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Shot down by the Germans in WWII, vet visits memorials honoring 'The Greatest Generation'

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TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - World War II POW Guido Pinamonti recalls the events when he was shot down by the Germans while trying to bomb one of Hitlers hideouts. He spent some time in a German POW camp. It’s been a long time since Guido Pinamonti was held as a prisoner of war by the Nazis after being shot down during World War II.

But Pinamonti, a 17-year Tigard resident who recently moved to The Springs at Sherwood, recently took a trip to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials and monuments dedicated to those veterans who served their country during, that trip compliments of The Vital Life Foundation and Wish of a Lifetime, two non-profit organizations who sponsored a “Journey of Heroes” trip.

Pinamonti, 95, said he enjoyed his trip to the nation’s capital — which included 11 other veterans from former wars — immensely.

“We were busy every minute,” said Pinamonti. “I met a lot of other G.I.s.”

Accompanying him were his two sons, Guido Jr., a Tualatin resident, and John, who lives in New York.

During the venture, Pinamonti discovered just how lucky he had been not to have been shot or injured during his military service, unlike so many of the other veterans in attendance.

Pinamonti said he saw countless memorials during his time there but was most impressed with one commemorating the U.S. Air Force, south of Arlington National Cemetery (which they visited as well).

“They all were impressive,” he said. “It was a very tight schedule with hundreds of things to see.

Pinamonti’s history in the U.S. Air Force dates back more than 70 years ago, when he worked at what was then known as the Douglas Aircraft (the precursor to McDonnell Douglas) plant in Inglewood, Calif. Although he decided he wanted to be a military pilot, the U.S. government wanted those in the wartime manufacture of military aircraft to continue working there during World War II.SUBMITTED PHOTO - Guido Pinamonti achieved the rank of  lieutenant during his service in the U.S. Air Force.

“In order to enlist, I quit my job,” he said, noting he was probably 19 or 20 at the time.

Soon, he was sent to Arizona State College for training.

“I had never flown an airplane,” said Pinamonti, he said, adding, “I had never been in an airplane.”

Before long, Pinamonti was flying with the 447th Bomb Group, serving as a co-pilot on a B-17 Flying Fortress.

Much of his war experience included bombing raids on German industries and German planes, he said.

Since he had entered the service late in the war, many of those who were in his original crew had finished their bombing missions and he was assigned with a crew he barely knew.

“I had three more missions to go,” he said about setting out on what turned out to be his final mission to Oranienburg, Germany, a suburb of Berlin, on March 15, 1945. The airmen were heading to that suburb of the German capital because U.S. military intelligence believed Hitler was hiding there.

With the majority of German aircraft already destroyed, the biggest fear for bombers was being anti-aircraft fire from the heavily fortified area where Hitler was living, said Pinamonti. Serving as co-pilot, Pinamonti and his crew were escorted by a P-51 Mustang fighter when the airmen’s worst nightmare came true.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Guido Pinamonti visits his father, World War II POW Guido Pinamonti, at The Springs at Sherwood.“In my bomb group, four of us got shot down,” he recalled. “We got shot down in the sense two engines caught fire.”

Fearing they would be worst off bailing out of the aircraft and risk being shot while parachuting into enemy territory, they decided to crash-land the plane.

“We picked out a little field that had trees at the end,” he recalled.

Without landed gear, the landing proved a little bumpy, but as Pinamonti recalled 71 years later, he thought it “fabulous all 10 of us got out alive.”

“We landed basically in what you would call a ‘dry farm,’” he said. “I think we were supposed to set (the plane) on fire but we didn’t have time.”

Immediately they split up into pairs, with the crews fanning out into an area containing farmland, trees and hills.

“We headed out into the forest area because that’s the best place to hide,” he said. “Most of them got caught in a day or two.”

However, Pinamonti and his companion were luckier, hiding in the forest during the day and traveling at nighttime. One night, they came upon a tall mound of dirt. His companion took one look at it, and convinced it was a burial plot, wanted nothing to do with it.

Pinamonti, however, recalled some of his early military training and concluded it was something much different.

“I said, ‘let’s dig in there. It’s not a burial; it’s food.’ And it was,” he said. “It was potatoes.”

For some reason, Pinamonti had an extra pair of socks, and the pair stuck eight potatoes each in the clothing and fled.

Over the remaining time they remained free, he and his fellow airman only came close to getting caught once.

“One night, I actually bumped into a tank and a German guard yelled out,” he said. “He didn’t see us.”

But on the eighth night of hiding, their luck ran out as they headed across a large meadow.

“Someone yelled and we dropped to the ground and within seconds there was a German soldier with his rifle,” he recalled.

Loaded aboard a boxcar, he and up to 14 other officers were eventually taken to a nearby town. At one point, the train stopped because “my buddies were bombing the town.”

Next, Pinamonti and the fellow officers ended up in what he believes was some type of concentration camp, because it contained cramped housing consisting of three-tiered bunk beds.

At one point, a German officer wanted to know where he flew in from, more information than Pinamonti was willing to impart.

“I was taught name, rank and serial number only,” he said.

Frustrated, the officer brought in a guard, had him put a gun on the table and told Pinamonti he would shoot him if he didn’t give him more information. Pinamonti called the officer’s bluff, and the officer eventually dismissed him.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - World War II POW Guido Pinamonti recalls the events when he was shot down by the Germans while trying to bomb one of Hitlers hideouts. He spent some time in a German POW camp. At another point during his captivity, Pinamonti and other officers were marching through a German town when an American fighter plane flew over and the prisoners jumped into the ditch as the plane strafed them with machine gun fire.

What they soon learned from an American counter-intelligence officer who was undercover in Germany was that the pilot thought they were Germans. If they didn’t break rank, said the officer, they would be OK. The next time an American plane approached, the American prisoners stayed in formation and the fighter flew on without shooting.

Eventually, they were housed in a prison camp for officers located on the Baltic Sea and freed by a group of British soldiers not too long after.

Pinamonti would go on to teach social work at both Portland State University and University of Southern California. He would be married for 63 years to his wife Louise before her death in 2012.

Pinamonti’s son, Guido Jr., said he believes his father really enjoyed his trip to Washington, D.C., noting that one of the high points came when they ran into a group of 900 students from Ohio.

“All the kids would come up to the vets and say, ‘thank you for your service,’” he said.