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Bill Tamburrino, World War II veteran who decorated B-17s, dies at 98

A Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress simulates damaged landing gear while flying for the Wings Over Whiteman air show on June 16, 2019, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, The Simulation demonstrates the amount of damage the B-17 could sustain while continuing to fly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Johns)

Bill Tamburrino, a retired Baltimore City public schools vice principal and a World War II veteran who painted the likenesses of famous women on bombers, died of heart disease Sept. 17 at a family member’s home. The Fallston resident was 98.

Born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, he was the son of Domenico Tamburrino, a General Motors metalsmith, and his wife, Domenica. Both his parents were natives of Montenerodomo in Abruzzi, Italy.

“From an early age he had a keen interest in both sports and journalism, and by his late teens was managing, promoting and playing for a semi-professional football team, the Crimson Bulldogs,” said his son, William Tamburrino, an artist who lives in Rodgers Forge. “He wrote and supplied the local papers with articles covering his team’s games.”

Mr. Tamburrino was inducted into the McKeesport Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

During World War II he served in the Army Air Corps. He was stationed in Foggia, Italy, and was classified as an armorer, loading bombs on B-17 aircraft.

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“Any time of day or night, [we went] to the armory, [and got] what was going to be used at that particular point,” he said in a 2015 Baltimore Sun article.

Mr. Tamburrino also created a footnote to World War II history.

A skilled amateur artist, he painted famous and beautiful women on the noses of the bombers at his airfield. He rendered a likeness of Venus Ramey, the Kentucky-born Miss America of 1944, on a plane. When his unit had a national reunion, Miss Ramey, who had sold $5 million worth of defense bonds during her public appearances during World War II, attended the event.

World War II histories note that the plane he decorated flew more than 150 missions. It survived the war but was not preserved.

“My father was a marvelous draftsman and was quite good at catching a likeness on the bombers’ noses. The story is he used an improvised shaving brush,” said his son.

In addition to Miss Ramey, he decorated another plane with Hollywood film star June Haver’s image.

His son also said, “His military records insist that he is William Tamburrino, but he never used that name. He was always just Bill.”

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After he left the military, he returned to McKeesport but soon moved to Baltimore, where other family members were living on South Eden Street.

“My uncle lived here in Baltimore, and he told my parents that there are jobs here,” Mr. Tamburrino recalled in the 2015 Sun article.

Using the GI Bill, he enrolled as a journalism major at the University of Baltimore. He later earned a master’s degree from what is now Loyola University Maryland and worked toward a doctorate at the University of Maryland, College Park. He developed an unpublished dissertation about the contemporary dialogue regarding the desegregation of the Baltimore City Public Schools, his son said.

While a University of Baltimore student, he met his future wife. Dorothy Brissey. They married in in 1951.

Mr. Tamburrino joined the Baltimore City Department of Education and taught social studies and history in Patterson Park High School in Highlandtown.

He moved on to the newly constructed Patterson High School on Kane Street, where he developed a curriculum involving field trips for his civics students. He sent them to City Hall, the Baltimore Sun newsroom and local historic sites. His son said they were also sent to the Esskay meatpacking plant in Highlandtown and the Spring Grove Hospital in Catonsville.

“My father designed this civics experience program for this purpose, to get [students] out in the field and see how things work, ” said his son.

In 1967 Mr. Tamburrino transferred to Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School and was named department head of the school’s history program. He also served a period as the school’s vice principal before retiring in 1981.

“He was a dedicated teacher, and he loved the kids and they loved him. … He was a gem of a human being,” said radio host Marc Steiner, who taught with Mr. Tamburrino. “I was working in a program to keep the students from dropping out, and Bill supported and cooperated with me tremendously. Not all the teachers were as sympathetic about students who were dropping out.”

In 1967 he and his wife purchased a 1915-era home on Old Fallston Road in Harford County. He and his wife, enthusiastic gardeners, had a 20-tree orchard and raised pears, apricots, cherries and apples. They also grew squash, tomatoes and peppers for canning. They kept a grape arbor and made jelly.

“My father never drank and never made wine,” said his son.

When he and his wife were not tending their garden, Mr. Tamburrino, who was an amateur woodworker and hobbyist, constructed a large model of the Fallston home in his woodshop as a gift to his wife.

He built it on a 10-1 ratio.

“If one real brick is 10 inches, the same brick in my [model] house is one inch,” he said in the 2015 Sun article. “We can assemble and disassemble it, which gives us a view to the interior,” he said.

Mr. Tamburrino worked on the house for 15 years but never finished it. His son, William, and grandson, Dante, later finished the project.

In all, Mr. Tamburrino devoted about three decades, on to off, to the model house project.

“I can’t stand doing nothing,” he said in the Sun article.

In addition to his son and wife of 68 years, a retired Fallston post office worker, survivors include three daughters, Anita Downs of Jarrettsville, Christina Wallis of White Hall and Sandra Tamburrino-Hinz of Baltimore; eight grandchildren; and four great grandchildren. A daughter, Dorothy D. Tamburrino died in 1977.

A memorial service was private.

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© 2019 The Baltimore Sun