How Sam Mastrogiacomo changed his POW status.
The first thing World War II veteran Sam Mastrogiacomo tells a library full of Hinson Middle School eight graders during his visit on Friday, April 13, is that he has 13 letters in his last name.
It is a significant number for the Edgewater resident. As a B-24 tail gunner in the war, he flew in 13 combat missions over Germany. On his last mission, he and his crew flew over Germany to drop bombs over a weapons factory.
It was a mission that would soon grow more complicated as the Germans would then damage Mastrogiacomo's plane in retaliation, leading them to make an emergency landing in Sweden where he and his fellow crewmen were captured as prisoners of war.
For months, he and the other POWs were forced to fix aircrafts for the Germans. One night, Mastrogiacomo and 35 others were able to escape in a 10-person aircraft they had repaired.
Mastrogiacomo told the eight-graders that the single most important thing in life was teamwork. After his experience in the war, he said he considered his crew to be like brothers.
“I was so fortunate that we trained together for about six months before we got into combat, so we were like lifetime brothers, and after the war, we met at reunions and wrote each other,” Mastrogiacomo said.
The event was planned by teacher Joseph Vetter, who said the bottom line was for them to remember Mastrogiacomo and his story in order to pass it down to their own children someday.
"So that whenever you look at that American flag, you look at it in respect and realize freedom was not free — that you appreciate all the freedoms this country enables you to have because of men like this gentlemen right here,” Vetter said.