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Nello Centore
Nello Centore
(1919 - 2007)
Val Preda Crew 601
Air Medal
Purple Heart
Life before the War
Nello Centore was born on 12 December 1919 in Beloit, Wisconsin, the youngest of two sons. His family moved around before settling in New York City in 1930. His parents both worked at Bellevue Hospital.
Nello and his older brother George were raised as a big city kids. They could speak fluent Italian which they learned from home as well as in school. Among their hobbies included making model airplanes. In those days, models were not available as kits but hand made by following printed instuctions. The boys would have to cut, shape and sand each piece from balsa wood and compare it to the drawings on the instuctions. Then the pieces were glued together and painted. Nello developed a strong passion for airplanes.
Rather than going to a regular high school, Nello elected to attend the School of Aviation Trades. This was a trade school offered to high school kids by the public school system in New York City. After graduating in 1939, Nello soon discovered there wasn't a demand in the aircraft industry. At least not at that time. He found other work at the Torrington Company in Connecticut until the US entered the war.
Into the Army
Upon the news of Pearl Harbor, Nello volunteered for the Army. He was inducted on 19 January 1942 at Hartford, Connecticut. Since he had graduated from the School of Aviation Trades, he was sent to the Army Air Corps and trained to be a Flight Engineer.
His brother George also volunteered for the Army. He fought the entire length of the American effort serving in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.
With little training, Nello soon found himself stationed at Atlantic City with the 104th Observation Squadron, formerly of the Maryland Air National Guard. They flew patrols looking for German submarines lurking about in the Atlantic. Through mutual friends, Nello was introduced to Ethel Dvorsky and they quickly got serious about each other.
Come November 1942, his unit was re-designated as the 12th Anti-Submarine Squadron. The following month his squadron moved to Langley, Virginia. Although the extra distance from New Jersey was inconvienent, it did not stop Nello's romance with Ethel. But when word got out during the following year that the squadron was transferring to California to become the cadre source for the new 492nd Bomb Group, the couple decided to tie the knot. They were married during September 1943 just before the squadron headed out.
Training Record
19 Jan 42: Inducted into the Army at Hartford, CT
104th OS at Atlantic City, NJ
Nov 42: Redesignated 12th Anti-Submarine Squadron
Dec 42: 12th AS relocated to Langley Field, VA
Sep 43: Redesignated 492nd BG, moved to Blythe, CA
Oct 43: Tactical Training at Orlando, FL
Jan 44: 492nd Training at Alamogordo, NM
Apr 44: Departed to the ETO
20 Jun 44: Shot down, POW at Stalag Luft IV
Jan 44: Relocated to Stalag Luft I
May 45: Liberated by the Russian Army
28 Feb 46: Discharged from service
Service with the 492nd Bomb Group
The squadron's stay in Blythe, California, was short as they were ordered to Orlando, Florida, for Tactical Training. At the end of the year they were sent to Alamogordo, New Mexico, where the new crews for this group would be assembled and trained by the old Langley boys. Nello was a part of all of this.
All combat personnel at the 492nd were assigned to a permanent crew, unlike the anti-submarine squadron which put together crew rosters on a daily basis. Nello was assigned to the Val Preda Crew 601 which was to serve as a Lead Crew for the 856th Bomb Squadron. About half of this crew was from Langley. The other half came in with new crews from Crew Combat Training School.
The Val Preda Crew was lost while on their eighth mission, flying as Deputy Lead of the Group's low left formation. They were hit by air-to-air rockets fired by Me-410s from a Destroyer Gruppe led by the infamous ace Rudi Dassow himself. Most of the crews hit in that attack could not bail out as their planes either blew up or spun down in such a manner men could not get to an exit. However, Val Preda and Walton (the pilots), were able to control their plane just long enough for everyone still alive to bail out. They landed in the Baltic Sea just off the coast of Rugen Island.
The German's dispatched sea rescue boats to look for their own downed pilots but would pick up the Americans as well. Nello was picked up with four others from his crew by the same boat. His well-told story is reprinted here, see the links at right.
Prisoner Of War
Nello was taken prisoner at Stralslund, Germany. After interrogation and processing, he was transported to Stalag Luft IV. Their treatment was as fair as one could have expected under the circumstances. Mail was allowed and in September he was notified his first child Rick was born.
In January the POWs at Stalag Luft IV were divided into groups and marched out to avoid being liberated by the advancing Russians. Most of these groups had no destination and were marched aimlessly until the war's end. Nello was lucky as his group went to Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany, which was a camp for officers. He remained there until they were liberated in May by the Russians.
After the war
Nello was discharged from the service on 28 February 1946. He worked nights to support his family while attending school through the GI Bill and became a licensed aircraft mechanic. He moved his family to Connecticut in 1948, working at Transocean Airlines and Pratt and Whitney before joining Kaman Aircraft in 1953 as an inspector.
The family grew as the Baby Boom was on. He and Ethel had three more children. Judy in 1946, Chip in 1952, and Tom in 1954. Ethel died in an automobile accident in 1975.
Nello married Jean Sayles in 1982 and retired from Kaman as a general foreman the same year. He and Jean then relocated to New Port Richey, Florida. Nello passed away in October of 2007. At the time of his death he was survived by his wife Jean, his four children, two stepchildren, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
More Info
Val Preda
Crew 601
Mission 1
12 May 44
Mission 3
13 May 44
Mission 7
St Avord
23 May 44
Mission 11
28 May 44
Mission 13
30 May 44
Mission 22
10 Jun 44
Mission 27
14 Jun 44
Mission 34
20 Jun 44
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Page last modified Wednesday, June 22, 2011.