Walter "Walt" Winicki

Walt Winicki was born in 1928 and grew up during the Great Depression and World War II in East Meadow, New York. To help make ends meet in a single-parent household, he worked on string bean farms in the area over the summers. Radios and movies were a big part of his life during the war, but his proximity to Roosevelt Field and Mitchel Field brought him into daily contact with airplanes and fostered his love of flying. A sheet metal-working class in high school led to another seasonal job at Grumman, where he helped build the F-7 and Bearcat aircraft. Walt was drafted in 1946 and upon his return entered the grocery business, while also getting his pilot’s license on Long Island.

In this interview, Walt discusses growing up in East Meadow during the Great Depression and the impact that the nearby airports had on his life. He recalls scrap drives and food rationing during World War II, as well as his summer job at Grumman helping to build aircraft. He also relates some experiences about his brother, who was a crew chief on a C-47 in D-Day.

Mitchel Field Collision

Mitchel Field was towards just the south of it; short distance. There was a tremendous amount of activity of airplanes: P-40s, P-39s, A-20s, Douglas Havocs, all types of aircraft—Thunderbolts!

I saw Thunderbolts colliding over my house, about 1200 feet [up]. Accidents were so common, every time the siren blew, we knew that there must have been an airplane accident, sure enough.

Grumman Riveting

I participated in high school in the sheet metal work. In one of my courses, you could learn how to rivet and cut sheet metal, and operate the different tools. And I was able to get a job at sixteen. It was only in the summertime, and I worked for Grumman’s on the Tigercat F-7. We worked on that all summer, in Plant 2 in Farmingdale [New York].

It was quite an interesting period, with the machines going and the riveting guns going. Then, in 1945, I worked on the Grumman Bearcat; that was Grumman’s last F-8 fighter.

Laid Off on V-J Day

August, the 6th [1945], noon: a whistle blew. “The Japanese have just surrendered! Everybody go home!” Could you imagine that? [August] the 6th at twelve o’clock, the whistle blew. “Cease operation!” They stopped; everybody was laid off. I was really amazed. I was amazed at that.

Wartime Rationing

Oh, the rationing. Oh! Yeah, it was a problem. [We would purchase food] with the little bit of income that we got; whatever money I was able to get. I eventually got a job working for a florist. That was the only job in East Meadow [I could find], was the florist: Kurt Weiss. He’s still in business today. Whatever money I got, I just handed it over to my mother. I gave it and she was able to cook meals; she was a superb cook.