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7 Fighting 99th: Over There!» April 1943-September 1943 Sleep came easily that night. We had had a full day from reveille to midnight, packing, partying, departing. Once the train moved off from TAAF we were assigned to specific coaches where we flopped down, one man to each seat, and surrendered to Morpheus as the train thundered into the night heading toward a POE (port of embarkation) somewhere on the coast. Which coast? Most of us did not have a clue-only the CO and, perhaps, his immediate staff knew. The rest of us, we hoi polloi, did not know and I for one did not care as I fell asleep with bittersweet memories of a nurse just met, perhaps for the last as well as the first time. I awakened to someone walking through the coach hollering: "Chow time! Chow time! Chow in the dining car in fifteen minutes ! " After breakfast, in the officers coach, spratmo was running wild as everyone tried to guess where we were headed. Attempts to pry any information out of Adjutant Johnson or Ops Officer Roberts were fruitless. And Intelligence Officer Cornelius Vincent, when asked, "Where are we headed?" responded only with his stock advice about how to get along in the army: "You've gotta be shrewd, like G-2!" So we tried to be shrewd and figure out the answer by noting the names of train stations that we were passing. As the morning wore on it became evident we were heading north through the Carolinas (Alabama and Georgia were left behind while we slept) and Vir107 108 ginia. We crossed the Mason-Dixon shortly after noon and continued north through so-called God's country, reaching the west bank of New York's broad Hudson River just before dusk. Staying on the New Jersey side, the train chugged its way along the rails hugging the foot of the Palisades, finally screeching to a halt at its destination : Camp Shanks, New York. All day long the talk in all the coaches had been about where we were going, on the train and after that: England? North Africa? the Pacific? Now, at least we knew the first answer. As we visited other coaches and chatted with our NCOs and enlisted men, we began to feel the stirrings of comradeship and, if there is such a word, "teamship ." In all the months while the squadron was being staffed and trained we had been identified by outsiders in the way we were designated , "the 99th." But now, with no outsiders, that is, no "nonmembers " near, I felt a strong sense of being a part of a special group. I felt an unusually strong bond, a linkage with each and every man of the squadron. And I sensed that others had similar feelings. I sensed it because of so many things said by so many different men during that long train ride from TAAF to Camp Shanks. I sensed that the 99th was ready in all respects save one-none of its pilots had any experience in aerial combat. It was quite unusual -almost unheard of-for a fighter squadron to begin flying combat missions without having at least a few seasoned combat veterans in its ranks. But, not to worry. In all other respects it was ready. Thanks to the almost twenty-four months of training that its ground crew officers and enlisted men had absorbed in classrooms and on the job and the average eighteen months of flying training that its twentyeight pilots had received, the 99th was ready for combat. In addition to the twenty-eight pilots, the squadron was staffed with eleven nonflying officers, all with vital roles as members of the combat team nicknamed "the Fighting 99th." They were: George Currie, ordnance officer; James O. Freeman, ordnance officer; Hayden Johnson, adjutant; James L. Johnson, engineering officer; Maurice Johnson, flight surgeon; Henry Letcher, transportation officer; George Petross, personnel officer; Bernard Proctor, mess officer; Dudley Stevenson, communications officer; William« A-Train Thompson, armament officer; Cornelius Vincent, intelligence officer ; Benote Wimp, supply officer. (Hayden Johnson and Maurice Johnson were captains; the others were lieutenants.) James L. Johnson was transferred to another unit shortly after arrival at overseas base; Lieutenant Herbert Carter replaced him as engineering officer. In addition to the above officers, the 99th Fighter Squadron had two ground officers of AAF Service Detachment Number 99 attached to it to provide field maintenance for its aircraft and vehicles . They were: Captain Elmer Jones, commanding...


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