Veteran recalls World War II
REMEMBERING Dave Tunno, left, and his wife, Eva Louise Tunno, reminisce about his years of service in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Tunno is surrounded by military memorabilia in their Meridian house.Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie/The Meridian Star
Nov. 11, 2001
For World War II veteran Dave Tunno, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, related security issues and bombing of Afghanistan bring back 60-year-old memories.
Back then, Tunno was a tailgunner on B-24 bombers. He finished World War II as a master sergeant and was credited with shooting down the first enemy fighter from an American heavy bomber.
And at the age of 21, the Pennsylvania native and longtime Meridian resident was the most decorated enlisted man in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Tunno served with HALPRO, the 1st Provisional and 376th Bombardment groups. HALPRO was a code name for a secret task force of the best Air Corps servicemen; it was organized in early 1942.
Today, as America honors its war heroes on Veterans Day and remembers servicemen now fighting in Afghanistan, Tunno plans to pay tribute to the men he served with in HALPRO during World War II.
HALPRO was organized to bomb Tokyo, but instead became the first bomb group in the Middle East. Tunno, who enlisted in May 1941, was chosen for HALPRO after graduating at the top of his class in gunnery school.
Tunno's unit accomplished many firsts that included being the first based in Africa, the first to bomb Europe, the first to bomb the Italian fleet and the first to bomb enemy-held Greece.
Out of the 151 original combat men who made up HALPRO, 11 are still alive today.
One of the service buddies Tunno misses most is Joe Saia of Wiggins, who tried to get Tunno to attend Mississippi State with him after the war.
The day in which Tunno was the first to shoot down a German fighter from a heavy bomber, Saia who was on another bomber crew on the same raid snagged the second hit.
The air fight took place after a raid on the Italian fleet as the bombers headed home flying 50 feet over the water. Tunno and fellow soldiers were talking about the raid and eating crackers and pork and beans when he spotted enemy aircraft and alerted the squad.
They weren't expecting enemy aircraft because they weren't warned about the two German air bases off Crete. The fighters came from the two air bases.
Nearly 40 years later, in 1988, Saia passed away.
Eva said she did her part during the war years by working at Ingalls, a shipyard in Pascagoula.
Tunno empathizes with U.S. forces fighting the Taliban, who are harboring terrorist Osama bin Laden the suspected mastermind behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
But he admits some television news coverage of the fighting in Afghanistan makes him uneasy, particularly when "ex-military arm-chair generals," predict U.S. military movements.
Steve Gillespie is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3233, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.