Colonel Peter P. Gitto, a lifelong resident of Franklin Lakes, NJ, is a decorated War Veteran of the United States Air Force, having served his country in World War II and the Korean War. As a Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in 1944, he was assigned to the famed “Flying Tigers” and engaged in aerial combat (B-25 Bomber Aircraft) against the Japanese in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations.
Colonel Gitto was born in the Bronx and brought to Franklin Lakes as an infant. Though his parents’ home has since been torn down, he still has their wind-up wall phone mounted in his current home, where it joins artifacts and memorabilia from his service in the US Air Force.
Colonel Gitto was working for Curtiss-Wright — a successor to the aircraft manufacturing company started by Wilbur and Orville Wright — after Pearl Harbor in 1941 when he enlisted as a private, hoping to qualify as a pilot, but he never thought he’d make the Flying Tigers. The Flying Tigers were an elite force that provided air support to the South Pacific theater during World War II. Colonel Gitto’s final of 33 missions with the Flying Tigers targeted Japanese gunboats carrying 2,000-pound bombs in the Gulf of Tonkin.
In an article for northjersey.com, Colonel Gitto told his story in his own words:
“I made one pass and I hit the boat but I didn’t hit the critical part to blow it up. I made another run around with one engine, which was foolish because that’s when we got whacked. I was badly injured when a trajectory from the ship came through the bottom of the plane and hit me in the leg. My copilot had to apply a tourniquet.”
After the attack, Colonel Gitto meant to land his damaged plane in a Chinese cornfield, only to discover the landing gear had been disabled in the attack. Forced to crash land, two of Colonel Gitto’s comrades, unfortunately, lost their lives.
Colonel Gitto’s injuries ended his service in WWII, and he eventually returned to work at Curtiss-Wright, where he was involved in the testing and development of jet engines.
Colonel Gitto was later called back to service by the Air Force during the Korean War. He was put back on flying status and assigned to the Wright Paterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. There he served in procurement management positions and retired as a colonel in 1973.
Among his numerous citations and decorations, he was the recipient of the Air Medal and the Distinguished Final Cross for his extraordinary achievements and heroism in combat aerial flight during World War II. Colonel Gitto was also the recipient of the New Jersey Distinguished Service Medal, Presidential Citation, Army Commendation Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Theater Medal with six Battle Stars, the Purple Heart and Certificate of Appreciation.
Last week on Tuesday, August 3, 2021, the mayor and borough council of Franklin Lakes honored Colonel Gitto on the occasion of his 100th birthday.
Thank you, Col. Peter Gitto for your service, your courage, and your heroism in the face of adversity.
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The Division of Veterans Services was established in 1977 to provide resident veterans and their dependents with information and assistance in obtaining earned entitlements from federal, state, and local governments, as well as any that are available from the private sector.
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