Okay, this is a HUGE story, and I’ve never heard it before. It probably explains some of the Padre Pio devotion in my local area, because we’ve got a lot of Air Force people around here.
Apparently the USAF doesn’t just report unidentified flying objects.
In WWII, they encountered a totally identifiable flying monk.
So yeah, I guess it’s unfortunate for Monte Cassino, which was full of Nazis using it as a fort; but there really wasn’t any cache of weapons at San Giovanni Rotondo, so it’s just as well that it wasn’t bombed.
Indeed, it’s a very positive “mighty work” for people in the military, because the bomber crews were not allowed to do something inadvertently unjust, but not prevented from doing their real job or punished for trying.
General Nathan F. Twining, who went on a mission in 1943 and legendarily did see Padre Pio bilocated up in the clouds and causing early bomb release, met with Padre Pio later.
(This article says Twining also converted to Catholicism, but I can’t find anything to confirm that.)
General Bernardo Rosini of the Italian Air Force (which had switched to the Allies’ side by that point) testified to the incidents being reported at the time by air crews based in Bari; it is in the “positio” for St. Padre Pio’s canonization.
In 1947, Twining sent a famous memo commenting on the large number of Air Force personnel having seen “flying discs.” He said that it should be further investigated, because it was “something real, and not visionary or fictitious.”
Twining went on to serve as Air Force Chief of Staff, and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was known for reducing interservice rivalry, for encouraging research and development, and for modernizing the Air Force. He died in 1982.
There’s a lot of talk about his son (Nathan F. Twining, Jr.) having privately told various people that his dad told him the truth about Roswell, etc. But this is all friend-of-a-friend stuff, and Twining passed away in 2016 and can no longer be asked, himself. This Twining sold land he owned on the Belen Mesa to various “intentional community” people, who mostly seem to have been hippies, farmers, and hippie farmers; he is kindly remembered there as having loved the desert.
More USAF stories about Padre Pio, on page 7 of this church bulletin. Apparently Padre Pio was very much into their business, in a good way!
More military and American stories about Padre Pio. (Includes one of the early US helpers of Sr. Maria Montessori, Adelia Mary Pyles, who was also a great helper of Padre Pio and of US soldiers in WWII.) The military stories start about halfway down the page. I particularly like the pictures of the 463rd Bomb Group Choir.
Interestingly, there’s a bit where Padre Pio instructs a guy to follow the now-deprecated practice of giving a name to his guardian angel. (In a non-cringy way, not in the cringy way that caused the practice to be discouraged.) So it sounds like it was an Italian devotion, back in the day.
Anyhow… Padre Pio was drafted in WWI, and had to leave the monastery and serve in the military for three years. So that’s probably why he was so sympathetic to soldiers and airmen. He was sick the whole time, with lung problems from long before he was drafted, so he didn’t end up having much experience of military service. San Giovanni Rotondo was up in the mountains and helped his lungs a lot, which was why he was assigned there for the rest of his life.
More about Mary Pyles – an heiress disinherited for becoming Catholic, whose brothers and sisters each contributed money to her so that she would still get an equal share with them. She helped build all sorts of needed facilities in the town of San Giovanni Rotondo, including a hospital.
UPDATE: Allegedly there are Army Air Force reports about this, but nobody seems to quote one or show pictures of them, online. Also there are supposed to be many testimonies, but the only named person is this Italian Air Force general who testified in the canonization positio.
So possibly this is an urban legend? But I don’t really have the resources to research it. Maybe I can push this off onto Jimmy Akin? Or maybe I can get somebody at the Air Force Museum to tell me where to find mission records?
This link cites Positio III / 1, p. 689-690. It says there was a German ammo dump in San Giovanni Rotondo. Oops, my bad for trusting the wrong sources!
This is a Facebook page for Amendola Air Base, an Italian Air Force base that was built in 1931 in San Giovanni Rotondo, and was later taken over by the Luftwaffe after Italy joined the Allies in 1943; and eventually was captured by the US. It still serves as an Italian base today, and they have a lot of UAVs there. So this would have been a legit target for US bombing in 1943, as per the story.
An Army Air Force truck driver’s story – Pfc. Ray Bunten.
Padre Pio as a prophetic political/war analyst, and more about him during WWII. (Although after Germany switched sides on Moscow, it wasn’t ridiculous that Padre Pio would think Italy might change sides.) It does include a verified story of a Protestant who converted because of Padre Pio — more than 40 years later! Well, that’s real life for you. We also learn that Padre Pio liked American beer, and that he said a special Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve for the GIs.
MORE UPDATE: The book Padre Pio and America includes a lot of stuff about American soldiers and pilots visiting Padre Pio. Chapter 25, “The Flying Monk,” deals with various aerial stories about Padre Pio, and with the question of documentation of such stories. So ha! Somebody else already did the work!
Apparently there are multiple stories (Padre Pio “catching” Italian pilots who had to bail out is a big one), and multiple sources who seem pretty reliable, but a big lack of documented names of pilots and crew. (To be fair, going on record with weird stuff has traditionally been a career-ender and got you grounded.)
However, the author of Padre Pio in America did find a named aircrew guy, Gaetano Pavone, who served as both a flight engineer and a gunner, who did put himself on record as having seen the face of a monk, in color, in a break in the clouds. He later recognized the face he had seen as Padre Pio. But he says he kept his mouth shut and didn’t tell anyone else for years, or even call attention to it by the other people on the plane, so he obviously wasn’t the story spreader!
I find this stuff pretty fun, honestly, because people tend to think that miracles don’t happen in modern times. But people like Padre Pio or Brother Solanus Casey are having miracles every day and twice at breakfast, during modern times. (And btw, here’s Bl. Solanus Casey visiting a man with COVID-19.)