Name: Angelo Petitto
Date of Birth:
Dates of service: 1942 – 1946
Branch: US Army
Locations: England, Normandy, Belgium, France
Prisoner of War: No
Today is May 27th, 2009, this is Fidencio Marbella with the Melrose Park Public Library in Illinois. Also present is Heidi Beazley, a reference librarian here at Melrose Park. Today we will be speaking Mr. Angelo Petitti [Petitti], currently a resident of Oak Brook. Angelo served in the Army Air Forces and his service dates were from 1942 through 1945 , 46, thank you. This interview is being conducted for the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress. OK let’s go ahead and get started…sir why don’t you tell us where and when you were born, and a little bit about your family when you were growing up?
Well I went to Crane Tech and the whole graduating class which was 1100 males, cause Crane Tech was an all boys school, OK? Were 1A… classified 1A. I graduated in the class of 40. By 41 of course you know we all had classifications. So I graduated with a fellow by the name of Leo Carzoli, who was the chief navigator on B-24s in the Ploesti Raid, highly decorated soldier. Him and I, we didn’t want to go to the Army so we, we took the exam for cadet school and we passed with high grades. Of course you know Crane Tech was a very technical school, you had classes in Math, Physics, and so forth, that you prepared for ..So we both went to cadets. He went as a navigator, I went in what is known as pilot training. I was too small to be a pilot so they sent me to navigation / bombardier school. I finished school in Roswell, New Mexico waiting for graduation, and I got eliminated. Now you know what elimination means?
That they want you to do something else?
Rather than give you court-martial they called it elimination. They didn’t want to release me because they spent all that money to train me, and I got eliminated for conduct on becoming a future officer – that story ain’t good enough for you, OK? From there they sent me to radio school, and they ended up with a radio operator and navigator.
Now, can you tell us where you were when you heard about Pearl Harbor, on December 7th?
You were in sc…You were in school on Sunday?
I wanted to go college, yeah! I didn’t want to go to the Army, I wanted to go to college.
Can you tell us about your radio training? What kind of things did they teach you?
I had very good training I went training…I trained at Sioux Falls South Dakota, under preliminaries and technical, and the mechanics of radio transmitters. Then I went radio school in England, in Southampton on high frequency sets and radar equipment…simulated radar. At that time we were experimenting with blind landing approach, bendix transmitters and so…bendix receivers and stuff like that…highly technical equipment. No, I had a lot of training, believe me, Uncle Sam wasted a lot of money on me, yeah. When I came out of the service, they offered me a job and I took it for a few months. I operated the towers downtown and watched the radio tower transmitter. It wasn’t for me it was like being in jail. So that’s part of my experience.
OK so you left the US for Southampton? In England?
Uh, don’t know, I wa-no I didn’t go to Southampton…I think the original base was Nottingham..I’m not sure that’s why I would like to get my records. And if my flying companion from Jersey comes in this month I’ll bring him in he’s got a doctor and he’s got a good memory. He remembers what bases we were in England, better than I do.
OK, so after you were trained as a radio operator, what unit were you assigned to then?
Right there, 47th Troop carrier Squadron, 313th Group, what group is it? I get it mixed up, I wrote it down here. I forget, I’m sorry…right here, 313th.
That’s the wing.
Now that was the troop carrier.
Troop carrier. Yeah I was Troop Carrier. But I flew probably in every airplane you could name, from B-29’s on. Because we had a fuel tanker, the ones that bring our own food, I’ll show you some photographs, which was a B-29 – a converted, I mean, B-24, yeah.
So your first missions were flown on C-47s?
All-mostly all C-47s, which was the best airplane the Air Force had.
What made it so good compared to other aircraft?
You could fly with half a wing, with one engine, and no gas. It would stay up, with holes in it.
A very rugged aircraft.
