Robert “Bud” Ryan

The wartime experiences of pilot Robert “Bud” Ryan, shot down on his 75th missions in WWII and in Korea,” provided by his daughter Vicki Spencer



The 75th Mission – Part One (Italy)


Colonel Robert M. Ryan, Jr., USAF (Ret)

Thursday, 13 July 1944

The brilliant shimmering blue of the Mediterranean was only a few miles ahead but my powerful R2800 engine was grinding to a stop after throwing oil for the last 12-14 minutes. The pilot of that Me-109 had really hosed my aircraft down on his pass. The instrument panel was shattered and there were gaping holes visible along the forward portion of the fuselage and top of the cowl. Only the armor plate behind me kept my body safe.

There were flames around my feet and reaching up behind my legs. That 140 octane gasoline really burned hot! No choice but to jump! I rolled my canopy back, stood up in the seat and dived out and down toward the wing. (It was important to dive down so the tail of the  aircraft wouldn’t cut me in two.) I grabbed my rip cord and pulled it out to arms length. There was a moment of nothing, then a sudden snap as my parachute opened. I looked around and saw my aircraft with the right wing low, in a steep dive, and trailing black smoke and flames. I was in a chute many miles from friendly forces.

Suddenly the air was filled with white puffs and the explosions seemed terribly close. Then the sound of machine gun fire joined in and the air around me buzzed with projectiles that were obviously not meant to be friendly. I had jumped at about 5000 feet and was now probably down to 3500 feet or so, a perfect range for the 20mm anti-aircraft guns (white puffs).

The 20mm guns began firing tracers and I saw that several panels of my chute were smoldering. There were no foxholes available at 3000 feet in the air so I climbed my lines and dumped the air from my chute. The sudden drop took me out of the area of heavy fire but my increasing speed screamed loudly of another danger. I let go of the canopy and dropped to the bottom of my lines. It seemed ages before the canopy filled with air. I was oscillating severely.

The troops on the ground were clearly visible and their gunfire and shouting were awfully loud. They were running in my direction down the side of a hill. Just to the South of my position, I could see a cliff that appeared to rise vertically on the opposite side of the valley from the pursuing troops. I pulled on my lines to try and guide me chute beyond the cliff, hoping that would stop or delay the pursuit, giving me time to hide from the enemy.

My descent was too fast, so I swung out away from the cliff and my canopy collapsed against the very top of the cliff. I was pulled into the rock wall with a numbing crash. Then I fell to the bottom and hit among some boulders. I was stunned. The ricocheting of bullets off the rock wall quickly revived me! When I hit the quick release of my chute and jumped up to run, my left leg collapsed under me. A burst of machine gun fire slammed into the face of the cliff as I fell. My injured leg had saved me from being cut in two.

The sound of pursuing troops got louder. I rolled down the hill toward my pursuers and a small, dry stream, fell into the sand at the bottom of the stream and then dragged myself into the middle of a large growth of bushes.

The German troops ran by me hiding place and I heard lots of shouting as they found my chute. Suddenly, a black boot stomped into bushes about two feet from my head. The owner of the boot began to shout in a tone of authority, apparently directing the search. He did not move from that spot for the next three hours. I heard occasional gunfire and the distinct explosion of grenades. It sounded as though they were hosing down the larger clumps of bushes with machine gun fire to flush me out. I thanked God for “Herr Black Boot” who appeared to be directing the search from My Bush!

One German soldier came up the stream bed looking into every bush. There were only a few thin branches covering me on the stream side. However, this soldier peered intently into my bush and walked on! It took me a long time to breathe normally again.

My black boot savior finally moved off up the valley and the sounds of the search slowly moved away. I had no regrets. But now the pain in my leg, the shock of being down in enemy territory and the sense of being totally alone took over my body and spirit.

I knew I could not change my position until after dark so I had several hours to plan my next move. It was going to be a slow move because my left ankle was already swelling badly and the pressure of my G.I. shoe was almost unbearable. As darkness approached the sound of the search faded completely.

That night, the last sounds of the search seemed to be from the west and from the east. This left my best route up that sheer rock wall to the south. It didn’t seem possible with only one foot, but I moved out of my hiding place with the last rays of daylight to a position where could study the wall of rock. It appeared to be about 60 to 80 feet high and I saw what seemed to be a crack in the rock about 300 feet to the east.

My best means of travel was to place my injured leg on my good leg and pull my body along with my elbows. It took several hours to reach that crack in the rock and I still had to out how to climb with only one foot. I worked into the crevice and found that with my back resting against one side my knees were pushing against the other side. I slowly worked my way up the rock and although the pain from my leg made it terribly difficult to keep going, I finally reached up, pulled my body over the top and crawled out of the crevice. The first signs of dawn began to arrive. Now I had to find a secure hiding place for the day.

Friday, 14 July 1944

I saw a heavy growth of bushes near the edge of the cliff and dragged myself under one. The pain from my leg was unreal. I took off my shoe and saw that my ankle and foot had swollen to twice their normal size. The whole area was a blue-black color.

There was shouting and occasional gunfire from the valley below. I cautiously peeked out of my bush down into the valley and could see troops coming from both the east and the west, making a full sweep of the valley. I moved deeper into my bushes and fell into an exhausted, pain-wracked sleep.

I woke about noon to voices nearby speaking German. Four of them were coming from the east. One of them shouted out, sending pangs of fear completely through me. He was answered by a voice from the west. Two more Germans appeared from the west and the six of them gathered about ten feet away and talked for quite a while. One of them came to the edge of the cliff and shouted to someone below. There was a brief exchange and the six Germans moved off to the east. This interlude had completely removed any desire I had to sleep.

The rest of the day was spent watching the heavily forested area to the south and planning my move for that night. There were no sounds of troops in the forest nor any movement that I could observe. I had lucked out and landed in a relatively isolated area.

The shock, fear and pain were still a gripping factor. An inventory of pockets in my flight suit disclosed a Boy Scout pocketknife, a small British button compass, four folders of matches, two cigars and a handkerchief. I was not overly equipped for this invasion. All of my survival gear was in the kit attached to my parachute, now in the hands of the Germans.

As darkness closed in, I moved cautiously out of my hiding place toward the forest. Traveling on my elbows with my body dragging behind was slow and painful, but I was still free and moving on my own. The terrain was rugged and movement was almost impossible in some areas. When I was about void of ideas on a direction to go, I dragged myself up onto an old pathway in the forest. It was rough, but it was free of logs, boulders and thistles. I could drag myself along at a much faster pace here.

After several hours of travel on this path I suddenly had an intense feeling of imminent danger! No sound, no movement, nothing but a sudden gut-feeling of intense fear. I dragged myself off the path and found a large tree trunk growing out almost horizontally from the side of a hill. It was nearly pitch black in this area and I had no other option. I dragged myself out on the tree and about ten or fifteen feet up the trunk of the tree I fell into a hollowed out area that was covered with vines. The hollow area was large enough for me to fit in and I was able to pull the vines over the opening and cover myself completely.

It was only a short time until a small group of Germans came along the path. The barking of a dog told me I was probably being tracked. Bright lights flashed over my covering of vines and there was a sudden burst of automatic weapon fire just over my position. There was some talk, more backing from the dog and then they moved off. The whining of the dog suggested he was not ready to move, but was being taken by away by force. I spent the next hour or so in a very real talk with God. Why my sudden concern? Why this tree in a whole forest? There was no rational explanation.

Saturday, 15 July 1944

I didn’t move until daylight. The tree I was in had been burned many years before and was overgrown with vines. The hollow area was a part that had burned more severely than the rest. I worked my way back down the tree to the hillside. The hill was very steep and the growth heavy and rugged. I decided to move down the hill and away from the path in daylight, making my movement easier even in the rough terrain.

