CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Giles Gianelloni was born in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana. Gianelloni, whose father was a World War I veteran who served in the AEF, was raised on a sugar plantation in Cuba. He remembers his father speaking critically of the French soldiers he served alongside and who, he recalled, stole supplies from the Americans and claimed that they were the ones who were winning the war. Needless to say, the French version of that story was exactly the opposite.
Giles Gianelloni attended Louisiana State University and participated in the school’s ROTC program. He wanted to be a Navy pilot and left school to join the active duty Navy in 1940, entering basic training at Baton Rouge in 1941. Due to his ROTC experience, Gianelloni found it easy to adjust to military life. After completing basic training, he was transferred to Jacksonville, Florida and then to Corpus Christi, Texas, to train as an observation pilot. Upon earning his wings, Gianelloni was assigned to Floyd Bennet Field in Brooklyn, New York as part of an aircraft transportation unit to ferry planes stateside during the war.
Being stationed in New York City was not, as it was to many, a culture shock to Gianelloni, since he had traveled around the world prior to enlisting in the military. The base officers club handed out free tickets to Broadway shows to officers stationed at Floyd Bennet Field. They received special treatment at the plays; the officers were provided with box seats and even called up to the stage to dance along with the performers. Gianelloni was allowed a 30 day leave while serving in New York and, when he got married, received a 5-day leave.
It was not all fun and games in the aircraft ferrying business. Gianelloni’s roommate, with whom he had been friends since his training stint at Corpus Christi, was assigned to fly a plane to South America, but was killed on the way after crashing in Meridian, Mississippi. War time hysteria was high, and there was fear in Corpus Christi of Germans debarking from submarines and attacking the city. All over the country factories were camouflaged, and airstrips were painted to mimic farm fields. Gianelloni was accidently fired on by anti-aircraft guns over San Diego. Fortunately, he was not shot down or injured during the incident. In addition to ferrying planes to the west coast, Gianelloni was tasked with flying F4F seaplanes to San Juan, Puerto Rico and Trinidad.
Gianelloni was discharged from the Navy in October 1945 with the rank of lieutenant commander. On January 6, 1959, as a civilian pilot, he flew NBC crewmembers Simon Aunet and Jerry Gold into the bush to interview Fidel Castro in then Santa Clara, Cuba.