Ah, my gosh, what I went through in that airplane. Every time we’d come down we’d count the bullet holes. How that airplane sur-and don’t forget we had no armor, and we had no self-sealing gas tanks. The Air Force had their head in their ass when they designed it, but it was a good aircraft. You could fly at low speeds, you could fly uh, we used to call grass-hopping…you could fly through anything. You could hit birds, and they’d go through the air system, the heating system, and you could still fly. It was an airplane, it was a rugged airplane, it was like an old Model-T Ford, its -go through anything,
So you were in England then, in 1944?
I think I got there in, in 40, in June – I forget the date I got there, I got there, I don’t think it was a month or two before D-Day.
Can you tell us about your D-Day missions?
Well, we made more than one, that’s another thing I can’t understand, they talk about D-Day mission. There was no such thing as single mission. You went in, you come back, you got more, and went back again.
Yes, right. Can you tell us about that day?
It was pretty rough, pretty rough. But, very, very few defense against the aircraft. We landed, we dropped our troops ten miles behind the front, and at that time, of course the beachhead wasn’t established yet. We dropped Pathfinders in before, I think it was the night before. I can’t be exact about the time of that, but the Pathfinders were dropped first. They were the ones that left radio equipment and transmitters and panels for your drop zones. Then we came in the next day, next morning with paratroopers, no gliders just mostly paratroopers. Then we come back with a second trip, then we come back to pick up wounded on the third trip, I think we flew four or five times in the, in the – I flew in at Omaha trip. And I – it was a dirty sin because I have a photograph of two French girls after about the third day when we landed, with their little tikes they’d come and clean my airplane out with brooms, you know, I’ll never forget that. There are things you don’t forget you see. But that was about the extent of that, because after the first few days it was all supplies, you know supplies, paratroops were out of supplies, mostly supplies and returning wounded. Because the C-47 was a workhorse, after you dropped paratroopers you (unintelligible) to carry the stiffs.
So after the Normandy invasion, what did you unit have to do next?
This ain’t lost because this is part of your mission they give you this, your flight log. The dates are on here and the hours, OK? (It) shows how many hours of the day, every day of the week, every day of the month, for 18 months straight. Six hours a day, if you’re not dropping paratroopers your dropping gas cans or 100-lb bombs for Patton. Every day!
How were you able to keep up a pace like that?
That’s amazing you were able to keep up a pace like that.
That’s another part of the story you want put in there.
OK. Tell us about that.
The day I was supposed to go overseas, my daughter was being born. The rotten captain, the dirty bastard, he wouldn’t give me a pass. I wanted a pass from Sedalia, Missouri, to see my daughter and my wife before I left. He says, “No go, you’re going overseas.” I went AWOL, OK? When I got to Rush hospital, the MP’s were waiting for me with the chains. I give them a sawbuck apiece and they waited until my daughter was born. Anyway, I went back and I…he was so mad, because I was assigned on the first flight across the North Atlantic, he says, “Rather than put you in a stockade, I’m gonna give you worse punishment,” He says, “I’m sending you overseas.” Well he followed us overseas, and he was the one who did the scheduling. He wanted to kill me, the dirty bastard, but I fooled him. Everyday…and I had a, I had a second radio man, he used to beg me, he wanted to get a medal, you understand? He said ,”let me go..” I said, “Tell the captain!” Right? He would never give me time off.
And this was for 18 months?
You see it. It’s all verified, signed, every day, all the way through. In fact I put so much time in, they gave me this after.
OK. So you…
(Laughs) You could copy these.
That’s OK we’ll make copies…
This log is is very important, so…you understand? But you could see the hours I put in. Seventy-two hours a month for flying, that’s a lot of flying, ok? And the pilots and co-pilot’s names are here, and on that last mission that I got shot down, I flew with “Hot-shot” Bilkes (?) was the pilot, Co-Pilot was Captain Wallace, the engineer was Frenchy Bordeaux. I got photographs of that, which was – it was a quite an experience.
Can you tell us about that last mission where you were shot down?
