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Florida veteran gets surprise parade for 90th birthday on Memorial Day

Vincent Delmore poses in his Army Air Corps uniform in 1950. (Submitted/Florida Times-Union/TNS)

U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Vincent Delmore expected a quiet 90th birthday on Memorial Day. Most of his family live in Connecticut and many memorial services were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The veteran didn’t expect a parade of patrol cars and friends through his East Naples neighborhood, family visit and community party.

“It was a complete surprise,” Delmore said in a phone call. “I don’t know how many (patrol) cars there were with lights on.”

The shouts and screams of excited great-grandchildren were heard in the background. One of his daughters, a granddaughter and their families drove from Tampa and Orlando to celebrate his milestone birthday.

Vincent Delmore keeps a photo of his stationed B-29 Superfortress alongside military patches, two 70-year-old inert .50 caliber rounds and a comic about lazy tail gunners. (Submitted/Florida Times-Union/TNS)

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Delmore doesn’t look his age but still joked about his birthday over the phone.

“Make sure not to put my picture in the obituary section,” he said.

During his long life, Delmore raised five children, 17 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren with another two expected.

“I’m very proud. I have a happy family,” he said.

The parade celebrated Delmore’s birthday, but some community veterans used the event as a small Memorial Day event. Many wore blue hats that showed when and where they served.

Guam and the B-29 Superfortress

Delmore joined the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserves in 1947 after graduating from Harding High School in Connecticut.

He’s wanted to fly since childhood. He paid $1 to take a 30-minute ride in a two-seater when he was 8 years old.

After enlisting, Delmore didn’t pass the pilot’s exam and was sent to a gunnery school outside Denver. He became the tail gunner of a B-29 Superfortress — the same type of aircraft that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“It’s the best plane in the world,” Delmore said.

After training, he was put on a troop ship in San Francisco destined for Guam.

“One memory that stands out is going underneath the Golden Gate Bridge,” he said. “As a 17-year-old kid, that was pretty damn exciting.”

By happenstance, Delmore was stationed on what is now Andersen Air Force Base in Guam while his older brother, Donald Delmore, was on the other side of the island as a U.S. Marine.

“We were there a year,” Vincent Delmore said. “We didn’t see each other much, but I was proud.”

World War II lingered in the serviceman’s memory after arriving in 1948. He and his crew flew simulated bombing runs on nearby islands and Japan, but he never fired in anger.

The trips were up to 15 hours long, but the crew wore T-shirts and shorts thanks to the bomber’s pressurized cabin. The days of WWII’s bomber jackets and freezing temperatures were gone.

“We could sleep in the padded tunnel if we were really tired and the commander approved,” he said.

Delmore’s tail gunner position was at the very rear of the aircraft and next to an emergency hatch used for parachute evacuation. During one trip, the hatch was left open. Delmore grew tired of standing watch and sat on a foldable wood-and-canvas seat bolted to the fuselage.

“(The seat) was so old and dry-rotted that it ripped,” he said. “I was thrown to the right and grabbed onto the emergency hatch edge. My head went out, and my helmet and earphones went flying into the Pacific Ocean.”

A big family in Connecticut

During leave in Connecticut, Delmore met his future wife, Frances. The couple had five children which ballooned into a large and loving family, his daughter Frannie Leonard said.

“(Delmore) is very funny, has a jovial laugh, a quirky sense of humor and is very loving,” Leonard said. “(Vincent and Frances) are the cutest little couple you’ll ever see.”

Delmore retired from his job as an engineer just as his first grandchildren were born. He and his wife became caretakers and good grandparents, Leonard said.

His children and grandchildren manage a weeklong visit every year.

Every summer, the couple left their Florida home and headed back to Connecticut, where much of their family remains. This is the first summer they’ll remain in Florida.

“We’ve done a FaceTime call with everyone,” Leonard said.

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© 2020 The Florida Times-Union