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WWII fighter pilot Henry Bernard Lederer dies at 93

Henry Bernard Lederer, a World War II fighter

Henry Bernard Lederer, a World War II fighter ace who never lost his passion for aviation, died Sept. 22 in Atlantic Beach, his family said. He was 93. Credit: Handout

Henry Bernard Lederer, a World War II fighter ace who never lost his passion for aviation, died Sept. 22 in Atlantic Beach, his family said. He was 93.

Lederer enjoyed cooking and liked being up-to-date on technology, but his love of flying was a part of life he was always eager to share with others, said his son, Wayne Lederer, 56, of Atlantic Beach.

"He could tell you stories," friend Dr. Noel Kleppel, 82, of Lawrence, said. "We'd sit down and he could tell you about the time he shot down this plane or had a close call."

But Lederer didn't romanticize war, his son said. When his children asked for stories, he would say, "War stories are not for children. There is nothing fun or entertaining about war."

He was born in 1920 in Bridgeport, Conn., and cleaned aircraft at air fields on Staten Island when he was 14 in exchange for flying lessons, his son said. At 16, he had his pilot's license and when the nation entered the war, he joined the Army Air Corps as a fighter pilot, rejecting a captain's commission so he could participate in battle.

"He used to tell me that he had a reputation -- Germans knew his plane," Kleppel said.

Lederer flew P-51 Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolts on 92 missions through D-Day, Kleppel said, and named his planes "Duchess of Manhattan," referring to his sweetheart, Rita Haberman. He was credited with victories over at least five German planes, qualifying him as an ace.

Once back stateside, Lederer felt guilty reading newspaper accounts of concentration camps, according to a 2007 interview with the Nassau Herald. Still wanting to contribute to the war effort, he taught fighter pilots at home what he'd learned in Europe.

In 1945, Lederer married Haberman, but she had one stipulation: that he stop flying. He did, and took up a career as an inventor and jeweler, founding Lederer Brothers, a jewelry manufacturer known for "Lady Ellen" pearls, in 1946.

Lederer filed several small patents, but one for magnetic, interchangeable jewelry paid for the Atlantic Beach home where he and his wife lived for more than 50 years, Kleppel said.

Eventually, he convinced his wife to let him fly planes again -- and to teach her, too.

Lederer was employed at Fairchild Republic as senior engineer for the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and worked as a flight instructor, and then director of flight training at Republic Airport, he said in the interview.

He retired at 85, but continued teaching for almost five years for "the fun of it," Kleppel said.

Lederer served as president of the P-47 and P-51 pilot associations, his son said, and was active in the incorporation of the village of Atlantic Beach.

In addition to his wife and son, Lederer is survived by daughters Dr. Jane Lederer of Manhattan and Lynn Lederer of Princeton, N.J.; and two grandchildren.

Services were held Sept. 24 in Hewlett.

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