380th Bomb Group Association
NEWSLETTER #28 -- September 2006
DREAM TIME - A WAR STORY
by Robert W. Caputo
This is a story of one person's experience in World War II and the title grows out of the time served on the Continent of Australia (the term "Dream Time" is borrowed from the Australian Aborigine use of the term to describe the distant past of mankind). The writing was done because of the urgings of one family member and was completed in 1995. No claim is made that the story is one of a kind or especially unique, no more than each of us is some different from the other. Reproduced here by permission of the author.
Because of the length of the manuscript, we will tell Roger's story in various installments, in succeeding issues of THE FLYING CIRCUS Quarterly, as page space permits.
Roger Caputo was an NCO who was assigned to Group Headquarters, Administrative Section, in Intelligence.
After having completed basic training at Scott Army Airforce Base and Army Infantry basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas, Roger was posted to Salt Lake City to the Army Airforce training school.
Upon arrival in Salt Lake City, we were ushered into a huge aircraft hangar carrying our duffel bags. There was nothing to do but sit around on the floor waiting to see what would happen next. As the day wore on, some of us were paged to report to a certain room for interviews and processing. I waited and waited, but I heard no call and I was beginning to wonder about the whole process. Finally, a clerk came strolling around the floor obviously looking for someone and as he approached our small group, he called my name, Roger W. Caputo 16073115! I replied, "here," and he turned to me with anger on his face. "Where the hell have you been?" was his question. "Right here all the time!" "Well, we've been looking all over for you and paging you over the speaker system." "Sorry I never heard it." "Well, get your butt up to the interview desk and be quick about it!" The large hangar was filled with hundreds of men and there was considerable noise, possibly drowning out the feeble speaker system, because I never heard my name called. I was upset to say the least and wondered if I'd miss the "big call from up yonder some day."
As I appeared before the interviewing clerk, he recited off my credentials, reading from the file; he stumbled across my IQ score and commented about its elevated value. He asked, "How would you like to go to Intelligence School?" I replied it sounded fine to me, but I didn't have the foggiest idea what it would be all about. At any rate, I was assigned to the Army Airforce Intelligence School after a security clearance was established. Secrets, you know! The school was right there on the base at Salt Lake City for four weeks, so I didn't have to move again. The housing was in tents, but they were fixed up with wooden floors and partial sides to shelter us from the Utah winter as now it was early October and the temperatures at the high elevation would drop to freezing overnight.
The operation of the Army Airforce was divided into four Sections and they were designated as: S-1, Personnel and Administration; S-2, Intelligence; S-3, Operations; and S-4, Maintenance and Stores. The four weeks of Intelligence School slipped by in a hurry. There were daytime classes of about 8 hours per day, but the evenings were free. It was interesting study and learning how intelligence gathers information, processes it, and makes an educated guess as to the enemy's strength and intentions. In practice, the Officers did the principal work, but the volume of data was often massive and enlisted men were required to help handle the paper shuffle.
After completing the Intelligence School, I was invited to attend the Photo-Interpreter's School and this work was still more interesting because we were looking at aerial photos taken of enemy targets before and after bombing. High flying fast aircraft were fitted with cameras that look straight down and as they made their photo runs the cameras were grinding away, taking a series of closely overlapping individual photos. After the photos were processed, adjoining pairs, being called stereo-pairs, when viewed with the aid of two magnifying lenses mounted on short wire legs and resting on the photos (one lens for each eye), showed the target in three dimensions. What magic! The photos often had to be adjusted left or right a bit, but when they were just right, the photos suddenly conveyed that valuable third dimension! Ships in harbors could easily be distinguished between loaded and unloaded by the depth they sat in the water. Buildings with roofs blown off gave up information about the interior damage; airplanes on an enemy airfield could be distinguished between damaged or undamaged by their tilt from the normal. Bomb craters in the runways had depth, some deeper than others. Or things hidden under trees or camouflage netting were often identifiable or at a minimum detectable. Nothing was hidden from the camera's prying eyes. Dummy decoy aircraft could be distinguished from the real thing! The principle trick in viewing stereo-pairs was to train each eye to look at separate photos simultaneously; thus the brain was recording two images simultaneously taken from slightly differing angles as the photo plane made its way along. In time with practice, it was possible to view the pairs in stereo without the aid of the lenses, but the magnifying advantage was lost. The photo school lasted four weeks also and when it was completed, the time was then early December 1942 and I was ready to join any outfit training to go into combat.
