STARS FELL ON CPL. BAINS – STORY OF THE DAILY ROUTINE AND DISCHARGE OF A GI AT AN AIRBASE IN ITALY

On Jan. 15, 1944, at 1130 hours, Cpl. Bains was in an LST carrying him and 50 others of Headquarters Detachment into the Bay of Naples.

“This is war, total war,” Cpl. Bains told himself, clutching his carbine tensely and settling his helmet firmly on his head.

On the Beach, the adjutant of his bomb group called them to attention, and they shuffled off in the casual civilian cadence peculiar to Air Force formations. Cpl. Bains stared at the ruined buildings, at the ragged waifs who ran after them begging caramelli. He could hear the rumble of guns in the distance.



wwii italy cartoon cpl. bains

“My God,” he thought, “what a picture of destruction! This is It.”

They rode in trucks all that night and in the morning set up tents at the airfield near Foggia. They worked busily through the following weeks until they had made neat little offices out of the farm buildings assigned to Headquarters. In a corner of one of the little offices Cpl. Bains placed his mimeograph machine.

Before the last of the manure had been shoveled out of the stable that was to be the Orderly Room, Cpl. Bains was busy turning the crank of his machine from 0800 to 1800 hours daily, including Sundays.

Peering out the window toward the airfield, Cpl. Bains could see the B-24s rolling out to battle.

“Jeez, I’m glad I’m here on the ground,” he muttered.

Turning the crank of the mimeograph machine, he meditated on the destructive power of the B-24s. Surely, the Germans had thought of it too. Surely, before long, Messerschmitts and Focke-Wulfs would roar in to bomb and strafe.

“Grim.” That was the word which came to Cpl. Bains. He was thankful he had been attentive during basic training. It all came back to him vividly: “Take advantage of terrain”—“Keep your head down”—“Pull out that bayonet quick or it’ll get stuck in there.”

He fancied himself rushing up to the CO, who had been badly wounded in a strafing attack. Whipping off his belt, he applied an emergency tourniquet that saved the Old Man’s life.

The winter passed, the spring passed, then summer and fall and winter again. But there was no strafing, no bombing, no diving for a hole in the ground while the earth trembled and bullets buzzed angrily just over his head.

The Liberators went off into the wild blue yonder every day to defy enemy flak and fighters in Italy, France, Austria, Germany, Yugoslavia, and all over Naziland.



But for Cpl. Bains there was only the endless ever-rising stack of stencils in his little corner of the stable, and the endless clank, clank, clank of his rotating mimeograph machine. Cpl. Bains managed to goof off for 40 minutes every day—20 minutes for coffee at the EM Club in the morning, 20 minutes for doughnuts when the air crews came back from the war. At night there were poker and snacks in the cozy little tent, or movies in the gasoline-heated theater. Each Sunday he took a jaunt to town for fresh eggs and chips and vino.

He had one week’s vacation in Rome, another week at Santo Spirito, and a week on Capri. But always he returned to the clank, clank, clank of his paper mill. Bitterly he bitched about the drudgery of his work, and he swore that after the war he was going to “look up” the Group Adjutant. In spite of this attitude, the special orders and bulletins and SOPs rolled out evenly and legibly, So, in April, 1945, one of the stencils bore his name: “From Corporal to Sergeant, Temp—Cpl. Chester R. Bains.”

In May, the WD announced its discharge point system, and Sgt. Bains sat down to figure out his score:

24 months in the Army                             —24

17 months overseas                                    —17

8 Battle Stars for the campaigns in

which the bomb group operated           —40

TOTAL —81

This tally changed in June, because Sgt. Bains received the Bronze Star for “cheerful devotion to his tasks of reproducing vital publications of this Group,” ect. New total score: 86 points.

In July he was deployed back to America, where he got a white certificate promoting him honorably from sergeant to civilian. On the first evening at home, he went over to see Nellie, his girlfriend.

After the appropriately affectionate greetings, Nellie said, “Chet, I had no idea you’d be discharged so soon. I had you figured for only 40 or 50 points.”

“Well, honey, here’s how I got it! 24 points for 24 months in the service…”

“Yes, dear. I counted that.”

“Seventeen more for overseas.”

“Yes.”

“And 40 for the battle stars.”

She threw her arms around him and kissed him. “Darling, how perfectly wonderful—but you never told me!” She gazed lovingly, proudly into his eyes.

He was blushing furiously. “I wasn’t in no battles at all, Nell, to be honest.”

“Darling, you were always so modest.” She stroked his cheek fondly. “Oh, Chet, I had no idea.”

“I tell you, I wasn’t—“

Vainly he protested and protested. Her admiration grew with each protest. She coaxed him to name the dreadful campaigns. Hoping to close the subject, he started to name them.

“Well, there was Foggia and Rome-Arno, and, let’s see, there was the Southern France invasion—“

“Good heavens, darling!”

“And—heck, I don’t know what all the rest were. I guess there was one for Germany.”

“You don’t know?”

“No, I don’t know. The Awards and Decorations Clerks would know all that stuff, but we don’t.”

She looked at him solemnly, trying to understand. It was a strange look, and he felt he was being pitied.

She laid her hand tenderly against his cheek.

“Don’t talk about it any more, dear. Later on we’ll talk about it, when you are adjusted.”

“I tell you I wasn’t n no battles, damn it!”

“Now, now, now.” Soothingly she patted his cheek. Then she murmured, “I’m sure Uncle Sam doesn’t pass out battle stars for nothing, Chet.”

HE shrugged at this determined womanly “understanding,” and in desperation he closed his eyes. Nell sat in his lap and cuddled up against him.

“Chet, we won’t talk about it any more. Just relax and have fun now, darling, and try to—to forget.”

—T/Sgt. Donovan Bess

-Italy

For Further Reading Check Out:

Forgotten Fifteenth: The Daring Airmen Who Crippled Hitler’s War Machine




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