[restrict]May 6, 2020 – As part of Lesson Plan #6 – Technology and Heroes in the Cockpit, the following is Part 1 of a feature on Vito and Geraldine Pedone. Vito was a Pathfinder pilot and Geraldine was a U.S. Army Flight Nurse.
May 8, 2019 – Each of the 16,112,566 soldiers who served in the U.S. Army, Navy or Marines during World War II (1941-1945) has a story to honor. A wall of 4,048 gold stars at the World War II Memorial in Washington DC honors the 405,399 soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country. Seventy-four years ago today, the Allies declared Victory in Europe (V-E) after liberating Europe from Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Representative of the millions of American heroes who answered the call to serve during WWII were Capt. Vito Pedone and First Lieutenant Geraldine “Jerry” Curtis, both US Army Air Force officers. They met and married in England while training for D-Day. Their story defines the fabric of the Greatest Generation.
D-Day (June 6, 1944)
D-Day was the largest air and sea invasion ever attempted. More than 125,000 Allied troops, including 13,000 paratroopers, landed in Normandy via 10,000 airplanes and 5,000 ships. On June 6, 1944, the Allies, led by Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower of the US Army, surprised the Germans not with an invasion but with its timing and location.
In early June, weather around the British Isles and the English Channel was stormy and “unsettled” as described by British Group Captain James Stagg, Eisenhower’s chief meteorologist. D-Day was delayed one day from June 5 to June 6 based on Stagg’s forecasts.
German officers never thought the Allies would risk the invasion given the weather. The Germans were so convinced the Allies would not attempt an invasion because of the weather in early June that one of their top generals traveled back to Berlin to attend a party. And German leaders also thought the Allies would invade around Calais to the north of Normandy. Hitler’s generals had first fortified Calais and were well along, but not quite finished, with fortifications along the Normandy coast.
Planning for the D-Day invasion, called Operation Overlord in 1944, began in earnest when Allied leaders – President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States, Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of England – met in Tehran, Iran for a conference in late 1943. They agreed to launch an invasion of France by May 1944 to begin liberating Europe.
On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, American, Canadian, and British military leaders worked around the clock to prepare for the invasion. Millions of soldiers in the United States enlisted or were drafted. The nation rallied to support the war effort. Women went to work in factories to replace men. People bought war bonds to help finance the war. Families accepted rationing of food and gas. They planted Victory gardens to grow their own food. They saved anything that might be needed to make war materials. Women could no longer buy nylon stockings so they put make-up on their legs.
Vito Pedone and Jerry Curtis
Vito’s son, Stephen P. Pedone, Lt. Col., USAF, Ret., tells the story of his parents in an article he wrote titled, “The D-Day Pilot and Flight Nurse.” The following is a summary of that article with additional historical information about the U.S. Army Air Force (precursor to the U.S. Air Force that was established in 1947 after the war) within which both pilots and flight nurses served.
Vito Pedone and his younger brother, Stephen, volunteer to serve in WWII
Vito and Stephen were students at North Carolina State College studying Aeronautical Engineering when the United States entered the war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. They both volunteered to become pilots. In 1942, Vito was assigned to the 8th Air Force stationed in England. He flew 25 combat missions across the English Channel bombing targets in Nazi occupied countries.
Vito’s brother, Stephen, became a Flight Officer. He was killed in September 1944 in a B-24 crash. He was 22.
Planning for D-Day consolidated in early 1944 with headquarters in England. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had just been named Supreme Allied Commander. Gen. James “Jimmy” Doolittle was named Commander of the 8th Air Force in England. The 9th Air Force was created to fly C-47 airplanes as Troop Carriers. The plane was reconfigured from the DC-3, a reliable passenger plane then being flown commercially in the United States.
Vito requested a transfer to the 9th Air Force. Now an experienced pilot and promoted to a Captain rank, he was named the Operations Officer for the Pathfinder Unit. His job was to train C-47 pilots and flight crews for the Pathfinder mission on D-Day.
“The key lesson learned from recent airborne assaults, like in Sicily, was that specially trained ‘Pathfinder’ troop transport aircraft crews and paratroopers were essential to lead the way to finding and marking the correct drop zones, to ensure successful deployment of all the paratroopers,” Stephen P. Pedone wrote in his article.
Lessons learned in Italy and North Africa where Eisenhower and Doolittle both served were applied to the Normandy invasion.[/restrict]