World War II combat medic, teacher, volunteer — Westchester’s Vincent A. Migliazzo receives the Flight Path Museum’s Honorary Service Award on Saturday.
Vincent A. Migliazzo stormed the beach to pave the way for MacArthur’s return to the Philippines, earning the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Philippine Liberation Medal as part of four treacherous assault landings during World War II. Those memories still bring him to tears.
A graduate of Loyola University (before it merged with Marymount to become LMU) in 1948, he went on to work for
34 years as a teacher, counselor, principal and assistant superintendent for Inglewood public schools — earning a place on his alma mater’s Wall of Fame.
Migliazzo, 90, has lived in Westchester with his wife Beverly since 1950, and along the way he’s logged thousands of volunteer hours for organizations such as Little League Baseball, the local YMCA, Boy Scouts of America, Knights of Columbus and the American Legion.
As of late, he’s been especially active with the Flight Path Museum in Westchester, where he serves on the board of directors and supervises the Flight Path Flyers youth flight simulator training program.
The Flight Path Museum presents Migliazzo with its Honorary Service Award during a 10 a.m. Saturday ceremony at the museum, which is inside the LAX Imperial Terminal at 6661 W. Imperial Highway. The museum will also install a plaque in his honor at its Aviation Walk of Fame, just outside the Westchester Village Shopping Center at Sepulveda Boulevard and Howard B. Drollinger Way.
— Emily Barnett
What is the flight simulator program, exactly?
It’s referred to as dry flying. Kids come in and learn to fly an aircraft with all the mechanisms, the pedals, the simulator, the chart, and they sit down and learn about weather conditions. And let’s say they pick a journey from L.A. to San Francisco — then you can throw a little snow, a little rain, and a screen comes up and they can actually see the aircraft as it’s flying to the clouds. Once they complete two or three of the sessions, if they qualify they actually go into an aircraft and learn to fly with somebody else. Once they’ve done several hours of instruction they can solo fly, and we’ve got several that have solo flown. So kids are actually learning to fly an aircraft.
It’s an educational program, and that turned me on because again I get to work with young people, and I like that. I like conveying knowledge. … Now we have 11 or 12 simulators, some with triple screens. In fact, we have people from the college level that come over, the ROTC program. These are young aviation cadets that have never even been in an airplane, maybe, and they’re learning to dry fly.
You’ve been quoted saying, “Respect the living, pray for the dead, and try to honor those you leave behind.” How did your service as an army medic shape that perspective?
My service in World War II, it probably made me more humane. When I saw the devastation, saw the tragedy, all the death. I was a combat medic with the 24th Division. My division was the first unit to land in the Philippines in 1944. And … [Migliazzo starts to cry. “You saw MacArthur land,” his wife interjects. He starts to laugh.] I was just thinking about some of the guys.
Anyway, it changed my attitude — made me appreciate life and the friendships that I had gained. I don’t think there’s any of my unit left; I think I’m the last. They’re all gone now. But we were together for several years, and we made four assault landings together in the Philippines. And I think most of us changed our attitude about life, appreciated life. Although I’m not going say I was brave or anything else. You dig a hole — they called them foxholes — to protect yourself from strafing, and I dug a pretty deep hole. Believe it or not, I was the first guy in there with probably two guys on top of me. I was more frightened than they were. I was no hero. If it came my way I took care of it, but I didn’t look for anything.
What is your most vivid memory from your military service?
I saw Gen. MacArthur walk on shore on Oct. 20, 1944 — and I know the date, because it’s here [he points to his head]. He was with [Philippine] President Osmeña. That was very impressive to me, to see the big man himself.
Did you hear him speak?
Oh, yeah. He got on shore and said — it kind of irritated some — “This is the voice of freedom … I have returned.” And that wasn’t very nice, because there were 60,000 of us who landed that morning. And we had returned. But so what? It was a memorable occasion.
If you could go back and do anything differently, what would it be?
I started off pre-med. I wanted to be a doctor. And I think maybe I still would’ve liked medicine, but I don’t really think I would’ve gotten the satisfaction that I got out of teaching school or being a principal or being assistant superintendent. Because I had people around me, I was recognized. I got an ego!
Do you believe your generation really is the “Greatest Generation”?
I really do, because I think it was my generation that changed this world completely. It isn’t the same one as when I was drafted into service. We came back and were different — 90% of us went back to school of some kind. Before that, they were farm kids, laborers, millwrights, whatever it was. They came back and the whole world was changed because of education. So, I think that helped change this world; made it a better place to live, I guess.
What about the current generation?
There’s so much involved in terms of digital. I think it’ll be a different world because of them. They better not forget what was done before them, who made this country what it is. But I think this next generation, the generation existing today, it’ll be wonderful.
* * *
Migliazzo receives the Flight Path Museum’s Honorary Service Award during a ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday at the museum, inside LAX Imperial Terminal at 6661 W. Imperial Highway, Westchester.
The program also includes a presentation about the World War II Flying Tigers (the American Volunteer Group China Air Task Force) by artifact collector Pedro Chan.
For more information, call (424) 646-7284 or visit flightpathmuseum.com.