Lt. Anthony T. Colletti
September 1, 1920 – June 3, 1990
Words by: Tommy Colletti (Owner of The Music Zoo)
As a young teenage kid, I thought it was fairly commonplace that my father had flown a P-51 Mustang and served in the US Army Air Force’s 78th Fighter Group during WWII. Because of his gentle reserved nature, he rarely talked about his accomplishments such as being an Ace Pilot who had several “shoot downs” earning him that revered modicum.
During the early part of the war, he also served as a flight instructor for young pilots making their way through army training on their way to battle. I remember him telling stories about how his students would often “shoot him down” during practice drills and tease him about it afterwards and his reply to them was; “The bullets aren’t real during training…” “Real bullets” luckily managed to keep him safe during his many “real” combat missions flying high in the skies of Germany.
The picture of him in the cockpit of his plane, with the side of that very plane complete with Swastikas to commemorate his “kills” adorned our bookshelf with the rest of our family photos. It was part of the normal backdrop for me. By the time I was born, he had moved on to archetypal things like earning a living and helping to raise a family. In fact, most of the stories told at the dinner table regarding the war were about memories of the late-night poker games he played with his mates during “down time” or traveling the beautiful country side of Germany and England, as well as the many other places he found himself visiting courtesy of the United States Army.
Raised in a small neighborhood in Queens, New York in a lower/middle income family doesn’t necessarily afford the luxury of seeing the world. Unfortunately (or fortunately) some of that sightseeing had been done behind the controls of that P-51 Mustang Green Hornet II (It was common for pilots to name their planes and have that “name” painted on the body of the aircraft). Watch the film below of Lt. Anthony T. Colletti flying the Green Hornet II during the Unit Citation mission in April of 1945.
After the war and with some family pressure (courtesy of his father) he found himself working in the family milk business, but he often talked about flying again. I remember him even looking into purchasing a P-51 with the hopes to start flying again. (In the 70’s and 80’s P-51’s were still fairly affordable). Sadly he never got to realize that dream. Anthony T. Colletti of Ridgewood – Queens, NY passed away on June 3rd, 1990 leaving behind a son, daughter and beloved wife much too soon.
This tribute and labor of love from Gretsch Guitars and Master Builder, Steven Stern of the Gretsch Custom Shop (whom happens to be a WW2 History buff) with accompanying guitar artwork by world-renowned artist and guitar finisher, Dan Lawrence was a small way I could immortalize a few of those moments in a guitar and more importantly, with a tribute to a great man and influence on my life. It’s also a testament to what the spirit of the Gretsch Custom Shop is capable of creating and I’m proud to be an ambassador of this great brand and legacy.