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
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.