WAR LETTERS: COMBAT - 1944 Orland - Naples


Letters about combat situations make up the largest section of the project.

1944 Orland to Naples

Nebraska Public Radio received several letters that were not actually written during a war. This letter from Sergeant Albert Janousek of Omaha, Nebraska was mailed to us on April 17, 2000. Sergeant Janousek was with the 1144 Quartermaster Company, United States Airforce. When Sergeant Janousek mentions the "Mae Wests", he's referring to life vests.


April 17, 2000,  Omaha, Nebraska
(a recounting of events of 1944 Orland, Africa to Naples, Italy)
Sergeant Albert Janousek

My mishap started July 23, 1944. Twenty-three of us jumped from a B-17, and only four came out alive. It started in Orland, Africa. We went by convoy to Tunisia, Africa and boarded a B-17, which was to take us to Naples, Italy. Half of the way crossing the Mediterranean Sea, the plane caught fire. None of us had any instructions on parachute jumping. When we received the orders to jump from the pilot, all the seats had been removed, and there was a pile of Mae Wests and chutes. Everyone was milling around knowing what had to be done, but didn't want to. I took a Mae West and a chute from the pile. The emergency door in the back of the plane was stuck. So I went forward to look out the gun turret, and I could see that I would hit the tail of the plane. So I went to the rear doors and turned the knob, which wouldn't turn. Another soldier named Mulinek put his hand over mine and together we bent the hinges in the door that had been welded to the pins in the door. We bent the pins from the pressure.

Finally, we got the door open. I squeezed my head out thinking I would just look. But with all the other soldiers pushing I was sucked out into the air. Somewhere in my life someone had said to count to ten. I counted down to one and pulled the rip cord. I was so close to the plane and some of the chute dragged across the tail of the plane. I was very fortunate and came down in the Mediterranean Sea. I did everything wrong. I had not disconnected the chute and went into the water as far as the chute's shroud lines would go, holding my breath, pulled on the Mae West, which brought me to the surface covered by the chute. Still holding my breath, I kicked out from under the chute, discarding it, and also my shirt and shoes.

The sea was real rough, and swells tossed me around like a cork. If I hadn't known how to swim, I wouldn't have lasted long, but I held my breath and broke through the waves. I did this till darkness set in. There I was with just my Mae West keeping me afloat. It's a funny thing, but you are like whole with the waves about you, and you see only the sky above you.

In the distance I saw a plane looking for me. I waved but they couldn't see me. Later I saw a ship go by. After dark I saw a ship with a beam looking for me. I fell asleep and dreamed there was a bar, and it had brass pipes around it. I dreamed that I put my arms around it and rested until I woke up.

Morning finally came and with it came sea gulls sitting all around me. I would say, "You're not going to eat me." I tried to lay quietly in the water, and when a sea gull would fly over, jump and try to grab it. I'd have sucked out the blood, I was so thirsty.

I was laying in the water with my eyes matted shut when I heard a voice say "You want to be picked up?" It sounded so real. I broke open my eyes and looked up to see sailors on a ship. I had come to with [in range of] its bow, a huge American Destroyer. The sailors threw down a life preserver. I then heard a voice command, "Go down! He's hurt. Go down and get him!" Four sailors came to get one, hauling me up a step at a time. When I got aboard ship, I passed out, knowing I was safe.

Later, I was in a cabin, and the officer asked me where did I come from. I knew then, they found me in the sea, and they weren't even looking for me. I was transferred by basket to a sea-going reserve boat that took me to the shore when an ambulance was waiting to take me back to the hospital in Tunisia, Africa. Later, in the day they wrapped me in gauze from the waist up and covered my eyes with medication. For thirty days I was hospitalized. Later, I went back to my outfit.

One other soldier was picked up by a French fishing boat. The other swam to shore and ended up in my hospital. The fourth man, I don't know how he got rescued. All of the rest of the men drowned, 19 to be exact.



WWII, North Africa          1944 Orland to Naples
1950 Korea          1944 Germany
1944 Normandy          1945 England
Vietnam War,  Okinawa          1970 Vietnam