A Pacifican’s Tale Of The Airflift to WWII China

The servicemen who used to fly the China-Burma-India airlift during World War II, delivered many important supplies to Chiang Kai-shek and United States Army Air Forces in China, including trucks, gasoline, soldiers and weapons.

In total, between 1942 and 1945, the China-Burma-India Hump Pilots Association delivered 650,000 tons of vital supplies.

Joe Zizzo is one of the Hump Pilots members, who is currently based in Pacifica, but whose story begins in Sicily. He was born east of Palermo, in the tiny fishing village named Porticello, in August 1924. He lived with his father Thomas, who had his own fishing business and with his mother Rosalia. He also had two brothers and two sisters. Both of his sisters passed away.

When Joe was still a child, his father began travelling around the States, hoping he would find better opportunities for his family. In 1931, he found a job with Nesco in Milwaukee, WI and brought all his family over on October 5, 1931. At the time, Joe was only seven and he couldn’t speak a word of English. At the age of 13, he started building model airplanes.

Several years later, Joe Zizzo became  the radioman in a crew of four, including a pilot, co-pilot, engineer and radioman and with them he flew about 90 missions, during a year and a half in the China, Burma, India (CBI) theater.

He started his basic training right after high school, in Miami Beach, during the winter. He then went to radio school, at Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he stayed for five months, studying Morse code, the San Jose Mercury News reports.

He flew two four-engine aircraft, at about 26,000 and 30,000 feet – the B-24s and C-87S and his usual routes were China — Kunming, Chanyi, Chengdu and Yunanyi. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the Air Medal, the WWII Victory Medal, the China War Memorial Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Radio Operator Medal and the Presidential Citation for his World War I service.

U.S. Army Air Force Corporal Joseph Zizzo married his wife Elizabeth in December 1946 in Detroit. They have seven children, 14 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. Elizabeth passed away in 2006.

About a year back, one of his daughters convinced him to move from Redding to Pacifica. “The morals and the reasons — they were all clear. It brought people together. We accomplished something. It should be remembered. All of our veterans should be remembered,” he said.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE