"After dropping bombs, we got hit and lost an engine," says Nino Guiciardi, describing the last mission as a B-17 bombardier on a raid over northern Germany. His plane, the Eight Ball, went down in Holland in November 1944, and he spent the remainder of World War II in German prison camps.
Flying on its eighth and final mission, the Eight Ball's crew lost altitude and couldn't make it back to friendly territory. They were forced to parachute to the ground.
"The last I looked at the altimeter we around 600 feet and it was after that that we finally jumped, so I know that we were very fortunate in being able to
jump and survive at that altitude. One of our fellows did get killed because his chute didn't open quick enough."
"I swung once and touched the ground. My chute came right down over top of me. Everything was very quiet. I looked around and all at once a woman ran up to me." Although the woman and her friends tried to hide him, he was soon captured by German soldiers.
"Later we found out we lost close to 40 bombers and several fighters. The Luftwaffe lost over 120-some fighters. This all happened in the span of less than an hour."
Guiciardi, who lives in Creighton, Allegheny County, graduated from Tarentum High School before enlisting in the Army Air Corps and training as a bombardier on a
B17. After being commissioned as an officer, he was assigned to the 303rd Bomb Group, 359th Squadron, nicknamed Hell's Angels.
He wasn't scheduled to fly that day because he had just returned from rest and recuperation in London. Wakened and told he had to fly, he quickly pulled a thin electrically-heated suit over his dress uniform. "After I got captured I discarded the heated suit, but now I'm in dress clothes which shows who I am and what I am, which you shouldn't do. You shouldn't have any wallet in your possession, shouldn't have money, which I had. I just got paid. I had close to $400 on me."
After their capture, he and other crew members were taken to a large warehouse filled with prisoners, where Guiciardi looked out a window and spotted an American plane. "Just as I'm looking, I saw a bomb leaving the wing of the plane and I yelled to my guys to duck and I hit the floor and got behind this beam."
The bomb struck the building killing a German guard. "That put panic in them. The guards didn't know what to do. They were trying to take care of their friends and still guard us and it looked like they were going to fire their machine gun and just get rid of us."
The Germans proceeded to take prisoners outside one at a time and fire shots. Guiciardi and the engineer were the last of eight men to be taken out.
"We thought they were killing us one at a time. At this point in time it seems like that wasn't much, but we were kids. We'd never experienced anything like this. It just seemed that this was our last day - we were going to die - and me and my buddy, we hugged each other. I wouldn't leave. They pulled me away from him. They take me outside and then all they do is shoot in the air. And there's all the other guys."
He was placed in solitary confinement, then interrogated. Although he refused to answer questions, Guiciardi found that his German interrogator knew a lot about him and his crew. "He even had information on my education in the States. He gave me the serial number of the plane we ferried from the United States to Ireland, gave me the name of all the officers who headed our bomber air field.
After the first day of interrogation with him, I was put into another area - again in solitary . . . Believe it or not, I'm now in the hands of the Gestapo and the reason for that is all the money I had on me, so I was told. They said I was a spy. I tried explaining I just happened to put on these clothes, and didn't take my wallet out . . . those four days I got no food and kept being harassed, scared, threatened to be killed, to be shot as a spy."
On the fourth day, he complained about the lack of food and was given rations of bread and water. "That was the end of my interrogation. I spent a total of two weeks in solitary confinement, which seemed like 20 years."
He was sent to Stalag Luft 3, a prison camp in northeastern Germany where he and his other crew members were united with their pilot who had been captured.
He vividly recalls the importance of food in the POW camps. "We were in groups of six, whatever food you got, had to be divided six ways. One slice of bread had to be cut into six equal parts and after it was cut up, the
crumbs were divided into six equal parts, even if it was grain. It sound ridiculous, but that's how important it was."
As the Russians closed in on the area, the prisoners were marched, in January 1945, to Stalag 7 at Moosburg, Germany, about 40 miles north of Munich.
Their march took two weeks. While on the road they were forced to sleep outdoors in the cold.
Stalag 7 was liberated in April 1945 by General George Patton's Third Army 14th Armored Division.
Reunited with his wife, Guiciardi celebrated the end of the war while on leave in Miami. Now retired after 43 years as a maintenance supervisor at the PPG Industries plant in Creighton, he says of his war experiences "When I got captured
my impression of a German was a monster. The Army had done this to me . . . I had been brainwashed and I was a kid, I was trained to hate and kill without thinking about it . . . And that's why you can do what you do. It's not normal for someone to drop a bomb and kill a bunch of people."
I've had more good things come out of my experience than bad things and I consider myself one of the most fortunate because I don't think I've had abnormal things come out of it." But he adds, "It's unbelievable to me, man's inhumanity to man."