Lt. Henry Lederer, an Atlantic Beach resident who served as a fighter pilot during World War II and continued to teach pilots until he was 90, died Sept. 22. He was 93 years old.
Lederer, who was born on March 19, 1920 in Bridgeport, Ct., “struck a deal” when he was 14 years old to get flying lessons in exchange for cleaning out aircraft at Miller’s Airfield on Staten Island, according to his son Wayne Lederer. He attended New York University and received his private pilot’s certificate in 1939. A month after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Lederer enlisted in the Army Air Corps, turning down a commission as a flight instructor for combat duty.
He joined the 361st Fighter Group, 374th Fighter Squadron and was stationed in 1943 in Bottisham, England, where he flew the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang on 92 missions through D-Day.
Lederer was credited with five victories in dog fights during his service, earning him the title of ace pilot.
“He admired the maneuverability of the Mustang, but he had the deepest affection for the Thunderbolt, which he flew primarily,” said Lederer’s cousin, Dr. Noel Kleppel, of Lawrence. “He said the Thunderbolt was ‘built like a tank’ and ‘always got him home.’”
He received credit for downing two German aircraft without firing a shot. According to Kleppel, Lederer told him that he had a reputation as a tough pilot in the European theater, and believed that the two Nazi pilots recognized his yellow-tailed P-47, and were frightened enough to bail out, allowing their aircraft to crash. These two planes were counted among those that allowed him to become a fighter ace. He is recorded in the U.S. Army Air Corps and USAF Fighter Museum in Mesa, Ariz., in the register of all American airmen who have ever downed an enemy aircraft in combat.
Of the 86 pilots who originally went to Europe with his unit, Lederer was one of only 30 to make it home. He received the distinguished flying cross with two oak leaf clusters and an air medal with two oak leaf clusters.
Lederer named his aircraft the “Duchess of Manhattan” after his childhood sweetheart, Rita Haberman, whom he married in 1945.
He founded Lederer Brothers in 1946, a jewelry manufacturer, known for “Lady Ellen” pearls and patents for magnetically interchangeable jewelry. He was also employed at Fairchild Republic as senior engineer for the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and at Northrop Grumman. Lederer served as flight training director for Cosmopolitan Aviation where he held several FAA ratings and was a certified flight instructor and examiner, and acted as president of the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang Pilot Associations.
Lederer flew the P-47 again at Republic Airport’s Lindbergh Day Celebration from May 16-17, 1977.
He retired at the age of 85, but continued teaching for five years, according to Kleppel. His students included Long Islanders who went on to become Air Force and commercial airline pilots.
Lederer was active in incorporating the Village of Atlantic Beach in 1962. He loved travelling the world with his wife, classical music, chocolate, discussing world affairs, the internet and email, Wayne said.
He is survived by Rita, his wife of 68 years whom he taught to fly, their three children Dr. Jane Lederer, Dr. Lynn Lederer and Wayne Lederer, CEO and founder of Magnacoustics, their spouses Harry, Peter and Lisa, two grandchildren Jamie Ansorge and Ira Lederer, and extended families.
The family will sit shiva on Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Friday from noon to 4 p.m. at 200 Granada St., Atlantic Beach.