The Lee B. Quilici Webpage - part 2 of 2

By 1941, war was waging in Europe and Lee eventually decided that joining the US Army Air Corp might be a way for him to serve his country while also giving him a chance to fly airplanes. Lee naturally discussed this idea with his Dad, and Domenick said,

"Lee, if it seems to be the thing that you want to do, I'll not stand in your way. I wish you could stay here on the farm, but if you are going to fly, I can't think of any better place for you to learn it. Just remember, though, that you will always have a home here."

So Domenick not only gave Lee a happy home life, he encouraged Lee's dream of flying. It is now understandable how Lee's unusual adoption and name change at the late age of 21 was not so much a slap at his father John Bianco, but rather a sign of love and respect for Domenick Quilici.

In November 1941, shortly before Pearl Harbor, Lee joined the Army Air Corp., which Lee was always quick to point out was quite separate from the regular Army and which later became the Air Force.

The Air Force started out with me doing the most menial jobs on the base. Why? You only had to be the owner of a name like mine and you were automatically put down as a dirty "Eye-Tie" or something worse. When the foulest jobs turned up, those with Italian or German names got the gig. It wasn't fair, but it was the Army way, and you were either made or busted on how you could take it. And I took it the best way I could, for on the other side of the coin, were the training programs, all leading to the Big Birds.


From December 26, 1942, to January 26, 1943, Lee attended the Flying Fortress School at the Boeing Aircraft Factory in Seattle. The "Flying Fortress" was the B-17 bomber.

During 1943, Lee went through several training courses, including gunnery school at Davis-Monthan Field in Tucson, and high altitude training at both Davis -Monthan and the Army Air Base in Salt Lake City.

Although Lee already had some pilot training before joining the Army, his heritage kept him out of the cockpit - the military just wouldn't trust the controls of an airplane to someone with Italian or German blood. His heritage also kept him in the South Pacific Theater, far away from where his "brothers" were fighting in Europe.

     This is a photo of one of Lee's bomber crews. Lee is on the far left. The back of the photo lists the names of the ten crewmen. From left to right, T/Sgt. Lee Quilici, S/Sgt. Harrison, S/Sgt. Rayfield, Lt. Rice, S/Sgt. Leker, T/Sgt. Collins, Lt. Ashton, S/Sgt. Saule,  and Lt. Rhodes. In front is Lt. Cassidy.

This photo was mailed back to the States, as evidenced by the censor's stamp on the back of the photo saying, "Passed by Army Examiner #26618".

     TechSgt.jpg (88363 bytes)     The left photo of Lee was taken in Sydney, Australia, on April 15, 1944. The date and location of the right photo was not identified.
     Lee wearing his bomber jacket while on furlough in Sydney, Australia. The picture was taken on March 16, 1944, by a street photographer.
PhilippinesLetter.jpg (1582732 bytes)    

While flying in the South Pacific, Lee survived three plane crashes. In one of those crashes, Lee was the only one of ten crewmembers to survive.

On December 30, 1944, the flight surgeon for the 65th Bombardment Squadron grounded Lee "because he suffers from severe flying fatigue that is resultant to over a year of combat flying."

Lee's letter at left, dated January 27, 1945, is addressed to his father in Merced and announces that he is returning to the states.

     This telegram dated February 26, 1945, notifies Lee's father that Lee is about to be released from the military. Note that the telegram was sent to the care of Bradbury Cleaners. The Lapeyre family operated the cleaners on 17th street in Merced, and they lived next door to the Bianco farm. At the end of the day, the Lepeyres would take the telegram home to the Bianco family.
     This is Lee's Honorable Discharge dated July 10, 1945.
        Lee and Claire were engaged in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1939. They remained engaged until sometime during the war when she sent Lee a "Dear John" letter saying that "she couldn't wait."
LeeArlene&Steve.jpg (258117 bytes)     Lee met Arlene on June 2, 1945 when they were both in the Army and stationed in Amarillo. They married six weeks after first meeting. This photo shows Lee with Arlene and #1 son, Steve, probably in 1947.

Shortly after his marriage to Arlene, Lee attempted a reconciliation with his father by traveling to Merced to introduce his new bride.

