Saul Sitzer, who owned a popular Parkville restaurant and was a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who flew numerous combat missions over Germany in World War II, died of stroke complications Sunday at the Loch Raven Veterans Affairs Hospital. He was 86 and lived in Perry Hall.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in the Canarsie section, he was the son of a Polish-born grocer. He was a 1942 graduate of Samuel J. Tilden High School.
He attended Brooklyn College and enlisted in what was then the Army Air Corps. He became a member of the Eighth Air Force's 357th Fighter Group.
"My father had excellent eyesight," said his son, David Sitzer, a bond specialist who lives in Baltimore. "He was small of stature and fit in a tight cockpit. He also had good reflexes."
He flew a P-51 Mustang, a single-engine fast and nimble fighter. He flew alongside several well-known pilots, including Chuck Yeager, who went on to break the sound barrier, and Leonard "Kit" Carson, who shot down 18 German fighters. Mr. Sitzer escorted bombers deep into Germany.
"The weather has been miserable all month [December 1944]. In the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, American troops, short of winter clothing and everything else, had been fighting desperately for a week to stem Germany's last massive attempt to change the course of the war," said a history of his unit written by Merle Olmsted.
Mr. Sitzer was credited with shooting down a German Messerschmitt. But on his 22nd mission, his plane was hit by ground fire. He parachuted, landed and suffered a broken nose. He told his family he was captured by a farmer with a rusty gun who alerted military police. He was held as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany.
He tried unsuccessfully to escape from a rail car that carried him to the camp, where he lived for nearly five months. Because he was Jewish, his German captors placed him in a separate part of the camp away from other captives. He was liberated by the Russian Army on May 1,1945.
After the war, he earned a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Delaware.
He remained in the National Guard. He survived a second crash in April 1951 at the Newcastle, Del., Air Force Base. He was badly burned and underwent skin-graft surgeries.
Mr. Sitzer flew transport planes during the Korean War, the Cold War and Vietnam War, where he flew under heavy fire. Throughout his career, he received numerous medals and decorations, including Bronze Stars and Oak Leaf Clusters.
He retired from active duty as a lieutenant colonel in 1972 while stationed at Wright Patterson Air Base, Dayton, Ohio.
He continued flying professionally as a corporate charter pilot and also flew his own airplane.
He owned and operated a lumber yard in Ohio, and later a Pappy's Family Pizza franchise restaurant in Reading, Pa., and finally a Pappy's Family Pizza at the Satyr Hill Shopping Center on East Joppa Road.
"His family had been in the grocery store and chicken farm business and being a child of the Depression, he wasn't afraid of hard work," said his son.
Mr. Sitzer kept the restaurant open from lunch through 3 a.m., when dancers left area disco floors and wanted a breakfast before turning in for the night.
"He wanted to compete with the Bel-Loc Diner," his son said.
His restaurant featured a player piano and tables covered with red-check tablecloths. His wife, sons and daughter all worked alongside him in the business.
He sold the restaurant in the 1990s and spent his retirement years as a tax preparer for H&R Block in Baltimore. He also became an American Red Cross volunteer and was the 1994 chairman of the Baltimore County Social Services Board.
Mr. Sitzer traveled extensively. He enjoyed sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, and he and his wife hosted family and friends on sailing excursions.
Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Schoenberg Memorial Chapel, 519 Philadelphia Pike in Wilmington, Del.
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 60 years, the former Evelyn Redlus; another son, Jeremy Sitzer of Baltimore; a daughter, Mardy Sitzer of New York City; a sister, Ruth Balick of Wilmington, Del.; and four grandchildren.