I was going to write something else today, not quite sure what but something else. Then I had a bit of unexpected finger surgery and was told to ease up on the keyboard for a couple of days. So you’re getting a reprieve. Of sorts.
Instead, I’m going to peck out something meaningful that requires few words.
It’s a final salute to a man, husband, father, and warrior. One of the best of The Greatest Generation, living a life few writers could ever hope to capture, no matter how hard they might try.
A second generation American of German Irish roots, born on New Year’s Eve 1919 in NYC’S poor Lower East Side, his factory worker father finally made enough to move the family up to the Bronx into another polyglot neighborhood of hard working men and women.
His athleticism and good nature earned him a position as a batboy at Yankee Stadium in the days of Babe Ruth—and later an offer to try out for the Babe’s former team, the Boston Red Sox. After graduating high school he attended St. John’s University, working two jobs to pay for it, leaving no time to sleep.
Then came World War II, and he made his choice to leave school and go fight for his country.
He trained as a fighter-bomber pilot, flew 133 missions over Germany, never knowing each time he went up if he’d come back. Many of his friends did not. He received many decorations—including the unique honor of receiving both the United States and British Distinguished Flying Crosses. But he never made a big deal of them. He just did his job.
And thought about the love of his life, Virginia. The young woman he’d met on a one-day pass in flight school, in Sarasota. And how they’d been inseparable until he left a month later, knowing he could not ask her to marry a soldier going off to war.
Four years later he returned, found her, and they married.
He started a business. A very good one. But it ended with the Korean War when he was called back to active duty to serve for twelve years as base commander of the Air National Guard’s 139th Fighter Squadron and 109thAirlift Wing in upstate New York.
There they had three daughters.
And there he buried his wife in 1970. His life was never the same, though he lived it through his daughters, his grandchildren, and reminiscences of a life respected and admired by all who knew him.
A memorial service with full military honors takes place today as he is interred next to his beloved Virginia.
God rest your blessed soul, Colonel Frederick Joseph Zilly, Jr. (1919-2014).