Long-time Roselle Park resident, distinguished World War II Army Air Corps combat veteran, and VFW Post 9119 member James. D. Vigliotti has been named the Grand Marshal of the 2016 Roselle Park Memorial Day Parade.
Known to most residents as Mr. Vigliotti who – for decades – has led residents in singing “God Bless America” at town events, not many are aware of his brave service to the nation during World War II which rightfully bestowed upon him the honor of Grand Marshal this year.
In 1942, Mr. Vigliotti joined the United States Army Air Corps, attained the rank of Staff Sergeant, became an Aerial Gunner (or Air Gunner), and served as a tail gunner, turret gunner, waist gunner, and nose gunner. For those unfamiliar, a gunner was the crewman responsible for defending a mission with high-caliber machine guns against enemy fighter attacks from the rear (tail gunner), from below (turret gunner), from the side (waist gunner), and from attacks head on (nose gunner).
Most of his missions were on B-17 Flying Fortresses, which were four-engine heavy bombers – the most notable being the Memphis Belle. Mr. Vigliotti was assigned to the 8th Air Force, 92nd Bombardment Group, 325th Bomb Squadron, which was based at RAF Podington Airfield in Bedfordshire, England. The 92nd Bomb Group was known as “Fame’s Favored Few” and the 325nd Bomb Squadron’s symbol was “Alley Oop on a Tiger.”
To see and talk with the humble man of today who always dresses to reflect the appropriate respect for borough occasions, one might not see the young man who went through many life-threatening experiences during his military service. The average life expectancy of a B-17 bomber crew member was 12-14 missions; Mr. Vigliotti took part in 34.
During his time on Flying Fortresses, Mr. Vigliotti experienced everything from having the oil in his 50-caliber machine gun freeze to having the oil in his ball turret catch fire.
On one bombing mission in particular to Berlin, anti-aircraft fire disabled one engine of his B-17 and soon thereafter, the second of the Flying Fortress’ engine flamed out. Flying with only two engines, the pilot flew from one bombardment group to another for cover fire and protection. When the B-17 finally reached France, the third engine died. As they flew over the English Channel – with 75% of the engines gone – everything that was not bolted down was thrown overboard to lighten the plane’s load. Imagine 10 servicemen and 18 tons – about 36,135 lbs – of steel being kept in the air with just one engine. The crew managed to bring in the B-17 to an English airbase to complete its mission.
As a result of his military service, Mr. Vigliotti earned the following:
- Aerial Gunner’s Wings
- Distinguished Flying Cross
- Air Medal (with three Oak Leaf Clusters)
- Presidential Unit Citation (PUC)
- Good Conduct Medal
- European Theater Medal
To highlight just a few commendations, a Good Conduct Medal is awarded to a military serviceman who completes three consecutive years of “honorable and faithful service”. A PUC is reserved for a unit of the United States Armed Forces which displayed extraordinary heroism in action. The unit must have displayed such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign.
After his 1945 discharge, Mr. Vigliotti enlisted in the Air Force Reserves. He was called back into active service for one year during the Korean War where he was stationed in Cape Cod and then back to England. He also took advantage of the G.I. Bill to hone his singing talent which he has used in the choir of the Church of the Assumption as well as in service to Roselle Park.
On Monday, May 30, 2016, Mr. Vigliotti will be leading the Memorial Day parade in Roselle Park as its Guest of Honor. Knowing Mr. Vigliotti, you can be rest assured that he will stand not only for himself as well as his family and Roselle Park but also for those fallen brothers and sisters who gave the ultimate sacrifice in times of war.