Last mission we got shot down, we carried 30 paratroopers. 18 planes went in, and the formation was very tight. And that C-46 you couldn’t slow down, in fact one plane went down, stalled out, went down and killed 30 paratroopers and a 4-man crew, right-right off my wing. When you slow down to 90 miles an hour you lift your flaps up to slow down, it would stall out…couldn’t handle it. And you can’t throw a paratrooper out over 90-miles an hour; the slipstream would knock his head off. So when you give the paratrooper a green light to go, you go back there to see what’s going on, well, we got one hit-one hit in the cockpit and knocked all our instruments out with plexiglass. Second hit was underneath and knocked our hydraulic system out. Two hits in the fuselage, one right above the railing. The vertical stabilizer got shot a hole in it, there was nothing but hinge and hinge. Alright? Want to know more than that? After we dropped the paratroopers we hit the deck, I was so close to the ground you could see the crowd shooting at you. We didn’t know which way we were going, it was all smokescreen in western Germany. We saw another ship, we followed it. It crossed the Rhine River. We didn’t know whether we were going East or West, we were lost, we had no equipment of any kind. So the pilot’s staying at tree-top level trying to get altitude because he wasn’t sure of anything – he wasn’t sure of his fuel mixture, we wasn’t sure of his flaps, we wasn’t sure of his tachometer, he wasn’t- he wasn’t sure of anything. So, me…I wanted to sit by the back door. I used to hear him call me, “Angelo, get me fixer.” “You scratch your ass, I want to get where I can get out of this thing.” But anyway, we finally got up to about 1,500 feet, not even that high, maybe 1000 feet. And the plane we were following, all –the whole crew ditched, bailed out. They probably got hit worse than us. So we kept flying…no radios, but we had one I just didn’t think of it. We had one that was a British equipment, it was uh – what you called a Crystal set in those days, you know, you put in a frequency cartridge – If forgot all about it. But nothing worked, I couldn’t get a fix for it. I shot out some red flares from a pistol, I got some green flares at a distance. We headed in that direction, OK? Which was a fight-a frontline P-47 fighter base right over the Rhine River. Well, what we did…the pilot fishtailed that airplane, he didn’t know his airspeed, he didn’t know anything. We came in we couldn’t put the tail assembly down. We hit the end of the runway so fast we grounded…of course the plane was a total loss anyway. But the wing dug in the mud, three or four times we circled, we all jumped out before it stopped circling. Now, now you know why they give you khaki shorts in the army (laughs). Anyway, they picked up the crew, and they take us into the fighter base. And here I’m 100 miles behind the front and my base, and I sleep in a pup tent, and I have my meals out of a tent. Here these fighter pilots had French women servin’em,’ -you know, first class tablecloths, you dirty bastards! But that was part of the war. Anyway, we were there two, a couple of days, and they sent a ship to pick us up, that ship was a total loss. And uh -I don’t know if you ever saw one of those airplanes did you?
Is that the one with the twin tail?
No, this is it…see how large it is?
So these are much bigger aircraft than the C-47’s?
Carries twice as much personnel, but it-but it killed more too. Let’s see, I gotta decent shot…here it is. Now you see when I tell you it was shot out, you see the hinge here?
Now that’s quite large, a man could walk through that. From hinge to hinge was a hole.
But it still flew.
It flew, but you couldn’t handle any direction. And the pilot, what we call in flying is called fishtailing. When they train you to fly, they train you how to slow an airplane by manipulating your rudder. So I had a good pilot his name was “Hot Shot” Bilkes. He brought that in like he was bringing in a Piper Cub, you follow me? He couldn’t drop flaps, he didn’t know what the Hell he could do. The front was all shot out, the bottom was shot out. If I could show you a copy of the fuselage, it’s something to see. There…this fuselage, there was a whole in there you could walk through, and one on the bottom, and this was hit, and it only had 75 hours on it.
Brand new plane, huh?
Brand new, brand new.
