|Cassette recorded oral history interview with Neil E. Lorge. He enlisted in the Air Corps in 1943. Most of his training was as a pilot on the C-47. He left for Europe in November of 1944 and after a brief stop in England, was sent to the 441st Troop Carrier Group, 302nd Sqaudron, which was a replacement group for those lost at Operation Market Garden. Their mission was ferrying supplies and evacuating wounded troops who were flown directly to England. He was discharged on 11 January 1946. He earned three Bronze Stars in Europe, mainly because of his unit's close support of combat areas.
Neil Lorge Interview
25 February 2005
Conducted by Tom Sullivan
(T: identifies the interviewer, Tom Sullivan; N: identifies the subject, Neil Lorge. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for the word is unclear - in that order).
T: It's February 25th, 2005 and I'm Tom Sullivan at the Oshkosh Public Museum with Neil Lorge who served in World War II. And Neil is going to be telling me about his experiences in that war. Let's begin then Neil by having you tell me when and where you were born.
N: Okay, I was born in Oshkosh.
T: And the date of your birth?
N: It was right after the dinosaurs died. 6-27-22.
T: Well, that's not that long ago. Were your mother and dad also from this area?
N: Yes. Well, my dad wasn't. He really came from the, well it's hard to tell. He had a very tough youth. His parents were divorced when he was in 5th grade and they put him out into the world to fend for himself. See that happened and he fended very well. He was a wonderful man. His philosophy was very admirable considering people would be saying, "Well, I didn't have a chance."
T: What did your dad do for a living Neil?
N: Well eventually one of his uncles enslaved him on the farm in Chilton and that was another wonderful experience. And then he got into the Fond du Lac area somehow which was his mother's home territory. And then he wound up working for a company called [Termaat] and Monahan, T-E-R-M-A-A-T, where he laid out and bored the first universal boat motor built in Oshkosh. Dad was a self-taught tool and die maker.
Then he ultimately became a self-taught auto mechanic, one of the best. And worked on Chevrolets. And then he became the top salesman in the state of Wisconsin for the Chevrolet. Now those weren't Gibson then. That was somebody else. Other companies. Then you had to teach people how to drive. Then he went in business for himself as a used car dealer with very admirable feelings towards his clients, like giving them a new car warrantee on their used cars. So he was very well thought of and trusted and did very good business.
T: Did your mother work as well?
T: She didn't have to.
N: She was second generation from Germany. Her parents came from Germany. And she was a very good woman. Her dad, Radtke was her name, was an entrepreneur. He had a little woodworking place here in Oshkosh. He distributed sewing machines and he had a flock of kids. So he eventually opened a store to stick his daughters in em on Oregon Street. I think it was Oaks' was in there at one time. Not by Bernsteins but across the street. A candy company was there and he just stuck these daughters over there so they would be out of his hair. They eventually gave the store away then.
T: Do you have brothers and sisters?
N: I have one sister.
T: Is she still living?
N: Very much so. Vivian Marks. She's going to be ninety this year. But she likes to shop and everything. Mind is good.
T: Tell me about your childhood Neil. Where did you live? Where did you go to school, in grade school, and what did you do for fun after school was out?
N: Okay. Well first when I was a little child, we lived on what was then Grand Street. That is now West Bent. And the circus used to set up across the street from us. The parade would come down Jackson and Bent. And my dad loved circuses because he'd never got a chance to see many as a kid. So yes, that was typical boy stuff up until I was ten. You know, ride bicycle and play with the neighbor kids. I went to Merrill School.
Then we moved to the country. My dad bought a place on Doemel's Point, which I now think is Hickory Lane. One of the first places out there. He was always very adventurous. That of course was quite a place for a young guy ten to eighteen to live. On Lake Winnebago, marsh behind us. In fact it was marsh all the way up to Bowen Street. Well, Murdock was a gravel road.
T: The fishing was pretty good then on Lake Winnebago as I remember.
N: Oh yes. We used to go and shoot carp with a twenty-two where now all these million dollar homes are. That was all water. You could float a skiff in there. And we'd go fishing for bullheads at night. And fishing off the dock and catching walleyes, and garfish and everything else.
And puddling around in boats. My dad always liked motors. So we always had a motorboat. It wasn't these fancy things now but it was a sixteen footer with a twenty-five horsepower motor. It had a deck even. So that was quite a life for a youth.
T: Then when you finished grade school I assume that you entered Oshkosh High School.
N: Well my father, with his fifth grade education, said, "I don't think I want you to go to country school. I'm not snobbish about it but I want you to go to campus school." He said, "I think that must be a superior program because they are really training teachers there." And bless his heart because it was a place to go to school.
T: That's what I've heard about the Training School.
N: They're starting it now in some of the Oshkosh schools. We were subjected to three different languages: French, German and Latin. Twelve weeks of each. They divided the classes, which were like thirty kids into fifteen each. Because if they felt that they could do some experimentation and that you could handle it without losing track of what was goin on, you got some pretty advanced stuff. By the time I got to high school, because we stayed in campus school through ninth grade, then we went to… I had already had the algebra that they were going to teach me. So that was a real break. I never regretted that.
T: What year did you start Oshkosh High School? Can you remember that?
N: Well I went there three years and I graduated in '40 so it would have been '37.
T: When you were growing up we had a Depression and Oshkosh was pretty severely affected as I understand it. Was your family affected by the Depression?
N: No, because he was such a successful car salesman that we actually had a lot of money. When he built that new house on Grand Street when I was a baby he paid cash for it, which was very unusual then. And he paid cash for the one out at the lake. But then it affected us because he had his money in the bank when he had his own business. And the banks closed.
T: Right. A lot people who had money in the bank lost it.
N: To give him some money. I was just a kid but I used to go out and cut lawns and stuff like that. So I'd have my own money.
T: You probably had pals where their families were more severely affected by the Depression. Where the fathers were actually out of work or were…
N: The funny part of it is no. One of my neighborhood kids, the dad was a banker. And despite the fact they went broke, the bankers still had things to do. And another one, his dad was a postman. And their jobs were always quite secure. I can't remember any one of my chums, and of course I didn't have as many chums as a lot of kids do because I lived in the country. That was the country. It still is Town of Oshkosh. No, I didn't witness that close up. The only thing that impressed me is as I got closer and closer to graduation time was Hitler's rampaging about Europe and this country wanting to sweep it under the rug.
T: I was going to ask you about that Neil, because in the late thirties there was war in Europe and there was war in the Far East with the Japanese. And I was wondering if you and your gang gave it any thought. You and you family for instance, did you think that we would ever be involved in that war?
N: I don't think that many people did but I did. And when people talked about it as if there were, I couldn't understand it. I was 17, 18, 19 and I thought I'm a kid and I'm not supposed to know this stuff. But I was quite sure that we were going to become involved or that we should become involved. Well, there were a lot of Germans here and people never want to go to war. They don't want to be in this war, they didn't want to be in the Civil War, they didn't want to be in the Revolutionary War. But sometimes it's necessary and thank heaven there comes along at that time an Abraham Lincoln, or a George Washington or and FDR and say, "I'm going to get us in this war." He had to work real hard to get us into World War II.
And of course when Pearl Harbor hit, "Well we'll beat them little yellow devils." I said, "What are they talking about? Are people that stupid?" This is the most professional army in the world. The biggest, strongest, the most experienced. We're gonna beat them? We got nothing. We got a National Guard with old rifles. My buddies are in it and they don't know anything either.
T: We were pretty weak at first.
N: Oh, weak? They sent those to Buna and [Goona] in New Guinea with the wrong uniforms. And sent them to the wrong coast first. They thought they were going to Europe. Then they go in them hot uniforms and poor training. And hold the line on the most professional army in the world. We should be so proud of those guys like Inky Jungwirth. He went through the whole thing.
T: Yes, that's true. Well, now you got out of high school in 1940, is that correct?
T: What did you do between then and the time of Pearl Harbor?
N: Well, I've always been a little impulsive and so, I was enamored of a very pretty little redheaded gal at that time. And she was working at the dime store lunch counter and her boss was Dorothy Wittman. So as a result, Betty and Dorothy always knew each other. So when Pearl Harbor hit we were kind of toying with the idea of, I was working for my dad then in the car business. I was repairing cars and selling. I thought that this is going to be a very long war, which we may not win. So I [pounced] myself right down to the lunch counter and I said, "Betty, we'd better make up our minds. Do we really want to get married or not? And if so we should get married."
