Archive

WWII pilot survived infamous prison camp | TribLIVE.com
Obituary Stories

WWII pilot survived infamous prison camp

5972766GondaJohn95
John E. Gonda, 95, of New Alexandria died Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, at Excela Health Latrobe Hospital

Rose Mary Gonda knew her future husband for several years before he mentioned he was a World War II fighter pilot and prisoner of war.

“I just did not know about that until he asked me to go to ‘a 325th reunion.’ I had no idea of what he meant by the 325th,” she said, referring to her husband’s gatherings with the Army’s 325th fighter group, the Checkertails Organization, which flew combat missions over Europe and North Africa.

John E. Gonda of New Alexandria died Saturday, Nov. 8, 2014, in Excela Health Latrobe Hospital. He was 95.

Mr. Gonda, a first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, was taken prisoner by Germans in Italy in April 1944 when his single-engine plane was shot down over the Adriatic Sea.

His capture occurred after multiple flights during three years as a fighter pilot in North Africa and Europe.

For the next eight months, Mr. Gonda was held in the infamous Luft Stalag III prison, about 80 miles southeast of Berlin.

Luft Stalag III was the site of a mass escape of British and American prisoners in March 1944 that was documented in a book, “The Great Escape,” and in a 1963 film of the same name starring Steve McQueen and James Garner.

Mr. Gonda’s time in that prison ended in January 1945, when prisoners were forced to march in retreat because of Russian military advances. They marched in bitter cold and slept in barns.

He was later imprisoned near Nuremberg until American forces freed him, his wife said.

“He always felt he was very lucky to survive all that,” she said.

Mr. Gonda was born in New Alexandria and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in October 1940.

When the war ended, Mr. Gonda earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Miami and worked as an estimator for Koppers for more than 30 years.

He was a lifelong member of St. James Church in New Alexandria.

“He really exemplified that Greatest Generation. Even in his advanced age, he would come to church almost every day. I think he is our last parishioner who was a World War II veteran,” said Monsignor Larry J. Kulick, the church’s pastor.

In addition to his wife, Rose Mary, Mr. Gonda is survived by his sisters, Martha Euker of Chicago and Agnes Gonda of Oklahoma City. He was preceded in death by his brothers, Joseph, Albert and Thomas; and sisters, Mary, Irene and Betty.

Visitation is 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday and 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in P. David Newhouse Funeral Home in New Alexandria. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday in St. James Church, New Alexandria. Burial will be in Calvary Hill Cemetery, Unity.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.