OK, can you tell us about your missions that you flew over the Ardennes, in the Battle of the Bulge?
Well that was…Battle of the Bulge I was flying at that time, we just made the Holland invasion.
Oh you flew at Market Garden?
I flew Market…I told you I didn’t miss one. I flew at Eindhoven, I flew – and I flew the British in when they got slaughtered, the 10,000. I flew that group in, the Red Devils. I trained with them outside, in England before that mission. In fact I stole a bicycle (laughs)…but that’s a story in itself. Anyway, we were – we were retrieving gliders…Did you ever hear of the glider snatch? The, the snatch….picking up an airplane on the ground without landing?
I did that.
Can you describe that? What was that like?
Very treacherous. There’s another decoration you’ve got coming. There’s an article in here about that, but I did it for two weeks. And all the airplanes that were assigned in it, was four airplanes, they all crashed or did something. I was the last plane to survive. Remind me to…you want me to look for it?
Can you just describe it for us?
Yeah. On the glider, they tried to salvage gliders outside of Eindhoven, after we dropped them there. And I guess they must – uh, here it is…no that ain’t it, that’s the one over there…and they equipped the plane with a big clutch. You’d come in off the treetop, there’d be two big poles with a rope across, and a line to the glider. On our plane we had a clutch about half the size of this table, with over 1500 foot of steel cable. We dropped that with a hook on it, we’d make a hookup that would gradually tighten up and release enough to pull. You’d hit that hookup at about 90 miles an hour, then you’d give it full throttle to keep your airspeed, trying to get up to 120. She’d slow down almost to a stall, in fact the airplane would shudder. You’d swear you’re gonna kiss your ass on the ground. We’d pick up these gliders, we did that for, night and day…no not night, sundown, and we’d bring them-drop them off in Brussels. That’s where my experience with the Belgian professor came from. I did that for about 2 to 3 weeks, ‘cause at that time they blew up the whole airfield in Brussels, the Germans. ‘Cause we were there (unintelligible) now mind you the front was right, just over the hill. I got an immediate call to get back to my airbase, Arras, France. We left, went back to Arras, France. Following few days we were flying up to Wales, picking up reserve supplies and what have you, and taking them to Bastogne. Christmas Eve, we landed in Bastogne, that’s a story in itself. There must have been maybe 50-60 airplanes from our wing in the sky at night…looked like one big Christmas tree all you had was wing lights, red and green, Christmas Eve, December 24th. We brought the, I think it was the 33rd, I’m not positive about it, Reserve paratroop division out of Alley, Wales, into Bastogne. In Bastogne, they’d set up a light, it would go straight up, hit the runway…you’d land. Never curled your engines, threw the crew out – went up. Yeah, shit in your pants, I told you that’s why they gave you khaki shorts and they gave you extra pairs. But, that’s where the turkey comes in. Now all these planes, with all this equipment we had we flew with minimum weight, which meant minimum gas. So when we took off from England, with this crew, brought’em into Bastogne, you had very little fuel to make it home. Now this was a cold winter night…right… December. While we’re on the ground, they bring us into the kitchen in England, well, I’ll tell you to whole story first. We take off from Bastogne with no gas, as we get back to England- now I think we landed in Southampton, I’m can’t be sure of that, I’m not positive of the base – but it was a big British airbase. Now here you’ve got all these airplanes coming out of Bastogne with no gas, and all of England was fogged up, ground fog. The only base they had there that had this fog lifting equipment was – they called it (unintelligible) – fog lifting, you know what it was? 50-gallon drums full of oil, they made a fire in them, and the heat would lift the fog. So all you saw was a runway. So you got all these planes in the sky hollering “Mayday, Mayday, no fuel”- shit, nobody listened to the tower, you made a flight pattern and down you came…we landed. Now the airbase was jammed, so they taxied us all the way into to the cow pasture, that’s what makes the story interesting. In the dark, we’d go to the base and they’d take us into the kitchen, Christmas Eve, they’d offer us tea and crumpets. You haven’t eaten for about 2 days and they offer you tea and crumpets. I could smell them cooking turkeys for the next day. So I told to Dr. Silvano, I’ll give you a photograph of him, he was the crew chief. I said, “were gonna eat.” I went in the kitchen, and I stole that turkey out of the oven. Greasy, hot, slimy, and I had this soldier’s jacket, you know, we ran out of that kitchen. All I could say that, their base…the females that were cooking were WAAF’s from the English Air force. Two of them were chasing me, hollering “Stop that Yank!” I went into the darkness…how I found the plane in the dark, till this day I can’t tell you. You know, I’m talking snow on the ground, and all that – how I found that plane in the dark, couldn’t tell you. When I got to the plane, I opened the door, the crew smelled that damn turkey, the pilot and co-pilot were laying in there sleeping. We devoured that turkey, the four of us…no spoons, no knives, no forks, no napkins.
