Editor's note: This is the second of two parts.
As fate would have it, the Slipstream was shot down over Olomouc, Czechoslovakia, which was occupied by Germans. The Slipstream was part of a mission to bomb the synthetic fuel plant in Odertal, Germany.
After releasing its bombs and on the way back, the plane was attacked by two German ME 190s. During this engagement, Vincent C. Manzella was hit and killed by their 20mm cannon fire. His parents received a telegram listing him as MIA on Jan. 3, 1945. They desperately tried to get information on the fate of their son. They contacted family members of some of the other crew members of the Slipstream to no avail. In keeping with U.S. Army policy at the time, Manzella was declared KIA on Dec. 19, 1945.
Vincent C. Manzella, U.S. Army Air Force
His remains and others from the Slipstream crew were discovered at a cemetery in Olomouc in late 1945 by an English Major looking for some Spitfire pilots who had gone down in the same area. Also found at this time was an ID bracelet bearing Manzella's name, engraved on the back with the words "Love Betty." It was kept by locals when the Slipstream crashed so the Germans wouldn't get it. (Please note: "Betty" is not the woman's actual name. While she has passed away, she does have family members who still reside in the area)
It is believed Betty was who Vince got the "Dear John" letter from. George Hilton and Jack Fowler had always assumed that Betty was from Virginia, because his "Swamp Gal" crew members remembered the "Dear John" letter came when they were at Langley Air Base in Virginia. In fact, she was a Chautauqua County resident. She was identified with the assistance of Kay Coniglio, Dorothy Schibetta Janzcak, Mary Sorci and Margaret Valone.
When I informed George Hilton that we knew who Betty was, he was ecstatic and wanted to know everything possible about what happened to her, where she lived, etc. This bracelet was just one of many interesting facts that we discovered about Manzella and his final mission. Other facts are listed below:
There are eyewitness accounts from 2nd Lt. Ward Randolph of the Slipstream that give detailed information on what happened in Manzella's final hours and minutes; 2nd Lt. Randolph was wounded in the shoulder by the same 20mm shells that killed Manzella.
The U.S. researchers, George Hilton and Jack Fowler, interviewed either the survivors of or family members of every Slipstream and Swamp Gal crew member EXCEPT Vince Manzella. They could never locate a living relative of his. Thankfully, that issue has been resolved.
Manzella's remains were buried four times. First by the Czech civilians on Dec. 31, 1944. The second time was a ceremony with all the Allied powers in Olomouc in March of 1946. In October of 1946 his remains were sent to St. Avold-Metz, which is a U.S. military cemetery in France. At the request of his parents, he was finally returned home on Aug. 17, 1948. His remains arrived at the Dunkirk train station where his family and fraternity brothers from the Carl-Vincent Club waited. His final burial took place at St. Anthony's cemetery on Aug. 19, 1948.
The club is in possession of a film of the Allied ceremony that occurred in Olomouc in March of 1946. The American caskets are clearly visible in this six-minute film.
To this day and 69 years after it was shot down, a memorial to the Slipstream crew is maintained in Olomouc by middle school students. This is a great tribute to those U.S. men and women who fought and died for the freedom of this occupied country.
No one knows what happened to Manzella's medals and other personnel effects. Club members spoke with many Manzella family members and couldn't find out anything. Bob Manzella, Vince Manzella's first cousin, finally contacted Terri DiMaggio, Manzella's first cousin from his mother's side. It turns out that DiMaggio had his Purple Heart, photos and other memorabilia. The DiMaggio family had purchased the Manzella home at 47 Prospect St. after Mary Manzella passed away in 1984. The club thanks Terri and all the DiMaggio family.
This is the most amazing thing uncovered during research. During the review of the initial Slipstream information on George Hilton's webpage, a post was noted, saying a man had possession of a life vest bearing the name "Vincent C. Manzella serial no. 12080597." I immediately contacted Bob Manzella. We tracked this gentleman down and Bob was able to purchase the vest in September of 2012. Bob now has this vest, at left, and is looking for a suitable location so it can be publicly displayed locally. It is believed this vest was in Vince Manzella's regular plane Swamp Gal and remained there after he was killed on the Slipstream. How it ended up near Dayton, Ohio some 68 years later, we do not know.
'Admire his sacrifice'
We have discovered so much about this authentic Fredonia hero in the last year. And imagine this story was just one of over 500,000 stories about our fallen heroes from World War II. We are very fortunate to have learned, in detail, about Vince Manzella's service career and the fateful final mission he took defending his country on Dec. 18, 1944. We now have his life vest, Purple Heart and other personal items to help future generations understand what he did for America. We can admire his sacrifice and understand better the pain and grief his father and mother endured.
Vince Manzella is the namesake of The Carl-Vincent Club, along with Carl Schibetta. Mr. and Mrs. Manzella were active in club activities until they passed away. They can be seen in many of photos and articles over the years. It was of great comfort to them knowing that their son's good friends, cousins and fraternity brothers would honor and pay tribute to him at every meeting, banquet and picnic they ever had, starting in 1946. Little did they know it would continue to this day, nearly 69 years after he was killed.
For more information about Vince Manzella's final mission and his crew members, go to:
For photos and information about Sigma Phi Delta and the Carl-Vincent Club, go to: