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Edwin Ferrar, WWII vet, insurance salesman, dead at 90

The zany stories Valley Stream's Edwin Ferrar would tell seemed straight out of Dr. Seuss. Flying to Germany at the end of World War II to make a food drop over his grandmother's house. Having a buzz bomb swish by while floating on a parachute over Europe. Bringing his pet jaguar along for a chat on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show."

But the decorated World War II fighter pilot did all that and more during his 90 years.

Ferrar, an insurance salesman who in the 1950s and 1960s played with lions in giant cages, drove around Long Island with a leopard in his station wagon and raised his children in a virtual zoo, died July 16 at Franklin Hospital Medical Center in Valley Stream from complications of a broken hip.

During a 1964 "Tonight Show" appearance, which included a film clip of Ferrar's 12-year-old son Steve swimming with a jaguar in the backyard pool, Carson asked Ferrar why he kept wild animals at his Lynwood Drive home.

Although "a jaguar is the most ferocious animal on the face of the earth," Ferrar said, " . . . I felt that the more difficult it could be, it was a challenge. And I wanted something completely unusual, something different."

His neighbors, less amused, asked a Nassau County District Court judge to ban from the neighborhood a 175-pound feline Ferrar would take for strolls. The judge complied, though Ferrar persuaded him to pet the leashed lion for a photograph that ran in Newsday.

Born in St. Albans, Queens, he went into the Army in December, 1942, and flew 78 combat missions over Europe in a P-47 Thunderbolt. His son said he downed 17 enemy aircraft, and his discharge papers list him as having earned the Distinguished Flying Cross plus the Silver Star, the Army's third-highest medal.

He was shot down on his last mission, in February, 1945, and parachuted just as a German V-2 rocket passed so close he could feel its breeze. American anti-aircraft targeted the rocket, and when Ferrar landed U.S. GIs grabbed him, believing he had been the pilot of some new German aircraft.

Later, two days after Germany's surrender, Ferrar took off with a food package and dropped it near the Wurtzburg, Germany, home of his 95-year-old grandmother. She picked it up and waved. "I thought it would be the most effective way of dropping the food package where I wanted it to go," he told the New York Daily News in 1945.

After his honorable discharge that year, he founded Ferrar Insurance Agency, which his children still run in Franklin Square, and moved to Valley Stream in 1949.

But suburban life alone was too tame for the WWII ace.

At one point, he shared his home with a lion, a leopard and a jaguar.

"It was simply chaos," his wife Mary told Pictorial Living magazine. "I could never get used to the idea of going into my daughter's room and seeing a lion resting at the foot of her bed."

Survivors include his son, Steve of West Hempstead, and daughter Susan D'Alessandro, of Valley Stream. His wife died three years ago.

His funeral was last Tuesday at Blessed Sacrament Church, in Valley Stream. He was buried at Calverton National Cemetery, in Calverton.

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