My father chose to ignore her completely...My father took me to the wine cellar where he showed me the bottle of wine that had been put down in 1920, the year I was born. It was a custom of Italian families to keep a bottle of that best wine of the year in which a son was born, and then provide a toast to his bride on the day he was married. With a strange look on his lined face, he took the bottle in his gnarled hands, and crashed it with such force against the cellar wall that it exploded into a thousand shards. He spat. "That's what I think of that woman you married. I do not want to see her again! She is no good for you!"

     After the war, Lee couldn't immediately get a flying job because there were too many trained military pilots also available. But he stayed as close as possible to his beloved aviation by working as a mechanic for commercial airlines.

Lee's first job after the war was with Pacific Overseas Airlines in Ontario, California (30 miles east of Los Angeles). Unfortunately, the airline shut down a little over a year later. The document on the left, dated June 30,1947, is a recommendation letter for Lee written by the POA Superintendent of Flight Mechanics.

Shortly thereafter, Lee began working as a mechanic for American Airlines the last company he would ever work for. Although he was a mechanic, he never gave up on his dream of being a pilot and paid for flying lessons out of his own pocket.

PierceClassroom.jpg (148161 bytes) PierceCertificate.jpg (876160 bytes)     In 1958 and 1959, Lee took a night class at Pierce Junior College on Principles of Jet Propulsion Engines. The photo at left shows the instructor and students in the class. Lee is in the second row, second from the left. The certificate shows he successfully completed the course.
NewCaptain.jpg (21783 bytes)     Lee did eventually get out of the hanger and into the cockpit, initially as a Flight Engineer, the third member of the cockpit and the one responsible for monitoring the mechanical operation of the plane during flight. (Nowadays, commercial airplanes are so computerized that the Flight Engineer position has largely been eliminated.) After a few years as Flight Engineer, Lee was promoted to Co-Pilot and sat in the cockpit's right front seat.

This picture was taken on one of Lee's happiest days, in 1966, when he became a captain for American Airlines and slid over to the left hand seat in the cockpit.

AirmanCertificate.jpg (297216 bytes)     Proof of Lee's passion, his Airman Certificate showing his Multi-Engine Land, DC-6/7, and Boeing 707/720 ratings.
Qfam1966.JPG (196179 bytes)      Lee and Arlene were married for 27 years and produced four children - Steve, Susan, Tim and Scott. The picture at left was taken in 1966 and shows the wide range of ages. Scott was 4, Tim was 13, Susan was 15, and Steve was 20.
Lee&SueWedding1.jpg (169783 bytes)  Lee&SueWedding2.jpg (177837 bytes)     After 27 years of marriage, Lee and Arlene divorced in 1972.

These photos are of Lee and Sue on their wedding day in 1974.

        Lee on his throne, in the captain's seat of a DC-10 cockpit. The right-hand picture was taken four months before his retirement in January 1980.
       Lee back in the cabin, schmoozing with the passengers. Note the stripes on the jacket sleeve; the captain wears four stripes, the copilot wears three stripes, and the flight engineer (if they still exist) wears two stripes.
Retirement.jpg (291325 bytes)     One of the unhappiest days of Lee's life; retirement from American Airlines in January 1980. Somehow a new watch just didn't seem like enough.
        One final attempt at reconciliation with his father, these pictures were taken of John Bianco, Lina, and Lee in 1986. At that time, John was roughly 90 years old. Lina was John's long-time companion after Sylvia's death.
     Lee in 1986 with his brother Charlie Bianco and Charlie's wife, Darlene. Charlie died in the summer of 2002.
GoodSam2.jpg (142885 bytes)   GoodSamVest1998.jpg (142885 bytes)     After retirement in 1980, RV camping and the Good Sams Club became a very important part of Lee's life. He served in various regional and state-wide positions in the Arizona Good Sams organization. He founded and ran an annual RV gathering in Tucson, as well as the Arizona Outriders, an RV club that traveled outside of the state. The lower left picture is of Lee and Sue in front of their Allegro RV.
     Lee and his computer. A technophobe who hated computers most of his life, Lee's children finally twisted his arm enough that he bought a PC at the age of 78. He quickly fell in love with email and the ability to stay in touch with his children and his many friends spread out around the country.

Lee's gravestone at Eastlawn Palms Cemetery, Tucson, Arizona,
was specifically designed by his family to reflect Lee's pride
in both his name and his association with American Airlines.

He will be missed by many.

This webpage was created on the occasion of Lee's 82nd birthday, January 7, 2002,
and then updated when he died later that month.
Website created by one of his sons, Tim Quilici