We were married January 1st. And I was out of a job. My dad said, "I don't think I can stay in business." He was a very honest man. He said, "I think I'm going to be tempted to do things, as many people are, that are not legal." So instead he reverted to his original skill and went to the Axle and of course they just said, "Come! Please!" He was a talented tool and die maker so they put him in the tool…
Well eventually I got a job there. I absolutely hated the factory work and I was on the night shift. And ten months after I was married I had my first son. Thomas came along. Well…
T: So that was late in 1941 when your first child was born?
N: '42. Because the Japanese in '41, and '42. But my wife could see that I was antsy. It just didn't seem like, although there were a lot of people, a lot of guys my age that were, it seemed like guys my age that were throwing themselves into the fray. They felt like it was our job.
T: They were eager to go.
N: We gotta do this. And see, I was working for a defense plant. I got a job at the Axle. I had a wife, I had a child. There was no reason that I had to go. But she knew that did not set good with me. So one day she said, "Neil, they've opened up cadets." And she knew I wanted to fly an airplane so badly.
T: Had you ever been up in a plane?
N: Once. My dad took me up in a plane once. And old [Lyoming]. He was very adventurous like that. I think we had one of the first refrigerators that existed. He liked knew things. The first electric range of a certain thing. He liked that stuff because his mind was like an engineer's mind although he'd only had a fifth grade education. He was very handy. He could, after he retired he built a house by himself every year and sell it. It was capital gains instead of wages. And he built it by himself. He was a tremendously strong man, weighed about 250 and I don't think I've ever seen anybody stronger than him. Any guy that lifts up, ever seen those four-sided cement blocks? Well, in his sixties he was building a chimney in his garage and he would be talking to you and he'd pick one of those up and, my God, it took two men to!…
So anyway I went down and applied. There were four of us that went down: Thurman Fox, Marv Reinhart, Jim Martin and myself. Now I didn't, Thurman Fox I knew. Seemed that he went to campus school. And Jim Martin I remember was at the Oshkosh University. He was a 440 trackman. And Marv Reinhart I didn't hardly know. Marv Reinhart and Jim Martin, or, Marv Reinhart and I made it through. They washed out almost 90% of the guys then because we were replacements. And there was some indication that things were turning around in '43. But yet, there was D-Day to contend with and they knew they'd lose a lot.
T: Well, tell me Neil about the process of turning you into from a young fellow that had been up in an airplane once into a guy that could handle multi-engine aircraft. What was the progression of events that got you to that point?
T: What was the first step in your training?
N: Well the first step of course, they've got to make a soldier out of a civilian. So "Cadets" can do that to you and you don't have any complaints. Snap you in a brace and make you run five miles. And make you stay up all night in the sand. Took me down to Biloxi, Mississippi. There must have been ten thousand cadets, or optional, guys who wanted to be cadets. And I remember one time doing KP long enough, I never realized that your fingernails absorbed moisture. But I washed pots one whole night and in the morning my fingernails were loose. It gagged me.
T: Pots and pans were one of the very neat jobs that you get on KP.
N: I mostly remember overpeeling potatoes one time. The sergeant was sure upset with me. I left em that thing too long and it was like rough tarpaper, you know?
So anyway that was the start. And they marched you and if you did something wrong they gigged you and you walked tours and they started to toughen you in.
T: Did you have any classroom work then that anything to do with flying? Was that still off in the distance?
N: Not yet. Then we had to get serious about should we be a pilot at all. And they had to find out so they sent us to Nashville, Tennessee to separate us. That was one of my first adventures with almost coming home.
Then we were assigned to college training detachments like they had here. So as the trains would stop and they'd peel off some cars, and "Where are they going? Where are they going?" So they peeled off the car right in front of us and I said, "Where are those guys going?" Or words to that effect. They said, "I don't know. Someplace I never heard of. It's way up north. Oshkosh, Wisconsin." "Wow! What are you talkin about?" And I coulda sat anyplace I wanted to. So there they went and Steve Wittman was in charge. And I went to Center College in Danville, Kentucky. That's where they held the vice-presidential debates in the first election of Bush.
Very old style colonial looking place. Just a beautiful looking place. And there they flew you ten hours in a Cub. (The Piper Cub aircraft). But they mostly gave you college courses like trigonometry and physics, weather. The things that you would need, the practical things. You had to be able to read an E6P computer and know what… Well I had had no trigonometry, I had had no physics and I was in trouble right away. So I remember a professor [Biles]. I went to him and I said, "You know," and they were pushing you through in a hurry.
T: Yes, that's right.
N: So he would write on the board and here's the eraser. He would erase it as he wrote. Because you were supposed to catch it because you were really supposed to not be married, not have children, have some college, and I had none of this. And I took business subjects when I was in high school. So I thought, oh! "Well", he said, "You come back here every night after supper and before lights out and I will help you." That was very kind.
T: Yes, there were very few that would probably undertake that task.
N: And what aggravated the problem was here I'd just got into cadets and just got someplace, just got to Center College and they moved me ahead a flight. So all of this curriculum I missed. And, then they moved me ahead another flight. I said, I complained, I said, "I don't have much of this stuff and it's very hard for me to learn." I was always an A student but I worked hard. I discovered after the war that I'm dyslexic but I didn't know that then. So it was very hard for me. I got good grades but I would be up to two in the morning sometimes when I was in high school working. I said, "Why are you moving me ahead?" They said, "We move people ahead on IQ." I said, "You mean to tell me that I have a good IQ?" They said, "You have a very unusual IQ." I said, "That didn't help me this time." Well I got through and wound up before, and then we had another curriculum time at Maxwell Field, which was like the West Point. But I wound up with something like a 95 or 96% average in my subjects.
T: Did you actually fly the Piper Cub?
N: Ten hours. They took us up, I still have my daybook, or my flight book. Because I'm not a quick learner.
T: Was flying something that you took to easily?
N: No. And if you read my, you'd laugh because here is the first entrance. You never flew solo there, just ten hours. But they want to find out, should they even make you a pilot at all. Let's see, "Student seems to be disoriented," or something like that. "Gets lost in the traffic pattern." "Missed three good fields in simulated forced landing and picked a bad one." Now these are my first days. Not so good when they finally let me land. Well that went on for about eight hours, that I was being very stupid and uncontrolled. I had good coordination though. That saved me. That's just an instinctive coordination. I can feel it before I even did it. And the last two, "Student did 'S' turns to perfection, blah, blah blah." "Excellent pilot material," on the second one. Or the check ride was the same way. Saved!
T: So you went to where then, Maxwell Field?
N: No, no. Then you went to, when the hell did I go to Maxwell Field? Was it in between? No that was later on. Then they sent you to primary flying where you flew Stearmans. Well, some of our guys flew other planes but I flew Stearmans down in…
T: Now that was a biplane wasn't it, with a little hotter engine.
N: 225 horse. You still see em here. In fact they're aerobatic…
T: Stunt flying and things like that.
N: Yeah, they do aerobatics in em. And enhanced versions of the same thing. So that was down in Douglas, Georgia which is really the tail end of the world. Because they're right in the middle of a turpentine swamp. And that field, they were using private flying schools. And you probably don't remember it but there was a cartoon once called "Smilin Jack."
T: Sure, I remember that.
N: Well the guy that owned that field was the model for Smilin Jack. And I didn't know this then but one of the guys I wound up playing Sheepshead with was the flight surgeon there. Louis, Dr. Louis Graber. He told me one time, we got together and he said, "By gosh, you were down there when I was down there." He was just a young guy just getting started.
So there, at every place they washed out a lot of people and usually killed some.
T: I've heard that there were casualties in this process of training.
N: Every place I went except there. And one guy did spin out in a flat spin while he was soloing and crashed. And all he did was knock his tooth out.
Another guy went down in the Okefenokee Swamp and they said, "If you go down there, we won't come and get you because we don't know how to come and get you." Well, sometime later these "Geeches" or whatever they called em brought him out by dugouts and things.
