Last week I wrote about my Uncle Sam and the brain injury he suffered in the Pacific during World War II that ultimately caused his death. I never knew him; he was gone before I was born. But everyone in the family said he was a nice guy.
Sam was the oldest of four brothers, including my father, who served in the war. The only one who set foot in Europe was Louie, the wildest of the Venditta boys, a playful rogue and jokester. He didn’t see any fighting as a ground crewman for the 8th Air Force’s 479th Fighter Group in England. But he did see the horror of it.
I know, because he once told me about something that happened at the Army Air Force station in Wattisham, where one of his duties included driving a fire truck.
One day, the pilot of a P-38 Lightning on his way back from a mission radioed that he was hurt and having trouble with the controls. His fighter plane had gotten shot up over Nazi-occupied Europe. He had to make an emergency landing, so a controller directed him away from the main airfield. The sleek, twin-engine Lightning crash-landed, flipped and burst into a fireball. The blaze intensified into an inferno.
Twenty-year-old Pfc. Louis C. Venditti (he spelled his surname differently) had sped to the wreck in a fire truck and now looked on helplessly. Against the searing heat, he saw the pilot pinned upside-down in the cockpit, banging on the bubble canopy with his fist to force it open. But it was too late. No one could save him from the flames.
“That really got me,” Uncle Louie said. “It got me for a long time.”
The hazards of combat flying were surely on his mind, but unspoken, in 1969 when his 20-year-old son went to Vietnam as an Army helicopter pilot. Nicky Venditti was dead in 11 days, but it wasn’t from being shot down and didn’t have anything to do with the “Huey” he was trained to fly. In fact, he never got off the ground. He died in a grenade explosion, a result of what the Army called a training accident. http://www.davidvenditta.com/
Uncle Louie put flowers on Nicky’s grave just about every Sunday for 27 years, then joined him.