15th Air Force, 99th Bomber group, 347th squadron
Outfit: MIA: 12/18/44 Olomouc, Czechoslovakia. Declared KIA: 12/19/45
Service date: May 23, 1942
Vincent C. Manzella, U.S. Army Air Force
Vincent Manzella was born in Brooklyn on July 21, 1921, but at an early age moved with his parents Joseph and Mary DiMaggio Manzella to Fredonia. They settled at 47 Prospect St., the unofficial eastern border of Little Italy.
Although he was an only child, Manzella never lacked for family. On the Manzella side, his father had three brothers and two sisters. Within a minute, he could be visiting first cousins at his Aunt Concetta "Mary" Coniglio's house or at his Uncle Charles Manzella's, both of whom lived on Cleveland Avenue.
Manzella's mother had five sisters and three brothers. The youngest of the DiMaggios was Russell, who would become the owner of The Pantry Delicatessen in Fredonia. He was only two years older than Manzella! With such large Italian-Catholic families, there were plenty of opportunities to gather for celebrations, including baptisms, first communions, confirmations and weddings.
Manzella was a popular guy at Fredonia High School. He was a good math student and by all accounts, also a very sharp dresser. He developed a reputation as "the funny guy" with his quick wit, much like his friend Dominic Guzzetta. He and his good friend Horace Leone were members of the St. Anthony's Drama Club. This group of young people performed plays on a small stage set up in the basement of the church. Fellow Sigma Phi Delta brothers Marion Siragusa and Lou Coniglio were also members of the drama club.
In February 1937, 12 Fredonia High students from Little Italy had formed the Sigma Phi Delta fraternity in response to ethnic prejudice. Their fraternity would expand and grow beyond the original 12. Manzella was one of the boys who joined the fraternity after its formation. World events would forever link these fraternity brothers in life until their final days.
During my research last year into the Carl-Vincent Club, I found out very little about Manzella's military service and his final mission. After speaking with many surviving members from the "Greatest Generation" and looking up some things on military and archival sites, I was still in the dark about this serviceman's career.
But I finally did a Google search and found that three men had been researching the crash of the "Slipstream" for 15 years! They are George Hilton, whose father was a ground crew mechanic for the 99th Bomber group; Jack Fowler, the nephew of the tail gunner from the "Slipstream" and also of Robert Lary, who was also killed; and finally a Czech national doing his PhD work about this plane and its crew. The amount of information I received from these three men was overwhelming both in quantity and quality.
Manzella spent the first six months of his U.S. Army career at Governors Island, N.Y. From there it was off to Nashville, Tenn. for two months. Next was Maxwell Field in Alabama from December 1942 to February 1943. This was a top AAF basic training base. Then off to Kessler Field in Biloxi, Miss. until 5/43. His training continued at Sioux Falls AAF base until December 1943. He soon went to Las Vegas AAF base, now Nellis, for gunnery training. His longest training stint was spent in Tampa at McDill Air Field from February 1944 to August 1944. His final stateside assignment was at Langley Field for B-17 training and to get the crew assignments in preparation to go overseas. Finally, in October 1944, he left for Tortorella, Italy as part of the 15th AAF, 99th Bomber group, 347th Squadron. He was assigned as a top/waist gunner and assistant engineer to the B-17 "Swamp Gal" piloted by Captain James Ryan.
Once they arrived in Italy, the Swamp Gal crew went into action, mainly on missions to attack Germany's military-industrial infrastructure. Manzella now had experience to go along with the intensive training he had undergone over the last two years. On Dec. 18, 1944 he volunteered to fly as a togglier on the Slipstream. It was the first mission for many members of the crew, including the pilot, 2nd Lt. Sherwood Ruster; and the navigator, 2nd Lt. Ward Randolph.
A "togglier" was the title an enlisted man is given when serving as bombardier, which was usually reserved for officers. This also put Manzella into the Plexiglass nose cone of the B-17, a much more vulnerable position. Accounts suggest that Manzella thought by taking this mission as a togglier, he would gain more points toward his mission requirements and get back to Fredonia quicker. According to his crew members, his motivation was a recent "Dear John" letter.
NEXT WEEK: Part two.