Ted Giannone is 100 years old, and a World War II veteran, so he’s seen some things. But he said he’d never really seen the Superstition Mountains until Tony Anger showed them to him. From above, in a historic plane.
His experience was the work of Grounded No More, a nonprofit group founded by Anger that takes veterans on flights in historic planes. Giannone’s flight was the organization’s 500th in a World War II-era aircraft.
But if you ask Giannone what it was like to be recognized for his service — to be greeted at his Grounded No More flight with American flags and video cameras, members of the press and an admiring crowd — he’ll say it was too much. More than he deserved. “Why me?” he asked. “I didn’t win any Medal of Honor. I didn’t fly a bomber or a fighter. I was just a sailor doing his job.”
Giannone, who worked as a Navy airplane mechanic on board a carrier ship and flew missions as a gunner in the war, has plenty of stories to tell beyond his time as a sailor. But his sentiment, that he is no different than any other veteran, aligns with the goals of Grounded No More, which seeks to acknowledge the courage and commitment of every military service member, no matter where or when they served.
In recognizing their experiences and sometimes their trauma, and by providing a supportive environment, Anger hopes his organization will leave veterans with a sense of care and acknowledgment that they may never have had before. That, he hopes, will combat the mental toll some veterans suffer in silence, and call attention to it.
For a century now, Giannone has lived by values similar to Anger’s: a love for God, country and family that has shaped his life and his service.
Giannone was born in 1922 in Manhattan and raised in Brooklyn, one of six siblings, three boys and three girls. As a kid, he said, he would help his dad deliver produce from wholesale to retail markets. He drove the truck, even though he was underage, with a little help from a driver’s license belonging to Joe, an older friend.
In the summer of 1940, at the age of 17, he signed up for the Navy. During the war, Giannone was an aviation machinist’s mate first class, working as a repair mechanic for the planes on the USS Kitkun Bay, a CVE-71 carrier ship. The ship island hopped and stopped at Pearl Harbor (well after the 1941 attack), but Giannone’s most intense wartime experience was at Leyte Gulf. There, the U.S. lost several ships, including multiple carriers, and a lot of men.
One of Giannone’s most vivid memories of that day involved his shipmate and good friend, Bobby. They were both just teenagers, and when they saw Japanese planes fire at the vessel, they made a break for the “island,” the command center of the aircraft carrier. He realized later that the island is the worst place to be during an attack, because it’s an important target for the enemy.
He and Bobby hardly knew that at the time. “When you’re young you do stupid things,” he said, laughing. Luckily, he said, great leaders took care of him and his crew. Captain John Whitney, he said, brought them back, steering the carrier through enemy fire like it was a rowboat. Debris from nearby kamikaze attacks damaged the carrier, but the attackers didn’t hit the ship directly. One man died on Giannone’s ship and several others were wounded.
Giannone credits his survival to the men on the other ships and planes who lost their lives that day. “They were heroic,” he said. “They laid a huge wall to protect us, the carriers…they went right straight into the Japanese fleet and each one of them was blown up.”
Image courtesy Mark Henle / The Republic