The life of World War II fighter pilots was often harrowing, brutal and short. But Benjamin Rosman, who ran Mineola Bicycle for more than 40 years after successfully dodging death in the skies over Europe, had a simple answer when asked why he volunteered for the Army Air Corps in 1943.
"The first thing was, I loved airplanes," Rosman, who in 1940 had taken a job at Grumman Aircraft right out of Hempstead High School, said in an oral history. "My first paycheck -- over to Zahn's Airport in Amityville to take flying lessons."
Rosman, 90, died Friday at his home in Old Bethpage after a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
He enlisted in January 1943 and eventually served as a first lieutenant with the 86th Fighter Group, 527th Fighter Squadron. Flying a P-47, he completed 113 missions over Germany, France and Italy, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, according to a 1945 Newsday article describing his return from Europe.
After the war, he ran a rowboat concession in Oyster Bay, then started Mineola Bicycle at the corner of Mineola Boulevard and Jericho Turnpike in 1950. He ran the business until he sold it to a cousin in 1997.
But his adrenaline-fueled love of the skies never left him, and he participated in flying clubs all along. He indulged in whimsical jaunts, frequently flying to Atlantic City for favored corned beef sandwiches, and once even buzzed the crown of the Statue of Liberty with his daughter flying along. "You could practically reach out and scratch her nose," said Deborah Doerrlamm, of Ronkonkoma. "I was in the back, screaming."
A frequenter of the American Air Power Museum in Farmingdale, Rosman was a willing storyteller, and provided details of his wartime experiences in an oral history archived in the Library of Congress.
In addition to his daughter, Rosman is survived by his wife, Cecile; son David, of Columbia, Mo.; sister Pearl Sperber, of Delray Beach, Fla., and stepchildren Linda Taddonio, of Lake Grove, and Norman Gold, of Meriden, Conn.
He will be buried Tuesday, at 12:30 p.m., at Calverton National Cemetery.
His family asked that donations in his memory be made to the American Air Power Museum, where he made his last public appearance at a Labor Day celebration.