God, you deserved it though…boy.
Oh…I stole it. And Dr. Silvano will tell you that story (Laughs).
Hey, you did what you had to do.
Well I did it because I was hungry!
Ah, I want to give you, his photograph…
Tea and crumpets just don’t cut it.
Ah, it was quite a day. Here’s another plane I lost, it blew up on the ground, it was a C-46.
Now what happened to this plane?
The hose, the gas hose, supply hose from the tank to the engine – it was made of, I think, rubber at that time. It fell right off and, we couldn’t put out the flame. Dr. Silvano…we put the CO2 cartridge on it, we gummed the engine, we did everything. I said, “Let’s get out before we cook.” And we got out, we didn’t get 5-10 feet away and it blew up…another pair of shorts (laughing).
So then after the war ended in Europe in May of 1945?
I don’t remember the dates, you know better than me.
But you were assigned then, after the war in Europe was over, you couldn’t be released from service.
Not even, I think it was a few weeks after; I get flight orders to report back to the States. I thought I was getting discharged. I flew into Boston, and we ended up at Fort Sheridan, you know where all…I told the recruits, “I’m going home.” They gave me, I think it as a two-week furlough. I went home, and while I was home I got a telegram to report to Randolph field.
And what was your assignment going to be?
On a different kind of airplane?
B-29, it was a B-29 base.
So you were going to have to have to go to the Pacific, then. After serving in Europe
Most definitely, yeah. I was classified essential…did you hear me? Essential! And all the good, experienced pilots, radar men, engineers were with me, there had to be a thousand of us there.
What state was this field in? Do you remember?
Texas. So you were going to be a gunner?
Well you had a gun in your position.
You did, OK. While you were in Texas then the war in Japan ended.
While I was in Texas, we were doing little flying and schooling, we had a big swimming pool and a cafeteria, never closed. They treated us like kings, they fed us like kings, believe me. I was there I, I think a…a good month at least. And then of course the war, the atom bomb was dropped, and..
…and end of the war. Well thank God for the atom bomb!
Oh yeah, well…no, uh, thank God, thank God for the end of the war.
Because, we deliberately destroyed Japan.
And a lot, a lot more Americans would have died too.
Very few, because that B-29, the altitude was too high.
Was it? Ok. The Japanese couldn’t reach you?
Couldn’t reach. We were gonna drop 100-lb. bombs, and incinerating bombs that would have flattened the whole country in one month, believe me.
Well the war ended, and then how much longer did you have to stay in the service?
Aha, that’s another thing. Now they sent me to Greensboro, North Carolina, and I developed a rash in those days, it took forever to cure. They didn’t want to release me, they wanted to hospitalize me. I had to sign a medical release to get my discharge. That’s how our military works, here it says they will take care of you back home.
Ok, so this would have been in early 1946?
Yeah, yeah, I think I got out in, uh…it should be on there.
Yeah I’m sure it’s on here somewhere.
November, June was it?
Uh, OK…30th November?
