Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2016



Staff Sergeant Santo Magliocca
November 24, 2016



This month’s presentation in the Bridgeville Area Historical Society’s “Second Tuesday” series was a salute to the Greatest Generation and World War II, in honor of Veterans Day. It was held a day late because the focus of the program, ninety-one year old ex-B 24 ball turret gunner Staff Sergeant Santo Magliocca, was busy on Election Day, working at the polls.

The program began with a brief discussion of the contribution of the Greatest Generation, both at home and at the front, during the War. Then Joe Oyler summarized a small part of his book “Almost Forgotten” by recognizing the ten local airmen who lost their lives in that conflict. He then reprised the story of the three Bridgeville neighbors who were shot down in separate engagements and ended up together in the same Prisoner of War camp – George Shady and George Abood (who were cousins), and Peter Calabro.

Then the facilitator began to relate the experiences of Sergeant Magliocca, who grew up in the Cubbage Hill neighborhood of Carnegie, graduated from Carnegie High School in 1943, and enlisted in the Air Force. At this point Sergeant Magliocca was asked to elaborate on his training before going overseas. The audience was rewarded with a verbatim description of his very exciting experience.

After rigorous Basic Training he was sent to Clemson College for specialized training, where one of his fellow cadets was Ed Schneider, an equally young airman from Bridgeville. Sergeant Magliocca’s next stop was armament school where he was trained to be a gunner and eventually assigned as a crewman on a Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber. Next came an ocean cruise on a Liberty Ship, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

In early December 1944 he and his crew found themselves as part of the 727th Squadron of the 451st Bombardment Group at the Castellucci airstrip, which was part of the massive complex of the Fifteenth Air Force centered in Foggia, Italy. Part of a ten man crew of a plane they nicknamed “Sloppy But Safe”, his job was to man a pair of fifty caliber machine guns in a ball turret lowered down from the underside of the fuselage once the plane was airborne.

Their baptism of fire came quickly, a difficult mission to Obertal, Germany. The audience was interested to see that his log of his twenty one missions – their destination and date – was recorded on two pieces of Army money. Obertal was heavily defended with anti-aircraft guns and enemy fighter planes; he and his unseasoned colleagues were startled to see B-24’s hit and explode on either side of them.

Sergeant Magliocca apparently did a good job of fending off fighters attacking the underside of his plane, but eventually one of their four engines was damaged so severely that it became useless, requiring them to start the flight home at a greatly reduced speed. The rest of the formation had to leave them behind, at the mercy of the enemy fighters.

Just when everything looked hopeless, the pilot excitedly announced “Here come three red-tails to escort us!” These were Tuskegee Airmen, in distinctively marked North American P-51 Mustangs, easily a match for the enemy aircraft. Sergeant Magliocca chuckled and said he was always tempted to give a Tuskegee Airman a hug any time he saw one after that.

It is impossible for us to imagine the horror of assignments like that. According to the history of the 451st Bombardment Group, they lost 135 planes on a total of 215 missions. Imagine going off on a mission with forty other planes and realizing that one of them probably would not make it back. Sergeant Magliocca reported that after that first mission his crew was convinced they would never survive the necessary twenty five missions and make it home.

Fortunately he and his crew-mates did successfully get through twenty more missions safely before the end of the war in Europe brought an end to their commitment. Sergeant Magliocca shared these experiences with the audience as well as his adventures on leave trying to locate his parents’ relatives in Italy, and his flight home via Casablanca, Marrakech, the Azores, and Newfoundland. The audience was duly appreciative of his service.

Although the B-24 was indeed the work-horse of the Air Force, it never achieved the popularity with the public than the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress reached. The B-17 was more stream-lined, had a low wing in contrast with the B-24’s high wing, had a better knick-name, and apparently received much better publicity from print and radio journalists.

In reality the two planes were quite comparable. Both had a payload of eight thousand pounds of bombs. Because of the difference in design of the wings, the B-17 had a significantly higher service altitude, at the expense of its service speed being significantly lower than the B-24. Eighteen thousand B-24’s were produced during the War, compared to twelve thousand B-17’s.

It certainly was appropriate for the Society to honor our veterans during the days leading up to Veterans Day, and Sergeant Magliocca was certainly an appropriate representative of the Greatest Generation. Our gratitude to him and to them is boundless.

Next month we plan to get back on our standard “Second Tuesday” schedule by meeting at the History Center at 7:00 pm on Tuesday, December 13, 2016. Our subject will be the C. P. Mayer Brick Company, with almost certainly diversions into Mr. Mayer’s life and our hobby of brick collecting.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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