A journalist unearths the story of a crash landing in war-torn Albania during World War II.
A daring new program of air evacuation technicians, stationed near war zones in order to lift the wounded quickly to safety, the Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron was launched by Maj. Gen. David N.W. Grant in 1942. Since they had flight training, former stewardesses were enlisted as volunteer medics and nurses. Former National Geographic Magazine Europe editor Lineberry looks in particular at the 807th MAETS, consisting of 25 female nurses, 24 medics and other enlisted men from all over the country. They were assembled at Bowman Field in Louisville, Ky., for training before being shipped off in mid-August 1943. A squadron of nurses and medics traveled from their headquarters on November 8 to gather awaiting patients in Bari and Grottaglie, but they were forced down in bad weather and under attack from German fighter planes. Not only did the squadron land in German-occupied Albanian territory, but the group soon realized they had become embroiled in a civil war. There ensued many weeks of near-comical confusion among the partisans hoping to hide the Americans amid an atmosphere of mutual suspicion; there was scant food, little bathing, rugged conditions and terrible exposure. Indeed, three of the nurses had gotten separated from the rest while being housed locally, and these did not join the general rescue once the larger group reached the Adriatic coast after 62 days in Albania. Although U.S. officials keenly tracked the whereabouts of the squadron, the news of the rescue was kept quiet and the bravery of the participants not acknowledged until much later; Lineberry able captures it here.
A sometimes dry but proficient, detailed and tearless account.