Jack Zianni

“About six months after becoming operational, we got the P-51 Mustang, and what a joy it was to work on this magnificent airplane. The P-38 was a wonderful airplane but difficult to maintain, unlike the P-51 which was a mechanic’s dream. I got a thrill every time a Mustang took off or landed because it looked just like the flight of a bird.”

Sergeant Jack Mario Zianni entered the Army Air Force April, 1943, and was originally destined to be a gunner on a bomber, but, due to marginal eye sight, was reassigned as a fighter mechanic. A member of the 8th Army Air Force, 479th Fighter Group, and 435th Squadron, he was deployed with the Group to Wattasham Air Base near Ipswitch, England in 1944.

Zianni worked as an Assistant Crew Chief for 1.5 years and was responsible for the mechanical maintenance of the aircraft. He spent most of the time maintaining the P-51, “Hell-un,” named for the Captain’s wife. About VE Day, he was named crew chief on P-47 Thunderbolt at Boxted with the 56th Fighter Group. He was honorably discharged in December, 1945.

Zianni bunked in bay 8 at Wattasham, which earned the nickname, “section 8” due to some of the pranksters living there. His crew chief, Staff Sergeant Ed Schrader, also a good friend, possessed the talent for soap molding. A fuel truck driver, Indian Joe, had a healthy fear of mice, so, Ed molded a soap mouse and in the dead of night, rustled some paper, causing Joe to sprint from the barracks, and the others to laugh for hours.

Zianni and Schrader also made a darkroom from plywood received from auxiliary fuel tank packaging. Here, they developed photos from a large folding type camera in a wash sink, most of which were candid shots of fellow soldiers and pilots. Zianni reports, “During barrack inspections, which were done by the pilots, they often got a surprise when they beheld themselves in photos on the walls taken unbeknownst to them.”

Zianni was a member of a Group having the distinction of getting a German fighter the first day of operations, and downing the last German fighter on the last day of the war. He says he, “…was very fortunate to have a great leader, gentleman, and war hero as Commanding Officer for a while, the late Colonel Zemke.” Zemke requested that one of the Mustangs be converted for passenger capability. Zianni and some of the others were well into the project and had a second seat added when Zemke was lost in combat. The original CO returned and canceled the project.

Zianni did get the chance to fly. For fun, his squadron modified a P-38 to accommodate the enlisted and other non-flying personnel. To do so, the large radio had to be repositioned vertically in the fuselage, so the passenger could fit. Unfortunately there was little space, so the passenger needed a knit cap to protect his head and a chin strip with padding to protect the chin from the pilot’s head when they bumped. Zianni states, “One of the best memories of that flight was zooming straight up through the solid overcast clouds of a typical English day and bursting through into the brilliant sunlight with a layer of cotton below the stretching horizon.”

After World War II, Zianni worked as an automobile mechanic, and eventually owned his own gasoline station and garage. Over 30 years of his career was spent as a major appliance repairman working for a major corporation as well as being self-employed. Jack Zianni passed away in December 2008, and is survived by his wife Barbara, two children and three grandchildren.