'em up and you pull a thing here, and that's -- that's emergency -- that sets 'em. Then you can take your feet down off 'em. He could not.

He was going like this and he -- he was so uncoordinated, he couldn't release those brakes. So I said, "Get your ass out of there." So he gets out on the wing. I throttle way back. I said, "Now, when we get this done, you're gonna have to go." So I pulled the throttles back and released the brake. Then I got out, he got in. I fastened the hatch. I wired him up first, you know, got him -- he couldn't do nothing.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

George R. Scanlon:

And you just have to -- water was pouring down on him. I said, "You've gotta go, man." "I know, I know." Well, I got off to the side so I -- I could slide down the wing. I shoved the throttles to the firewall. {Demonstrating} -- you know, it blew -- Christ, the dirt and gravel, I was -- I was a mess. I hit the dirt, you know, like a dog. He went down and he went up in the air before he got to the tower. Then he didn't know how to put the wheels up. When he come back, he had the -- the meat inside his hand. All you had here in the cockpit was a -- was a knurled -- just like a little button. What you did is -- is you took ahold of the handle here and you put your thumb on that knurl, and when you lift it up, your thumb hit that and released the thing, and then this went all the way up.

He thought it had it all the way around. I don't know where he got that idea, but -- Anyway, he come flying in front, and I got up to the tower. I said, "Let me talk to that squirrel." And it -- so I explained it to him. So we got him down, then he got to feeling pretty good. Geeze, he took off out of sight, you know, and come roaring around. Well, come time for a landing, he couldn't get it down on the ground. He come in, you know, 150 mile an hour, and it would take right off again. So I said to the guy, "Get him way out there, get his wheels down, and just drop him a little bit."

Now, you've got a tank trap. That's what was dangerous, see. You had to come over that tank trap. That's so that guys in tanks couldn't get on that field until somebody got off. Anyway, he got over there. He cut the throttles on that. I know he was as high as this ceiling. Well, this is tons of stuff. You know, kaboom, you know, he hit the throttles, zoom, up in the air, kadoom. He got down to the end of the runway, and I thought, oh, shit.

He missed the ditch, lit -- a road, then went right out into a plowed field. And before it stopped, he had the clods of -- clods of dirt going up in the sky and the airplane sitting like this. I got out there. He said, "Oh, my God." I said, "You're a lucky man." He said, "What do you mean? What are they gonna do to me?" I said, "Well, you're probably gonna fly a desk for the rest of your life, but at least you're alive." And that's what they did with him.

Tom Swope:

So how long were you overseas, then?

George R. Scanlon:

I was overseas three -- three years, one month and something.

Tom Swope:

So you were -- you were there for VE Day, then?

George R. Scanlon:

I was there -- yes. When I come home, the Jap -- the Jap war was still going.

Tom Swope:

Right. Do you remember VE Day specifically?

George R. Scanlon:

No. It didn't mean that -- all we knew is we were lucky. We didn't celebrate. I can't remember us doing a damn -- we probably took a drink. In fact, we had -- we drew numbers, the slots, you know, to come home, and I gave my number to an another guy.

Because they had a thing going where if you got the right number, you could come home for 30 days, then you had to go back. I said, "No way." They said, "It's your turn." I said, "No, I'm not going." I give it to another guy. I said, "Gimme your number." He said, "You've lost your mind." I said, "No, because if I go home, I ain't never coming back."

Tom Swope:

{Laughing}.

George R. Scanlon:

But the guys that come back were just heartbroken.

Tom Swope:

Yeah.

George R. Scanlon:

They -- well, for a lot reasons. Things weren't like they were when -- you know, it's -- it's tough. Hell, when I come home, my mother didn't know me. I looked -- I came home with a guy, a little guy. He's been ruptured -- he was up at the front in the big push when they were going into -- and he was shell shocked, and all he worried about was the Japanese torpedo nuts coming back. And they couldn't, but, you know, nobody give it a damn thought.

I said, "Ah, hell, a submarine couldn't run that far," you know. And every night, he'd ask me the same thing, and every night, I'd pat him on the head. I said, "You're okay now. Don't" -- I said, "If I hear anything, I'll grab you and I'll take you out of here." "Okay."

