Marcelli, who flew his first five missions as bombardier and the rest as navigator, served in the 8th Air Force, 392nd Bombardment Group, 579th Squadron based at Wendling Royal Air Force Station in Wendling, England.
Marcelli was serving as a civilian apprentice at Mare Island Naval Shipyard near San Francisco when the war broke out.
Marcelli had been trained to assess the physical and financial damage to ships.
But he wanted to join the service, and eventually qualified for the Naval aviation program in Pensacola, Fla. But first, he had to obtain a release from his employer. His boss said no.
“He wouldn’t release me and I finally got drafted,” into the Army, Marcelli said. “I tried to join the Air Corps after I got drafted, but was told they gave tests during basic training and if you pass the test, they’ll give you the opportunity. So on my fourth or fifth day there, I got a call to go to the office of a cavalry officer — he was wearing (World War I-era) Sam Brown belt and boots.”
The old-school officer informed Marcelli that he qualified, and was sent to Santa Ana Army Air Base for training, which included schooling in math, science, English and military history.
He attended navigator/bombardier school at Deming Army Airfield in New Mexico and was then sent to Tonopah Army Air Field in Nevada where he was assigned to a B-24 bomber crew.
“We flew low-level missions at about 100 to 200 feet and the gunners would shoot at cactus. Sometimes they got excited and put holes in the farmers’ water tanks,” he said, laughing.
On one mission, his squadron flew to Peenamunde, Germany on the coast of the Baltic Sea to check out suspected atomic bomb development activities.
“They expected some of us would have trouble getting back,” he said. “I wore an arm band that said in Russian, ‘I’m an American soldier. Take me to the American Embassy.’ At the time, the spring of ’45 — the Russians were rushing towards Berlin.”
It turns out, there were no atomic bomb activities going on, but, “We found out later the Germans were actually developing rockets.”
The area was highly involved in the production of the V2 rocket, the first jet-propelled weapon, which was used during the war.
The crew dropped their bombs and headed home. Their aircraft did not sustain significant damage, but, “We ran out of fuel on the way back and had to land in Marville, France, south of Belgium.”
Marcelli, who had also attended gunnery school during his stateside training, was in charge of the gunners aboard the B-24. Every now and then he’d check on the ammunition supply.
“You had to carry all the ammunition you could.”
On at least one occasion, the crew wasn’t given their usual supply.
“As we were coming back from a mission — we hadn’t fired any shots — but we only had half a load.”
It could have been an oversight — or intentional, to lighten their load and conserve fuel so they could successfully make it to the target and release their bomb load.
“We’re expendable, but the mission was necessary,” he explained.
Many of the crew’s missions were flown in inclement weather when visibility was minimal. Some of those missions had to be aborted because of heavy clouds, snow or other climate challenges.
“My last mission, for a change, was to be clear weather to the target and back,” he said.
That day the target was factories northwest of Munich.
The crew would have to cross east past the German lines.
“Even though we’re at our assigned altitude of 24,000 feet, as we flew across enemy lines, we flew into a very heavy barrage of anti-aircraft fire. Flak was pinging and rattling like raindrops on a tin roof everywhere on our plane,” he said.
One of the aircraft’s engines was hit.
“As we fell behind and below our flight group the pilot finally feathered the prop on the dead engine. As all seemed under control and we had reasonable altitude and great weather.”
Marcelli elected to bomb the secondary target, a nearby airfield.
“However, soon after we turned northeast, heading to the target, we received more ack-ack fire and that came at a time we were losing power from a second engine. That decided it for me … the bombs were salved (and) we headed home,” he said.
Now flying at a much lower altitude, the aircraft took more flak as the crew flew back across enemy lines.
“Our plane was now riddled with holes, but only minor cuts and scrapes to personnel. We landed at Wendling without further incidents. I happily downed the ounce of bourbon we all got at debriefing.”
“I had a few days of vacation coming to me, then 90 days of temporary duty with Gen. (George) Patton’s Army, for which I volunteered.”
Before his duty began, he went to breakfast with Eddy Maceyra, a friend flying his last mission early the next morning.
“During breakfast Eddy remarked, ‘This is my last mission, one way or another.’”
A mid-air collision that occurred as the aircraft flew through cloud layers to assemble above the overcast skies claimed the lives of 16 of the 20 crewmen. Maceyra was among those killed.
“Those brave men were all young … all trained for a job performed well, under trying conditions. All were untested, living out their destiny day by day. They are now all gone. They did not go unwept. It is for us to see they do not go unhonored nor unsung.”
DATE OF BIRTH: Aug. 15, 1920
HOMETOWN: Collinsville, Calif.
RESIDENCE: Sun City Palm Desert
BRANCH OF SERVICE: U.S. Army Air Corps; 8th Air Force; 2nd Air Division; 2nd Air Wing; 392nd Heavy Bomber Group; 579th Squadron.
YEARS SERVED: November, 1943 – November, 1945; served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve from November, 1945 – 1955.
RANK: 1st Lieutenant
FAMILY: Wife Marie; three children, Sandra Marcelli of San Jose, Christine Burkhart of Reno, Nev. and Jim Marcelli of Sunnyvale; three grandchildren; one great-grandchild.