U.S. Army Air Corps World War II Des Plaines, IL Flight date: 09/13/17
By Mark Splitstone, Honor Flight Chicago Veteran Interviews Volunteer
Louis Megleo was born in Chicago in 1925. Years before, his father had immigrated to the US from Italy. When he was “right off the boat” he neglected to dot his “i’s” on the immigration form, making his Italian name of “Miglio” into the American name “Megleo.” Little did Louis’s father know that his son would be spending most of his time in World War II back in Italy.
Louis was familiar with the military because his father had served in WWI and in fact had received a purple heart for losing a finger while saving the life of a fellow soldier. When WWII broke out, Louis’s mother thought he would receive a draft deferment because he had a heart murmur. However shortly after his eighteenth birthday, Louis was indeed drafted. He had been in a plane once and liked it so when given the opportunity he chose to be in the Army Air Force. He trained to be both a flight engineer, a role which required him to be responsible for all in-flight maintenance, as well as a top turret gunner. Louis was assigned to the 304th bomber wing of the 15th Air Force and was based in Bari, Italy. The 15th Air Force was stationed in the Mediterranean and could reach targets in Italy, France, and Germany, as well as eastern and southeastern Europe, some of which were difficult to reach from England. In total he flew twenty missions, all on a B-24 Liberator bomber and all with the same crew, achieving the rank of technical sergeant.
His service got off to a rough start when on his very first flight his plane received eight holes from anti-aircraft fire. After that, though, they managed to avoid serious damage. Even though the German anti-aircraft fire was at the right altitude to hit them, Louis was lucky and it always missed, although he could see the anti-aircraft fire all around the plane.
Louis recalls that on one mission he dropped a screwdriver and couldn’t find it. After they dropped their bombs, the crew realized that the bomb bay doors wouldn’t close. Louis went down to look at what the problem was and realized that his screwdriver had gotten wedged in the gear. He crawled into the open bomb bay with a hammer and knocked the screwdriver out.
While Louis knows he was lucky to not be hurt or killed, not everybody in his squadron was so fortunate. He recalls a B-24 that couldn’t drop all its bombs on its mission. As it came in for a landing a 500-pound bomb came loose and exploded. All ten men onboard were killed and all that was left of the plane was four engines. Louis served from July 1943 to November 1945. His total time in the military was two years, two months, and 22 days so he always considered two to be his lucky number.
After returning from the war Louis got a job as a wood and metal pattern maker. He did very well in this field and eventually owned his own company. While growing up in Chicago there was a girl in his neighborhood who he knew and who he was initially introduced to because she threw a rock at him when they were twelve years old. After returning from the war they started dating and one day while they were in his car at a stop light Louis pulled out an engagement ring and put it on her finger. She thought it was a joke at first and almost threw it out the window but then realized it was real and accepted his proposal. They went on to be married for over sixty years. They were superb ballroom dancers, and when they danced at weddings everybody would stop to watch. They also really enjoyed camping, starting out with a tent and then becoming more and more elaborate until eventually they had a forty-foot trailer. They visited Florida in the winters and the visits there got longer and longer until they eventually moved there.
When his children were growing up, Louis was reluctant to talk about his war experiences. His daughter believes this may be because as a member of a bomber crew he knew that the results of his missions were not always what was intended and there was almost certainly collateral damage. In the later part of his life Louis has been more open about his experiences and has come to realize that while innocent people were probably impacted by his missions, what he did during the war was important and he was just doing his part to help win the war.
Several years ago, his daughter arranged for a very special moment with a fellow veteran. Louis was living in Florida at the time and his daughter managed to track down the pilot of Louis’s B-24. She took Louis to the pilot’s house and the two recognized each other immediately and both started crying. After this reunion, Louis’s daughter received a letter from his pilot, and his daughter has saved it to this day. It reads in part, “I must tell you that your Dad was exceptional! He was by far the most significant member of our crew, absolutely. I was technically the “boss” just by virtue of my position and so I was expected to be responsible for our trips. However please know that your dad knew more about our airplane than the rest of us together, and all I had to know was an “OK” from Looey and I had complete faith that all was taken care of, and so I could concentrate on flying the mission. I just can’t tell you how much the rest of us owe him. Our entire crew was efficient and professional and everyone did their job, but the heart of every mission was your Pop! You should be very proud of him and what he accomplished, and I do not hesitate to tell you that he is the most responsible of all of us for making sure, that we made it all home in one piece.”
After his wife died several years ago, Louis returned to the Chicago area and currently lives in a house with his daughter, a granddaughter, and a great-granddaughter. In total he has three children, fourteen grandchildren, and seventeen great-grandchildren. His granddaughter says that his whole life he’s always seemed to be happy and when she says, “He’s the best”, Louis replies, “You better believe it.”
Thank you for your service, Louis! We hope you enjoy your well-earned, much-deserved Honor Flight!