It was a very pleasant and interesting eight weeks in Salt Lake City, the Mormon Capital of America. With the weekends free there was an opportunity to see all the sights including the mountains which surrounded the city on three sides, or appeared to. The USO held dances for the servicemen and they were well-conducted affairs. The Mormon influence was very much in evidence as there was a marked lack of the usual boisterousness and the soldiers behaved themselves. The girls were obviously people of character and culture, but not snobs. When a soldier walked up to one and politely asked for a dance, he did so in the most reserved manner possible so as not to give the impression of being loud or pushy. The girls had the clean look, not too heavy with the makeup, and wore conservative, but not dull, clothes. They looked every inch the female and you got the feeling they were about what you'd like to take home for keeps. The USO dances were not the most popular because of the close supervision, so they were not heavily attended. I know I went once, maybe twice, but no more because the girls I saw gave me a big heartache for home and one I left behind, Virginia, with no clear understanding between us as to the future.
Finally the day came to ship out. Personal choices of assignment were not involved. You went where they sent you, no questions asked!
I was assigned to the 380th Bombardment Group Heavy in their first phase of training at El Paso, Texas. It was early December 1942 and Salt Lake was getting snow, while El Paso was sunny and warm. We new additions to the Group reported in, a few at a time, over a period of several weeks. All the air crews were not in place and some of them were in the first phase of checking out in the 4-engine B-24 bomber. Compared to the B-17, the B-24 was a hot airplane with a high performance wing that demanded it be flown by the book. The B-24 was a faster airplane and had longer range. There were some accidents .... only two involved fatalities, not acceptable, but not uncommon during training.
For the office types like myself, there was less than nothing to do. The air crews used lots of maps in their training and the maps came in by the ton, all had to be folded, just so, and we folded them all!
Our Intelligence Section Officer, as best as I can remember, was a Captain Miller, not to be confused with the Group Commander. Our Captain looked old to me, but so does everyone that is senior in age to a 21-year-old soldier! The Captain, like so very many Intelligence Officers, had been an attorney in civilian life and had joined up for one reason or another to help out where they could. They were really past their prime as far as soldiering was concerned. However, they had wisdom and experience in dealing with people and were trustworthy. The Military was more than happy to have the benefit of their services to get things started. Only a very few ever saw foreign duty. Captain Miller was trying to sort things out such as we enlisted men serving under his command. Our Section Master Sergeant was named Mulholland from the State of Washington where he had been a Coca-Cola distributor. He was a good-natured bachelor, perhaps in his mid-30s and mature in every respect, but whose only talent appeared to be administration. "Mully," as we called him, took a lot of good-natured ribbing without anger, but we respected his authority and never questioned it.
At one point, shortly after joining the group, the call went out to all enlisted men, to try for Officer Candidate School (OCS). If accepted by a review board, the party would be sent to OCS and in 90 days, if the candidate survived the training, he would be commissioned an Officer and a Gentleman. I appeared before the Board, was well received and treated with respect, but I was not accepted ... no reason given. It was never clear exactly what qualities or talents they were looking for. My previously having learned to fly didn't apparently bear much weight. I had to finish out the War as an enlisted man, but did rise to the rank of T/Sgt (Technical Sergeant, two ranks below the top enlisted grade of Firs Sergeant, 3 stripes up and down with a diamond in the center). It was not a crushing blow, but I did come to some conclusions about politics and the like; a good experience for a 21 year old!
More to come in future issues- More training, this time in Denver, then finally on the way to Australia! Stay tuned!
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Last updated: 22 May 2014