By evening I had moved down the hill and up the other side to the top of another small hill. The throb in my leg was now being joined by the pain of cut and bruised elbows and the cuts and scratches on my face and body. My flight suit was ripped and torn and my G.I. shoe, tied around my leg, was dragging along like an anchor. I realized for the first time that I was thirsty—there was no indication of hunger. Any fatigue I might have felt was overcome by the intense fear that gripped my every movement.

I plotted that movement in the darkening dusk, down through a small valley and to the top of another hill. The only comfort I had was the seemingly total absence of life in my area. The next ten hours were drag and rest, drag and rest, but I made it to the top of the next hill just as dawn broke. Crossing the wild terrain was much more secure. My thirst was now more of a problem and licking the dew from the leaves on the bushes provided very little relief. Still, I wasn’t hungry.

I survived the valley beyond and plotted my course for the night. Then I hid myself under a large, heavy growth of bushes and fell into a deep sleep. I must have been more tired than I realized because I woke up to a pitch black night. I had slept for over fifteen hours. The combination of shock, fear and pain was taking an increasing toll on my body.

Sunday, 16 July 1944

The travel through this little valley and up the next hill was a movement of misery. The sleep had let all of the sore spots become more tender and sensitive. However, I did not become entangled in as many bushes or allow myself to slam into as many trees as the previous nights. I reached the top of the next hill before dawn and found a secure spot for the next day’s rest. I could hear vehicles moving somewhere in the distance, but there was nothing visible to indicate where they were. My thirst was becoming a real problem and the inside of my mouth felt hot and swollen. I realized I had to find water soon.

Monday, 17 July 1944

Daylight revealed a terraced hillside ahead. A steep hill with flat shelves planted in corn and a drop of six or seven feet to the next shelf. There were three or four rows of corn on each ledge. I could see no route around this field without a lot of extra travel, so I decided to crawl

directly down through the terraced area. I fell asleep again and slept through the entire day. It was a disturbed sleep with many sudden awakenings in a cold sweat. It was dark when I awakened and I knew it was time to move out. Each drop to the next

terraced shelf brought excruciating pain from my injured leg. I developed a system for my travel. I would work my way between the rows of corn feet first and slowly lower my body toward the next shelf, holding on to the corn stalks until my body was fully extended. I would pull up my injured leg, let go and drop onto my good leg, then fall onto my right side.

I had been moving this way for several hours when a shot rang out. Just a single shot from a small caliber weapon. I froze in my position! I was listening for any further sounds. Suddenly I heard a heavy thump toward the top of the hill, then the rustle of a body moving through the corn stalks, another thump, more rustle, again and again, always coming closer until finally the corn directly above me rustled loudly and

I saw a German soldier complete with a World War I spiked helmet and a fixed bayonet staring down at me! As he lowered his bayonet and lunged toward me, he disappeared.

I had just experienced my first hallucination. It was so real that if I were an artist I could draw you a picture of that soldier today. I lay there for a long time, completely drenched in sweat, realizing that my mind was going to have to be controlled carefully to avoid a repeat of

this incident.

I began to move again, but more slowly and more alert to every noise. Frankly, the only noise in the area was probably me, but I was hearing all kinds of things. My imagination was on a super high. I had dropped down and crossed another eight or ten shelves when I suddenly had a strange feeling come over me as I stretched out for another drop. This strange feeling said “NO, DON’T DO IT!” I struggled and pulled myself back up into the corn. I felt around and found a small rock, reached out over the edge of the shelf and dropped it. I counted to a thousand three before it hit the bottom! I had another long talk with God. We decided it was too dangerous to move any further in the darkness. Exhausted as I was, I could not sleep.

Tuesday, 18 July 1944

The light of dawn revealed a small stream thirty or forty feet below me. Had I dropped, I might not have survived the fall onto the large boulders in the stream below. The sight of that revived my spirits. I moved quickly along the rows of corn to an area where the hill dropped steeply but smoothly to the stream, worked my way down the incline and rolled into the water. I knew I should drink sparsely in my condition, but I took all the water I could force down. This made me quite ill and the water came back up. I had to repeat this several times before I could control myself.

I was so intent on drinking water that I heard nothing else. I looked up and a man was standing there, bucket in hand, just staring at me. I used up a large part of my Italian vocabulary saying, “Pilota Americano.” He turned and shouted something in Italian. I was terrified, but too

weak to move.

Two young Italians, about my age, came running down the stream, picked me up and carried me up the hill toward a house nestled among the trees. There was a lot of talking and gesturing between the three men as I was carried along. A woman came to the door, said a few words, and I was carried into the kitchen. (I would learn later that my presence in the house was criteria for immediate execution of the entire family and burning of the house.) The lady whipped some eggs into a large glass of milk and handed it to me. This settled my stomach immediately. I had new friends!

One young man brought in a wash basin and towel, the other carried a sport shirt, trousers, socks and sandals. They helped me remove my ripped and torn flight suit and shoes.

One of them immediately bundled up my clothing, after emptying the pockets and departed. The other man helped me wash off the blood that was caked on my entire body. I dressed and became an instant 20-year-old Italian.

The lady came in and broke off a large piece of bread for me. I was glad I knew how to say “thank you” in Italian. Believe me, the milk, eggs and bread were a feast!

The young men came back with two bicycles and helped me get on one. One pushed my bike while the other rode on ahead down a path to the south. We came out of the valley onto a surfaced road with German vehicles and German soldiers going in both directions.

I was terrified riding down the road among all the Germans, but they paid no attention to me. We rolled into a small Italian town (Camaiore) and my escorts stopped the bicycles in front of a building with a large red German flag displayed and a German soldier standing guard between two doors! My heart nearly stopped. I thought my escorts were turning me over to the

Germans! And I was in civilian attire!

They left me alone right in front of the guard and went into the building. I was numb with fear! They came out of the building holding three ice cream cones. I accepted my cone and was ready to leave immediately, but my friend wanted to eat their ice cream first. There we were, right in front of the German guard, eating ice cream and talking! I had never had such a difficult time eating ice cream. My “si” and “no” were my total contribution to the conversation.

We finished our ice cream and moved on down the road and out of the town. About a half mile out of town we left the road and went up a steep path between two grape vineyards. The path wound around between several houses and just over the top of the hill it led to a small church.

My bike was pushed up to the door of the vestry behind the church. One of my escorts knocked on the door and a priest came out. The priest and my escorts talked and the priest came over to me with a big smile and hand extended. I met Padre Alfredo Allasandria. I was to learn later he was Pastor of the local church, overt defender of the local people before the Germans and covert leader of the local Partisans. His entire 5-foot 4-inch body exuded dynamic enthusiasm. Many words were said, but none in English; however there was no question I was welcome.

My escorts bade me goodbye and rode off. The Padre helped me into the vestry and then went to get a doctor. The doctor examined my ankle and with many gestures made it clear I probably had a broken bone, but without an X-ray he could do very little.

A man came to the door, said something in a tone of excitement and departed. The doctor left quickly and the Padre helped me into the church. He called out and a section of the ceiling opened up. A rope was dropped and tied around me under my arms. I was then pulled up into the attic about thirty or forty feet above the floor and the section of ceiling replaced. I could hardly see, but there were three other people in the attic.

Within twenty minutes there was a loud commotion below with voices speaking loudly in German interspersed with loud, angry comments by Padre Alfredo. There was the sound of breaking glass, more shouting, then the slamming of a door and silence. A few minutes passed, a door opened and closed below and the Padre shouted something to my companions. A candle was lit and I saw two Italian men with bloody bandages covering several wounds and another large man I was to find later was a Russian soldier. All three greeted me with smiles and handshakes. They indicated we should rest now. The candle was extinguished. They handed me a blanket and I suddenly fell into a deep sleep. The exhaustion of my travel, the pain of my injuries and the strain of constant, consuming fear had finally caught up with me. night, I awakened with a start. The candle was lit, the section of the ceiling had been removed, and a ladder was protruding through the opening. I looked at my watch and it was 2130 hours. I had slept for over nine hours. A man came up the ladder with a large basket containing bread, grapes, some meat, and four large bottles of wine. He departed without a word.

