early days of 1945 there was a particularly frightening
crisis in the 9th Air Force that only a few people
were aware of, and to this day still have no knowledge
of how it was solved?
A special crew was formed in the 449th squadron composed
of Capt. George Lane (pilot), Lt. Sherman Best (copilot),
Lt. Arthur Perkins (navigator), Tech Sgt. Jose Sola
(engineer), and Cpl. Martin (translator) to fly to
Bordeaux and under extreme conditions, to accomplish
a mission of the utmost importance and secrecy.
We proceeded from Beauvais, FR to Bordeaux without
incident and landed on a runway pockmarked with bomb
craters that had been placed there by the RAF and USAF
in recent days. We were met by officers of the French
Air Force and a civilian named Georges Pechaudre and
were immediately brought to a hotel and bar which had
been converted into the French Officer's Club and billet.
This presented a problem as the French were very rank
conscious and enlisted men were not allowed in the "O" club.
However, Yankee ingenuity being what it is, I gave
my flight jacket to Sgt. Sola to cover his stripes
and Art Perkins provided his flight jacket to Cpl.
Martin for the same camouflage. During dinner the French
Colonel seemed to be having a little difficulty trying
to understand why the two American "lieutenants" would
not remove their flight jackets while perspiration
streamed down their faces.
After dinner we were escorted around Bordeaux by Mons.
Pechaudre, who showed us all the local historical sites
and explained that a pocket of Germans were still on
an island in the harbor and occasionally dropped shells
on the city, but for the most part we could ignore
them. Also, after checking out a few bars, one of them
called the Palm Beach Club and operated by a gentleman
from Palm Beach who refused to allow us to pay for
anything we desired in his establishment, we decided
to look for a place to have a light snack before returning
to our hotel rooms and preparing for our morning mission.
Pechaudre brought us to an inn that was crowded with
French sailors sitting around drinking wine and smoking.
As we ordered a bottle of wine and a couple of cold
chickens, we suddenly found that the French Navy greatly
admired American Airmen, or maybe it was the chickens
on our table, for they gathered around and began singing
American songs, eating our chicken and drinking our
wine. Naturally, since we were obviously being treated
as heroes, we had to replenish the chicken and wine
as it disappeared because they thought we were great
and we certainly didn't want to damage their opinion
of us. I did notice, however, that when the came about
an hour later, our admirers suddenly disappeared. In
the course of events we had also picked up an honor
guard of some black Moroccan troops who escorted us
back to our hotel while protecting us from any harm
that we might encounter along the way. The only danger
that I found was the Moroccan who was trying to pick
my pocket and unfortunately I found it necessary to
break military law and strike an enlisted man, but
since he never brought charges I escaped being court
After a good nights sleep we all awoke ready to take
on our mission bright and early. Mons. Pechaudre arrived
and proceeded to drive us around to the various areas
we were there to inspect, and we checked out all possibilities
and came to our final decisions which later were highly
approved by our superiors and squadron mates.
You see, the problem was that the Officer's Club and
the Airman's Club were about to run out of our favorite
beverages, so we had contacted Mons. Pechaudre, a wine
and liquor merchant in Bordeaux, and asked for his
help. Help us he did-he took us to every warehouse
in town and we sampled all of their wares for two days-exhausting
as it was, we succeeded in loading our bomb bays with
barrels of wine, cases of Calvados and Hennesy's 4
Star and proceeded back to Beauvais where we were again
greeted as heroes by our squadron mates. I do remember
being very ill following all that tasting, but it was
worth it. However, I never did understand why the four
of us were never decorated for such a dangerous undertaking.