Vincent dePaul Gisriel Sr., 81, honored for wartime service

October 17, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Vincent dePaul Gisriel Sr., whose World War II exploits as a B-17 bombardier on 32 missions over Germany earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross and other decorations, died of pneumonia Sunday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center.

The 81-year-old retired district manager with Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. had lived at the Glen Meadows retirement community in Glen Arm since 2000.

Mr. Gisriel was born and raised in East Baltimore and graduated in 1940 from Polytechnic Institute. He was working for C&P when he enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1942.

After completing bombardier training, he was sent to Britain to join the Eighth Air Force, flying as lead bombardier on 18 missions.

While returning from a June 1944 bombing raid over Hamburg, Germany, Mr. Gisriel's B-17 Flying Fortress was hit by enemy flak on its starboard side. The command pilot was instantly killed in the explosion, and the pilot, Lt. Charles Hodges, saw his right leg blown off below the knee.

The 88-millimeter shell had severely damaged the cockpit and shattered instruments and the windshield. With sub-zero wind roaring in and the crippled plane beginning a 15,000-foot dive, Mr. Hodges refused to leave the cockpit and remained in his seat until he was able to bring the bomber under control.

"Vinnie was one of the guys who got Hodges out of the cockpit and down below in the nose where he started administering morphine. The co-pilot, Gaylord Corlis, then went up and took control of flying the plane," said Earl Dahlgren of Sterling, Ill., a crew member.

When it became doubtful that the plane could reach its base in Britain, Mr. Hodges attempted to crawl back to the cockpit and had to be restrained.

"I have never seen such a brave man as Hodges. Although he was in great pain and suffered considerable loss of blood, he was determined to help Corlis out and I had to hold him down," Mr. Gisriel told The Evening Sun in an interview at the time.

As the plane skirted the Danish coast and turned toward Britain, its crew decided to stay the course rather than bail out "I then began talking to the man upstairs," Mr. Corlis recalled yesterday from his home in Albuquerque, N.M. "It was incredible. I dove through a thin layer of clouds at about 900 feet and saw the Royal Air Force base at Langham below."

Because its identifying instrument had been damaged, the crew was unable to respond to a Royal Air Force request for identity, and the British began firing on the plane. The crew fired red signal flares, and the RAF to ceased fire. They made two passes in order to slow the B-17, and with Mr. Gisriel calling out the air speed from the bomber's nose, Mr. Corlis took the plane in, wheels up.

"We heard the tail hit the ground and then the props. The plane skidded left and right before coming to a stop. Then Vinnie and the rest of us jumped out and pulled Hodges out," Mr. Dahlgren said. "We flew 12 missions together, and Vinnie was a quiet fellow and a fine officer. A week later, we were back up in the air."

Mr. Gisriel's 32 missions occurred in five months of intense combat. The last one was in September 1944 during the Battle of Arnhem in the Netherlands. Returning from that run, the pilot switched on the plane's intercom. "He said, `Hey, how does it feel to be finished?' and Vinnie replied, `Hey, we're not on the ground yet,'" Mr. Dahlgren said.

Mr. Gisriel was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters.

The crew remained close through the years, often gathering for reunions.

"He didn't talk a lot about it, but you knew in his heart and his demeanor that he was proud of what he and his crew accomplished," said a son, Vincent dePaul Gisriel Jr. of Ocean City.

After returning to Baltimore, Mr. Gisriel resumed his career at C&P. He retired in 1980 as a district manager in accounting and administrative services.

He was a past president of the Telephone Pioneers of America's Baltimore chapter and the Rotary Club of Parkville. He was a Eucharistic minister at several Roman Catholic churches, and volunteered with the St. Vincent dePaul Society.

Mr. Gisriel had lived in Ocean City for 20 years after his retirement.

He was married for 34 years to the former Martha Owens, who died in 1977.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. today at Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church, 8501 Loch Raven Blvd., Baynesville.

In addition to his son, Mr. Gisriel is survived by his wife of 22 years, the former Jane Del Grosso; another son, Michael G. Gisriel of Parkville; three daughters, Rita A. Cole of Columbia, Mary G. Henn of Catonsville and Teresa A. Krug of Sulphur, Okla.; 17 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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