So -- they had him -- he was a cook, and they put him in with the artillery picking up big shells, and he wasn't big. He did it, but it near tore out his guts. And incidentally, when they run out of -- one place, he was telling me, they run out of shells. They had gas shells, and they shot those at the Germans. And the Germans wired back and said, "Do you realize you're gassing us?" And -- so they gave that up. But there was a lot of crazy things, you know. Americans do funny things. You know, just like you read that these guys had killed babies and stuff, you know, in Vietnam, it happens.

I had a pilot. He said, "Scanlon, you should have been with me today." I said, "Why?" He said, "I'm blowing up everything in my sight." He was in a seaport someplace. He said, "One guy I couldn't kill." I said, "Why?" He said, "An old man had a little boat," probably his own, you know. And he said, "When he saw me coming, he got down on the deck and went like this." And he said, "I made three passes of him, and I couldn't hit the button." And he said, "When I flew away, the old man took off his hat and was waving at me." But I know two guys that hit a village, and the one guy said, "I'll ring the bell." Then they forgot it was Sunday. "I'll ring the bell." And the other guy said, "Okay." And he was -- he was blowing up the street. The guy rings the bell and people run out. And before he could -- he mows off about 20 of 'em. That never got in the paper, you know.

But it -- and some guys were tough. You know, they -- they didn't give a shit. They'd lose their buddy. The next -- so they -- I met a prisoner of war once. He looked at a P-38, and he said -- he just -- he was an Italian. We had them -- we got some of them to -- to work in the kitchen. Somebody in the service said, "You want a couple of guys?" So -- and they were great guys, but they said, "Jesus, we hate P-38s." He said, "When they lower their flaps, they -- they come right down on" -- they'd go, "Like you couldn't get away from 'em." This one guy, though, we loaded him and give him a bunch of stuff to go home -- he had little kids -- for Christmas and came back. They said to me, "Scanlon, he'll never come back."

I said, "To hell he won't. He's getting fed better here than he'll ever get at home." But they were starving, too, geeze. On the island of Sardinia -- I went from -- from Africa in a -- one of those landing crafts where the water goes in one end and out the other. They got a manhole you go down. There again, I said, "No way. You don't get me down there." I took a bunk, and a guy by the name of Michener, and we roped our bunks to the trucks that were on top. We slept in those bunks. And the guy said, "You don't have to worry about torpedoes or anything else."

But the -- the wild part was a 50-caliber machine gun would shoot right through the sides of them. You know, the reason the torpedo didn't get them, it ran under. You know, they didn't take that much water. But what I started to say was, we pulled into Cagliari. It was a seaport. And somewhere around here, I got -- well, I -- it might have been a shot in that book. But anyway, they had -- the B-17s went on a bombing run up in northern Italy, and coming back, the weather -- going up, the weather closed in. And they flew around. They couldn't do anything. They got orders, well, pick a target and dump 'em. So what did they do?

Now, Cagliari didn't have a -- the Germans had left. They blew up this whole -- this seaport. When we got there, the buildings were split down. The tablecloths were still blowing on the -- you know, and the silverware. There was time bombs, and they had it roped off. Said, "If you get within this, number one, it could blow up and kill you, or, number two, some Italian will cut your throat." When we -- the first meal that the cooks put out, we were in a chow line, and we saw little faces in the woods, you know, looking out through the bushes. And I said, "Holy God, look at that." Well, we got our mess kit and go over and sit down on the ground, and two little kids walk up to me. Big eyes. And they said, "If you feed these kids, you can be court-martialled, because you're not -- you know, they're liable to give you a disease."

Well, Christ, I'd be afraid to eat out of my mess kit for fear I'd get a disease. Anyway, we started feeding 'em. And so -- and one of the officers said to me, "Well, you figure out how the hell you're gonna do it." We took a GI can, just a garbage can, and cleaned it out, boiled some water in it, swished it around. Every guy ate part of his food. Everything went in that, coffee grounds, anything that's left. I see a mother. She had a long dress. She was probably a grandmother. She had a rope tied around her waist, I imagine, and hung down, and the bucket was between her legs. And the little kids would run up and get their hands full, and she'd pick up her dress and they'd dump it in the bucket. They -- I give a -- one little kid, I gave her -- I gave her some soap -- what the hell else? -- some matches and some canned food and stuff I had come from home. I could see the mother over in the trees, and -- but she was -- oh, about from here out the back end of my lot. I never got close. I never saw any men at all. But that was sad. The Germans took all the food. We come in, all we got's for ourselves. And we kill these people for doing nothing. Shit. It -- we didn't stay there too long, either. What else?

