Joe Parrino, 90, was a B-17 bombardier during World War II destroying oil facilities around Leipzig in eastern Germany. But he is most proud of a mission he flew in which he refused to drop his bombs.
Born in New York City, he joined the Army Air Forces in October 1943 and became a bombardier. He was assigned to the 333 Heavy Bombardment Squadron of the 94th Bomb Group, 8th Army Air Force at Bury St. Edmund, England. He had been offered a stateside job as a bombardier instructor but turned it down. His skill caused him to be selected as a "lead" bombardier. In that position he flew in the lead plane of his group and when he had sighted the target, he would drop his plane's bombs and the rest of the planes would follow suit.
On his fifth mission, July 25, 1944, Parrino was made the group lead bombardier for the third group to carpet bomb Germans near St. Lo, France. Carpet bombing meant the bombs were dropped in a fashion to cover the target like a carpet in support of ground troops.
"They gave us specific instructions to watch for red, white and blue flares and smoke to mark our lines," said Parrino. "I saw the two groups ahead of me drop their bombs but I did not see any flares or smoke. Everyone was yelling at me to drop the bombs but I did not. We had to drop them in the ocean on the way back to England because we could not land with them."
When Parrino's group landed, the squadron commander and a general told him it was his first and last mission as a lead bombardier. An hour later, they were apologizing. The ground troops had not put out smoke or flares but the planes dropped their bombs anyway, killing 144 Americans and wounding many more. Among the dead was Lt. Gen. Leslie McNair, commander of the ground forces. Parrino is proud that none of the 4,000 tons of bombs dropped at St. Lo were from his unit.
Parrino flew a total of 24 missions, they would not let him fly 25 because he could then have come home. "They wanted me to teach the new bombardiers their job," he said. The missions were across Germany almost to Poland, which meant almost 600 miles were without fighter escort and against sites heavily protected by anti-aircraft guns. On one mission his plane was heavily damaged, but they threw out everything in the plane and limped home to England where they learned they had been reported shot down.
Discharged as a captain, Parrino joined the New York Police Department, married May Walsh in 1947. They had two sons and two daughters. He retired as a homicide detective in Queens in 1966. The couple moved to Highpoint in Fort Pierce in 1981. May died in 2003.