Vito “Bill” Pellegrino, a World War II veteran, will lead the 66th annual St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade as its Grand Marshal on May 27.
Pellegrino, 93, was chosen by the St. Clair Shores Memorial Day Parade Committee for his long record of service to his country and to St. Clair Shores, the community where he settled after the war to raise his family of seven with his late wife, Lois.
“We’re honored that Mr. Pellegrino agreed to do it. He is a prime example of what makes St. Clair Shores a great community. He served our country and then he came home and served his community his entire life.” said Mayor Kip Walby.
After the war, Pellegrino earned a bachelor’s degree in special education at Wayne State University and a master’s degree from the University of Detroit Mercy. He worked at Lakeview High School as the director of special education and taught driver’s education, retiring in 1989.
He recalled a day waiting for traffic on Hall Road to clear so his student could make a right turn. Instead, she turned left and directly into the path of a truck carrying 10 tons of steel. He grabbed the wheel and averted an accident.
“I’ve lived through the Depression, two race riots and the war,” Pellegrino said. “Working as a driving instructor was the closest thing to being in combat. I was almost killed that day. But I wheeled her back into shape and after the truck went by, we stopped and had a cup of coffee. I really enjoyed teaching driver’s ed.”
Pellegrino was a member of several civic groups including the Shorewood Kiwanis, and St. Clair Shores Beautification Committee.
“The committee was extremely impressed with Mr. Pellegrino’s service record and think he will make an excellent Grand Marshal -- one the entire community can look up to as a true hero,” said Cheryl Furdos, parade chair.
Pellegrino was drafted for service just a month after his graduation from Southeastern High School in Detroit in 1943. He started in the Calvary in Kansas and trained in Texas and Wisconsin before being sent into combat in England in the 8th Air Force as a ball turret gunner in a B-17. The ball gunner was one of the most dangerous assignments in the war as the turret was a sphere under the plane with no protection from attack or even room for a parachute.
Pellegrino, just shy of six feet tall, was chosen for the duty because “we had no short guys on the crew. I’ve seen guys turn pale with fear going into those things. If you had enough guts to go into it, you were picked.”
Not long after arriving in England, the four gunners were told to stay on the ground while the other five crew members were checked out. During the check flight, the B-17 collided with another plane and just one man survived, Pellegrino said.
“That was a helluva start. Things went from there,” he said. His flight crew went on to bomb strategic targets like oil refineries and ball bearing plants in Hamburg, Nuremberg and other German cities. He was awarded the Air Medal.