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Corsair Veteran Shares His Memories

Frank Washkuch, Jr. fwashkuch@ctpost.com

STRATFORD Bernard W. Peterson, a Corsair pilot who saw action throughout the Pacific theater in World War II, lightly recalled being shot by "friendly fire." "They probably never saw so many planes flying at one time before," said Peterson, a retired Marine Corps captain and resident of Scottsdale, Ariz., referring to fellow Marines at a base where he was landing. "They probably thought it was a Japanese raid."

Peterson sat Friday morning at the front of the "listening booth" tent at Sikorsky Memorial Airport with his wife, Marion, sharing his experiences from the war. The "Corsairs over Connecticut" festival is part of Veterans Salute Weekend at the airport today and Sunday. The festival is being held in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Peterson also recalled flying a Corsair, now Connecticut's official state plane, during the Korean War. He shared his memories of the plane at the airport where it was tested during WWII and across the street from where most of it was built. "If you don't think flying a Corsair is difficult, try being out of one for five years [and then flying it again]," said Peterson, who also spent 37 years as an employee at Allied Signal. The Corsair, manufactured in Stratford by Vought-Sikorsky (which combined with Chance-Vought), was designated the state's official aircraft by a legislative vote last month.

The Stratford plant made eight complete aircraft daily at the height of the war. In all, 12,571 of the planes were built. The Corsair was the first plane to fly 400 mph and was able to destroy 2,140 Japanese aircraft at a kill ratio of 11 enemy for each downed Corsair. Corsair Day will be observed in the state each May 29 in commemoration of the factory workers and pilots from United Aircraft, Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Standard, Vought-Sikorsky and other state industries that helped build it. Leo Stanejko, a Stratford resident who worked at the Chance-Vought plant from 1940 to 1949, sat watch in a tent displaying vintage Sikorsky memorabilia and posters for sale. "A lot of the Corsair prints," Stanejko said when asked what posters were selling the fastest, pointing to a portrait featuring the bent-wing aircraft flying through a dark sky. Stanejko recalled working on assembly lines at the Stratford Chance-Vought factory during the 1940s before the company moved its operation to Texas in 1949. "At certain times, the conveyor would move," he said. "After it moved to the final assembly, then it went out to the field to get tested."

The Corsair festival was the end of a road trip for Ronald Griffith, of Texas, who drove from the Lone Star State to Long Island Sound. Griffith was a Vought employee for 26 years, and started a restoration club in 1996. He has a display of one of his organization's projects putting a Corsair back together from pieces.

"We're here not only to show that Chance-Vought is alive and well, but to show respect for both the Vought and Sikorsky families," he said.

For more information about Veterans Salute Weekend, go to www.veteranssalute.org

Frank Washkuch Jr., who covers Stratford, can be reached at 330-6287.

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Last modified: September 18, 2012

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