My companions offered me all the food, but I convinced them we should share equally. The Padre and a woman climbed up and joined us. The woman spoke to me in English! She told me the two wounded men were members of the Partisans (underground) and the large man a Russian soldier who had been captured by the Germans and given a choice of fighting for the Germans or of being shot. He volunteered to fight with the Germans and, as soon as he could, he escaped from them and was now an active member of the Partisans. She said the Padre was the leader of the Partisans and the Germans were suspicious. They had searched the vestry earlier that day and then had come into the church and broken statues and wine containers. That was the noise I had heard. I would be hidden in the attic until they felt it was safe to move me.

It was very comforting to be able to talk with someone in English and to know what was going on. I was told the ladder was hidden in the forest a long way from the church and was used only after our lookouts reported all German patrols back in their quarters. The lady departed, the ladder was removed, the ceiling replaced and we finished our food by candlelight.

I fell into a deep sleep shortly after eating. I awakened with a pain wracked body. My left leg was throbbing and my elbows were burning while the cuts and bruises on the rest of my body were making themselves uncomfortable and irritating. I realized the shock and fear were diminishing and no longer screening me from the pain. I had now reached the “grit the teeth and hang on” period. The shock, fear and pain had carried me along for six days and nights but now my condition was one of total physical and emotional exhaustion.

Wednesday, 19 July 1944

It was early afternoon when my eyes opened. I had slept for 16 hours. The pain was still severe, but I felt more alert and alive. The nightmare sensation was nearly gone. My attic companions tried talking to me and, with hand movements along with words, I was able to understand some of what they were saying. The Latin and Spanish I had taken in high school were a big help in recognizing some of the words. My friends had been wounded in a firefight with the Germans and were eager to get back with the Partisans. There was a basket with food and more wine, but I really didn’t have much of an appetite and a large jar of wine was much more than I could drink. My friends made short work of all that remained. The rest of the day was rest and listen to my two Italian friends talking quietly. The Russian soldier and I had nothing to say. That night was quiet and I slept soundly.

Thursday, 20 July 1944

A shout from below awakened me and I watched as the rope was lowered through the opening in the ceiling. A basket of food and wine was pulled up. More bread and grapes, several large pieces of meat, and four large bottles of wine. I ate my share, but had only a little of the wine. The rest of the day passed slowly. I was gaining an appreciation for the term “stir crazy.”

I was worried about my mother and father, wondering how they were reacting to the notice of my “missing in action” report. Concern for them remained with me constantly.

I woke up that night with a start. It was very dark but I could sense the ceiling panel was removed and the ladder was in place. The Padre came to the top of the ladder and talked to my companions. He made it clear I was moving out. My descent down the ladder was a tricky one. I was picked up at the bottom by the Russian soldier.

We left the church quickly and moved out onto the path. The Padre would run on ahead and signal back to us. We would then move on again. There were Italian men all along the path and each was carrying a weapon. We had been moving, stop and go, for quite a long time and the Russian, carrying me, never once made any sign that he was tired.

We suddenly left the path, went through a gate, and entered a house. The door was closed and a lamp was lit. It was almost midnight. There were several armed men, two older women, and Padre Alfredo in the kitchen. I was placed on a chair and my injured leg put in a bucket of hot water. The armed men and my Russian friend departed. The Padre made it clear that I would be staying in this house. He drew a picture on a piece of paper and indicated the house I was in and then showed where seven guards would be located. I knew they were doing all they could possibly do to protect me from the Germans. I was told this was the Benedetti home. I understood they would care for me.

The hot water was replaced with a bucket of cold water. The older lady gave me a large glass of wine. The Padre left and, when I finished eating, the two ladies helped me into a room just off the kitchen. They continued to alternate the cold and hot water on my leg as I fell asleep.

Friday, 21 July 1944

By 0900 I was fully awake. My leg still throbbed but the water treatments brought some relief. Two men came to the house, spoke to Mama Benedetti, and came into my room. There was a china cabinet built into the wall at one end of my room. The men removed the dishes in the two bottom shelves and then took out the shelves and wooden back and began to cut into the rock wall.

The lady who had talked to me in the church attic came by and told me what was going on. The house had only one door and all the windows had heavy bars on them. There was a winery behind my room and the men were cutting through the wall so I could escape into the

winery if the Germans came. They were fixing a barrel with a false bottom for me to hide in. She told me the father of the family had worked in the United States for many years then returned to Italy and remarried. He had died six years ago. She explained the Germans had posted notices that any family found hiding an American would be executed immediately and their home destroyed. I told her I would be glad to go live in the forest so the family would not be in such danger. She said that had been considered but Mrs. Benedetti said I needed help with my leg and should live in the house. I was deeply touched by this display of totally unselfish love.

The Germans had another rule. All Italian males 12 years or older must work for the Germans or be executed on sight. She said I would have to learn to speak Italian as soon as possible so I could get a job with the Germans. I asked her to tell the family how thankful I was for their help and of my concern about the terrible risk they were taking.

I asked the lady what the situation was in the local area. She told me the S.S. troops controlled the roads and hills around Camaiore and were vicious toward all the people. She added that the Gestapo Headquarters in Camaiore was commanded by a German General who was holding the S.S. troops down considerably. He seemed to be an old military type who did not agree with the ruthless and brutal methods of the S.S. She said without the Gestapo General the local people would have suffered many more atrocities.

She also told me the S.S. had poisoned most of the water wells and everyone had to get their drinking water from the two wells in Camaiore. However, the Benedetti family had a secret well in the forest which the Germans had not found. Her girls still went to Camaiore for water to

fool the Germans.

It was a very tense situation for all the local Italians. The Partisans were very active in this area and were harassing the Germans severely. Most of the worked for the Germans during the day and were thus very familiar with the Germans’ situation and operation. This made their activities at night more effective. For the first time, I felt like I had a chance to live through this

experience, thanks to the knowledge and kindness of these friends. I started concentrating on learning to think, speak and write in Italian.

Saturday, 22 July 1944

I was eating noodles and eggs in the morning when the Padre came in with a crutch. Boy, was I happy to see that. Then he indicated I should tour the house.

Outside and to the left of the front door was a bathroom, similar to our outhouses but with an overhead water tank. Going around the outside of the kitchen, there was a small barred window, then two immense doors leading to the winery. There were four large wooden barrels sitting on rock walls. The barrels were 10-12 feet high and about six feet in diameter. The walls they sat on were about two feet high. The space under the barrels was filled with straw. There was a small barn about a hundred feet from the house.

The men were already working in the winery when the Padre and I entered. They showed me the barrel behind my room and trap door they had built in the bottom of the barrel. They had put a hinge on the section of rock wall they had removed from behind the china cabinet and it swung smoothly open and closed. The space I would occupy in the barrel had been sealed off and they were filling the barrel with wine. I was amazed.

We went back into the house and the Padre wanted to see me use the escape route. The dishes, shelves and backing were removed from the china cabinet. I crawled through the opening into the winery, pushed up the door in the bottom of the barrel, crawled inside, reached back and swung the section of the wall back into place, reached down and scattered the straw around where I had climbed over it, an closed the trap door. Back in my room one of the girls replaced the backing, shelves, and dishes while another girl straightened out the bed. The Padre was pleased; it had taken a bit less than two minutes. The china cabinet was left open and ready from that time on.

Momma Benedetti now took command. My leg went back into the hot water and I was conscious of more pain from my travels.. The treatment was really lowering the swelling so I was happy to cooperate. Her daughter Maria came in with the grammar book and we learned several more sentences and 70-80 words. By the time we ate I had finished about 15 hours of study. It was gratifying to hear a conversation in the next room and know what they were talking about.

Sunday, 23 July 1944

The noodles, eggs and bread arrived at 0700. When I was finished, Momma Benedetti told me to do to the large tub filled with warm water, a bath towel, and a new bar of soap. There were clean clothes and underwear on a bench. This was a real morale booster! Dressed, clean and happy, I went back into the study. I ate a lunch of bread, grapes and wine and then involved myself in more study. The patience of my tutors was tremendous—they would go over and over my grammatical errors until I had them perfected.

At 1900 they brought me a bowl of noodles, several pieces of rabbit, bread, grapes and wine. I had been suspicious that I was getting more food than the family so I quietly hobbled into the kitchen and found them eating bread and grapes. That was the end of my eating alone; the rest of my meals were in the kitchen with the family. The Russian was eating with them and we shared what was available. After dinner it was more conversation in Italian with my instructors.

Monday, 24 July 1944

We had breakfast at 0830 and then more study. I was proud when I formed several sentences on my own and had the grammar correct. I suddenly realized my thoughts were in Italian! The constant exposure to Italian only had paid off in big dividends. My elation was interrupted by the sound of a diving aircraft. I hobbled outside and watched as twelve P-47s divebombed the road just a short distance from the house. I found the bombing and strafing had a totally different feeling on this end! Some of the fifties came much too close.

* * * * *

Wednesday, 26 July 1944

The Padre came in a 0500 with an Italian man he said was the interpreter for the local Gestapo Headquarters. The Padre said I had to get a job with the Germans soon. He confirmed they were shooting all men on sight who were not working for them. The Padre had a cover story for me. The Benedetti family had a cousin, Roberto Gamboni, my age; he was working for the Gestapo in Livorno as a painter and had been killed in a bomb attack on Livorno. He said I could tell them, “I was knocked off a scaffolding by the bombs and broke my leg. I was scared and shocked and when I finally got back to my home in Livorno it was totally destroyed and all my identification papers were gone. A friend helped me come to the Benedetti family here and they have been taking care of me. Now that my leg is better I want to work again.” The Italian interpreter said he thought the Germans would give me a job and new identification papers.

Thursday, 27 July 1944

I build a walking splint for my leg. I could walk on it but it did cause some pain. I studied 15-16 hours. My grammar was O.K., but I still needed work on my vocabulary. I spent more hours going over my cover story in Italian with the family. I was scared as hell! I felt like I was having a bad dream and couldn’t wake up. A lookout signaled another patrol so I went into the barrel. I was sure they could hear my heart beating, but they left. The family told me later the Germans tried to take Grandma’s 3 goats but she hit them with a stick and they left the goats. However, they took all the noodles and bread in the house.

The Padre and the Gestapo interpreter came over at midnight. They wanted to hear me tell my story. They asked me a lot of questions and seemed pleased with my story and answers. The interpreter said none of the Germans understood Italian. He had no idea what kind of work Germans would give me.

Friday, 28 July 1944

I studied hard again for 16-18 hours. It kept my mind occupied and held down my fear and tension. I needed some support for my walking splint and the family gave me a cane. It helped a lot, although walking was really painful. A German patrol came to the house and the Russian and I hid in the forest. The Germans brought containers and took most of the wine. They left Grandma’s goats.

The Padre and interpreter came back with several loaves of bread, eggs and chicken. They had me tell my story again and said it was fine. Then the Padre told me I had to go to Gestapo Headquarters tomorrow. I got very little sleep—too scared!

Saturday, 29 July 1944

This was it. THE DAY! I had never been so afraid in my whole life. My stomach was upset, my knees felt like jelly and everything seemed like a nightmare. I really didn’t want to go to Gestapo Headquarters, but I also knew it had to be done. Momma Benedetti told me her daughters would go with me and show me the best path into town. They would take buckets and get water from the approved well in Camaiore.

When I walked into the street in Camaiore, the guard and that big red German flag at Gestapo Headquarters made me want to faint. The girls went on to the town well. I walked up to the guard and he stopped me at the door. He called inside and the interpreter came out and asked me what I wanted. I told him. He spoke to the guard and took me inside. It was a relief to know the interpreter was my friend.

The interpreter spoke to a German officer sitting at a desk. The officer said something and the interpreter told me to tell my story. When I was finished, and the interpreter had repeated it in German, the officer got up and went into another room. He came back, made a phone call and left again. He came to the door and spoke to the interpreter. The interpreter said the Commandant wanted to talk to me. We went into the Commandant’s office and he smiled and held out his hand. We shook hands and he said something to the interpreter. The interpreter said the Commandant was pleased to meet a young Italian who was friendly toward the Germans. Then he wanted to see my leg! The Commandant made several comments when he saw the blue-black color and the swelling.

We went back into another room. A German enlisted man came in with a camera and he took my picture. The interpreter told me I would be the janitor for the Gestapo Headquarters. An enlisted man, who seemed to be the Sgt. Major, took me to a small room toward the back of the building and spoke to the interpreter. The interpreter said that the room would be my work area and they would bring everything that I needed. They expected me to mop floors, dust furniture and shine boots and brass. In a few minutes, another enlisted man brought in a mop, bucket, soap, broom, brushes and polish for shoes. It all seemed unreal. They had accepted me, given me a job, and were providing identification papers. I was still scared to death but went out to look around. No one paid any attention to me.

There were two pairs of boots and some belts and buckles in my room when I returned. I shined the boots and belts to an Aviation Cadet sheen and polished the buckles to a bright glow. I found it hard to think and must have appeared somewhat like a robot. I really expected to be

shot at any moment.

The Germans came in a picked up the boots, belts and buckles. They smiled and made comments of approval (Gut and Sehr Gut were easily understood). This offset tremendously my other feelings. The Executive Officer brought me an I.D. card at about mid-afternoon.

After the Germans left, I dusted all the furniture and mopped all the floors. It hurt when I mopped but I found relief in the pain. I hadn’t been shot and no one really seemed to be concerned about me. I left after everything was clean and the guard locked the door behind me.

* * * * *

The Padre and the interpreter came about midnight. They were really happy. I showed them my I.D. card and they laughed when they saw it had a black stamp. I didn’t understand until they showed me their I.D. cards with yellow and green stamps and explained the black was

permanent while the yellow and green had to be renewed frequently. I had made the first team!

The interpreter told me the Commandant had said I was the most loyal Italian he had ever known and that I reminded him of his own son. He had told the Executive Officer to keep my work light until my leg got better. The interpreter said they had called the Gestapo unit in Livorno and they had supported my story. He said this really made my position secure. There was no way to describe how this relaxed me. I was still scared, but the pressure was much less now. I went back to bed and had a really sound sleep even with the leg soaking.

Sunday, 30 July 1944

Got up early and ate some bread, grapes and cold chicken; left the house at 0645. I said, “Good morning” (in Italian) to the guard who smiled and answered me (in German). There was no one in the building except the Commandant. I said, “Good morning” to him and he said “Guten morgen” and several more things I didn’t understand. He was very friendly and showed me a picture of a man about my age that I realized must have been his son.

I pointed at his boots and indicated I would shine them. He removed the boots and handed them to me. I took them back to my room and really put on an “Aviation Cadet Spit Shine”. The fine leather in the boots made it very easy to do a good job. The rest of the Germans came in while I was shining the boots and we exchanged greetings. They brought several pairs of boots, “Sam Browne” type belts and quite a few buckles. They went about their work and didn’t pay any attention to me. I felt much more at ease.

I took the Commandant’s boots to him and he was very pleased. His phone rang while I was in his office and he turned and opened his safe and removed a large book with many charts and graphs. I had noticed the numbers he used on the combination to his safe and was surprised he was so careless. When he was finished on the phone he called the interpreter in. They talked and the interpreter told me the Commandant was pleased and surprised at the way I had cleaned the offices. He said the Commandant wanted me to come in about noon every day to do boots and brass and then I could dust and mop after they left.