Tom Swope:

Medals? Any medals you were awarded?

George R. Scanlon:

Well, I got -- I got the -- well, you get the good-conduct medal. Hell, yeah. I got oak leaf clusters. That was for the whole group. I got a -- I give this stuff to my kid. I got -- for the going in on the invasion, you get a little arrowhead.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

George R. Scanlon:

I got that. In fact, I had -- I only found them just not too long ago. When I was being discharged at Fort Dix, you talk about getting treated like a dog. They put you in the barracks. "Don't move, don't do this, don't do that." And they had it wired for sound, and they -- they'd turn that thing on, you could jump a foot. Anyway, and then they'd say, "Okay. You guys in barracks such and such, fall out, bring all your gear." Then they'd walk you around the block, and you'd pass all these bins. "What you don't want, throw in here."

Well, after the second day, I -- they were doing this just deliberately. I threw everything I had in the thing, so I'm -- when I come out the next morning, I'm -- I'm naked, practically. "What the hell's -- where's your stuff?" I said, "Don't have any." "What do you mean?" I said, "Hell, you've got big signs says anything you don't want, throw it here."

And I thought I'd thrown that stuff away. Well, I must have shipped it to my mother. But the night we got off the ship -- this is another thing. They're gonna -- and they did. They give us a great meal, steaks, all you could eat and everything else, but your appetite was bigger than your stomach. But anyway, we stood there for hours.

This -- this bastard was going down a list. I said, "There -- there's only 15 of us, for Christ' sakes. You're calling off 150 names?" Well, after about 20 minutes, I walked up to him and I said, "You'd better find that slip pretty goddam quick, fella." I said, "Why don't you peel down and get a short list?" And there it was. He -- he was giving us the business, you know.

Tom Swope:

{Laughing}.

George R. Scanlon:

And I'll tell you one that'll break your heart. Number one, they give us tickets. First, they discharge us, then they send a guy in to brainwash us to sign back up. I laughed all through that ceremony. But we're leaving. They give us a fistful of tickets. "This is for the train ride, this is for this, and this is for that." Well, we get on the bus. The guy drives us outside the gate at Fort Dix, opens the door on the bus. He said, "That's it, boys."

And I walked behind him and leaned over and I said, "You're gonna die. All I've gotta say is, what you're doing to us right now, they don't realize. They think they're gonna catch something else here." I said, "If you're smart, you'll just put this baby in gear and just forget it." He just put her in -- shut the door, and he drove us -- he was probably laughing all the way because when we got to the railroad station, I walk up with a fistful of tickets, and the guy said, "Those are no good." I said, What the hell you mean, they're no good?" "They're no good. You want a ticket, dig your money out." I said, "Kiss my ass." So I figured, how hell am I gonna get out of here?

And there was -- there was a guy by the name of Don Burgess. He -- he was smarter than me, but, of course, I -- I got on the train. He bought tickets. He said, "Well, what are you gonna do?" I said, "Nothing, but I ain't -- I'm not -- no way are they gonna do that to me." So I'm walking back and forth, and there's -- and that -- there was a place covered over, but if you looked that way, you could see the back end of rail cars that they were stacking them up, then they could hook a train on and pull them out, you know, one at a time. And I'm standing there looking at that, and I said, "Geeze, if I just knew which one of those was -- was going to Pittsburgh."

Tom Swope:

{Laughing}.

George R. Scanlon:

And there was an old colored porter there, and he said, "Young man, you look like you've got a problem." I said, "You're right I got a problem." I said, They give me some lousy tickets. I said, Look at 'em. I just threw them in an ash can. And I said, If I knew which one of those trains was going to Pittsburgh, I'd get on it. He said, If you give me your word that you won't move until I'm out of sight, I'll tell you. I said, Okay. He said, I think the -- he said, it's that third one.

Just go in the back door and just keep moving. So I waited and waited. I watched and then he disappeared. I don't know where he went. I went down, got on the train. And I'm sitting there, sitting there, and sitting there. Finally, bingitty, bingitty, bing, it started to move. Along come a guy on a -- well, he had a clipboard, and he said, "Tickets?" And I had two or three of those tickets, and I handed them.

