Life in the Troop Carr or
A Treasury of Twice-Told Toilet Tales by Mike Ingrisano
oining the military in World War II was a life changing experience for me and thousands of other Americans. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and in the Depression years of my youth I did travel a little with my family, although not much beyond Washington, DC, and the eastern seacoast. But military service would take me and the other recruits on a great journey, to other countries, and other customs. After completing my radio operator/mechanic course at the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, I was assigned to and in March 1943 joined the 72nd Troop Carrier Warren D. (‘Tex’) Squadron then forming at Alliance Army Air Force Base in Nebraska. Actually I was part of the new cadre. We Rayburn had no planes and few personnel. So I was then sent for advanced training in Kansas City, Missouri. I returned to Alliance in early June 1943, and was assigned as a RO (radio operator) air crew member. I flew quite frequently with a young 2nd Lt., Addison Agle. So much so that we struck up a close relationship. It was not long before Agle was given his options, one of which was overseas duty. He opted for that and asked if I wanted to join him. We arrived at Baer Field, Fort Wayne, Indiana, in early July to await the arrival of a new C-47 and to form a team which was to go overseas as a replacement unit to some then unknown squadron.
News flash: it’s the amenities
By August 3, we had a new plane and a new crew, and off we went with another replacement crew for parts known only to Agle and Harold Bailey, the pilot of the other plane. Our course took us through the northern route – Maine, Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, and on to Belfast, Ireland. It was there that the first toilet tale happened. We remained over night in Belfast. But for this replaced Brooklyn boy, the trip over had some devastating effects on his body system. Gently noted, I was suffering from acute constipation. Since we were to remain in Belfast for the night, we took the occasion to visit one of the local pubs. Before I could finish half of my Guinness Stout, I felt the urge and hastened to the bar toilet. Before I could be about my business, much to my chagrin, I found that there was no toilet paper. I went back out to the bar maid and, quietly and delicately, asked her for paper. She reached under the counter and pulled out a copy of the “Belfast News” (or whatever it was), and loudly exclaimed to all the regulars, “Here, Yank, this ought to do the job for you.” It did. Not quite as comforting as at home, but in a small way it made me realize I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, as they say in the movies. And fortunately, we left the next morning for southern England.
Hold on tight
Our next leg took us to Marrakech in west Morocco. There we found that some military unit or maybe it was the American Red Cross had taken over what was formerly a classy night club. Creature comforts, I thought. This would be 28 AMICI / Winter 08/09
heaven for it would give us a chance to clean up and to take care of normal body functions – the second lesson in toiletry for this RO sergeant. In this part of the world I learned it was not unusual that the booth had no seat. Just a hole in the floor, with positions to put one’s feet, and a bar on the door to hold on for dear life. Since I was wearing a one-piece coverall, I thought that for cleanliness sake and for convenience, I had better divest myself of this cumbersome garment. So Julian A Rice Pilot I stripped down to nature’s skin and held on for 37th Sqdn 316th TCG dear life. Incidentally, our “room” for the night was under our aircraft wing under the African sky. Shoes, of course, were tied to the plane’s aileron locks so that scorpions did not invade our privacy. The next day, we were off for Algiers, and thence to Castel Benito, Tripoli, where our education continued.
In this part of North Africa we were billeted at a rather nice hotel. As we looked over our rooms, and particularly the bath room, Harold Bailey, a tall North Carolinian and former school teacher, now C-47 pilot, noted this low standing receptacle, next to the toilet. It had a knob which when turned would eject water from a three-hole outlet. Remarking that it was strange to have such a low water fountain, he got on his knees to get a drink. He then realized why the location and then its use. Harold and the rest of us became acquainted with our first bidet!
Ah, the great outdoors
Eventually, after passing through El Adem, Torbruk, and Heliopolis, Cairo, we landed at El Kabrit, Egypt, our new home with the 37th Troop Carrier Squadron, 316th Troop Carrier Group. For the time being my education with comfort stations remained at a neutral basis. Tent life in Egypt was comfortable. And when I was not flying, and that was not too frequently, we were right on the shore of the Great Bitter Lake where swimming was a joy. But our joy did not last that long. In October 1943, we moved to El Aouina, Tunis. Our tent area was right at the end of the runway. We were supposed to dig fox holes, but the Tunisian terrain was so rocky that, even fortified with lousy native wine, we could barely make a dent in the “earth.” Fortunately, we never had a bomb scare. But life wasn’t easy. Our shower was a B-24 bomber gas tank rigged with a spray nozzle. BUT, all we had was cold water. And winter in North Africa is COLD. So before showering, it was normal to tap the wine cooler for a little internal warmth, at the least. Your hero RO unfortunately had the misfortune of contracting a virus that led to excessive diarrhea. The trudge to the open-air latrine, a series of used 50-gallon gasoline barrels topped with a circular toilet seat, was a real chore. Because of the weather and the illness, it was necessary to put on a winter flying jacket, and shoes, but no pants. Too cumbersome. So off to the latrine in civvies (under shorts) and winter gear. No privacy. The latrine was in the flight path, and so, one sitting at his ease could wave to the passengers in the planes that were taking
Mike’s one-piece coveralls