Bud kept expecting the Allied Forces to advance and overrun his hideout in Camaiore. He didn’t know the 5th Army had lost half of its strength during June and July to the invasion of southern France (Anvil) and was forced to stop and regroup along the Arno River twenty miles south of him.


Wednesday, 23 August 1944

German movement increased in the area. P-47s hit just outside the town. They destroyed a large convoy. Lots of ammo hit in town. Now I feared both sides.

Partisans met at the house that night. They planned several actions to destroy German positions in the local area. All patrols at night would be hit. All fixed positions would be destroyed or booby-trapped. The Padre thought the Germans would then withdraw further north for their next stand. He was trying to ensure this area would be saved from the open military combat that would destroy the town and homes of his people. He recognized there would be severe repercussions by the Germans and everyone would suffer. The Germans were short of food and ammunition so the more we could destroy, the less they could use against us. I was surprised at the professional military skills the Italian men displayed in the areas of explosives and sabotage. It was the first time I had seen the absolute hatred the Italians had for the Germans. My fears for my safety seemed small and insignificant in the face of this effort.

Thursday, 24 August 1944

Partisans wiped out three patrols that night. One Partisan was killed and one wounded. They destroyed eleven 88’s [German 88 millimeter anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns] and several pill boxes. I went with three men to one pill box. We opened the steel door in the back and threw in a grenade. After the explosion killed the guard inside, we went inside and put an explosive on the gun breech and blew up the 88. I didn’t do much, but it felt good to be in on the action. The Russian helped me along and when we withdrew he picked me up and carried me back to the house.

Friday, 25 August 1944

There was lots of activity in town today. Germans were all over the area. It was good most of the people were out in the hills. The S.S. did burn several houses near the place where the patrols were ambushed. The interpreter came to me in late afternoon and gave me a letter signed by the Commandant. He said it was for Momma Benedetti and would keep our house safe from destruction by the S.S. I was now living in a German Safe House!

Only one German patrol of about 50 S.S. troops was out that night and it was shot up badly. The Partisans minded the road between Camaiore and Viareggio and blew up bridges on the road to Lucca. Several more pillboxes were destroyed. They had no casualties in that fight.

I watched the ambush. The Partisans developed a heavy crossfire from 4 positions and Germans could not get to cover. They were cut down from all sides. All dead. A perfect operation.

* * * * *

Monday, 28 August 1944

The interpreter asked me to go with him for something to eat in a small café about a block away. I saw a man in civilian clothes sitting at one of the small outside tables. He was cutting his food, laying down the knife and fork, then picking up the fork with his right hand and eating. Definitely NOT European style… An S.S. Officer about fifty feet ahead of us must have seen the same thing. He pulled out his Luger, walked up behind the man and shot him in the back of the head! Other S.S. marched up and carried the body away. I will never know who he

was, but I felt he was an American. It was a terribly helpless feeling to see all of this and not be able to do a thing.

* * * * *

Thursday, 31 August 1944

The S.S. had large forces moving all over the hills. One group stopped me on the way to work, but let me go after checking my I.D. card. There was more sound of explosions and gunfire to the north and east of town. I was glad our people had been moved out into other areas

and wondered what the S.S. was shooting at. I worked extra hard and looked for more work just to keep myself calm. It seemed that my tension was getting greater every day even though I realized this job with the Gestapo was probably the safest place I could find. It was a relief when I had finished mopping the offices and bade goodnight to the guard. A heavy load slipped off my shoulders as I climbed up the path toward our house.

The interpreter came to the house at 0530 and told us Partisans had destroyed another convoy on the road to Viareggio and ambushed a patrol on the road to Lucca. He said we lost a man in the convoy action and had two wounded slightly in the ambush. All German personnel

were killed. He said the Partisans now had as many or more weapons and ammunition as the S.S. units in our area. Our supply of mines and explosives was probably larger than that of the Germans. The aerial interdiction during the daytime and our Partisans’ activities at night seemed to be hurting the Germans’ supply system very badly. All of the Italians had hidden their food from the Germans so the “living off the land” program was not too successful.

The interpreter said all indications were the Germans would be forced to withdraw soon and we had to be prepared to protect our area from any “burn your bridges behind you” type of action. It would be a period when many atrocities could occur and the brutal and savage side of a defeated unit might blossom into a final, horrible show of force during the withdrawal. There was no doubt we were in for some tense and trying time in the next few weeks. There was no more rest after the interpreter left.


Field Marshal Albert Kesselring estimated 13,000 German soldiers were killed by Italian

Partisans between June and August 1944.


Friday, 1 September 1944

I was startled about 0715 by a loud explosion, followed by four or five more. They were just across the pathway toward the church. It was a real different sound and I suddenly realized it was artillery shells. The loud sound before the explosions meant these were large shells. The

Partisan guards in my area came in and said the artillery was from the south and must be from the Americans. This could mean they were finally moving into our area! This meant I might be out of here soon and on my way back to my outfit. It also meant I might be dead any minute

from the American artillery. There were several more salvos of six to eight shells, each salvo moving farther to the west. My question was WHY shell this area? No German personnel, material or military-type targets were within a half mile of the impact area. It was a weird feeling to be under attack by your own side with none of the enemy nearby.

The family was really concerned about the shelling because there was no way to defend against it and no way to know when it would start again. The Padre came in about 2030 with several men I had not met before. He explained they were from Partisan units south of us. They worked for the Germans in laying minefields and preparing bridges for demolition. They had maps of all the minefields from Camaiore to Lucca and onto the American lines. They said the Germans appeared to be preparing for a quick move from 15 kilometers south of us to a high mountain area several kilometers north of us. They felt it could happen at any time.

They said a person was designated for each mine field to move the tapes that outlined the safe route through the mines. This meant the Germans would be walking into live areas, not safe routes when they tried to pull back. These men were going to hide out in our area so the Germans wouldn’t be able to take them along as they withdrew. The Padre said they would work with our demolition teams. I went to bed amazed by the way the Italians were fighting the Germans. It was apparent to me that the Partisans had all the advantage in each conflict because

they chose the time, place and had the option of striking or calling it off at the last moment.

* * * * *

Monday, 4 September 1944

More artillery! I couldn’t imagine why! It seemed so stupid. The Commandant shared rations with me and gave me a fourth of a large chocolate bar. I took the chocolate home to share with the family. The family was excited and thrilled with the chocolate; it was a real treat.

The Padre came about 2100 with a group of men he said were our demolition teams. I was honored when each of the men came to me and wanted to shake hands. I told them it made me proud to know them. One man said he lived in Pisa and had been working for the Germans laying mine fields. He said the Americans had charged through Pisa right up to the Arno River, but had suddenly stopped. He could not understand why they had stopped and given the Germans a chance to regroup and dig in around Lucca.

He said the German morale was way down. They were short of food, fuel and ammunition of all kinds. He expected them to pull back soon to a position on the high ground north of Camaiore where our Partisans had been destroying 88 mm anti-tank/personnel positions as soon as the Germans put them in. He told me I should plan on withdrawing and the Americans were advancing because there would be no solid positions to penetrate. He said to remember both sides would be looking at me as an enemy so my move would have to be made very carefully. I had to admit these were things I had not thought about. He said the best approach was to find an American patrol and get into position where they could “capture” me. I went to sleep with all kinds of thoughts running through my head.

* * * * *

Friday, 8 September 1944

Awakened by artillery! It was unreal! I stayed busy and the day passed quickly. Nothing unusual that day and no sign of the Germans preparing for a move. It was strange to know that just a few hours ago I was throwing a grenade into a pill box and killing the man inside and here at work I was shining the shoes and brass of the man’s fellow soldiers. My life in that situation had the feeling of a nightmare with the exception that I could not wake up and put an end to it.

The Padre was at the house when I arrived. He had brought a rabbit and some bread for our dinner. He said the Partisans would be bringing a lot of guns and munitions later to be divided up and issued to various units. I protested this should not be done in our house because

of the danger to the family. He said every German unit was being monitored and any movement toward the house would be signaled to us with plenty of time to allow the people to disperse and to hide all the material. We had a fine dinner with rabbit in rich sauce over noodles. A great change from the figs and bread.

The Partisan units began to arrive about 2045 and by 2130 the kitchen was loaded with cases of grenades, land mines, rifle and machine gun ammunition and all types of explosives with detonators and timers. The table was covered with arms, ammunition and grenades. Partisan units had picked up most of the material by 2300 and I was starting to feel somewhat more relaxed when the door suddenly burst open and a German soldier staggered into the kitchen. He grabbed for the machine gun he had slung over his shoulder and was obviously sobered immediately by the sight of so many weapons on the table. I had a Luger on the table in front of me and I grabbed it and fired at him. The bullet hit him in the left shoulder and jolted him but he continued to raise his weapon. I pulled the Colt .45 out of my belt and fired at him again. The impact of the .45 slammed him back against the door jam and his weapon fell to the floor. Several of the Partisans grabbed him and he was dragged out of the house.

We extinguished all the lamps and went out into the yard to prepare for the worst. One of our sentries came into the yard and told us the soldier was alone and had been sleeping in the yard just across the path, probably drunk on wine and had appeared so suddenly and gone into our house so quickly that none of our guards could stop him. It was a good lesson for all of us— one that left everyone shook up. It was agreed our house would not be used again as a supply distribution center. We also moved our sentries into positions that provided a tighter security for the house. The body of the soldier was taken down to the road to Lucca and placed in one of the pill boxes. All of the weapons and ammunition were moved from the house to the cave and all signs of the recent activity in the house were eliminated.

The Padre assured the family there would be no more Partisan activities at our house. I had gained a tremendous respect for the Colt .45. The Luger had hit the man, but he kept coming. The .45 had hit him in about the same area and it knocked him down and took him out of the fight completely. The night’s activities had left us all keyed up. It was a restless sleep for a few hours.

* * * * *

Sunday, 10 September 1944

I arrived at the house in a near state of panic. My elation at the possibility of going back to the American side had completely blanked out my common sense about the immediate situation. My brain had turned on as I climbed the path toward the house—the Gestapo knew where I lived (After all, they had given me a letter for the family to show the S.S.) and there was no question in my mind they knew how many people lived there. My leaving would place the family in severe jeopardy. If I took the book from the safe, my departure and the theft would be connected immediately—and this would seal the fate of the family. I could not allow this to happen; the safety of the family had to be assured above anything else.

I had a sentry go to the church and tell the Padre I needed to talk to him. He didn’t arrive at the house until 0230. I got up and joined him in the kitchen. All of my concerns and fears were expressed. The Padre said this problem had been under discussion by the Partisan Staff for the past two weeks. They had developed a plan. First, the Germans had to start withdrawing from the positions before I could leave. In this situation Partisan actions would have more impact on the enemy, would create much more confusion, and would make it much more difficult for them to retaliate against us than under static conditions. He said they planned on hitting the S.S. Officers Compound and the N.C.O. Compound and destroying both totally. This would leave the major local force without leaders and should cause panic or severe confusion.

One demolition team would strike Gestapo Headquarters and completely destroy the interior with the safe as a priority target. They would ensure that all of the contents of the safe were burned.

This all sounded great but we still had the problem of my sudden disappearance. I demanded an answer that would completely protect the family from any repercussions by the Germans. I suggested I would go to work as normal; act shocked at all the destruction and then go to the Commandant with the interpreter and tell him I would like to leave and go back to my relatives in Livorno.

* * * * *

Wednesday, 13 September 1944

There were mixed feelings as I greeted the guard and entered Gestapo Headquarters. There was a lot of brass and leather waiting for me. This was good because I would be busy for several hours. I did a special job on each piece of brass and leather; sort of a “make the last best”. It was strange to be sitting there knowing what was going to happen in the next twelve hours and smiling at each of the Germans who spoke to me. When they left at the end of the day I knew my time was really getting short. I did my dusting and mopping as usual even though I knew it was a total waste of effort.

I realized there was no turning back when I finally opened the safe and removed the large book. I closed and locked the safe and carried the book back to my work area. I opened the window, pushed the book between the bars and dropped it to the ground. This was the end! No turning back now! I told the guard good night, walked around the building, picked up the book and headed up the hill for home. When I was almost at the top of the hill a man approached me and said, “Good Evening.” I returned his greeting and then noticed the other half of the design I had drawn almost concealed in the palm of his hand. I asked him to wait and took out my half. The torn edges were a perfect match. I gave him the book and hurried on to the house.

I was awakened at 0130 by the sounds of heavy gunfire and the dull crump of grenades exploding. I knew the Partisans were on the attack. I went back to sleep knowing our plans were proceeding on schedule. The Padre awakened me from a deep sleep at 0430 and said the  attacks on the S.S. and Gestapo had been completely successful. He said they had killed 97 S.S. Officers and 214 N.C.O.s. Only one Partisan was injured. He said the Gestapo Headquarters was a total loss with everything smashed and burned.

Thursday, 14 September 1944

When I got to Gestapo Headquarters I found it had indeed been destroyed. I walked around shaking my head like I couldn’t believe it. Then I went to the Commandant’s office with the interpreter. I told him I had nothing to clean up with and the Executive Officer had told me I wouldn’t need any more supplies and I wanted to know if this meant they were leaving or was I fired. He didn’t answer right away. Then he said they were leaving. I asked him if he would let me stay here with my relatives and then I would go back to Livorno after the front passed this area. There was a long terrifying silence—then he took a picture from his wallet—he looked from the picture to me; then he said I had seen enough of the horrors of war. He said I was free to go and thanked me for a job well done. He told the interpreter he was also free to go and wished us both the best of luck. He shook hands with both of us! I actually had a fleeting moment of regret it was all over. The interpreter and I told the Commandant good-bye and headed up the hill.

The Padre, the interpreter and many Partisan Leaders came to the house at 2045 with all the intelligence data of German defenses in the area and the book I had stolen. There was a hug and a kiss on each cheek from each of the Partisan leaders as they departed. The Padre brought out a bottle of Brandy and he, the interpreter, the Russian and I had a farewell toast and more hugs and kisses.

Finally, it was just the family and me left. We didn’t have anything left to talk about, but I had many thanks I owed to each of them for risking their lives on my behalf, for the hours they had spent putting hot and cold water on my leg to speed the healing, the many hours teaching me the language, and the food, clean clothes and everything else they had done to make my life so comfortable under very difficult circumstances. We finally went to bed at 0130. I realized the BIG days had arrived. I was going to be back on the right side of the front or–! My feelings were all mixed up.

Friday, 15 September 1944

At 0500, a Partisan leader who was a barber by profession and who thought I needed a haircut and shave before I rejoined my army, had my hair cut and mustache trimmed in short order—as he said, ready for inspection. What a fantastic people.

I went into the winery and got all of the intelligence data. It was in a bag similar to a paper boy’s sack. The whole family was up except Grandma. I went upstairs and bade her goodbye. I gave each of the family a final hug and kiss and we all had tears in our eyes. Then I had to go.

With my Partisan guide and party we walked south on a trail. We broke out of the woods suddenly and were facing a road. The guide said it was the road to Lucca. He said we must not walk on the road because the Germans and Americans were probably both watching it. He said we should see some American activity by late afternoon and then we could put ourselves in a position to be “captured.”

We had been moving for several hours when the sound of a vehicle on the road brought us to a halt. An American jeep came weaving up the road with two G.I.s aboard. I went out to the edge of the road and they drove up to me and stopped. I felt they had been drinking quite a bit by the way they were laughing and asking for wine. Their guns were lying on the floor and neither one reached for them at any time. I tried to tell them who I was and found it impossible to speak English. I showed them my dog tags and managed to say “American Pilot..” The G.I.s seemed to sober up and said they had better get me back to the Command Post. I signaled the others and they came out of the woods. This startled the Americans, but they helped us all squeeze into the jeep and headed south. Before I got in, I turned toward the forest and saluted. The Russian stepped out of the forest, B.A.R. in his left hand, came to attention and returned my salute. This really jolted the American soldiers. They made several remarks about how large a force I had in the woods.

