Capital Gazette wins special Pulitzer Prize citation for coverage of newsroom shooting that killed five



William Peter Feimer, a World War II Army Air Forces fighter pilot who later joined the Baltimore Police Department, died Monday of complications from Alzheimer's disease at Heart Homes Lutherville, an assisted-living facility.

The longtime Linthicum resident was 88.

Mr. Feimer, the son of immigrants from Hungary and Romania, was born in Baltimore and raised in Locust Point.

After graduating from City College in 1939, he attended the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he studied drafting. He also attended the University of Maryland.

Mr. Feimer was working at the old Glenn L. Martin Co. plant in Middle River when he enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1943.

Trained as a P-40 Warhawk fighter pilot, Mr. Feimer was assigned to the 79th Fighter Group - also known as the Flying Skulls - in Italy.

After successfully completing seven missions, Mr. Feimer embarked on his eighth on Oct. 4, 1943.

"We had been outbound about fifteen minutes when we crossed the bomb line (roughly the Fortore River) and Major Wagner signaled us to echelon right and arm our bombs," Mr. Feimer told Don Woerpel, author of "The 79th Fighter Group: Over Tunisia, Sicily and Italy in World War II," which was published in 2000.

As he prepared for the attack, Mr. Feimer's plane was hit by heavy flak. After dropping his 500-pound bomb, he attempted to regain altitude and observed the rest of the flight pulling away from him.

"My coolant temperature gauge was now way over in the red, and when I noticed exhaust fumes stretching the whole length of my aircraft, I decided to get out," he said.

"I rolled back the canopy, undid my seat belt and shoulder harness, and tried to exit, but the slipstream kept me pinned," he said. "I then trimmed the P-40 so it was in a moderate climb, climbed up on the seat, and when my airspeed got below 100 mph I leaped to my right and up."

With his leg momentarily wedged under the instrument panel, Mr. Feimer began to fear that he was going to go down with his ship.

"I didn't count to three as we were taught, as I found an uncontrollable desire to get that chute open," he said.

As he approached the ground, he could hear the sound of German machine guns.

"I slammed into a small plowed field with unexpected violence. My head flew down, and my chin hit my chest," he said.

Several Italians ran toward Mr. Feimer, urging him to run because nearby German troops had seen him land.

Hiding in a ditch while enemy soldiers searched the area, Mr. Feimer began noticing there was something seriously wrong with his neck as pain swept throughout his body, making walking difficult.

The Italians came back and found Mr. Feimer, whose uniform they covered in a long coat they had brought, and took him to a nearby farmhouse.

His rescuer, Calavito Giambatista, brought his son - a former officer in the Italian army - to give the American airman a shave.

"He shaved me with a straight razor. It was a very weird feeling having that razor go up and down my throat by a man who had been my enemy only a few weeks before," he said.

"On Oct. 11 one of the Italians went down the mountain and came back with seven Canadian soldiers. They were relieved to find I was an American, as they thought they were being led into a trap," Mr. Feimer said.

His Canadian rescuers carried Mr. Feimer for several days by stretcher and a wheel-less runner until they were met by a jeep and he was taken to a nearby hospital.

Diagnosed with a broken neck, Mr. Feimer returned to the U.S. in January 1945 aboard the Arcadia, a hospital ship, and spent the next 10 months recuperating.

In 1954, Mr. Feimer returned to Italy and had a reunion with the family that had cared for him during the war.

Mr. Feimer remained in the Air Force Reserve and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel when he retired in 1981.

After the war, Mr. Feimer joined the Baltimore Police Department, where he was a motorcycle patrolman and eventually a laboratory technician.

With the outbreak of the Korean War, he re-enlisted in the Air Force and served in Texas and England as a military policeman.

After being discharged in 1955, he returned to his former job with the Police Department, where he continued working until retiring in 1971.

He returned to work as a license examiner for the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, where he worked for more than a decade until retiring for a second time in 1983.

Mr. Feimer never lost his love for aviation and flying.

"He lived about two miles from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, and every day when he recognized the SST [Concorde] flying high above his house around 1:30 p.m., he would run outside to catch a glimpse of it above the clouds," said a daughter, Susan L. Gallagher of Severna Park.

An avid tomato and peach gardener, Mr. Feimer saved the seeds from his tomatoes and peaches, which he planted in his Linthicum yard.

"The pit of every peach he ever ate went into the ground, so every visitor to his house was offered a young peach tree or two or three to take home," Mrs. Gallagher said.

He also enjoyed crossword puzzles and home repair projects.

His wife of 54 years, the former Louise Simon, died in 2005.

Mr. Feimer was a communicant of St. Philip Neri Roman Catholic Church in Linthicum.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Saturday at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Severna Park.

Also surviving is another daughter, Elisa Minarick, who was named after the daughter of the Giambatista family who had saved him; and four grandchildren. A son, William Walter Feimer, died in 2005.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad