"Time rushes towards us with its hospital tray
of infinitely varied narcotics, even while it is preparing
us for its inevitably fatal operation." --Tennessee Williams
There were 13 refineries and a forest of oil rigs around Ploesti, 35 miles north northwest of Bucharest. This included the Romano Complex, Europe's largest refinery formerly run by Standard Oil of New Jersey. Churchill called Ploesti "the taproot of German mechanized power." It was the center of the Rumanian oil fields, which produced seven million tons of oil a year. Rumanian oil was vital to the Nazi war effort and Hitler spared nothing in his protection of Ploesti
On August 1st, 1944, five groups of B-24s from the 9th Air Corps stationed in Lybia took off, fully loaded for targets at Ploesti. They flew at 400 feet -- to avoid radar -- into one of the most heavily defended sites in the Adriatic theater. Each plane was loaded with 10,000 pounds of 250-pound bombs. They had a ten-man crew. Radio operators and flight engineers were given Thompson sub-machine guns to fire out the waist position windows. The flack and German air-defense was dense and the Luftwaffe BF 109 and Rumanian IAR-80A fighters were alert and deadly accurate. Of 178 Bombers, 54 would be lost.
They hadn't yet unleashed their bomb-load when flack from Nazi anti-aircraft guns destroyed an engine on the right wing. Underpowered and heavy the plane was doomed. After losing an engine the aircraft was attacked from the rear and peppered with 20mm shells. A large chunk of shrapnel blasted through the tail gunner and a shell exploded in the cockpit igniting the oxygen supply and the hydraulic system. The navigator was heading for the front hatch when the plane exploded, the hatch blew out and propelled the navigator into the ether. He pulled his ripcord and hoped his altitude wasn't too low for the chute to open.
The navigator survived being blown out of the sky but broke his leg because his parachute didn't fully deploy. He spent the remainder of World War II as a prisoner of war at a camp in Transylvania in the shadow of the Carpathian Mountains. He told me once "The accommodations were primitive but we were treated well.
Bathday came once a week at the prison camp. The German officers bathed first. Then, in the same water, Rumanian Officers. Then in the same water, soldiers and guards scrubbed down. The prisoners were last to bathe in the common stew-water. "But at least we were allowed to bathe."
"The Rumanian soldiers who were our guards were aware that the German War Machine had been defeated. They knew that before long they'd be taking orders from us."
On August 19, 1944 I was born Mervyn Wilton Williamson, Jr. at an Army Air Corps facility in San Antonio, Texas. I was an anemic weight and was not expected to live. All the incubators had been melted down and rebuilt into tanks and aircraft carriers. But an enterprising nurse constructed an incubator from a shoe box and a light bulb and I thrived.
Mervyn, Sr. was Missing in Action. Anxiety over the fate of my Daddy resulted in my Mom, Rhoda, presenting prematurely. And was the reason I was named (presumably posthumously), Mervyn.
It's an ancient Welsh name, Mervyn. It literally means "mer", the sea. And "vyn", man. A man who loves the sea. The female equivalent is "mermaid". But for a kid it was a curse, an albatross. It was the subject of ridicule and derision. A reason to be beat up in the schoolyard, and humiliated in the hallway.
Until Poppa came marching home my Mom and I lived with my Grandpa Ruben and Nana Magdelena on Ray Avenue in San Antonio. Ruben was a Choctaw from Mississippi. Didn't get to know Ruben -- he died shortly after I was born. Nana was half Castilian and half Potawatomi, a Wisconsin tribe that had been shipped off to a reservation in Oklahoma during the great route of the Indian Nations by the federal government.
My family on the Texas side are loathe to be referred to as "Mexican" (Or "Mess Kins", in their vernacular.) They insist they are a mélange of Indian and Castilian. Which is what Mexicans are. What they are is Texicans.
Magdelena was a Pentecostal preacher, and had a store-front church. She was brimming over with the spirit of the Lord, praising him constantly. Her agenda was the happy glorification of Jesus with an anti-Catholic subtext. She'd praise the Lord at every opportunity. She'd sing her message accompanying herself on the accordion. Church was twice on Sunday and a rolling-in-the-aisles-talking-in-tongues tent meeting every Thursday evening. And a smattering of revivals. I remember it as being very exciting and entertaining.
After returning from Europe in 1944 my Dad was stationed at a base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where, in July 1945 an ammunition dump exploded. At least that was the official story. But everyone knew it was something else -- as the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would soon find out.
It was the Trinity bomb that blossomed in the desert, just down the road, that Summer.
Some kids suffer a skewed neurological legacy due to carelessly being dropped on their heads during infancy. It's possible I can trace my skewed life-journey to a radioactive mushroom cloud event just outside of town when I was 11-months old. The Amazing Colossal Man, Godzilla and I share the same origin myth.