Hugo Riva of Mary Lou Mobile Home Park in Port Charlotte, Fla. flew out of England as top turret gunner and engineer aboard a B-17 “Flying Fortress” bomber dubbed “Combined Operation” during the Second World War.
He and his 10-man crew of the four-engine bomber helped bring down the curtain on Hitler and his Third Reich. Riva flew the last 10 combat missions of the war over Germany and France from March 17, 1945 to April 17, 1945.
The Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945, “V-E Day.” World War II in Europe ended.
A yellow and decaying piece of copy paper Riva tucked away in a manila envelope decades ago tells the tale. It is a copy of his bomber’s flight log. Yellowing and falling apart it reads:
MISSIONS: 367th Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, England
March 17, 1945……Berlin….9:35 a.m.
March 21, 1945……Berlin….6:45 a.m.
March 28, 1945……Berlin….8:25 a.m.
March 30, 1945……Berlin…..7:20 a.m.
April 3, 1945 Adoration, Germany…..2:55 a.m.
April 4, 1945 Asserg, Germany…..10: 05 a.m.
April 5, 1945 Eidlm, Germany…… 10;00 a.m
April 15, 1945 Loyan, France……… 7:20 a.m.
April 16, 1945 Flatting, Germany……9:15 a.m.
April 17, 1945 Sendish, Germany …9:35 a.m.
“Before the war I attended aeronautical school and learned to fly. I always like planes,” the 97-year-old Riva said.
“Eventually the Air Force made me a sergeant and put me in a B-17 and sent me to England. My unit was part of the 367th Bomb Group, 306th bomb Squadron, 8th Air Force. We flew out of Thurleigh, England, a Royal Air Force Base about 20 miles north of London.
“As engineer aboard the plane it was my responsibility to keep the bomber flying while we were airborne.
“The worst flight we had was over Berlin when we took flak from German cannons. It cut a hydraulic line I repaired in flight. The line provided the hydraulic fluid that operated the brakes and the plane’s flaps.
“By the time we arrived in Europe with our bomber crew the Luftwaffe had been dessimated by Allied aircraft. We didn’t put up with nearly as many enemy fighter planes as the guys who came before us did.”
A couple of positive things Riva recalls about the war: “The people in England treated us very nice. When we returned from a mission they fed us steak and eggs. Secondly, victory was still being celebrated when he retuned to New York City by ship at the end of the war.
In Riva’s collection of memorable is a one page: “Army Air Force Certificate of Appreciation for War Service.
“I cannot meet you personally to thank you for a job well done; nor can I hope to put in written words the great hope I have for your success in future life.
“Together we built the striking force that swept the Luftwaffe from the skies and broke the Germans’ power to resist. The total might of the striking force was then unleashed upon the Japanese. Although you no longer play an active military part, the contribution you made to the Air Force was essential in making us the greatest team in the world.
“The ties that bound us under stress of combat must not be broken in peacetime. Together we share the responsibility for guarding our country in the air. We who stay will never forget the part you have played while in uniform. We know you will continue to play a comparable role as civilian. As our ways part, let me wish you God speed and the best of luck on your road in life. Our gratitude and respect go with you.
Army Air Force
After his service in the Air Force, Riva joined his parents who opened a pizza restaurant in Taunton, Mass. outside Boston called the Gondolier.
“It was eventually a big restaurant and a big success,” he said.
Decades later he and his late wife, Lucille, moved to Florida’s east coast. Then they came to Port Charlotte some years ago. The couple had two children: Carrie and Donna.
Name: Huga Riva
D.O.B: 15 June 1920
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla
Entered Service: 30 July 1941
Discharged: 30 Nov 1945
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: 367th Bombardment Squadron, 306th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force
Battles/Campaigns: European Theatre
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 9, 2018 and is republished with permission.
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