You can find Victor Angelo every morning from around 6:30 to 9:30am at the Twelve Corner’s Dunkin’ Donuts on Monroe Avenue. He’s been going there for so long — twenty plus years back when it was Brighton Donuts — Victor is now the acknowledged Mayor of the Donuts (a position without term limits).
About a dozen regulars — none as often as Victor — gather most every morning for coffee, the morning paper (yes, in print form) and to swap stories past and present. Today was special.
June 6th was the 92nd birthday of the President of the Club (Victor’s other title) and also the 72nd anniversary of the invasion of Normandy. On his 20th birthday on D-Day, Victor was in Italy, waiting for his B-24, in which he was a waist gunner, to be readied for its next mission: three days later over Vienna.
I first met Victor on Monroe Avenue when seeing a spry older gentleman next to a mini-van with a sticker: WWII: I SERVED.
Asking Victor about the sticker and his service, he was a little surprised I was interested in the war or his stories. A soft-spoken man, Victor first said he doesn’t really talk much about the war. While he appreciates the honor and praise given to war veterans, Victor himself doesn’t like to draw much attention to his own service. In 1969, a historian contacted him, seeking information about Victor’s 776th Squadron. For some reason, Victor never returned the questionnaire.
Actually, Victor served with distinction in the Air Force from 1943 – 1945, mostly in Italy. He says he was on 35 missions, but probably could have claimed more if he’d included many half missions. One of the more dangerous destinations, Vienna was Victor’s first and last mission.
Victor’s most perilous mission was an aborted bombing raid on Ploesti. On the way, engine # 2 failed and the plane had to cross the Adriatic and return to base.
Flying at 14,000 feet,Victor keenly remembers the navigator telling the captain as they passed over the Italian countryside, “Skipper, this little town might have a few guns in it.” Suddenly, the sky exploded with anti-aircraft fire. The B-24 was over a German hornet’s nest.
One burst hit Victor’s plane. By good fortune, the shrapnel hit a pipe, tempering the projectile’s full force. Victor’s was dazed but only grazed. Victor would later retrieve a piece of flak shrapnel embedded in the pipe.
But engine # 3 was damaged and the plane was losing altitude. It was unclear if they could stay aloft over the Adriatic on the way back to base. To lighten the plane’s weight, the crew decided to jettison everything overboard: parachutes, ammunitions, the tail guns, just about everything. Had the plane ditched in the Adriatic — the outcome most feared — the going would have been rough as the crew had even cast down the inflatable dinghy.
The strategy worked and the crew landed safely. But a little to Victor’s surprise, the captain was chewed out by the brass. Apparently, the commanders disapproved of jettisoning all the equipment, preferring they had risked a ditching in the Adriatic. Victor still shakes his head at this presumed act of military wisdom.
Inquiring about other war memorabilia, Victor said he’d wished he’d taken pictures, but really was wasn’t thinking that much about it. Still single, Victor wasn’t writing home to a wife or fiancé.
Victor also mentioned that when his marriage had ended decades ago, his ex-wife (who Victor praised as a fine mother of their children) threw out what war memorabilia he had. Even the piece of flak that Victor had brought back from Italy. Victor nodded and smiled when I added, I guess you’d taken enough flak in your marriage.
About five years ago, only because arranged by his late brother-in-law also a WWII veteran, Victor took the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. — a trip of a lifetime. Victor would also receive a Certificate of Recognition and a picture of himself with Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks.
Not a man to look back regretfully, Victor’s only disappointment was not pursuing a career as a musician; he wanted to play in a Big Band. After the war, Victor contacted the Crane School of Music about applying, but was told he needed a year of music theory. In search of music theory, Victor tried to enroll at the Eastman School of Music, but was told there was a year waiting list. Life intervened and Victor never did get to be in a Big Band.
But Victor enjoyed his career in the painting business, still keeping himself busy with to-be-finished home remodeling projects. Still driving, Victor lives alone with his cat — with frequent visits by family and Donut club members.
Back at Dunkin’ Donuts, Victor had shown us an article in today’s paper about D-Day in which an interviewed veteran was his age, now 92. Then time for a group photo. And tomorrow the Mayor will be back at about 6:30 in the morning.SEE ALSO