He said, They're no good. I said, What are you going to do, throw me off the train? He said, "Well, we're going to do something." He said, "I'll -- I'll get somebody around here." I said, "Well, you go ahead and get 'em." Pretty soon, a woman conductor -- she was a conductorette. I never saw one of those. In fact, I hadn't been on a train since I was probably six years old. So she started giving me a ration, and I said, "Sweetheart" -- she said, "You're sitting in somebody's seat."

And I said, "When that somebody arrives, I'll get up, because I ain't moving." There was an old woman there -- I bet she was my age now -- sitting, and she got up. She said, "I never heard such stuff. You can have my seat." And I said -- I said, "No, mother, I'm sitting right here." Well, finally that Don Burgess shows up, the guy that bought his own tickets. He said, "How the hell did you get here?" I said, "They're free, you know," or some crack.

This girl says, "Well, boys, I don't want to cause a commotion. Everybody's gonna get excited. Let's go down to the dining car," which was closed at that time. So we go down there and start drinking beer. She said, "Well, I can fix this thing up." I said, "That's fine." Later on, it was time to get a meal in the dining car. She went someplace else. And old Don and I -- two officers come in, took a booth, but there was room enough for us. And we had our uniforms that were up here. Ducks sewed on, you know, and --

Tom Swope:

You were still in uniform at the time?

George R. Scanlon:

Oh, yeah. You've gotta wear that -- you've gotta wear that home.

Tom Swope:

Well, it just surprises me that you were treated like that when you were still in uniform.

George R. Scanlon:

Oh, it don't make any difference, nothing. You wait. Anyway, I walked up to the officers' table and I said, "Do you gentlemen mind if we sit here?" "No." But they never talked to us. They just said no. So we got a sandwich or something. Well, we got to -- we got to Pittsburgh, and the -- the girl came back and she said, "I'm gonna take you guys to the Bartender and Conductors' Club." And we said, "What the hell is that?" She said, "It's a bar -- a club that we belong to."

And old Don said, "Oh, I've got connections to make." He said, "Take him. He's gonna hitchhike home." So she takes me to this club, and you wouldn't believe that place. Second floor, you know, and they knock on the door and a -- there's a hole in it, you know, just like in the movies, and the big eye looks out at ya. She flashes her badge and she says, "He's with me." And we go in and we had a few drinks. I said, "I gotta get out of here."

Well, we get down on the street, and she tried to get me to go home with her, but, you know, I had -- coming home on my mind. I had other things on my mind, but she didn't appeal to me. She had -- her teeth were green or some color, and I'm thinking, no way. And I'm thinking, hey, I don't know who she lives with. You know, you've got -- you're alive this long.

So I said, "Just tell me how to get out of this town." So she give me some directions and I started to go. Three minutes later, the rain came. It's pouring down. Well, I -- down the street, I see a -- one of these canvas things, a canopy from a funeral home. So I stand under that. I thought, geeze, I'm lucky. Along come a police car. Said, "What are ya -- what are ya doing there?" I said, "Well, I'm trying to stay dry." "Where you going?" I said, "I'm trying to get out of town. I'm going to Franklin, Pennsylvania." "Don't you know it's illegal to hitchhike?" And I said, "No, I didn't know that." And they said, "Besides, you're loitering. Get your ass down the street." I said, "Why, you" -- he said, "If I get out of this car, first of all, we'll work you over, then we'll take you to jail."

And I'm thinking, you -- man, if I had you somewhere else. They followed me for two blocks. They just, "Keep moving, dummy, keep moving, dummy," until I was soaking wet. To top that off, I get a ride with a guy, and I wasn't in his car ten seconds -- we're going like a streak -- he reaches over and pats me on the leg and says, "How are you tonight?" And I thought, oh, Jesus, what kind of luck have I got?

And I said, "Man, I'm not interested." "Oh," he said, "you ought to be." He said, "You just got off that boat, you just did this, you just did that." I said, "You're right there, but," I said, "you're not getting in my pants." And he just -- he got livid. And he rode down that road and slammed on brakes, and it was a dirt road. He pulled -- he pulled in there and stood it right on its nose. And I already had the door open. I could have ripped that door right off. I said, "You son of a bitch." And it was still raining. And slammed that door shut. Across the road -- you've seen these little old gas stations they had years ago that had a little canopy, you know, a mom-and-pop station.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

George R. Scanlon:

Well, I stood there all night until daylight. I sent a card telling my mother about what day I ought to be home, but it didn't sink in. Because I knocked on the door, and I heard her say to my dad -- he was in the living room there. She said, "Oh, there's a soldier boy out there." "Well," he said, "open the goddam door." So she opens the doctor and she said, "And how are you, sonny?" And I said, "Pretty good. How are you?" "Would you like to come in?" I said, "Yeah, I'd like to come in," something like that.