Some of those people were so ignorant, they'd pull their props over with a rope. And once a prop starts it disappears. You can't see it. They'd walk into the prop and get all chopped to pieces. So there were civilians that were killed there. And I discovered that just like when I was a kid, I had motion sickness. Which I had to hide. And so when I went up to do snap rolls and slow rolls and Immelmans and Cuban Eights, those damn snap rolls, and I did em terribly. Because they are so fast. Have you flown?
T: I've flown but not as a pilot.
N: Because it's a stalled horizontal spin is what it is. You bring the nose up and stall, pop the [ ] and it goes, yeeow! And if you don't come out then you got to in that process reverse everything or else you go ccchh, well ccchh. I had to conceal the fact that I was ill. I could not throw up. I could not do anything. It was an open cockpit plane. I absolutely had to conceal that because they would wash you out in a second.
But in the meanwhile I was getting better and better coordinated. That's a very tough plane to fly because we were on grass fields and the wing is only about that far? You drag a wing when you are landing, a little bit of cross wind and you didn't correct enough, you know, or something. And they give you a check ride but the check ride meant you were out. So they were washing out as near as I could tell, about 90% of the group by the time we got done.
And of course they'd tell you. They'd line you up and of course you had to go through all this crap being a cadet. They said, for some reason you'd have to kow-tow to the head guy. It was typical cadet stuff. There was enough of the B.S… And of course I was not real fond of that but I did it. I wasn't caught up with it too much. It seemed that wherever I would go, I would skip the plebe situation.
There was another place, I can't remember. We lived at a place called Gruesome Gables. Now where the hell was that. I got a blank in my head. Because from there after we left primary flying, then we went into basic flying where we flew Vultee "Vibrators." That was a 450 horsepower low-winged plane. And a terrible plane.
T: I've heard that it was a difficult plane to master.
N: And it was especially exciting after we found out that a couple of cadets were killed because the tail fell off in a spin. So then they banned spinning, "No more spins." They were losing the tail.
And we were doing more flying on our own and I can remember one time - it was a deep-bellied plane - I remember there was nothing down below. There was no floor. There was the rudder pedals and stuff but there was nothin down there. So you'd strap your map on your knee. Well, wouldn't you know, I'm flying along and I lose the damn map in the bottom of the airplane. And I still wasn't that good at orienting myself on cross-countries. Well, now how am I gonna get that. So I thought the only thing I can do is to roll it over on it's back and then pop the stick which would go along like this: it would jerk, jerk, jerk until it came along and I would grab it when it goes by. And I did. I thought, "I hope my instructor or somebody didn't see me up on my back going "wung, wung wung."
So anyway then I almost made an egregious error. Here was our runway and we flew at night now, alone. And here was a munitions plant. Lights down the side of the munition plant; looked just like a runway. So I was getting pretty confident and kind of fat, dumb and happy, you know. And I'm coming around on my approach leg. And that was a two-position prop I think. You've heard em out here where they throw it into low pitch, "baaaaaghh," like that. So I'm lining up on these lights but I was lining up on the munitions plant. Coming in, coming in coming in, turned a little out. Whoa! That's the munitions plant! Threw it into low pitch, I bet everybody left that factory in a hurry. "Some damn dumb…" And it wasn't that far away. A stupid place to have an airport. That was Macon, Georgia I think.
And my wife in primary time was deciding to follow me. And that was a mistake! She lived in the crappiest places and…
T: With a child too.
N: With a child. And the ones that were single, they had kind of a gay thing. And we were running out of money so she was starving. She'd buy a blue plate special for the little boy and if he ate it, she didn't eat that day at all. Because there was no facilities for cooking. No heat, cold. So finally, I think it was in Douglas that the two mothers prevailed on her to come home. "You've got to come home. You can't do this." And Douglas is really a little hind end of a town, you know.
So she had to go out to the, it wasn't a railroad station, it was a shack. But that was where the train, if it ever stopped, would stop. But it was way out beyond the edge of the town in a swamp. So at night she had to go out there to catch the Dixie Flyer or Dixie Flagger that comes up from Florida to Chicago. And old Negro man was there and he said, "Now here's a lantern. I'm not going to stay here. When you see the light coming up the track, you go out on the track and you wave the lantern."
She's in this dark station with rats and this little kid and a lantern. I'm going to write some day, not about cadets but about the cadet wife and what she went through, my Betty. So she gets on the train - it stopped - and all she had was an orange for herself and Tommy all the way from Georgia to… The mothers were going to meet her in Chicago. So she had to take the little boy to the thing to change his pants or something. She came back, somebody stole her orange. So she can starve!
T: How bad can it get?
N: Oh it got bad. And here I'm trying to concentrate on this extremely competitive situation. That was one time in my life that all of a sudden one day everything just went "plock!" And my eyes started to go like this - conjunctivitis. They hauled me away. Well, in a few days I was okay but I just couldn't, the pressures, and I lived great, you know. The cadet lived beautifully. Nice quarters, good food and comfortable. And here she was living like a peasant. So anyway that was it and I managed to get through that. Through primary flying.
Then I had to go to basic flying and try avoid killing myself.
T: What kind of aircraft were you flying there, Neil?
N: It was a BT-13. And that was a low-wing 450 horsepower. And there you had to do aerobatics and we did aerobatics after you had about, 25-30 hours in the air. You were doin snap rolls and slow rolls and Immelmans and Cubans. And I liked the…
T: Were you still getting a little sick when you did some of those maneuvers? Or did that disappear?
N: No, I still got motion sickness if I was not careful. I used to like to do nice gentle ones like you pick a point on the horizon and you come like this, do half roll, come down like that. You make an eight. That's your point on the horizon. Well I could do those, like dancing. It was so beautiful, you know. I think they're called Cuban eights. But I was able to do them better so I didn't get so ill.
And of course the rigorous physical training kept on. That's why I think today I'm in such good shape. I never stopped. In Maxwell Field I think we used to do an hour's calisthenics and run five miles. Every day.
T: Well I suppose that would be important to be in good physical condition.
N: And they pulled out all our wisdom teeth because when you get up 30,000 feet, you know, if you were going to be a bomber pilot, the gas was just a little pocket here would put you in shock.
T: I never thought of that.
N: And I also volunteered at one time to go into a decompression chamber without oxygen so the other people could see what happened to you when you suffered oxygen lack. That was a mistake because you think you're fine. You write your name. Well your name looks just like… The problem was I had gas and nobody noticed it until some guy looked and he says, "Oh my God! Get him down!" My stomach was out here like I was nine months pregnant. And as they started to take me down and I came to a little bit, oh, the pain! On the way down I got the bends. So they take me up, they take me down. They take me up, they take me down. Not really up and down but pressure-wise.
T: That was a pretty good demonstration then for the…
N: For everybody. It was stupid of me to volunteer but I was a big volunteer. So anyway got, as we left basic flying, this was basic now. There is primary, then basic. I remember sitting on the road and waiting. We were always waiting. You know in the Army you understand that.
T: Sure. Hurry up and wait.
N: You sit there in the sand, you know at night. Waitin for the trucks. All of a sudden, and the planes used to line up you know, ready to take off when they were doing their night flying? Some guy came down there and landed on a whole bunch of em. You never saw such big explosions in your life. He must have killed the whole schmear. Probably all guys soloing at night. He wiped out, but it hadda be a big one because boy, I tell you the flames and the explosions were going up. And I guess that's what happened. He landed on a row of planes. He missed the runway and hit the planes that were waiting to take off. So they knew there were - and there were guys that just plain got killed taking off, landing.
Then we went to advanced flying. Now they were sorting you out. Whether you were going to be a pursuit plane, bomber pilot or whatever. So you had to go to twin engine.
So that was another bad plane, the AT10. Terrible plane. Lost control of the rudder the instant you landed. And you aren't that agile you know, if you brakes a little bit, you can't just slam on the brakes. And you can't do it with the engines but that rudder had no control as soon as you hit the ground. It just was gone. Usually you got a little rudder control so you slow down and then you can play with it.
