. For his service, Sam was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
I am a regular reader of The News-Journal's obituaries.
Most obituaries aren't sad. Most of the time, they're actually uplifting stories about people who positively touched others, who made a difference, who counted in ways large and small.
Every once in a while, an obituary is about someone I know, if only a little.
Last Thursday, I opened the Local section and found an obituary about Samuel Mastrogiacomo, who died on Nov. 2 in Edgewater at age 96. Here at The News-Journal, we knew him as "Sam." Sam definitely lived a life that counted.
[READ: WWII gunner from Edgewater to be featured in documentary]
[READ: WWII tail gunner protected bomber during ‘Big Week’]
[READ: France honors Volusia, Flagler D-Day veterans]
In 2014, and again in 2015, Sam was featured in two special sections The News-Journal published about the dozens of World War II veterans still living in our area. I spoke with Sam a couple times over the phone. He loved America.
Born in 1922, Sam was 19 when when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered the war against the Axis nations that also included Benito Mussolini's Italy and Adolf Hitler's Germany. He convinced his mother to let him join the Army, and after basic training he ended up in Tibenham, England, where the 8th Air Force Division of the Army was based.
Sam became a tail gunner. His job was to sit in a plexiglass turret hanging from the belly of a B-24H Liberator bomber and shoot down German fighters attacking the plane. Between December 1943 and December 1944, he shot down five enemy planes.
"Our job as a gunner was to get those German fighter planes before they get you, so you have to be on your toes," Sam told News-Journal reporter Casmira Harrison in 2015.
Among other things, Sam was part of what was perhaps the Army Air Force's most difficult week in February 1944, when repeated missions were made into Germany to bomb military manufacturing plants. That week, 226 bombers and 28 fighters were lost and more than 2,500 men were killed, wounded or captured. On Feb. 24, 1944, Sam and the rest of the 445th Bombardment Group successfully bombed an aircraft factory in Gotha, Germany. But they paid a heavy price.
"We lost 13 of the 25 (aircraft) going into the target," Sam said.
From his seat in the turret high above the ground, Sam witnessed the incredible destruction of modern war. But as much as he wanted to defeat Germany, Sam never lost his humanity.
"I always felt like, instead of bombs, I would like to drop leaflets and tell the people to surrender, you know, before we all kill each other."
Luck eventually ran out. In the spring of 1944, Sam's B-24 was shot down between Sweden and Denmark. He survived, but ended up in a prisoner of war camp and missed taking part in the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, in June 1944.
He eventually escaped the POW camp with other soldiers. For his service, Sam was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Sam eventually published a book about his WWII experience, "For God and Country, in that Order." He joined the Air force reserves, and spent 33 years altogether in the military. He also worked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard before retiring to Edgewater, where he was a member of Am Vets Post #2. He will be buried at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery in Mims.
Today is Veterans Day. I hope everyone will take time to pay tribute to a veteran from World War II, or the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, or Operation Desert Storm from the 1990s, or from the wars the still continue in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Me, I'm going to call my dad, Jack Rice, age 91, a WWII veteran who joined the Navy on his 17th birthday and was in the Pacific when the Japanese surrendered and the war ended in August 1945. He lives by himself in a little house out in the country in north central Wisconsin.
To Sam Mastrogiacomo and all the other veterans, thank you for your service to our nation.
— Rice is The News-Journal's editor. His email is Pat.Rice@news-jrnl.com.