OK. So did you any problems re-adjusting to civilian life after serving so long in the army air forces?
Oh, sure. Sure. Everybody came at you disgruntled because decent jobs were taken, you understand? And me I had a family, I already had a daughter. It was rough, you couldn’t get a car, you couldn’t get an apartment, you couldn’t get a pair of slacks. You couldn’t buy nothing. Sure, we were prepared for that, you know. I was fortunate enough, I had a mother-in-law and a father-in-law who made room in their apartment for us, that’s all.
Was this in Chicago?
Yeah, it was in Chicago, on Fullerton Avenue. My father –in-law was a good old guy.
OK. So do you have any other stories or last thoughts that you’d like to share with us today? Anything else you’d like to mention?
Aha, you keep talking, you think something will come up. Well you know about the professor, I uh, told you about him. Gene Wells (?), he was a very nice guy, highly intelligent guy. While I was about to start service, snatching these gliders, he gave me uh…I met him, I went one night into Brussels to kill time. Bad weather, we couldn’t fly so I went to Brussels, which was dangerous at that time because it was some fun, the buzz bombs used to come by all day long. So anyway I go into a movie house, and at that time the Belgian personnel who spoke English wore a white star on their lapel. And so I got this guy, I was working up, was sitting close to me in the cinema, and the cinema was a Shirley Temple show in English, with French writing on the bottom. And I said to him, “Do you know where I can get a place to sleep tonight?” I had a .45 here, and a .25 in my hip pocket. And he said, “Sure Yank, come home with me.” Well, you know you’re freezing your ass off all the time, sleeping in either a litter, or a bed-row I says “I sure will. I would.” Once we got to his home, I didn’t see much of it, it was dark, saw it at night the first you know the interior what I remember of it. Anyway I put my shoulder holster on the bedpost and the other .25 I kept in my hand all night, under my pillow because in those days…a lot of good soldiers (unintelligible). And so you had collaborators and you didn’t trust nobody. And he could have cut my throat anyway because I always slept so soundly. But in morning when I woke up…now here’s clothes I haven’t changed in weeks, stunk…in fact my underwear were probably unchanged in two weeks. This…they were all cleaned, polished and ironed on the bedpost you know, waiting for me. But what I didn’t know all this time, they gave me the maid’s quarters. And the four girls stayed up all night cleaning my clothes, you understand? In the morning he would drop me back at the air base because he had to pass the airbase to go to the University of Leuven, that’s where he taught, he was a professor of economics. So I did this on and off for, I don’t know now could be three weeks to a month. I remember a couple of days later we got snow weathered in, so I drove a box of K-Rations and when I got to the house I couldn’t recognize the building because it was like old Taylor street. There was no such thing as passageways, there was buildings next to each other, and I think he lived in this building, family, for over 100 years and it was beautiful inside, uh the library and the fireplace and his bar and like his dayroom was on the first level, the second level was like a kitchen, what have you, the third level were the bedrooms. And the bedrooms had transoms this was an old, old house but it was so well done. Well you gotta remember he was a highly knowledgeable guy (unintelligible), so I lived that way for about 2 or 3 weeks, and him and I got very, very close. That’s how I told you I started collecting from him. I’ll never forget his library.
So you started your own then.
Well like I told you, when I got came home I started finding them books on economics. The guy that owned the bookstore in Long Grove, his name was Van Allen Bradley, he wrote two books, he was a book critic for the Chicago Daily News. He wrote a book called “Gold in Your Attic,” and he gave a load of reference books, which he signed over to me. And at that time every time I’d pay him a visit, go shopping around, he gave me a shopping bags of books. And literally brand new books, and I guess this got me started. I had no way of collecting at that time, because uh…I had nothing but an apartment – 3 bedroom apartment, there wasn’t room to put toilet paper let alone a bookcase. But that’s what got me started, and I’ve been collecting books since then. (laughs).
Well, thank you very much coming in and sharing your stories with us, we really appreciate this, thank you.