|Alfred Zanoni - World War II Pilot - Gave His Life for our Country|
By Bruce Doorly
|A plaque in the Memorial Park in Raritan lists the names of those that made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedoms.
One of those names is Alfred Zanoni. He was a pilot during World War II who was ironically killed overseas in a routine transport flight after he piloted several dangerous bombings missions on Japanese held islands.
To ensure that he will be remembered for who he was and the battles he fought as opposed to just some name on a plaque, we tell his story here.
|During World War II the Zanoni family was well known in Raritan as they owned a shoe store which was located right on Somerset Street
(the main street) in Raritan. (The store had opened around 1915. and would remain open till the mid-1950s.) |
Today in that building is a new tax business (it is next to As You Like It Ice Cream).
Like many families in the era of the Mom and Pop store, the Zanoni family lived upstairs from their store. (Although they lived just to the right of the store over where the ice cream store is today. They rented out the apartment above the shoe store to various tenants over the years.)
Alfred had three older sisters Ines (Zilli), Irma (D Alessio), and Esther (Hedges). Alfred, the only boy, was born in 1919.
Many in the family played a musical instrument. Ines played the piano, Irma the Violin, and his father the cornet.
The Zanoni family was featured on weekend evenings playing the scores that accompanied early silent films in the Movie Theatre in Raritan.
Peter Vitelli recalls that often on Sunday afternoons one could hear the family playing music together from the open windows of their apartment.
The Zanoni Shoe Store, on left, in 1915.|
Click for full photo
|As a boy in Raritan, Alfred attended the Raritan Schools. One was the Primary School where the Municipal Building is today and another was the Intermediate School whose building still stands,
but is no longer a school, but offices called First Growth Plaza. He no doubt did all the things that boys of that era did, such as playing outside without adult supervision and participating in the many games that kids made up on their own.
Alfred grew up developing a keen interest in the emerging field of aviation. He was an exceptional student. In 1938 Alfred graduated from the prestigious Peddie School in Hightstown NJ after finishing the four-year curriculum at Somerville High School.
|His sister Esther shared his enthusiasm for aviation.|
She is shown here in her Civil Air Patrol uniform.
They are in front of the shoe store which was next to
Louis's Barber Shop which was located
where As You Like it Ice Cream is today.
|His best friend Gene Moretti, age 103, is still with us today (August 2021). He provided us with some insight on the activities that Alfred did
as a teenager.
Gene said that he and Alfred often played tennis together on a tennis court on Gaston Avenue that no longer exists today. They mostly played against each other, but they also were doubles partners in some of the local tournaments held in Raritan as tennis was a popular activity in the late 1930s.
Years later after Alfred was killed in the war, Gene Moretti would make sure to save a tennis racket that belonged to his departed friend Alfred. Gene noted that the tennis racket was actually broken, but he wanted to have a memento of his departed friend.
|Another favorite activity for Gene and Alfred was to attend dances. Gene recalls that Alfred was a good-looking guy who had plenty
of girlfriends. Gene went further on to say that at the dances we did pretty well for ourselves.
These dances were on Sunday nights and held out of town in Plainfield and New Brunswick. Often a big band was there to provide the dance music.
|left to right, Gene Moretti, unknown,|
Alfred and girlfriend model Jeanne
|For college Alfred Zanoni attended Leigh University - majoring in Engineering. There he was part of their ROTC military training program.
He graduated with a Rank of Second Lieutenant in 1942 and was soon put on active military duty moving into the air corps at Ellington Field in Texas
where he was trained as a pilot.
In mid-1943 he was sent overseas to the Pacific theatre of war and put right into the battle. At the time the Japanese had just retreated from Guadalcanal and had set up a large military base with an airfield at an island in the Pacific called Rabaul. The U.S was in the process of turning the tide in the war and thus set out to reduce the offensive capability of the Japanese which was being launched from there.
|Alfred was assigned to pilot a B-25 Mitchell Bomber. This was a popular versatile plane that had a range of 3000 miles, a top speed of 300 miles per hour, and a bombing load capacity of 3000 pounds. Specifications show that the B-25 had a crew of 5 or 6 men. Several crew members had multiple roles. Positions included: pilot, co-pilot, radio / gunner, navigator / bombardier, engineer/ gunner, and tail gunner.|
|In November 1943, he participated in the bombing of the Japanese bases at Rabaul.
While the exact specifics that Alfred experienced in that battle are not fully known, the attack at Rabaul is well documented.
The U.S., over a two-week period, sent many B-25 bombers to neutralize the Japanese offensive capabilities which were still substantial at that point of the war. While losses were heavy for the U.S., they achieved their military objective inflicting enough damage so that the Japanese would have to change their military strategy from offense to defense.
|Some of the specifics of his battles were documented in the local newspaper during World War II.
His squadron in January of 1944 had one of their most successful missions when they surprised the Japanese, destroying 60 of their planes on the ground.
Alfred Zanoni and his crew had several close calls in the air. Once an anti-aircraft shell penetrated the plane by the bomb bay, but thankfully it did not set off the bombs. Another time the wing was almost torn off, but they made it back to base safely.
|For his bravery in action, he was awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.
He was also promoted from second lieutenant to first lieutenant.
After many bombing runs his unit was given a 30-day rest period in New Zealand. Alfred wrote home from his rest location to his parents saying
the folks here are very friendly to the Americans. We enjoy sleeping on soft mattresses with sheets.
No doubt wartime offers few comforts.
|Tragically while flying back as a passenger from this rest period in New Zealand the plane ran into bad weather and
crashed into a mountain killing all 32 aboard. The dangers and insanity of war are endless.
A telegram would deliver the tragic news to his family. The next year his sister Irma would name her new born son after Alfred.