Jess Victor Ziccarello Sr. grew up as the middle child in a family with six other siblings. His father was a brickmaker, and his mother was a businesswoman who bought clothes in New York City for resale in their home town of Whippany, New Jersey. His parents immigrated to the United States in 1914 from Sicily, arriving at Ellis Island. His mother wanted him to become a doctor, and he was attending Penn during the first few years of World War II. In 1943, he volunteered for the service, and entered the Army Air Corps. He demonstrated aptitude during training and was selected to become a navigator. He overcame his air sickness after the first few flights, and at the end of his training he received a commission as a Second Lieutenant. He joined a crew in the United States, and they flew a B-17 bomber from America to Canada and on to England, basing out of Bassingbourn near Cambridge. During the war, he flew thirty-five missions. On one, his plane was shot up so badly that they were forced to land, but were able to make it within the allied lines before touching down. The crew was questioned to prove they were Americans and not German spies. After their identity was established, they were given a new plane, and they returned to their base in England. After the war, he returned home on an English ship and was frustrated when it anchored off of Long Island, but he soon linked up with his family at Ft. Dix, New Jersey. He returned to college, and in 1948 he graduated from Penn with a degree in economics and political science, although he remained in Air Force reserve. Two of his assignments were working as a liaison with the Curtis-Wright company during the Korean War and teaching Air Force ROTC at Georgetown. At one point, he was stationed in London, England, as a purchasing officer for the Air Force. While in England, he took time to revisit his old airfield at Bassingbourn.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood and his family. He recalls his skill at throwing horseshoes, and some of his early jobs such as pulling weeds in a garden and working at a paper mill for 40 cents an hour. He discusses his training once he joined the Army Air Corps, and the various bases around the United States where he trained. Once he deployed to England, one of the things that stood out in his memory was the darkness at night due to a strictly enforced blackout. He remembers being in London when bombs (likely German V1 or V2 rockets) were falling, and taking shelter in the London Underground. He describes preparing for missions, including receiving a briefing, assembling in the air, his duties as a navigator, and the effect of flak during bombing missions. His most memorable mission was when he and the pilot lost oxygen over Berlin, and other crew members had to switch them to a back-up system before they passed out. For several missions, he flew on the bomber “Wee Willie,” the first plane to fly 100 missions. That plane eventually flew 129 missions before it was shot down over Stendahl, Germany, on April 4, 1945. Finally, Jess reflects on his service in the Army Air Corps / Air Force, and on his son and granddaughter attending West Point.