When his daughter told George Francis Piro that she planned to try her hand at recreational skydiving some years ago, the former aircraft bombardier was somewhat taken aback.
“He said, ‘Are you crazy? Why would you jump out of a perfectly good plane?’ ” recalled Madeleine Piro of Hampton Bays. “He found it rather amusing that I would do that willingly.”
George Piro, 95, formerly of Bellport, who died July 23 in Venice, Florida, may have had a better reason than most to favor remaining inside airplanes.
Piro, who had enlisted in the U.S. Army in January 1942, was forced to parachute from a stricken B-24 Liberator named “Jinx” on Sept. 3, 1943 — his ninth combat mission — after it was shot down in the mountains 80 miles east of Rome. He had never had parachute training, the Army aviator recalled in a brief memoir he dictated years later.
“The group was advised, at briefing, that there were no enemy planes active in the target area,” Piro recalled in the unpublished memoir. “Wrong information!! They came like hornets, swarming out of a nest.”
“The entire group was shot down,” he recalled in the memoir.. “Six planes, two dead and 62 captured, many of whom were injured.”
Piro, who spoke passable Italian, tried to persuade the local Carabinieri to hide him and his fellow crew members from the occupying Nazis. Instead, he and the others found themselves moved from one POW camp to another before they arrived at Stalag Luft 1, where he spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner on Germany’s Baltic coast.
Piro said he and his fellow prisoners broke the monotony of prison life by playing cards, performing in prison camp shows, brewing homemade alcohol, and digging unsuccessful escape tunnels. He said a bright moment came when he came across a lifelong friend, Howard Hunter, who had also grown up in Bellport. Hunter told him that Piro’s family knew he was alive.
After Cossack horsemen drove off Piro’s Nazi captors on April 30, 1945, he returned to Bellport. The next year, he married Madeleine Myers, whom he had met in Bellport before enlisting. He eventually got a job at the post office in Bellport.
But tragedy struck in 1979 when his other daughter, Georgette Pastern, was murdered in Dearborn, Michigan, Madeleine Piro said. Piro was so affected he would spend hours at a time in the cemetery where she was buried, just a few doors from his home.
He and his wife moved to Venice, Florida, the next year, Madeleine Piro said. His spirits brightened. He took up golf again, resuming the sport he had learned as a teenager while caddying at local clubs.
In addition to his daughter, Piro is survived by his brother, Joseph Piro, of Bellport, two grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren. His wife died six years ago.
A memorial service is planned for Sept. 11 at the Bellport Country Club. He will be buried at Woodland Cemetery in Bellport.