And that was in Valdosta, Georgia. So we flew a lot over piney woods and stuff like that. I remember there was one auxiliary field we were flying at night with instructors. But this field was little. Well, one guy and his instructor just missed it and they went smashing into the trees. And here they are in a swamp so nobody can get at em. And the cadet's throat was cut and he was bleeding to death. And he bled to death in front of his instructor. So the guy practically cracked up and they had to haul him away, the instructor, once they got to him. But here they are in water, you know, in swamp. They just can't go out there and get to them even though they're right off the field.
And that was where I had my first 'single engine'. Where an engine cuts out. Fortunately I was under the hood and I had an instructor. We took off and the gear went up, "jing-jing-jing," and the engine cut out. Now we're in this vulnerable situation.
T: Just barely got off the ground.
N: That's the worst position a plane is in because you haven't got real flight speed yet.
T: When you said you were under the hood you mean you were doing an exercise in navigation and …
N: To get your instrument pilot training. Because you became a qualified instrument pilot before you were through. And this guy really thought fast. There was a little auxiliary field. He said, "I don't know if we can make it." Because these pines stand up, you've been in the south, they're 80-100 feet tall and they're right around the edge of this little field. So he said, "I'm pointing it towards there now. I'll take over," he says, "I got it." And he headed for the field and of course we weren't maintaining altitude. We were losing, losing. He said, "Don't put the gear down until we clear the last trees. Then flip it down." And as we're coming I could hear the pines brushing the bottom of the plane. Last tree down went "jing-jing-jing-boom-bing." We landed. We got to the end of the runway, just a little band and looking like field, you know and I thought, "What the hell, the whole plane's shaking." Well I tell you this guy did such a marvelous job but his nerves just went right to pot. And his feet were on the rudder pedals just like this. (Neil is describing how the pilot's feet were shaking on the rudder pedals). But I don't blame him a bit. He saved my life. I said, "Thanks, you just saved my life, yours too."
So that was my first 'single engine'. And there we lost people and it was a terrible plane but we learned how to handle twin engines and coordinate, and stuff like that.
T: After you got done with the AT10, and you were presumably proficient in that, what happened then? What was the next step?
N: Somewhere along in there, maybe it was between basic and that but I can't remember. But we had to go to Maxwell Field where we were cadets, we marched with the white gloves and the sabers. And that was all curriculum and exercise and getting ourselves in shape. So after, and I can't fit that in there now. I'd have to really think about that.
T: At what point did they determine that you were going to be flying multi-engine aircraft rather than single engine?
N: I think at the end of basic flying. Because that's when they put you into twin engine or single engine. Then they went into a little AT10's, no, AT6's. "Texans." They were gonna be pursuit guys. Because that Texan is a good plane. In fact they used it in the Battle of Britain. The English used it. So anyway it was determined now, you were either gonna be bomber or transport or something. I knew that.
T: How did you feel about being multi-engine? There were probably guys that wanted to fly the fighter aircraft. That was something they were zeroing in on. Well now all of a sudden somebody says, "Well no, you're not going to do that. You're going to fly multi-engine."
N: Well, there were still A26's. And P38's. But A26's were attack bombers, er, A20's. And they'd go in and do skip bombing and things like that. That was what I really hoped to get into because it was really a hot plane. And you're not very bright when you're 21 years old. I almost did not graduate from cadets. I went through the whole thing, completed everything, I'm ready to graduate on my birthday from Valdosta, Georgia - Moody Field. One more physical, walkin around naked, you know. And some chicken, Captain, military guy who probably, I don't know, or medical guy, he looks and I had an appendectomy when I was eighteen. He says, "I see you have…" I says, "It was an appendectomy Sir." "What year did you have that?" I said, "That was in," I wasn't very good with dates. I said, "1939 or 40." Very slyly he asked - because they were always giving you what they called an ARMA, a mental examination. You were always getting mental examinations to see if you could really stand up. And so he said, "Don't you…?" I said, "Yeah, it was the year I graduated from high school." He said, "When was that?" I said, "Well that was in '39 or '40." "Mister," he says, "You come back tomorrow and if you can't tell me when you graduated from high school, you aren't gonna fly airplanes!" Holy cats! I go through this whole schmear and I screw it up! Well, my wife was at a different post so I called her. I had to go AWOL and call her. You know how wives are, they'll start preaching, you know. Even young ones. I said, "Betty, now don't, just tell me because I'm AWOL. I've got to answer this. Everything I've worked for and we've suffered for is gone. When did I graduate?" "Neil Lorge, you don't know?" I said, "Don't - tell me." She says, "Oh, 1940." "Fine, goodbye." Sneaked back in.
Well boy, I went there the next day and said, "I graduated in 1940." "Alright Mister." I thought, "You chickenshit devil! You would take all that time over one little picky thing." But they also gave you tests to test your, are you getting to the end of the tape?
(The first tape ends here).
N: So they gave you tests which were coordination tests. They were horrible. They were just intended to make you crack up. A record would be going around with a little dot on it. A special thing. A little magnetic dot, probably about the size of your little finger. And it wasn't going around in a neat row. It went around in a concentric pattern, a non-concentric pattern. And you were given a jointed wand, not a nice firm wand, but a wand that was jointed in two or three places…
T: Sort of floppy.
N: Yeah, and you had to keep that on that thing. And a man would be saying, "If you can't do that, how can you fly an airplane?" Your machine is not clicking." It would go, click, click, click, click when you were on. "I don't hear many clicks. Remember these numbers, 32, 89, 44, 66."
Well, then they'd have some where you lined up lights. And I remember this one guy. One day we were in the midst of these things and I just relaxed. I thought, "I'll do it again. This has gotta be…" O figured it out. They're trying to knock me down. This one guy grabs the machine, "You dirty son of a bitch!" Grabs the machine… We never saw him anymore. He was washed out.
Then I discovered something there. You know you've seen these pictures where you got a little box you look into and you have to line up two sticks?
T: Yes, yes.
N: And so they'd get em mixed up and they'd say, "Okay, line em up. But let's do it again." I don't know how many times they did that, that I had perfect distance judgment. I could line those two right on the dot. Then I found out that I had wide vision. I found out how healthy I was. My eyes were perfect and they still are. I still have 20/20 vision.
So I learned a lot of stuff there. I learned what they were trying to do. I was a person who would think. I didn't react. I acted. They used to try to knock you down.
T: When did you begin to fly the type of aircraft that you mentioned.
N: Okay, now we're going, now we finally got it. You got your silver wings. And I'm absolutely and utterly broke. I had a dime in my pocket and Betty and I are in Valdosta, Georgia and we have to go to another place in Georgia to get to go home for leave. We had to buy our uniforms whatever little money I had. I think one of the first paychecks I got, I owed the government money, because you had to pay for your own PT uniforms. So my dad and mother were there. They came down and we had to borrow $6.00 or something to get from hither to yon so we could go home on the train. And I was broke. So here I am, nice shiny wings and I'm broke; had a wife and child…
T: There were probably a lot of guys in the same situation.
N: So anyway, at least the guys in the National Guard got paid their dollar a day or whatever it was. I think I got $90.00 a month. I think as a cadet it was very measly. That's why Betty was starving. We had, I'd saved some money when I was working at the Axle. Well that was gone. I'd sold the car, that was gone.
T: So you got a little leave then before you had to go overseas.
N: And so then they assigned me someplace, I forgot where it was. And I wound up instructing in the carbine while they had to place me. It was the only weapon that I had encountered that I couldn't shoot because I was very good with a shotgun. Some guy from Tennessee and I, we'd do skeet. And either one or the other would win. And a lot of these guys, they couldn't even hit the sky, you know. "How the hell do you guys hit that?" "Well, we hunt." He was from Tennessee or someplace.
"45" (Colt 45 cal. Semi-automatic pistol), I think I had a ninety-some percent average. I could shoot that and that's a horrible thing to shoot. Submachine gun, boy I could have been Al Capone's right hand man. Carbine, I couldn't hit a bull in the rear end with a paddle with that thing. I just could not shoot it. It was just too short or something. So I wind up instructing in it. Mostly taking it down and putting it together.
Well then I finally go assigned to Troop Carrier and I was off to Missouri.
T: And what were you gonna fly then?
N: C47's. You go right from small planes to this great big 100-foot wingspan. When you get in the cockpit the first time, you think you're on the third story or something because it sits like this.