And I said, "Don't you know me?" And then she took another look at me and she said, "Oh, my God." Her hair had turned white. That's in four years. She had a widow's hump on her back. I put my arms around her. She was brittle. I could feel her ribs. Then she said, "Dad, look who's here." Oh, Christ. Those were crazy days. I was just like a panther in a cage, back and forth and back and forth for days.

My old man said, "What are you gonna, do lay around here all summer?" You know, a needler, you know. And I said, "Well, geeze, I -- you know, I figured a couple of weeks." He said, "You'd better go get that job." So I go to Oil City, out to the main office, and the girl said -- I said, "I'm looking for a job." She says, "We don't have any jobs." I said, "Well, I'm supposed to get one here." She said, "What do you mean?" I said, "They told me when I went in the service, when I came back, just drop in." "Oh, yeah. We'll have to fire Tom, but," she said, "yeah, you can have the job back."

Well, I said, "Tom who?" And she said, "Tom Donohue." Well, here was a -- here was a poor guy. He was married, had two little girls, and a nervous wreck. Nice guy. And I said, "Oh, my God." Well, I didn't -- you know, I'd had no intentions of taking -- doing it. She had to notify him. He calls me on the phone. Here's this guy crying on the phone. They called me Mike because of my dad. Little Mike, they called me. And they -- he said, "This is Tom." I could have told it. I -- you know. I said, "What's up?" "I gotta talk to you." I said, "Where are you?" He said, "I'm over town, but," he said, "I'm ashamed to come to your house." He said, "I'm all upset." I said, "Well, by God, you better come over you want to talk to me. I don't have a car." He come over and we sat out on the porch. He had circles down to here.

And he said, "I built a new home, Mike, and," he said, "I'll lose it, just sure as Christ." And he said, "I don't know how to ask you." I said, "You don't have to ask me nothing." I said, "I wouldn't go back to that goddam job if it was the last place on earth." Well, you know, you never saw such a change in a guy in your life. He come alive. I looked at him and I thought, Jesus. But then I -- when I told the old man, "Well, that was a dumb goddam thing to do," he said. I said, "Well, I did it." I said, "Now, you know what I'm gonna do next?" He said, "No." I said, "I'm going up and sign for my 5220." You know, this was an Army bailout you could get for -- I was too proud to even do that, but I thought, to hell with it. That's the only money I ever took.

Tom Swope:

Does anything come to mind as your most vivid memory of your wartime experiences? I would imagine most of what you've shared was a fairly vivid memory.

George R. Scanlon:

I would say that -- we were on an oasis outside of Biskra. We were there with nothing, and the Germans knew we were there. They were flying over every day. And one day, they was flying over and making circles, and a guy said to me, "What the hell's that?" he said. "That's a zero. They're gonna blow our ass off tonight." Then we got a message that -- somebody got it over the wire. We never heard it. Anyway, they come in one night. They flew around and around and around. And what we didn't know was if this was -- if that was the oasis right there, they had spies, German spies and Arabs, one here with a lantern, one here, one there, and one there.

And they had a five-gallon can set down over the lantern. So when they hear the Germans, they'd lift up the can. Now, this is out of our sight. And all those guys had to do was crosshairs, and they're right on top of us. Well, in they come. A guy by the name of Nutty Brown was down in our -- we had a beautiful foxhole because we knew we were gonna get it. We had it dug down and we used it -- we could develop film in it. We had cardboard over the top with -- with dirt on it because of shrapnel and stuff. Anyway, Nutty was developing film, and we were hollering, "Hurry up, hurry up. We're -- you know, they're gonna dump a load on us." "Oh, man, I'm almost done, I'm almost done."

