Monessen man 'lucky' in WWII
Lou Falbo flew in 92 missions over 18 months in the South Pacific.
But it was one mission - and the close call on that mission - that reminded Falbo he was in the midst of World War II.
Falbo was serving as a radio gunner on a Scout Bomb Diver, or dive plane, just outside Guadalcanal in 1944 during the fateful mission.
He was in the lead plane of 30, being piloted by Ernest Hemingway, a cousin of the famed writer.
"As we were pulling out of a dive, the sight of my gun was hit - which was just six inches from my face," Falbo recalled.
"I thought, 'This is war.' I was pretty lucky."
A 1941 graduate of Monessen High School, Falbo volunteered for the service in the U.S. Marines on Dec. 10, 1942.
He went through boot camp at Camp LeJeune, N.C., and radio gunnery school in El Centro, Calif.
He received further aviation training at Pearl Harbor in 1943. More than a year after the Japanese surprise attack that precipitated the war, Falbo said there was little left of the devastation from that attack except the USS Arizona.
His next base was Guadalcanal. With a fuel capacity of three hours, the dive bombers in Falbo's company hit all of the islands in the vicinity.
"We were the first to land dive bombers on Guadalcanal," Falbo said. "We hit all of the islands that the Japs were on."
When the Allies took an island, the Seabees would level the ground so it could be used as a landing strip. Chain link fencing placed on the field worked as a make-shift landing strip.
"I flew with a company; we had to make sure everyone was in line before going into our dive," Falbo said.
Falbo said the planes would climb to 10,000 feet then dive, pulling out of the dive at 1,800 feet. Their target was clear - any island the Japanese inhabited.
"We were fortunate that we only lost three planes, which means six men," Falbo said.
After serving from 1943 to early 1945, Falbo was sent back to the U.S. before being shipped to the Philippines. The company saw no action in the Philippines, but remained active.
"Every day was a day of thanks to God that we were still alive," Falbo said.
Falbo was discharged Nov. 23, 1945, and returned home to Monessen.
He worked in Nahi's Shoe Store and then the U.S. Steel Clairton mill.
He served as executive director of the Monessen Chamber of Commerce and owned Falbo's Restaurant in the city.
Falbo met his wife, Bruna, after he was discharged from the service. They have been married 52 years. They have two daughters, Janice Chacko, of Erie, and Carlyn Belczyk, of Monessen. A son, Scott Falbo, also lives in Monessen.