They drove a mile or two and pulled into a dense copse of trees on a knoll. There were many small individual pup tents, each with a foxhole adjacent, and finally a wall of sandbags around a larger tent with a unit flag flying. A Captain came out to see what was going on. I showed him my dog tags and said “American Pilot.”

He took me in the tent and called for “intel.” A Lieutenant came from the back of the tent and the Captain told him I was an American Pilot, but wouldn’t say anything else. I was frustrated because I could only speak Italian. I saw a pencil and pad of paper on a box and picked it up. I found I could write in English! Quickly, I wrote down my name, squadron, day I was shot down and who the people with me were. The Lieutenant asked me several questions and I wrote down the answers for him. I wrote down information about the book and the other intelligence data I had in the bag. The Captain and the Lieutenant looked at the book and some of the mind field maps and decided that was data for higher headquarters.

The Lieutenant came back with an Army Colonel and Major, introduced us, and told them of my problem with speaking in English. The Major said he would get an interpreter for me. I went to a large table and took out the information I had carried back in the bag. All three Army Officers were extremely interested in the book and were very surprised when I told them I had taken it from the safe in Gestapo Headquarters. I then told them about the mine fields and tapes—that it was safe on any mine field to the east of the area marked as safe. The Colonel and an Officer they said could read German were intently studying the Commandant’s book.

Suddenly the Officer with the Colonel let out a large shout of glee. He said the book was a German Statistical Control Book that had all the data from morale to supply problems on every German unit in the Italian theater. The Colonel took the book and said he was going to show itto the General and explain what a tremendous intelligence bonanza it was.

I suddenly became concerned about the people who had come out with me. I told the Major I wanted to see them now. He took me into another room and I found them sitting at a large table with bowls of food, glasses of milk and large tin cups of steaming coffee in front of each person. I told them this was probably our last meeting, so we had one last farewell.

The Major took me over to a scale and I found my weight was down to 98 pounds. I had weighed 135 pounds when I was shot down. The Major laughed and told me the officers and N.C.O.s who were questioning my friends were more considerate and were doing their job overfood. I told him it was all right, I could eat later.

The Colonel said General Mark Clark wanted to meet me, so we went back to a room like a nice living room with several big easy chairs and a divan. I was nervous because this was the first General I had met. General Clark was then the Commander of the 5th Army in Italy. He came in and was so gracious and friendly that I was comfortable immediately. It was like sitting down to talk to my father.

The General was surprised I was so young. He questioned me about my family and my experiences in flying fighters. I told him how I had worried about my family and how they were taking notice of my being Missing In Action. He was very interested in my actions with the Partisans and asked about the weapons I had used. He was really pleased when I told him we estimated our Partisan unit had more ammunition and explosives than the enemy units in our area. He was also pleased when I told him we never left any supplies behind when we hit a convoy—we always burned or blew up what we couldn’t carry away. I told him we never left any of our dead or wounded behind. I asked if a message had been sent to my family. He told the Major to check and to send a message immediately if one was not already on the way.

General Clark also told the Colonel to have orders cut promoting me to First Lieutenant. The General asked when I had last eaten and was very apologetic when he found I had not eaten since leaving Camaiore. I told him the return to our side of the front was so great an experience I really wasn’t hungry, but he told his cook to fix me a steak dinner with all the trimmings. When the food arrived, it was a memorable meal and I really savored every bite.

They showed me to a room with a large bed and two easy chairs. I took a hot shower and when I climbed into that bed my fatigue hit me all at once. I went to sleep with all of the fear and tensions of the last 65 days slipping away from me. I thanked God for having seen me safely through this critical period of time. It was a totally relaxed and uninhibited sleep.

I was free!

The 75th Mission – Part Two (Korea)


Colonel Robert M. Ryan, Jr., USAF (Ret)

In June 1950, North Korea launched a surprise invasion of South Korea. Desperate campaigns raged up and down the peninsula known as “the dagger pointed at Japan” for the next three years in a little understood and furious “limited war.” By November 1950, the first aerial combats in history between jet fighters were fought over Korea and Lt. Russell J. Brown, USAF, and Lt. Cmdr. W. T. Amen, USN, scored firsts in shooting down other MIGs.

Captain Bud Ryan got to Japan in March 1951. Assigned to the 51st Fighter Group flying the new F-80 Shooting Star, he soon moved to Suwon, just south of Seoul, to get closer to the fighting. Bud served as a fighter pilot and flight leader in the 25th Fighter Squadron and by September was working a lot in group operations. The missions were much the same as in Italy with a lot of battlefield interdiction. On 6 September 1951, he led his flight yet one more time into North Korea looking for ground targets. He didn’t even realize it was, once again, his 75th mission…


The white star on the hood of the Jeep was clearly visible against the dark clay of the road. I squeezed the trigger and the Jeep disappeared in a cloud of dust from the bullets of my six “fifties.” It swerved sharply to the right and crashed through the railing of the bridge, plunging into the water below.

I started my pullout, it would have to be between the hills that bordered the river because of my heavy fuel load. I was pleased with the results of my attack as I started a gentle climb out of the valley. We were all angry at the enemy’s use of captured vehicles without even painting over the identifying star.

Suddenly the entire valley was filled with black bursts of anti-aircraft fire. It was a perfect pattern with no place for me to go but right through the middle. The plane was buffeted by several bursts and they sounded awfully close. I felt shrapnel tearing through the rear of the plane from one burst and, at the same time, the tail pipe temperature and oil pressure gauges fluctuated violently. I pulled up more sharply to have enough altitude for an ejection if the engine failed, but the power kept flowing out of the tail. I notified the flight I had been hit.

I felt some relief passing through 2,000 feet, knowing an ejection could not be made safely. The tailpipe temperature dropped to zero so I now knew where the hit had scored. It was impossible to tell how serious the damage was, but my wingman could see no smoke nor any holes in the aft section.

I headed out toward the Yellow Sea for a safe route home when, about ten miles from the coast, I spotted a large horsecart convoy just across the river from Chinnamp’o. Our mission had been a last light reconnaissance to stop the early movement of supplies to the front so I directed the second element to attack immediately. It was not often we caught the enemy out in large numbers this early. My numbers three and four made a beautiful attack and there were several fires and explosions in the convoy. I circled at 12,000 feet as they started their second attack.

Suddenly there was a grinding noise and my aircraft shuddered violently. The engine flamed out immediately. I established a glide toward the coast and tried an air start. The engine was frozen solid. I called the flight: “This is Lead. My engine is dead. I’m going to eject in the river. Three, climb to altitude and call JOC (Joint Operations Center) to get rescue on the way. Four, steer 138 for home plate. Two, follow me down at a distance and keep my chute in sight. Don’t try to cover too low, no need for the two of us to be in the water. Flight, switch to emergency frequency.”

The shock of being hit and having the engine quit was gone. It was unreal. Going down in enemy territory was like a nightmare, only I couldn’t wake up. I reviewed the ejection procedures again and again in my mind so there would be no error. I wanted to get a low as safety would permit before I ejected to limit the number of enemies who would see me get out. When I had bailed out of WWII, I had opened my chute about 5,000 feet and too many Germans had seen me, shot at me and searched for me.

I had hoped to glide out to sea, but the frozen engine made the glide angle very poor. I was going to have to eject a mile or two from the coast.

 cleaned up the cockpit of all loose items and rubbed off the grease marks on the back of my hand that gave mission data. A check of the clock disclosed there were only another forty minutes of daylight. With any luck at all there would be the cover of darkness to attempt floating out to sea in my dinghy. The tide was in my favor because this time of the year there was about an eighteen-foot rise and fall in this area. The outgoing tide would assist in getting to the coast. I watched the altimeter as Number Three was calling JOC.

