Aviation Cadet Charles Grizzaffi wanted to fly P-47 ‘Thunderbolts’ in WW II

Aviation Cadet Charles Grizzaffi of Deep Creek, Punta Gorda, Fla. sits on a hill in front of his barracks at the Army Air Corps training base in San Antonio, Texas. He was 25 when this picture was taken. Photo provided

Aviation Cadet Charles Grizzaffi wanted to fly a “Thunderbolt” fighter plane in World War II. He wanted to be a P-47 pilot, but the war was over before he got his wings.

“I was the oldest, smallest and dumbest guy in our company,” he said with a chuckle 65 years later. “I was 25 years old when I joined the Air Force Cadet Program in 1943 to become a fighter pilot. I was 5-feet, 4-inches tall, two-inches short of minimum. height. And I quit my job with Sperry making parts for gyroscopes; I could have remained there the rest of the war.”

He was the smallest soldier in his company. So small that he couldn’t drill with the rest of the soldiers in his outfit. Photo provided

“When we were drilling in formation I had such a small step I was screwing up the whole formation. Finally the drill sergeant called me out of the formation and made me march along outside the group. He called me his ‘Drill Commander,’” the 92-year-old Deep Creek, Fla. resident recalled.

“At one point I was given a .45 caliber pistol as a side arm. I picked up the pistol, pointed it skyward next to my head and it accidentally went off causing a ringing in my ear I still have today,” he said. “That was the first and last time I ever held a pistol in the Air Force.”

What he lacked in size, drilling ability and firearm’s acumen he made up for in strength and agility.

“We did exercises every morning. There was a guy up on a wooden stand in front of us showing us how to do them. I was in the front row and he could see I could do the exercises,” Grizzaffi said. “He called me up on the stand and told me, ‘Show ‘em how to do it.’ I could do it better than most of the big guys.”

The first year he was in the Cadet Program Grizzaffi spent most of his time going to class and taking tests at various Army Air Corps Bases around the country. He and his group were finally sent to San Antonio, Texas for pre-flight training.

They trained in twin-engine AT-10 Beechcrafts and Ryan two-seat, open cockpit monoplanes. Grizzaffi spent lots of time as a passenger, but he never advanced far enough to solo and get his wings.

Charles is pictured astride a long horn steer of gigantic proportions. The picture was probably snapped in San Antonio, Texas Photo provided

He was about to solo when Col. Paul Tibbets flew the “Enola Gay” to Hiroshima and dropped the first atomic bomb on June 6, 1945. Several days later a second A-bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the Japanese surrendered unconditionally aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. World War II was over.

And so were Grizzaffi’s chances to become a fighter ace at the controls of a P-47 “Thunderbolt.” The Aviation Cadet Program was disbanded immediately and he and the rest of the students in his class became civilians once again and headed for home.

Grizzaffi went home to the Bronx and he became an electronics technician. The remainder of his working career was spent building and testing instruments that would be used in airplanes.

He never got a pilots license, but even at 92 Grizzaffi spent a lot of time flying with friends who are certified pilots. Aviation is in his blood.

He and his wife, Innes, retired to Deep Creek 33 years ago. They have two daughters, Carol and Karen.


Grizzaffi’s File

Name: Charles Grizzaffi
D.O.B: October 18, 1918
Hometown: Granford, NJ
Current: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: January 1944
Discharged: November 5, 1945
Rank: Aviation Cadet
Unit: 2132 Army Air Force Cadet Program


This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, September 16, 2010 and is republished with permission.

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