T: Now is the ?C47 synonymous with the DC3?
N: Yeah, it's the military version of the DC3. And it's got a 99-foot wingspan and it sits like this so you're way up in the air. So off we go, Betty and I to Malden, Missouri. It's along the river. Malden, and Dexter, and Cape Girardeau and all south of, no north of St. Louis. So these are little burgs, you know. They are smaller that Omro. And as we're riding in of course the highway starts to disappear. And of course at times I had to cheat because I couldn't get enough of those gas coupons. I was burning kerosene in my car. So we'd come to a hill and she'd go, "nickacknickanick." So finally what was supposed to be the highway was more like two ruts. You're now into Missouri, you know. And I remember sitting and waiting for a train and here was a little gal, old lady, sitting on the porch rocking. And comes a commercial on the radio, "Crow like a rooster, cackle like a hen. Rooster Snuff is just the stuff for womenfolk and men." I'll never forget that one.
So we lived in Dexter. We found a place in Dexter which is about ten, twenty miles or something from Malden where the airfield was. And shared it with another pilot and his wife, his young, pregnant wife. And he was a guy that had designed, he was with General Motors before. He had designed the dashboard and everything of the '41 Buick. Dick [Baron] was his name. And of course his wife ran to Betty because Betty knew, now by this time Betty was pregnant again. Very pregnant. And of course now Tommy's running around.
So there we lost lots of people. There were lots of people died. I remember one time they had four crews, now that would have been sixteen people taking turns, flying at night. And there were only two planes out, mine and this guy. And I landed and taxied up and they screwed up the records and put that the other guy had landed, that I was still out. Well, as this guy came on his approach he hit a church steeple and crashed. Well we jumped in Jeeps and flew out there to see if we could help. My poor wife comes in the meantime and they tell her, "I'm sorry. He just had an accident. His plane crashed." Well I was out there. That was one of the most unusual sights I've ever seen. The crew chief, one of the crew chiefs had hauled everyone out of that plane and laid them all in a row. They were all dead. And then he died, laid down and died. And here we get out there and they're all dead. So I get back and here's poor Betty out of her mind.
The other adventure I had there, my second 'single engine'. We did a simulated, because we towed these big CG4A gliders, you know. And we had to ride in one of those. Well I never wanted to be in one of those. Here there's a Jeep sittin there behind you and I don't know, about forty guys. When they hit, that damned Jeep would come precipitating through and -whop! - wipe out the pilot and co-pilot. And of course once you've let go…
So anyway we had a twenty-ship formation pulling twenty gliders and we were supposed to simulate going from Malden, Missouri over to the northwest corner of Missouri where there would be a field. And it was at night and it was raining a little. And my windshield wipers didn't work. And we were about three hundred feet over the Ozarks. And all of a sudden one engine cuts out. Now the procedure definitely outlined, is that the crew chief rushes forward, reaches up and cuts off the glider. Now that's sure death for forty guys. Remember, they're dead because there's no place to go. Well, a split-second, he had his hand like this, he was reaching up. I said, "No, we're climbing!" That old gooney bird was climbing on one engine with a glider full of people. So I said, "No, we're climbing!" And we climbed up. We could communicate with these guys. I said, "Well guys," we were kidding em a little bit, you know.
They finally found out they didn't fill the tanks right so one tank ran out of gas. And we got em switched over and going. But we, through training, did a single-engine procedure and didn't even know we did it. Feather the prop, turn off that, turn this. The co-pilot and I were, just did it. And of course, soon as that plane is, that thing is feathered, you don't have so much drag.
T: I heard that aircraft could do a lot of things, that it was an amazing plane.
N: Oh, that aircraft could do anything. And so naturally we had lost the flight. And so we went over, well now everybody else had landed. This poor guy, here he had been so calm about the fact that he had almost bought it, and I said, "Okay, we're approaching the drop zone now. I'll say when and then you cut off." "I can't see where to go, I can't see where to go!" It's too late. Now do we have enough gas to tow a glider back to Malden, Missouri over the Ozark Mountains? I had a full crew then so I says, "Okay, figure." The radio guy says, "Figure. What we got left, how far we got to go. Wind, everything." He says, "We can just make it." He said, "I don't get any surplus."
Well we flew back and I kept warning this guy. I said, "When we come there I'm gonna turn on my downwind leg and you are going to cut off." I said, "If you don't cut off, I will cut you off and you will have that big heavy towrope on there." Well I turned and here's this whole field now. And he says, "I can't see where to go." I said, [ ] and he cut off. I made my approach and I'm coming down and I said, "Finally!" Well there's a procedure that says you actually check to see if your gear was down when you put the gear down. "Gear down, green light, I've got a wheel." "Pressure up, green light, pressure up, I've got a wheel." You could look back towards the wing on a C47 and see the wheel.
So as we, on our landing approach we didn't get a green light. Now with no gas, I've got to go around. I told the tower, "We're going around." Came around and this time I thought I'm going to put her down on her belly. It won't burn. There's no gas in this thing. It was okay. I landed and we taxied over to the terminal. I said, "Just check the gas on this." They could not find a drop of gas in that airplane. So that was my second 'single-engine'.
But there were guys got killed there all the time. They did dumb things. But when we first tried to land in this, here you were in a plane that was just a regular little twin-engine plane. And now here you are way up in the air.
T: When did that period of your training end and you went over to Europe. What was the date of that?
N: Oh, now I've gotta think. Now we're getting on towards November, towards fall.
T: Okay. Would that be November of '43 or '44?
N: '44, because I graduated in June of '44. But now you're on the port of embarkation or whatever they call it. That must have been where I did my instructing on the carbine because they didn't know what to do with you. Pilots, you know. Everybody knows pilots ain't worth a damn, you know. What are we going to do with them. So I think I wound up in Fort Wayne, Indiana where there were some relatives of my father. And somehow I got to see them.
T: Where did you leave from for Europe?
N: New York, or Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. But I actually did something very stupid, well I do a lot of stupid things. Just wanted to see my wife one time before I went home. Well you're not supposed to leave a port of embarkation. So I went and got on a train and went back to Oshkosh, just for a night. One night. And as an officer, you know, they don't always ask you for your papers. So every time the guy came along, and I looked like I was about sixteen years old with my lieutenant's uniform on. And we finally, There were guys [ ] the plane thought I'll get court-martialed. I won't just get washed out, I'll get court-martialed. But I got home and got back, to Fort Wayne.
And then I went over on the Queen Mary with no escort.
T: They claim that some of those boats were so fast that they really didn't need an escort.
N: They were.
T: But when you stop and think about it, if a sub or a pack of subs was out there waiting for em, it wouldn't make any difference.
N: They figured that out, the captain told us. And there were, I don't know, like 20, 50,000 people on this boat. Twelve was in a little stateroom and they were sleeping on the deck. But he said it takes seven minutes for a sub to set up and shoot. And he said that in less than seven minutes we change course. And I mean they changed course. The whole ship, whurrr, whurr.
T: Did you have generally good weather? This was very late in the year so sometimes the weather is bad.
N: Well it was but that was a pretty big ship and it was pretty… coming back on a Liberty ship it was terrible. But, and we didn't have to worry about gunnery because that ship was loaded with guns and could they shoot! They were smart-alecs. They'd fire a target out with a parachute. And then those, what the hell were they, pom-poms were they? Boom, boom, boom boom. And then they would shoot it. Well these guys were such smart-alecs, the gunners. They'd shoot the damn thing while it was on its way out. Honest to God! And we would see planes way off in the distance but they never came near that boat. Because they must have known, "Don't come near that boat." And it was loaded with guns. It only took us four or five days to get across. We landed in Ireland and then went over to Stowe in England.
T: Was that where you were based then?
N: No, no. Because see D-Day had happened in the meantime.
T: So that was just a temporary thing.
N: Oh, unheated buildings. They only way you could get warm was go in one of these smoke-filled pubs, you know. At least the human bodies kept you warm.
T: When did you start flying?
N: Well in December then they hauled me over to Dreux, France.
T: How do you spell that?