Well, there was a -- a ditch -- irrigation ditch in this oasis, there about that deep, dry until they turn the water on. Mitch was laying -- when we hit the dirt, he was laying with -- well, our heads were together like this. We were laying out this way, our heads like this. And the story that you hear where that you never hear the one that gets you, well, it's just about true. We heard a -- one was whistling, {demonstrating}, you know. And the next one was just a {demonstrating}. And I said, "If he's dropping three, boy, we've had it." And just about that time, kawoom. Well, if it had been a concussion bomb, it would have killed us, because we were -- we weren't from here to that wall out there from the rim of that hole.

It picked us up, covered us with dirt, and it just felt like somebody ran hot wires through our ears into our brain. And we just -- {coughs}. I said, "Are you okay?" And he said, "Yeah." About that time, the first sergeant says, "Everybody quit the area. This is stupid." He was scared shitless. You know, here we had a perfect hole. So we're running. We're running -- we don't know where we're going. No gun, nothing. So we're running out -- well, we're just going on a path. And I'm looking up, and I could see the tracers coming out of this JU-88. Went down like this, and then he's going back up. Some guy hollers, "You're gonna get your ass blowed off." And I said, "It won't be 'til I get off this oasis." Anyway, after we got out there, then the -- the rumor started around that they dropped paratroopers.

Well, here I'm sitting out sitting on a sand dune, and no gun. So we worked our way back in. But that was one. Another one was -- was -- they were coming in one day to wipe us off. No ack. All we had was rifles. All these airplanes and everything else. Ten minutes before the Germans come in on a full flight, who comes down the road but a ack-ack, rubber tires, you know, 20 millimeters. And they -- {coughs} -- they got all around the oasis. They run their wire and stuff. And we were standing -- you could hear 'em talking. And one of the guys said, "Here they come, captain." And he said, "Hold your fire, hold your fire."

And we're thinking, Jesus, you know. You could -- you could see these guys coming down your throat. Well, they had -- they had their guns lined up like a solid wall. And when he hollered, "Fire," every one of those things let loose, kawoom. And if you wanted to see airplanes take a dive, drop bombs, and everything else, not a one of them went over in front of us, but then it was after that they come -- 3 o'clock in the morning, that's when they come to wake you up. But they caught the guys in the desert, took 'em in town, put a sign up. Everybody in the town had to be there. Then they shot 'em. They tied 'em to a post, blew a hole through 'em about that big around. And then the French officer, in a nice, shiny coat, got off his white horse and went around and put the barrel in each guy's ear and -- make sure he's dead. That's the coup de grace, or whatever the word is.

Tom Swope:

Right.

George R. Scanlon:

Yeah.

Tom Swope:

Wow. Anything else come to mind?

George R. Scanlon:

I heard Roosevelt. Oh, we had a -- somebody swiped a wireless. And we were in Africa, and I -- we heard somebody say, "Well, that's -- that son of a bitch is pulling up another -- another fireside to chat."

Tom Swope:

{Laughing}.

George R. Scanlon:

And -- well, how the hell did he -- "You mothers don't have to worry. They're having turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas." He went on and on and on. Well, the goddam turkey we got had to swim over, because you couldn't even -- you couldn't get it cooked hard -- cooked enough to bite it. It was like a rubber --

Tom Swope:

{Laughing}.

George R. Scanlon:

This is the God's truth. They cooked it for hours. I got a leg and I bit into it, and my teeth bounced right back out of it. It's -- ah, you know, they fill you so full of bullshit. They sent a guy around once -- I can't tell you -- they have some nomenclature for it. But this is a guy that comes in, you sit down in front of him, and he said, "You can say anything you want. Nothing will be held against you."

What they're looking for is what's the big beef, see, and they want to read your mind. Are you ready for -- to revolt or whatever? And I remember sitting down and talking with that guy. And he said, "Well, Scanlon, what would make you happy?" I said, "Write me out my discharge." And he said, "Well, I can't do that."

And -- and after he went through our outfit, they went and talked with him. They then got up a planeload of -- first of all, they built a place to gamble so the guys could go there and drink and stuff. Because our morale was terrible. I never found out until -- 'til years later that one -- I was in the 94th. The 71st and the 27th made up the squadron. One of those, and I think it was the 27th, the officers and all, pilots, were ready to revolt. But we never heard that.

This -- this I heard at a reunion. And I could understand it because, well, things weren't good, you know. We'd be on a airfield. You didn't get to town too often. Dusty, dirty, and things like that. Where the pilots come in, so many missions, they go home. We're there forever.

Tom Swope:

Uh-huh.

[END OF SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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