Late accordion player escaped death in North Sea
by Sam Matthews
Jun 20, 2014 | 2122 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Larry Re, a Tracy resident for the past 37 years known for his love for the accordion, died June 7 at the age 89.

It was a sad day for many Tracyites who knew Larry and enjoyed knowing him and his accordion playing for so many years.

What has been obscured by passing years, though, is that his date of death came razor close to being 70 years earlier, on Aug. 9, 1944.

That was the day that Tech. Sgt Larry Re of the U.S. Army Air Forces bailed out of a burning B-17 bomber and landed in the frigid waters of the North Sea.

He and other crew members spent three hours in the sea before being rescued, and Larry, a non-swimmer buoyed only by a Mae West life vest, was struggling to stay alive when pulled from the ocean waters.

It all started earlier that day when the B-17 took off from Polebrook, England, on a bombing mission over Munich, Germany. Larry was the engineer on board.

Weather forced the mission to be aborted, and the formation of bombers headed home. Over Belgium, however, heavy German anti-aircraft fire caused major damage to the aircraft’s right wing.

Midway between the continent and England, the damaged wing burst into flames, and the aircraft commander ordered the crew to bail out. All nine crewmen landed in the North Sea.

It was providential that the aircraft commander, Lt. James Myl of Long Beach, had been a life guard and was a strong swimmer.

After landing in the water, Myl heard Larry, whom he knew couldn’t swim, calling for help. The B-17 pilot swam over to the struggling crewman, telling him to begin thrashing his arms and legs constantly to maintain circulation. He also found Benzedrine in Larry’s escape kit and gave it to him, while watching that Larry’s head did not slump into the water.

Fortunately, the pilot of an American P-51 fighter had seen the B-17 go down and radioed the position to British Navy rescue units in England.

Three hours after the B-17 crew had landed in the ocean waters, a British rescue boat appeared on the scene and pulled seven of the nine crewmen on board. Myl and Larry were the last to be rescued. Two crewmen were never found.

Larry never made a big thing out of his brush with death in the open sea, but he did tell the story of his timely rescue at sea during a program of World War II remembrances sponsored a decade ago by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

He said the sight of the P-51 flying overhead long enough to establish the radar location of the downed airmen gave him and others hope of being rescued.

That hope was realized after Larry had spent three hours in the water struggling to stay alive. A few minutes longer, he could have perished.

Tracyites who have known Larry and his wife, Paula, over the years can be especially thankful that Larry was pulled from the sea in time. They were both among those instrumental in establishing the Italian Catholic Federation chapter in Tracy a quarter-century ago. Paula’s enthusiasm and organizational skills and Larry’s good humor and accordion playing, along with Steve Galanti’s cooking, were essential elements of the chapter’s successful beginning, leading to many evenings of fellowship, pasta — and accordion music.

A busy weekend

The 90th annual IPFES Holy Ghost festa is this weekend, and that means a busy time for the family of the Pete and Debbie Corallo. But they don’t mind at all; it’s a family tradition.

Pete and Debbie are co-presidents of the IPFES this year and in charge of the many aspects of the festa, which will be held Saturday and Sunday.

And then to top it off, their two daughters, Ava and Evanna, are the middle and little queens, respectively, of the festa. There’ll be a lot of “getting ready” time for two young girls.

This is the second time Debbie has helped preside over the festa. In 2001, after her mother had died, she served as co-president with her father, Joe Souza.

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, is home from Europe and can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at shm@tracypress.com.

 
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