N: D-R-E-U-X. I think. And that was where the 441st Troop Carrier Group lived. That was the 301st Squadron. When I got there, I thought, well this is strange. Because we lived in pyramidal tents like MASH. Whole row of pyramidal tents that we were in, they were all replacement pilots. It never dawned on me. We didn't know about Market Garden, that thing into Holland that fiasco that Montgomery screwed up. Since then, a guy from the Netherlands wrote to me and he found out I was 441st Troop Carrier and he wanted to find out about all these C47's. He said in that mission there were 78 of those C47's lost. So I got there after that. And I got there after D-Day and after Bastogne.
T: What was your group's mission then when you got over there?
N: Well first, for those guys it was carrying paratroopers when you could not fly down on the ground. You had to fly up there like a target at 150 miles an hour. And then you had the tow go back to England and tow gliders on that Market Garden. That's why they lost so many people. And then on D-Day of course you did the same thing. You hauled paratroopers. Then you went back, cut the gliders, pulled the gliders. So it was a double mission always. And Bastogne it was re-supply. ; That's bundles. The 441st re-supplied Bastogne. The weather broke. They were the first group in there I think and they carried either the 82nd or 101st Airborne which you read about all the time. They were tough guys. And we lost one plane there. Nobody got killed. They jumped.
T: Now you were re-supplying these troops with food, ammunition and that sort of thing?
N: Everything. Bundles. And the crew chief would stand at the big double doors and throw em out. After we lost a few crew chiefs, after they…
T: Went out with the bundle?
N: They finally chained him in. Let him push the bundles out. But you were flying at about 120 miles an hour right over the trees. So you were almost stalled and in formation so you got a lot of prop wash. It was not a fun mission. You were really fighting that big old gooney bird. And that was direct control. That was not boosted control. That was no different than a Cub. (Piper Cub trainer). You were, great big barn door rudder. So [Anastee] lost his plane there. And then he went down between the lines, between the Germans and the Americans. But they all look the same. They all look grubby. And he told us later, when he got back to us he said, he went, "Eeenie, meenie, minee mo," and then they ran. And he said they ran to the Americans.
T: So he really didn't know which way to go. He just took a chance.
N: And he landed right between the lines. Well then ultimately, now Patton was roaring across Germany. And he would take a field and then he would want gas. So they filled our planes full of Gerry cans of gas, all of which leaked. And you get one incendiary bullet in there and that thing would go "poof!" you know.
T: Or a little static electricity. Scraping.
N: Oh yeah. And then when we got there and kicked the gas out, then they could immediately put in litters and we could haul wounded back to England. So we were gone all day, you know.
T: I would think that you would actually have to land with that gas.
N: Oh we landed but we got it out real fast. And then while we were doing that they would put these litters in there. And these poor guys, their legs shot off and everything.
T: Where did you fly the wounded then? Did you go back to your base or to England?
N: Went to England, right near London. [Chillbolton] near London. Yeah. To a medical base. And that took a whole day because we'd take off in the dark, the planes would be all loaded. And you fly into Germany which isn't that far. Paris to Berlin by air is 500 miles so that's nothing. But then they had to load up these wounded and we had to fly back to England and then we had to fly back to Dreux, France. Well London to Paris is only about 120 miles but the Gooney Bird only goes 150 miles an hour.
So now we were quite safe though because they issued an edict that as soon as we were over anywhere near military territory, fighting territory, we went down to zero altitude. So we flew those big old Gooney Birds at zero altitude, below trees.
T: How about German opposition then? Both antiaircraft and fighter planes.
N: Well, at zero altitude they never had a chance to shoot us. Plus, a fighter plane which is going four hundred and some miles an hour has to get within a thousand yards or something. And if he were coming at any angle at all, by the time he got in range to shoot, he couldn't pull out. He'd mush into the ground. And we had an elusive way, in case we got caught fat, dumb and happy. And the crew chief would spend his time in the astro-dome looking back. And if he felt somebody was lining up he'd say, "Now." And we'd cross controls. We'd go right stick and left rudder or something. And the plane would, because you see they'd watch your control surfaces, the ailerons and everything. They like shooting ducks and they'd just cut the corner and…
T: They could tell which way you were gonna go.
N: Yeah, and they'd meet you there with the bullets. But when a plane went [ ] and they were by you, you know. And they were flying American planes. They would take down American planes, leave the stars on em and everything and they would fly them.
T: I heard a little about that but you wouldn't think there'd be that many available. That most of em would have crashed or something.
N: Well some of them would just belly in and they were good engineers, the Germans. And so once in awhile you'd be dreamin and you weren't down there low like you should be. And all of a sudden somebody would go by you upside down, grinning at you. Some pursuit pilot. Aw geez, he could be a German, he could be American!
And we landed at fields. And I know now that we came so damn close to losing that war at the Battle of the Bulge, and at Midway. We could have lost. A lot of people think we had it made. Oh no, we didn't have it made. We'd land at these fields and see these damn jet planes. Those ME363's?
N: First thing I, what the hell is that? A plane with no prop? You know we weren't informed. We could see them and they would give us [ ] but we would never see it. Well if he'd had enough gas for those, he would have knocked our bomber fleet out of the air. If they could have stayed up longer. You'd see em once in awhile, way off in the distance but it just seemed like they were there, then they were gone. And of course they would have nothing to do with us but they sure as hell could have picked off bombers.
So we came very close to losing and when I wound up after the war, there were all this big mess. All these people that were in the wrong place. Displaced persons they called em. Englishmen who had been prisoners since Dunkirk. One of our guys carried the Chinese sailors.
T: Where did you encounter these people?
N: They'd fly us to fields and we'd pick em up. Little pastures.
T: This is in Germany.
N: Yeah. Little pastures. We'd land at these horrible fields with mud. You'd get stuck in the mud, you know. And they ah…
T: Did you have occasion to see any of the people that were liberated from these labor camps or concentration camps?
N: Oh sure. They looked like, and even these British soldiers that were made prisoners at Dunkirk. Five years they were. And they looked like skeletons.
T: Yes, I suppose that they got just enough to keep em going.
N: Yeah, a lot of em died. But I was bringing a load of those guys back to England. And we did take them right to England. We didn't take them to any other base because they have to get home. And so, God, I thought! This is wonderful for those guys! I'm going to give em a real approach. And we come up over the field and put the nose straight down and made a three hundred and sixty degree turn so they could see. Straightened it out and got ready to land and the crew chief says, "What in the hell is the matter with you," he said. "It's like a bunch of pile of bones." I said, "Were those guys out of their seats?" Because they had their safety belts. Oh, my God! I could have killed the whole schmear! So when we landed I went back and apologized. "Oh it's alright, Gov, nobody got hurt. We're so happy to be home." I said, "I just wanted to give you a good show."
When we were flying, I realized that these air-evacs, these wounded, grunts who had really been shot up. And the crew chief said, "They are asking, are you the pilot'?" Because I looked like I was about sixteen. I was really twenty-two years old by then. I said, "Oh my God, those guys have gone through enough." They didn't know that I was a very good pilot. I never scratched a wingtip on a plane. I could really fly em. Three-point the C47's and so that you couldn't even, I'd make the wheels roll before I would let the weight on em. And I said, "[Fanotti], tell em you're the pilot." But I said, "Don't go wandering around on the plane. Just tell em you're the pilot. They won't know the difference."
But the first time I sat in one of those Gooney Birds I looked down at the ground and thought how the hell am I going to land this sucker? They just put us in and away we went. We flew.
T: It was that much different than the aircraft you had just come from?
N: Well the aircraft was just a little twin-engine plane like you see popping in and out of here. It's like you're three stories from the ground. Well my God, it looks like you're flying yet! Well we all did the same thing. We came in our approach and we started leveling out and bam, we flew it right into the ground. That's how good a plane it was. But we finally got the feel of it.
T: How many flights did you make when you were overseas in Europe? Was there a count? Did you have a count?
N: Oh yeah. They keep track and some of them are combat missions and some are just missions. I used to fly into the Tempelhof Aerodrome in Berlin a lot. With black market cigarettes and ostensibly mail, passengers. I never really got discharged. I got discharged when I was a cadet but I was Army of the United States. So I just got separated. I could have gone back to Korea. And the 441st, they changed those C47's to dragon ships, the ones with the Gatling guns? They were very popular to be shot at.
