A copy of an article about my Uncle in the paper.

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This article appeared in the "West Orange Times" a local paper for West Orange County Florida. It's about my Uncle Leo. He's 95 years old and still going strong. He is a wonderful man and I am proud that he is my uncle. Flight engineer took on Japanese fighters By Cindy Baker The year was 1939. Leo Ferraguto was 21 years old, and after working in a shoe factory for three years making $13 a week, he knew he wanted something more from life. “I decided to try the Air Force and learn a trade like airplane mechanic,” Ferraguto said during a recent interview with The West Orange Times. Born to immigrant parents on April 14, 1918, in Middleboro, Mass., he completed his Air Force basic training at Langley Field in Virginia. Basic training only lasted a few months before he was sent to airplane mechanic school for six months at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Ill. He went back to Langley after his schooling and was assigned as a mechanic to the 2nd Bomb Group in the headquarters squadron. He became a private first class and made $36 a month. Ferraguto said that when a plane stopped somewhere, he filled it with gas, checked the oil and made sure everything was all right. From 1939-41, before the war, the mechanic flew in two types of airplanes: B-25 and B-18. “The day after the war started, I was assigned as flight engineer on a B-17,” Ferraguto said. His crew included a pilot, co-pilot, navigator and bombardier. Ferraguto’s assistant was the tail gunner. Ferraguto was also assigned as the gunner in the plane’s top turret, and he operated the 50-caliber machine guns. The crew was sent to Spokane, Wash; its plane was taken away and utilized by officers. After a month-long wait, the men were sent to California by train to pick up a brand new B-17E plane. From California, they went to Tampa and then to Haiti. They continued to make their way through Brazil, Africa, Egypt, Iraq, India and finally to their destination, the Indonesian island of Java. Ferraguto said that when they arrived at the military base in Java, the crew members began to fly combat missions. “We carried 500-pound bombs in the bomb bay….” Ferraguto spoke of how he and the crew had just bombed oil fields in Borneo located near Java and were on their way back to Java when the incident occurred. “We met a bunch of Zeros [Japanese fighter planes] and had a fight. Shortly after, I noticed smoke from engine No. 1. To me, we were hundreds of miles from nowhere over water; about halfway between Borneo and Java over water. I always felt God moved that island right under us so we could bail out on it,” said Ferraguto. Ferraguto’s forehead hit a banana tree as he landed, and the pilot and co-pilot were able to land the plane on a small narrow beach; the natives built a bonfire that night and roasted ears of corn for the crew to eat. The Navy rescued them the next day, but they had to leave the plane behind. Ferraguto shared another fight that he and the crew had with some Zeros. As enemy planes surrounded their plane, he shot at them continually with his machine guns. Another Air Force plane that was flying next to them during the fight was hit by enemy fire. He said the plane blew up at about 2,000 feet over the ocean. “I saw a couple [of men] come out without parachutes, and [they] just jumped into the sea. It was hot and probably the parachutes got burned, anyway.” The bodies were never found, he said. After flying approximately 12 missions in Java, the crew left the island because of the growing number of Japanese who were taking it over. They then flew to Australia, where they regrouped and flew more missions. They also flew missions near New Guinea. Ferraguto said there was another island that the Japanese had taken over, so he and his crew bombed it. “In fact, one of the ways we had of doing it was doing it at night. We would fly 5,000 feet over the water where their ships were. And then we’d drop a flair. Then another bomber would come in and see where they were and drop a bomb.” During an additional mission, Ferraguto said his plane landed in a field and was stuck in the mud. The crew members cut some rope, and they received assistance from the islanders. “We put one rope on each of the wheels and got a whole bunch of natives to pull on them,” he said. Ferraguto stood in the middle of the group of helpers and said “OK” very loudly — and every time, they would pull on the ropes. Eventually, the plane was pulled from the mud. He returned to California as a tech sergeant with five stripes. He and his crew had fought overseas from 1942-43. Ferraguto went back to being in charge of a maintenance crew in Pyote, Texas. He and his crew taught the men all about B-17 planes. It was Ferraguto’s time to learn how to become a pilot, and he attended flying school at Brady Air Force Base in Texas. He had completed his training as he worked his way up to flying B-25 planes. After his pilot training, Ferraguto went into a bomber test flight program and flew several missions in a B-25. During his stint in the service, he also lived in Europe for three years and was second in command on a military base. Ferraguto left the Air Force around 1947 to go to college, but he worked at Sears and Roebuck instead. His new work lacked excitement, so he re-enlisted in the service as a staff sergeant. After his re-enlistment, he was sent to the Philippines as a flight engineer on C-46 planes. “When the Korean War broke out, we took four B-17 planes to Japan and photographed North Korea during the war. Then, I was in the top turret for another 12 combat missions.” Shortly after returning from the Philippines, he was recalled as a second lieutenant. His final five years in the Air Force were spent as a launch control officer. Ferraguto retired as a Major in 1964. He went into the citrus business after he retired and has lived in Windermere for more than 25 years. He is a widower. Ferraguto said he stayed in the Air Force because he had always wanted to fly planes and was getting paid well. He reflected on his time in the service: “Having somebody shoot at you with a gun is not fun. And you think, well, maybe the next time they won’t miss. But then you stay with it and things break your way….”
 

GreeCguy

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He always laughs when he shares the Banana tree story. He says the crew bailed out but the pilots stayed at the controls. As he was going down, he was swinging from side to side. He had been taught how to balance the chute, but figured it was working so leave well enough alone. Right as he came to the ground, he says his feet brushed the ground and he swung in a high arc about 15 feet in the air and the chute collapsed. He fell the 15 feet and hit his head on a banana tree. He laughs and says that was the only "injury" he sustained in the entire war.
 
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Thanks for sharing, Your uncle was older than most of those bomber crewmen. My dad spent the war driving around Europe in a weapons carrier full of radio equipment whilst he monitored Luftwaffe radio traffic. Either before or after the Battle of the Bulge, he was quartered in a castle in Belgium. The window ledges were two feet thick. He kept his Limburger cheese outside on the ledge. Yah, there is a reason why these old men and women are called the Best Generation. They don't say that about us Baby Boomers.
 
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