WEIRTON - A Weirton man said working on World War II fighter planes involved in missions over India and China was an educational experience.
"We were all 21 and spoiled rotten and then you take us there. It was an education," said Anthony Thomaselli, a mechanic for the 311th Fighter Group of the 530th Fighter Bomber Squadron.
The group was dubbed the Yellow Scorpions by Tokyo Rose, a Japanese radio propagandist who enjoyed ridiculing the Allied Forces that rose to counter efforts by Japan and Nazi Germany to conquer the world.
The Yellow Scorpions would go on to fly many missions from September 1943 to January 1946, supporting Allied ground forces in Burma, accompanying B-24 and B-25 bomber planes that attacked Japanese airfields in Southeast Asia, and protecting Allied planes transporting supplies from India to China.
Thomaselli, a Follansbee native, said he was 21 when he entered the Army Air Corps in April 1942. He hoped to serve as a mechanic and was fortunate to have that wish fulfilled, he said.
To prepare him for that role, he received training at Keester Field in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he and others worked initially on the Vultee Vengeance V-72, but that aircraft soon was abandoned.
"It was a flying boxcar. It was no good at all," Thomaselli recalled, adding, "They never used it because it was so clumsy and awkward and slower than a freight train."
Before the squadron was deployed to India, the V-27 was replaced by the A-36 version of the P-51 Mustang, the plane that led to the group's nickname.
Thomaselli said the yellow markings on the plane's propellors and tails must have inspired Tokyo Rose to call the group the Yellow Scorpions. It's been said the yellow noses were designed to help other Allied air forces distinguish the new planes from enemy fighters.
The name inspired one of its leaders, Lt. Les Arasmith, to design a patch for its members bearing the likeness of a yellow scorpion.
Thomaselli said each mechanic was assigned a plane but he and the others also worked on other planes when needed.
In a sense, mechanics and pilots also were paired. Thomaselli said while traveling by ship and train to India, each mechanic was responsible for a footlocker containing a pilot's belongings while the pilots flew to the destination.
Military historians report the Yellow Scorpions destroyed at least 109 aircraft in the air and at least 152 on the ground, damaged about 82 in the air and on the ground while flying 476 combat missions over a total of 9,743 hours.
Thomaselli said he received a military commendation because no mission flown by a plane serviced by him was aborted due to mechanical problems.
"I was sort of proud of that," he said.
Thomaselli said while he and others on-base faced the constant threat of enemy fire, "We were fortunate. We never had to fight any Japanese and didn't lose more than four or five in our squadron."
Still, the loss of any squad member was a blow.
Thomaselli recalled a rainy, cold day on which the first fallen squad member was buried and hearing taps played by a bugler.
"I started crying. It was the first time I'd heard taps when it meant something," he said.
Thomaselli said his and other young soldiers' eyes were opened not only to the realities of war but also the stark poverty in which some live.
He said of the rural area of India where he was stationed, "It was the most disease-ridden country. The people didn't have anything. It was an education in itself."
Thomaselli recalled the base was near a leper colony, and local farmers would take waste from the base's latrine to use as fertilizer.
Thomaselli was one of five brothers who served in World War II. One, John, was a Marine who lost most of his fingers and part of an arm while attempting to diffuse a bomb at Okinawa.
John Thomaselli, who had moved to San Diego a few years ago, died in 2004.
Anthony said he attended a reunion of the Yellow Scorpions 20 or 30 years ago.
"We just hugged each other and cried like babies," he recalled.
Thomaselli, who is 91, said he has kept in touch with a fellow squad member in Hawaii, but many of his colleagues, including several from Steubenville and Weirton, have died.
He said he'd be happy to hear from others involved with the Yellow Scorpions and related squadrons.
Thomaselli said of his service in World War II, "I can't say I enjoyed my stint in the war, but I felt I did what I was asked to do."
He believes most veterans of the war would say the same thing.
"We had a job to do. We were there to do it, and that's how we felt," Thomaselli said.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)