IVANO SAYS: LEN KLEMPNAUER FORMER SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL REPORTER AND SCHS CLASS OF '54 GRADUATE ADVISED ME OF THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE BY NADIA DRAKE APPEARING IN THE SANTA CRUZ SENTINEL: www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci_16509428
SANTA CRUZ -- During World War II, Santa Cruz native Joseph Armanini frequented the skies over Europe, a member of the 8th Air Force's famous "Bloody 100th" bomb group.
"Big Joe" Armanini was lead bombardier for the squad. Their task? Destroy the German Luftwaffe. Armanini flew more than 25 missions, was one of the few members of the Bloody 100th to complete a tour and returned home a decorated war hero.
On Nov. 10, the History Channel will air "World War II in HD: The Air War," a two-hour special narrated by Rob Lowe that features Armanini and three others during the battles leading up to D-Day. Young Armanini will be voiced by Casey Affleck. The show is a follow-up to the highly rated 10-part "World War II in HD" series broadcast last year.
"Joe dominates the show," said producer Liz Reph.
Reph said she decided to focus on Armanini, one of the original members of the Bloody 100th, after speaking with a historian from the group. Of the people in the 100th bomb group, "Joe is one of the rare individuals that made it through," Reph said. "Only 25 percent of the people who set out to fly 25 missions succeeded. The other 75 percent were killed, captured, wounded or suffered mental breakdowns."
Armanini, 94, was born and raised in Santa Cruz. He graduated from Santa Cruz High School in 1934, then went on to San Mateo Junior College, where he played football and was student body president. He then attended Dartmouth, where he majored in romance languages and graduated with honors in 1940.
On Jan. 25, 1941, Armanini joined the Air Force.
"I loved the idea of flying," Armanini said. But he didn't complete pilot training, and instead became a bombardier. "Everyone wanted to be a pilot or navigator. Not a bombardier. It wasn't as romantic."
Armanini was assigned to the 349th squadron, 100th bomb group -- the Bloody 100th -- and based in Thorpe Abbotts, England. He dropped bombs from B-17s, the four-engined "Flying Fortresses" that carried a crew of 10. The Bloody 100th became the basis for 1949's "Twelve O'Clock High," starring Gregory Peck, and the movie's screenwriter, Col. Bernie Lay, flew with them.
The squadron was tasked with daylight bombing raids before fighter escorts could accompany them to targets. As such, few flight crews survived to complete the required 25 missions before they could return home. According to Armanini, the graphic moniker is appropriate.
"We sustained such tremendous losses. We had a more than 80 percent casualty rate," he said.
Armanini, who now lives in El Cerrito, said mission days often started at 4 a.m. -- with the noise of engines warming up. Breakfast was at 6 a.m., followed by a meeting in the war room explaining the mission.
"There would be a big map of Germany and a pin maybe 600 miles in. The longer the mission, the more dangerous," Armanini said. "You're flying for 12 hours, and you're under attack from the time you leave the British Isles."
Armanini's first mission was to Bremen, Germany, on June 25, 1943, aboard a plane named El Pisstofo. The Bloody 100th lost seven planes that day.
On Aug. 17, 1943, the squadron sent 19 planes to Regensburg, where the target was an aircraft factory. The Bloody 100th flew in the unenviable position of "tale end Charlie" during that mission, or the bottom-most part of a flight formation. They lost nine planes out of 20, and Armanini's plane arrived in Libya minus an engine and plus 200 bullet holes.
"But nobody was injured," he said. They returned to England by way of Marrakesh, in a different plane, similarly unsuited for battle. "The whole Plexiglass nose had been shot off, and was covered in plastic," Armanini said.
By this time, Armanini was part of Sammy Barr's crew, aboard Torchy -- a plane named after navigator Jim Brown's "good-looking wife. She was a redhead," Armanini said.
Armanini flew in the lead plane on at least five missions, an especially precarious position.
"They always wanted to knock down the lead plane," Armanini said. "It was the only one dropping bombs on the target."
And while some missions, like the one targeting Bremen, were significant for the squadron, others are etched in Armanini's memory for a different reason, like one targeting Leipzig, where they only lost one plane. In that plane was Armanini's friend William Griffith, a classmate of his from bombardier school.
"We had more fun together than you could shake a stick at," Armanini said. He didn't find out what happened to Griffith until he was back in the United States after the war was over, when he learned that Griffith drowned when his plane was shot down.
When he came home, Armanini worked for several years at Bank of America.
"After all that exhilaration, the bank was kind of tame. You didn't know what the hell to do with yourself half the time," Armanini said.
He then worked as an executive at British Motor Cars and for Maserati Imports until 1985, when he retired at age 69.
Armanini returned from the war with a Bronze Star, two Flying Crosses, the French Croix de Guerre and numerous Victory and Air Medals. Despite the decorations, he doesn't think his role in the war was any more significant than anyone else's.
"It was just a matter of luck that you finished," Armanini said. "If you ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. ... You had to be lucky."
IVANO SAYS (CONT'D): Although I would not begin to compare anything that I did as a Police Officer, with what Joe had to go through, I did write the following regarding police survival tips in my book "La Nostra Costa"(pgs. 335 - 336):
"Experienced police officers worth their salt will have their own personal short list (held in their minds, at least) to augment survival techniques taught during their training. Having said all this I still must admit I truly believe the ultimate determiner of survival is just plain luck. In retrospect, I was very lucky, regretably, Richard was not." *
* San Jose Police Officer Richard Huerta was killed in the line of duty, August 6, 1970. For articles on Richard and the circumstances surrounding his death, type his name in the search block at the top left hand corner of this page and click on the spy glass.