By Bob Offen
As a young boy growing up in Astoria Queens, New York, Ernie Treff would often venture to nearby North Beach Airport (known today as LaGuardia International). There he would spend countless hours watching aircraft taking off and landing. He dreamed on one day becoming a pilot.
Ernie pursued that dream by attending Manhattan High School of Aviation Training, graduating in 1940 at age 17 as a certified aircraft mechanic. When the United States became involved in World War II Ernie became eligible for the draft. With high demand for military pilots, the United States Congress passed a law requiring the training of 50,000 pilots per year to support the war effort. Included in the law was a provision that eliminated the requirement that all pilots had to have a college degree. That was all Ernie needed to hear.
In December 1942, at age 19, Ernie joined the U. S. Army Air Corps. He flew his first airplane, an open cockpit biplane. From there he progressed to more modern fighter planes and graduated from flight school earning a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in, April of 1944. He attended gunnery school at Bradley Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn., where he learned to fly the P-47 Thunderbolt the plane he would later fly in combat.
In December 1944, at age 21, Ernie was shipped overseas. Stationed in England he was assigned to the 56th Fighter Group, 61st Squadron. Ernie flew numerous missions over Eastern Europe, Germany and France. By the end of the war he had amassed over 120 combat hours. His missions included air support for bombing missions and patrols over enemy territory. One of the more memorable missions was when his squadron destroyed 95 enemy aircraft over Eggenbach, Germany.
After the war Ernie returned home, married and began raising a family while at the same time serving in the reserves and National Guard until 1955. Ernie earned his engineering degree from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. He worked in the aerospace industry for Rockwell Corporation becoming Assistant Chief Engineer. In 1965 he took a job with Cottrell/Harris Corporation in Pawcatuck. He along with wife Muriel and five children moved to Mumford Cove in Groton. In 1985 he retired as Vice President of Engineering for Harris. Ernie never lost his passion for flying. He continued to fly his own aircraft for both business and pleasure until 1999. Muriel passed away in 2012 after 60 years of marriage.
At age 90, Ernie continues to live a very active life. He is always willing to share his vast knowledge of aviation history. An avid photographer since his teens he can often be found in his office going through his massive collection of photos including many he took during the war.