T: Well isn't it true that you, once you're commissioned, barring age you are in the service forever unless you resign your commission?
N: I think so.
T: They can separate you but you are subject to their beck and call.
N: Subject to recall. And I was subject. I don't know what happened. They never called me. They sent back the 441st which didn't make me feel bad at all.
T: When the war ended in Europe what was the feeling among you guys?
T: But did you feel that you would eventually be headed for the Far East? Was there any indication?
N: Not only that, I signed some papers once after a physical. Unbeknownst, I had signed up to go to the Far East. And I talked my way out of that one. I don't want to do that. Eight hundred, no that's your hours. But I forgot. They got so many missions. I thought I had that.
T: Well, it's not all that important.
N: It was enough to get some, some bronze battle stars and stuff like that. Every time you flew over into enemy territory, it was a mission. Whether you were flying a bomber, pursuit plane, transport. Whether you had guns or not, it was a mission. Because you couldn't be the shooter but you could be the shootee, you know.
T: But unlike the bombers, you really didn't go past the lines. You were going up to the lines.
N: Ostensibly. But there was one mission when our group was sent out and called by Patton. And they found it was strange that as they were trying to land with their gas, that were also FW190's in the pattern. The Germans still thought it was their field. In fact they were fighting for the field. So everybody was shooting at everybody except the guys in the C47's. Well it's hard to get a pursuit ship to where he can shoot at you because he's slowed down in the pattern. His attitude is wrong. So they landed, kicked out the gas, picked up the wounded and left. The Germans took the field.
You didn't really have demarcations like in World War I. This may be the enemy territory here but this way out here may be ours. And Patton, you know, what did they say that one time, "Don't try and take Trier, it's too well fortified." And he said, "I've already taken it. Should I give it back?" He was a smart-ass. But he was a good soldier.
So anyway we did, there were a lot of adventures. We did practice missions and still, we had a very terribly run squadron. The guy never flew with us. He was shacked up with some broad and he did his four hours so he'd get his flight pay. The captains took care of everything.
T: All of us who were in the service can recall people that we knew that were, some of them were - guys coming from all parts of the country - and some of them were rather strange, different, unusual characters. Can you recall any of those pals or guys that you knew that were a little different?
N; Sure, guys from Virginia and Kentucky and came out of the hills, you know. Yeah, they were different. And we had the smart asses too. We had this one guy, he was a hotshot pilot. We'd fly formation and he'd have his engine right at the end of your wing, you know. Whitney, it was Captain Whitney. I said, "There's no need for that." I said, "There's no need to fly that close. You're gonna kill somebody." Well he did. He jammed somebody's elevator; he got too close and the whole flight went in and he killed four guys."
N: Then one of the other squadrons, either the 99th or the 302nd had an eager beaver Major. Now our Major never did anything. He was gonna get the gas through. Well you flew in flights of three. I was flying with an echelon commander then. And as one of my few co-pilot hours, I had five co-pilots, they had so many co-pilots [ ]. So those guys would fly one day and be off a whole bunch and I was flying every day. So we'd be up a little ways and the weather would get bad; we'd lift up and stay on top of the clouds if we could. This guy would get down. He'd fly the valleys and everything. But he soon, we'd see two plumes of smoke. He flew his damn wingmen right into the mountain. He lost the whole squadron of airplanes. And then, guys that I was in training with.
So that was a little too eager. That weather is more dangerous than bullets, really. That gets you. I had a flight one time into Belgium. We had a lot of single flights. They'd just say, "Take this and go hither." And Europe is small. I didn't get lost anymore. I knew every farmhouse in Europe. So as we were flying into Belgium, as soon as I took off all my gyro instruments went out. Now you're left with a magnetic compass and a needle and ball. You haven't flown with those since you were a cadet. Just to see if you could do it. Because the magnetic compass always goes the wrong way and it's terrible. Well, we got to flying farther and then between cloud layers, It was one of those kind of days. Finally I got way down. I was flying down a valley and wondering why I was doing this. All of a sudden, bang, we're in clouds and we're right down on the deck. And that wing is 50 feet hanging down there you know. So I told the guys, "Airspeed and altimeter. I'm going to make a 180-degree turn. So on needle and ball and magnetic compass I made a 180-degree turn in the clouds. Leveled out, hopefully, and flew out of em. And with sweat running off me like crazy.
T: What kind of a crew did you have. Now you mentioned a co-pilot and you had a crew chief.
N: You're supposed to have a navigator, a radioman, a pilot and a co-pilot. I can't remember very many times when we had anybody except the pilot and the copilot.
T: So you guys, you two fellows, you have to discount the crew chief because I'm sure he didn't have the kind of training to do navigation and so forth…
N: Oh yeah, wait a minute. There's a crew chief too. We didn't have a crew chief either. Just a pilot and co-pilot.
T: So you guys were doin the whole thing yourself.
N: We'd navigate and everything. It was easy. I found out that if I wanted to go into anywhere in Germany, I'd fly east. And if I wanted to come back to anywhere in France, I'd fly west.
T: Well, that sort of makes sense!
N: Well we were in weather most of the time. We'd take off into weather and I'm heading for say, Berlin. Well we knew about how long it would take and hope that the wind was right.
T: Didn't you have any nice weather, any nice days?
N: Oh a little bit, some of it. Once in awhile it would be okay, pretty.
T: I suppose a lot depends on the time of the year.
N: Then we would just find a hole and let down and look around. Oh yeah, I know one time I had a bomber pilot as a passenger. And he said, "You guys have been reading books and," he came up there and he said, "And you've flown all the way from Germany. You're going west I know. You're going for Paris, aren't you?" I said, "Yeah." "Well," he said, "Don't you ever navigate or anything?" I said, "Well we are." Or stuff like that. So I said, "We are about there; we'll let down." I went down, found a hole and I let down and looked down. Slag heaps; I was over Belgium. So anyway I said, "Here's the way we do it. I'll show you and then you gotta go sit in the back of the plane and we'll be landing shortly and you can't be up here in the cockpit." I said, "Now watch this, Paris is right over there. Now go sit in the back now. Nice talking to you Major."
The last flight I ever flew I almost bought it. I was heading for Wiesbaden near Frankfurt and everything closed down. Europe closed down. England closed down. Denmark was closed down. There was no field open in Europe.
T: What were you carrying?
N: Probably some important mail or something like that. Nothing important. And ah, but they sent me out. Fifty mile an hour cross wind. Wings were wobbling like this, you know. Well finally I said, "Geez, call around." I had the co-pilot call around. He said the whole damn Europe is closed. There aren't any fields open anywhere. Well you don't want to ditch in the Channel because it's so damn cold they won't even come and get you. So I said, "I'm gonna head for Paris. Along the Seine there, there might be just a little bit of a hole to get into LeBourget or someplace." Well by gosh there was. Just barely enough to, every plane in Europe was trying to get into LeBourget Airport when what's his name landed. To get in the pattern was like joining the thruway. You kinda flew alongside and [ ] you were in, you know. And that was my last flight. Oh, did I cuss those guys out.
T: What was the date then that you left Europe?
N: Well that was November. I remember it was my dad's birthday. November something. Well then they sent us to Poire, France. Where we just dogged around and got fat. First time I'd ever weighed 180 pounds but I was in good shape because we played basketball all the time and drank beer, you know. Well now, here we had hauled everybody all over Europe. It's November. They're going to send us to Marseilles and send us home on a Liberty ship. Now they get on a plane and two days later, they're home. And they can talk to their wife on the phone and stuff like that.
They put us in, you know how Hitler hauled the Jews? Forty and eight? Forty people and eight horses?
N: That's what they put us in. Without even a place to sit down. The great pilots. I said, "Did we win this war?" It took us three days to get to Marseilles. They would let us out to go to the bathroom and feed us. And we were the saddest looking bunch of people you ever saw when we got down to Marseilles. There we encountered a bunch of artillerymen who were in charge of the port of embarkation. And they hated pilots. So they took everything we had. If we'd say, "Well gee, that's not, well I understand." You can wait though. Here it's going to come Christmas, you know. We wanted to be home for Christmas. Well we finally got on a Liberty ship and I think it was eighteen days to get across. Liberty ships were breaking in half. Aircraft carriers were getting smashed in the storms. But this captain was smart. He went way south and he stayed south. Didn't get up in the North Atlantic. And I think we came in through New York or someplace.
