World War II Vet Celebrates 100th Birthday at Ironwood

CANFIELD, Ohio — Dominic Zurella celebrated his 100th birthday on May 21, celebrating with relatives and friends at his home at The Inn at Ironwood.

Zurella served in World War II as a radio operator and gunner of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, nicknamed “Pist’l Packin’ Mama.” He flew 25 bombardment missions over enemy-occupied continental Europe and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his achievement and bravery. In 1926, this award was authorized by an Act of Congress under the Calvin Coolidge administration and remains one of Zurella’s proudest achievements.

“We are so honored to celebrate this wonderful man,” said Michelle Watkins, executive director at The Inn at Ironwood, a Briarfield assisted living. “He is a true American hero.”

For the celebration, Zurella was joined by family members, including his nieces Linda Bishara and Nancy Dom, fellow Ironwood residents, and Ed and Diane Reese, CEO and president of Briarfield, respectively. The group sang “Happy Birthday,” followed by a rendition of “Pistol Packin’ Mama” performed by Doug James. The tune is one of Zurella’s favorites in honor of his plane.

The Mahoning County Veterans Service Commission presented Zurella with a birthday cake. Those in attendance were Susan Krawchyk, executive director, Corban Baker, outreach coordinator, and Leo Connelly Jr., commissioner. Baker read a proclamation on behalf of Canfield Mayor Richard A. Duffett, who declared May 21 as Dominic Zurella Day.

Connelly awarded Zurella with a challenge coin and support pins from the Military Order of the Purple Hearts. Jeff Vrabel Jr. of Sons of the American Legion Squadron 15 and Mike Kubitza, commander of the American Legion Post 177, were also present.

Dom-with-Display-crop Corban-Baker-crop Dom-with-Balloons-crop ironwood-residents DomMichelleJeannette-crop

Gallery photos include Zurella with a display of photos and military memorabilia, Corban Baker reading a proclamation for Dominic Zurella Day, Zurella sitting near a table with balloons, Inn at Ironwood residents and Zurella with Inn at Ironwood’s activities director, Jeannette Albert, and Executive Director Michelle Watkins. (Photos from Briarfield)

Born on May 23, 1921, Zurella grew up in the same house where his mother was born in the Smokey Hollow neighborhood on Youngstown’s East Side. His parents were Steve and Rose Mashiska Zurella. He attended East High School for a short time before taking a job in a steel mill before being drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces at the start of World War II.

After returning home from the War, Zurella fell in love with Lillian Minnow and the two eloped. However, Minnow’s mother insisted they marry in a Catholic Church.

“I married the same woman twice!” Zurella joked.

Zurella worked for Youngstown Sheet and Tube, Carnegie Steel and U.S. Steel before settling on a career with the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier. He was promoted to postmaster of the Austintown Post Office.

At the party, Zurella was given birthday cards made by students from Miss Snyder’s class at C.H. Campbell Elementary School, as well as a large card from Ironwood residents. Ironwood staff also made a display for the celebration, which included photographs from Zurella’s life, military memorabilia and information on his missions.

When asked what attributed to his longevity, Zurella replied, “They say the good die young. I was always bad!”

Pictured at top: Dominic Zurella is joined by his nieces Nancy Dom and Linda Bishara at his 100th birthday celebration at the Inn at Ironwood in Canfield. (Image: Briarfield)

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.