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Callum Turner and Austin Butler in Masters of the Air, now streaming on Apple TV+. (photo: courtesy Apple TV+)

We’ve just celebrated Memorial Day, and next week is the 80th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944. 

Between them, there are several stories about San Pedrans and films related to what they may have experienced.

The next time you watch Band of Brothers or The Longest Day, keep in mind Pfc. Joe B. Gonzales. San Pedro lost more than 160 men during WWII, but Gonzales, a member of the 101st Airborne Division, was the only one to die on D-Day. The San Pedro High graduate, the son of Mary Gonzales from the 800 block of First Street, was a native of Jalisco, Mexico. Not yet a citizen, Gonzales quit his cannery job at Van Camp Seafood on Terminal Island and enlisted in 1943.

The two highly acclaimed war films include the story of the 101st Airborne’s first action in WWII, being dropped behind Utah Beach in France’s Carentan Peninsula on June 6. Band of Brothers is about the 506th Regiment’s Easy Company; Gonzales was company clerk for the 501st Regiment’s I Company. Single, he was 24 when he was killed in action near Colleville-sur-Mer; he is buried at the Normandy American Cemetery, where the movie Saving Private Ryan opened.

Then we have Masters of the Air, the nine-part series streaming on Apple TV+, as were Band of Brothers and The Pacific, by Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, and Gary Goetzman. Masters of the Air is about the 8th Air Force, specifically the 100th Bomber Group, based on a book by one of its pilots.

If you haven’t seen it and have any interest in WWII, you should make an effort, if for no other reason than to honor the memory of the thousands of airmen who died in the air war over Europe. That includes four San Pedrans who died flying the B-17s of the “Mighty Eighth.” The series’ unflinching depiction of the terror these men faced and the courage they displayed will give you added admiration for their sacrifice. 

Second Lt. Martin L. Mjellem, 23 and single, was co-pilot on the 305th Bomber Group’s Devil’s Playmate when it was shot down by enemy aircraft on February 26, 1943, during the attack on Wilhelmshaven, Germany (a raid shown in the series). All ten crewmen were lost when the plane crashed into the North Sea. Mjellem, a San Pedro High grad, was survived by his parents on Via Subida in Miraleste and four siblings, two of whom were still at San Pedro High.

Sgt. Donald R. Turner, 23, was turret gunner on the 2nd Bomber Group’s Danny Boy when flak hit it during a mission over Marseille, France, on August 17, 1943. Turner was one of three crewmen unable to bail out before the plane caught fire and exploded.

A 1939 San Pedro High graduate, Turner worked at Fort MacArthur until enlisting in February 1942. His parents lived on the 500 block of 40th Street. Turner’s remains were recovered, and he was buried at Inglewood Park Cemetery.

Sgt. Albert O. Pegg was tail gunner on a Flying Fortress with the 34th Bomber Group on March 23, 1945, when, returning from its mission, it was hit by flak near Koblenz, Germany. Pegg’s plane lost a wing and collided with another B-17 before crash-landing, killing all nine aboard. The plane hit by Pegg’s Fortress broke in half and also crashed, but two of its crew survived.

It was the 27th mission for the 19-year-old Pegg, a W’44 graduate of San Pedro High, where he lettered in football and baseball. He joined the Army Air Corps a month after graduation. His parents lived on the 1400 block of Sepulveda Street. Pegg’s body was recovered, and he was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Second Lt. Herbert C. Shute Jr. survived the war in Europe only to die weeks later when the B-17 he was co-piloting crashed on May 19, 1945, near Aachen, Germany, during Operation Revival. His 388th Bomber Group was collecting ex-POWs in Germany and taking them to Le Havre, France, for the return trip home. All five men on the plane died.

Shute had joined the Air Corps in August 1941 but spent a year in Alaska before attending pilot training. He was 28 and married; his father lived on the 3100 block of Paseo Del Mar. Shute was buried at the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten. spt

photo of san pedro today author Steve Marconi

Steve Marconi

San Pedro native Steve Marconi began writing about his hometown after graduating from high school in 1969. After a career as a sportswriter, he was a copy editor and columnist for the News-Pilot and Daily Breeze for 20 years before joining the L.A. Times. He has been writing monthly for San Pedro magazines since 2005, and in 2018 became a registered longshoreman. Marconi can be reached at spmarconi@yahoo.com.

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