So I got home after starting in November, I came in on a train on Christmas Eve, late. Well it wasn't these thrilling things you see in the movies, you know. When I left Poire, France I weighed a hundred and eighty pounds. When I hove to in my place, the saddest looking, I weighed one hundred and thirty five pounds.
Going on a Liberty ship was not bad. My cabin where my bunk was, was right midships. We played bridge for eighteen days. I played with one of the top ten bridge players in the United States. Some captain. But my crew, [ ] "We can't sleep there," he says, "We're getting killed. We're getting beat to death." They get smashed against the top. They get smashed against the bottom. And I'd look out over the back and the prop was going, "cha-koong, cha-koong." It come way up out of the water. I thought we'll never get home.
So I had to beg my way out of, what's the Navy thing down in Chicago?
T: Great Lakes?
N: Yeah, that's where I was. I had to beg my way out of there to get home Christmas Eve.
T: I see. But you did get home Christmas Eve.
N: Yeah, and walked in and here this one son I had never seen. He was going to be a year old on the 29th. The other guy was just, my wife had been showing him pictures. Well I tell you it was a pretty sad meeting. The second one looked at me and bawled! It was not the way they show in the movies. I'll tell you that.
(The first side of tape number 2 ends here).
T: Like all of you, you got this initial period of leave and then you had to go back to be processed for discharge.
N: I took a few, a couple weeks or something. And of course there I was. Didn't know anything except how to fly airplanes. And what am I going to do, you know, to feed my family.
T: What did you do, Neil?
N: Well I took any job I could get. I harvested ice. Damn near got killed doing that.
T: You mean out on the lake cutting ice?
N: No, up in that big barn that they used to bring it up and store it. And I was on the ramp one time taking the bad cakes and swinging them away with a canthook and I leaned back where there wasn't a rail. And through I went. Caught myself with the canthook. Went down and said, "That's enough of that. Now I've taken every stupid job. Now I want a job." Well they said that Wilson Music Company is looking for an on the job trainee. "I'll take it." So I wound up buying the corporation.
T: I remember you telling me about that some time ago, that you…
N: That was another stupid thing I did.
T: How so?
N: Well I can't make any money at retail. By the time I could buy it, it was in the seventies when interest rates went to 22 % and the profit on TV's went down to 18 %. So it was just impossible. And I had no money, no skills. We did it though. We paid for the business, Allen and I. And there was 15 of the most horrible years but first we had to go, put our time in. Allen I picked up as a partner. He was in the last graduating class of Business College.
T: What was his last name?
T: How do you spell that?
N: E-C-K-S-T-E-I-N. Came from a farm, wonderful man. He was a good partner. Ralph Wilson and Jack [Gillum] said, "Get a guy with money." I said, "Gil, I want somebody that'll work." And we did it. They had somehow let it go downhill. It was a great business but they had 28 employees and it was way too many. And I didn't have the guts to can em so I let attrition do it. Those were terrible days! Boy, I don't know how I did it.
And then finally we sold it to these two guys, my son and another guy. By then I hadn't gotten involved with buying groups. And manufacturers were really screwing guys like them. When we had solid evidence that they were selling things to people that were no bigger than they were for fifty dollars a product less, I says, "Close it."
Well, when they closed, I had left my money in it and I even mortgaged my house and left money in it, I was back to zero once again in my life. Only now I'm sixty-some years old and got a wife with Lou Gehrig's disease.
T: Oh, gosh!
N: So I went broke so many times, I'm used to it. So we all lost our shirt and we couldn't even take wages while we were closing because we wanted to pay off everybody we could.
T: What was the approximate date of the closing.
N: Oh God, I can't think now. I think, pain kind of coats over, you know. I can't, I really can't say. Well Betty developed Lou Gehrig's disease in '82. Or that's when she was diagnosed so it would have been sometime after that. And then she died in '89.
T: Yeah, they usually don't live very long. Five years or so.
N: Well, she lived seven years, which was unusual. Then she died of something completely different. Died of a ventricular aneurism. She by then had lung cancer too.
So I married Mary Jean Sitter. Judge Sitter's widow. Wonderful woman. And in about seven years she went into dementia and died last year.
T: Gosh, you've had some tough breaks.
N: Yeah, but yet there's been a lot of good life in there too.
T: After you got rid of the Wilson operation, did you get into any other business?
N: Well, I had been selling these scooters because I got my wife one so she'd be independent. Well I started fixing em and pretty soon said, "Sell me one." Well pretty soon I had about seventy clients.
T: What brand of scooter was that?
N: Amigo, the original one.
T: Oh yes, they're very well known.
N: The man invented it for his wife. And I couldn't get rid of it. I couldn't just dump all these people. And Jean was getting worse and worse and I sold it to Star Home Health in Fond du Lac and they were nice people, Christian people. So they merged with Agnesia now I think. So that's what I did. It was not a big money maker, I tell ya. I'd play hell to make two or three thousand a year or so. I was stretching.
T: Tell me about your two, did you have just the two children?
N: Oh, we had another one then. Yeah, one came along and he's 49, and he's 11-12 years younger than they are. He's the principal horn in the San Diego Symphony and the Opera Company. In fact he's their composer, their arranger. He was born with it. He was born with total knowledge of music. Sat down when he was five and played Moonlight Sonata with both hands. He said he credits it to his brother Tom who played the piano all the time. He said, "Dad, I was hearing music when I was in the oven."
T: They talk about that, you know. Pregnant women…
N: So he's quite a guy. So that was my third son. I have three sons I'm proud of. They are very nice and they're good people. Good Christian folks. They don't take advantage of their fellow man.
T: Neil, do you think the World War II changed you in any way?
N: Since I was so into it, I never was a kid really. I mean, when Hitler started charging around and I was always curious. I was always interested in politics and philosophy and those things. I never learned how to play. I don't think it, I think I was very mature when I went into service.
T: Maybe you were just a little bit older than a lot of the guys that went in.
N: Not too much. When I got my wings that was my 21st birthday. But there were guys that were a year or two younger. I used to hear em crying in their bunks. You know, they were homesick. I think I felt like I wanted to father them. And of course I was one that, I had done a lot of boxing in my youth so I wasn't one that was afraid of people or anything.
T: Do you think very much about the war today?
N: Not too much. Once in awhile things flash back. I didn't have any of those mountain top adventurous experiences. I did with the 'single engines' and stuff like that. And just flying an airplane in weather. And things that happened. But no, I don't think so. I've been kind of an audacious person. I always thought I could do anything.
T: What do you do for fun and just to keep going. I know you the work at the public library. Are there any other activities?
N: I've always been a project person. I build dollhouses and give em to charities. And they bring big bucks. And then I build em for people. They pay for the stuff and I give em the labor. I've built em for all the females in the family, grandchildren and great grandchildren, twice sometimes. So and now I'm building the shelves. Antique shelves, 'cause the guy had a heart attack and can't build em. I like projects.
T: so you keep yourself busy.
N: Oh, I'm always busy. I rented a duplex that has a whole basement. Nice high dry basement. Out on 7th Avenue, almost to the access road. So I'm down the basement almost all the time. And I've been, through the years I've taught myself to speak Spanish. I have a collection of classic novels. I'm not good at playing. When I finally get there, I'm very good at it but I don't think of doing it. Hedonism is not a high priority. I have to kinda be talked into it. The thoughts of going down to Florida and sitting on my rear end would be absolute anathema to me. I tried it a few times - I am so damn bored. Although we did get some pretty nice trips, being an appliance dealer.
T: It's not everybody's cup of tea, that kind of life.
N: Well I don't feel good sitting around. I don't like to sit. I still do an hour and a half exercise every morning.
T: Well, it's been great talking to you Neil. I really appreciate you willingness to come down and talk about your experiences.
N: I think this is a great program because there are so many things concerning war that can never be told outside of through individuals. There are some books out now by privates who were in the trenches and that's good. But history is neglected when it's written colorfully just to sound good.
T: Well I thank you very much Neil.
Oral History Interview with Neil E. Lorge.
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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