Serial# O-438088: Verinis, James A. Co-pilot.
The family name was Greek.’My family came to America from Greece just after they got married. All their four sons were born here. We spoke Greek at home’ recalled Jim Verinis in an interview. ‘Dad owned and operated an ice-cream store. That’s all he ever did’. At Hillhouse High School in New Haven Connecticut James Angelo Verinis was a sparkling basketball player. He was Captain of the team. As soon as he left college, he entered the Air Force as an Aviation Cadet – it was July 1941.
He went to Texas for Primary and Intermediate Flight Training – like many others, he nearly washed out. One day he was told to take his Boeing Stearman for his first solo.
“I had landed the plane several times when the instructor was in the back seat but never when I was in the plane by myself. After about eight hours, you are supposed to solo. So, that day my instructor said, ‘OK, Mister. Today you take her up by yourself’ said Verinis.
‘So I took the plane up and did several maneuvers. Everything went fine until I tried to land. I failed to level off properly and the plane went into a stall. I was sort of flying it into the ground. The front wheels hit the runway and I bounced hard. I pushed the throttle forward and took off and circled and tried again’.
That was when Cadet Verinis almost lost his nerve. He kept going around. Eight times he circled. On the ground, the fire engines were brought out to await a crash.
‘I didn’t panic. On the eighth pass I finally got it down properly. But I was close to being washed out. The next day they said they would give me one more chance. The head guy at the school got in the back seat to check me out personally. I did all the flying. He just watched. Everything worked out, but if I had washed out it would have changed my entire life’.
Verinis graduated to the hotter airplanes, P-39s and P-40s, and the troubles began again. Only now it was not the pilot’s fault. First, the blown tire, then the conked engine and parachuting down into the tree. Then came the real crash.
‘I was flying a P-40 over the field at Charlotte, circling at about 5,000 feet. I was supposed to practice a night landing so I had to kill time until it got dark. My engine quit. I decided I wasn’t going to jump this time. I was going to try to make a dead engine landing. With a dead engine you have to keep your air speed up by diving. So I kept diving and circling the field, keeping my air speed up so I wouldn’t stall out. I wanted to come in high enough so I wouldn’t hit the barracks at the end of the runway, so when I came in for that landing I was too high and I was still going over 100 miles an hour.
When I got over the runway, the plane just wouldn’t settle down but I was too low to make another circle. When I got past the half-way mark on the runway, I was still in the air. I was running out of runway so I just put the stick forward and put the wheels on the runway.
I tried to apply my brakes, but when I got to the end of the runway, I was still doing about 80 miles an hour. I wheeled back the canopy and applied the brakes. When the plane hit the end of the runway, it flipped over on its back. I put my arm up to keep my face from hitting the gunsight, but in the impact the canopy slammed forward and trapped my arm.
My head hit the gunsight when we flipped over. I was lying upside down and I had forgotten to turn the ignition off. Gasoline was running all over me, and if it had hit something hot I would have gone up in flames. When the ground crew came running up, I hollered, ‘Shut off the damn ignition.’ Some guy reached in and shut it off. Then they pried the canopy off and got me out of there. I had to have a bunch of stitches taken in my face and head’.
His Colonel gave Verinis a week off to go home and recover. It was during that week that he decided he had enough of single-engine fighter planes.
‘I had heard about the B-17s and they appealed to me. They had all those fans up front and you had more people up there with you if something went wrong’.
2nd Lt.Verinis went to MacDill to be assigned to the 324th BS on May 31st 1942, then on to Walla Walla.
‘I had qualified as a first pilot but they didn’t have enough planes. So when Bob asked me if I’d like to go with him as co-pilot, I grabbed it. It turned out to be the right move because I’m still here today.’
The crew landed in England on the first day of October 1942 but it would be five more weeks before they would see any action. Whenever the weather was good at Kimbolton, they practiced formation flying. Otherwise, from an entry in his diary on October 13, Verinis says ‘…Still sitting around’. The entry on October 15 says: ‘Mail reception sure is poor. What is wrong with Uncle Sam?’ Then there was the move to Bassingbourn. On October 17 he wrote: ‘…Playing a lot of poker lately’. Six days later he wished himself a happy birthday. ‘Had a little party at the American Bar in Cambridge. Went to the Rex Ballroom where all the charming English girls go’.
On October 31, he wrote: ‘Wing Headquarters today passed on us. We are now ready for combat. It won’t be long now’. It wasn’t.
Early 1943 Jim Verinis got his own airplane. On January 12th he noted: ‘I was assigned a new plane. Decided to name it Connecticut Yankee. Busy getting the kinks out of her’