I had great confidence in the Air Rescue troops. I had covered several helicopter pickups and heard of several heroic rescues in this very same river. I jettisoned my canopy and prepared to eject.

The Kaedong-gang River was getting close. As the altimeter moved to 2,000 feet I squeezed the ejection trigger on the right armrest. A sudden blurring of the instruments and I was clear of the aircraft. My helmet ripped off in the tremendous blast of wind and the seat was tumbling backwards. I released the seat belt and the seat tore clear. I spread my arms and legs to stop the rapid rotation. A quick glance at the shoreline of the river, about a half mile away, indicated I was getting too close to risk delaying opening the chute any longer. I pulled the rip cord out to arms length in one, quick movement. There was a brief delay followed by a solid snap as the chute opened.

I pulled up onto the seat of the chute, opened the harness across my chest, released the leg straps and unsnapped the cover of my dinghy. I was coming down almost in the exact center of the river. It was nearly two miles to the Yellow Sea. The same feeling of unreality gripped me that had been present seven years before in Northern Italy. There was an intense fear and a sense of aloneness that is beyond description. I looked up at my wingman and waved to signal I was all right. He rocked his wings indicating he had seen my signal. My life was now in the hands of God and USAF Air Rescue Service.

When my feet hit the water I threw up my arms and exhaled. I sank deep and swam off to one side to clear the chute and lines, then rose to the surface. I inflated my “Mae West” and pulled in the dinghy. There was an explosion just to the south of my position. It sounded like a mortar shell. I began to swim cautiously to the west toward the mouth of the river. It was a pleasant surprise when there was no more firing from the shore. The water was very cold but I was perspiring profusely.

The choppy waves in the river made breathing quite difficult so I inflated and boarded my dinghy. My wingman was circling about a half mile away. He pulled up, rocked his wings and headed for home. I was completely alone now.

I took my forty-five out of the shoulder holster and checked the clip. I moved five extra loaded clips to a thigh pocket where they could be easily reached, took a box of ammunition from another pocket and put it with the clips, checked my flares and placed

them together with the signaling portion up. It would soon be dark and everything would have to be done by feel. Now the waiting, rescue or…?

It had been completely dark for about an hour when I heard an aircraft approaching from the southeast. Suddenly a flare burst high in the air. The entire river was bright as day. I fired one of my flares to disclose my exact position. The light from the flares disclosed many sand bars in the river, a result of the outgoing tide. The rescue plane would not be able to land safely and if they tried there would be several of us in the river together. The flares continued to light up the river and I finally saw the SA-16 coming in low from the coastline. The pilot was obviously looking the river over with every intention of landing.

I was afraid he might not see the sand bars or he might try to land anyway. The rescue crews didn’t like to give up and sometimes not only tried but accomplished the impossible. It was not to be; the pilot obviously had seen the hazards, pulled up a little higher, rocked his wings and slowly turned back toward the sea. The flare plane dropped a few more flares and departed.

I was completely alone now. I had no doubt the attempted rescue had alerted the enemy to my exact position. I suddenly realized I was thoroughly chilled and began shaking badly. Certainly the shock, the deep fear and knowing rescue was out, at least right away, were all a part of my feelings. It was a most unpleasant situation. I found it difficult to feel all of this was real. It was like a dream. The aborted rescue had left me depressed. I felt there was no possible way to avoid capture.

I censured myself and, speaking aloud, reminded myself I was not alone…God was with me. This gave me comfort and I began to help myself. I knew I was sitting too high in the water. I corrected this by filling my dinghy with water so that only my head and shoulders were visible. Then I took out my paddles and began to row toward the sea. The further I changed my position, the better my chances to avoid the enemy. The SA-16 would be back at dawn with fight cover-and the enemy couldn’t possibly get to me then.

I estimated an hour or two had passed when I heard a boat coming from upriver. I saw the searchlight sweeping back and forth across the water. They were headed almost directly toward me! The fear intensified and it seemed hopeless. I drew my forty-five and waited as the boat continued toward me. When I was forty or fifty feet away, I flicked off the safety and fired three quick shots toward the light.

The motor stopped and the light was turned off. Several bursts of machine gun fire followed my shots but none impacted close to me. I was startled by my shots as they arced toward the light and then I remembered I had picked up two boxes of tracers from the Army.

There was the sound of talk aboard the boat, the motor started and the light came on again. I decided there was only one chance left…shooting out the light. I waited until the boat closed into about twenty or thirty feet and I fired. The third or fourth shot found its mark and the light went out with a crash. Several more bursts of machine gun fire threw bullets my way and this time one ripped into the water about six

feet to my left.


I believe this was more gripping and fearful than the shooting. What would the enemy do now? The motor had been shut off again and there was more talking aboard the boat. It sounded as though they were drifting toward me! I tried to get lower in the water. I put a loaded clip into my weapon. I figured I would at least give them a bit of action before they pulled me aboard. The Chinese or North Koreans on the boat seemed to be talking excitedly.

Suddenly the boat’s motor started and then, much to my surprise and intense relief, the sound began to move away. They were leaving! Apparently, they had no more lights aboard. The impossible had happened and I was going to have at least a little more freedom. I looked up toward the cloud-covered sky and offered my heartfelt thanks for His help.

I took the little paddles and began to row toward the sea. They were not too effective but they kept me occupied and helped alleviate the chill of the water. I would paddle vigorously for several minutes and then rest until my teeth began to chatter.

Paddling also gave me relief from the fear that was trying to dominate my mind. I checked over all my equipment again and went back to using my little oars.

Several hours passed.

Suddenly a flashlight beam struck me in the back of the head!

I spun my dinghy around and whipped my gun out of its holster. I didn’t fire and I can recall no reason why I didn’t. I sat there with my gun trained on the light and didn’t even release the safety. Somehow, I couldn’t fire. The person holding the flashlight swung the light down the side of the boat. I looking down the barrels of every type gun used in Korea!

The light finally stopped on a small boat being towed behind a larger one. I found myself looking down the barrel of a .50 caliber machine gun. I quickly holstered my own weapon.

A voice boomed out in the night, “Awright, you blankety-blank, blank, blank devils…get him out of the water; you want him to freeze?!” A sudden feeling of total relief flowed through me. Only an American fighting man talks that way. This was no enemy! This was a rescue! I was still deep in enemy territory but I was no longer alone. Friendly hands gripped my arms and pulled me aboard the boat. I met the owner of the voice, an American Lieutenant on temporary duty with the guerillas. I removed my wet clothes, wrapped up in an Army blanket and ate some Korean Kimchee that warmed me down to my toes. As we headed back out toward the sea I realized why I had not heard them approaching…they were sculling with a large paddle on the rear of the boat.

The Lieutenant had them start the motor and we turned around and searched both shorelines for the boat that had tried to pick me up. He said he had an understanding with the enemy in this area…he owned the water and the Chinese and North Koreans owned the land. He wanted to teach them a lesson for trying to capture me. I must admit it did not make me too unhappy when we finally gave up and turned back out toward the sea.

I spent the night on an island just off the coast. We were able to call the JOC by radio and confirm my safety with friendly forces. This saved my wife from the shock of an MIA message. The same SA-16 flew to the island the next day and took me back to my outfit at K-13. The SA-16 crew was elated. They had felt so bad about leaving me in the river after disclosing my position. I realized my combat tour in Korea was over and I was glad to be alive and well.

Once again, I owed my life to keeping a low profile in enemy territory and to the smashing strength of a Colt .45.


After his 75th mission in Korea, Bud Ryan was detached from combat flying and sent to FEAF to set up an Escape and Evasion school. He and his teammates toured the tactical units to pass on the lessons they had learned the hard way during their own successful escapes.