In 1944, 1st Lt. Charles Matthew Baffo’s bomber plane was shot down in France by German fire, leading him to make a quick, heroic decision that earned him the Croix de Chevalier dans l’Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur on the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, also known as D-Day.
“The plane had several bombs on it and you can’t crash-land with the bombs on it or you’re all going to die, so you have to release the bombs before you crash-land,” said his daughter Ruthann Walsh.
Her father knew he was over a very densely populated area of France, said Ms. Walsh, and knew he would kill hundreds of French civilians if he released the bombs.
“He remembered an area in Brussels that had been cleared out and he knew that was where he needed to land the plane,” she said. “He took a chance, landed his plane with the bombs on it and told the crew to run."
Mr. Baffo was born and raised in New York City and graduated from Amityville High School in June 1941. Six months later, Pearl Harbor was attacked, on Dec. 7.
Mr. Baffo had football scholarships to Hofstra University and Cornell University, but instead of going to college, he signed up for the Air Force in February 1942.
In 1944, he was assigned to the 490th Bombardment Group and learned to fly both the B-24 and B-17 Flying Fortress with the 8th Air Force.
Between May and November of 1944, he flew 35 missions over Germany, earning him the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is awarded to armed forces members who demonstrate “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”