NORTH ADAMS -- It was just another of more than 100 routine bombing runs through MiG Alley, over northwestern North Korea.

MiG Alley is the name U.S. airmen used to describe the region where U.N. aircraft frequently took fire from aircraft piloted by Soviets, Chinese or North Koreans, many of them flying Soviet-made MiG fighter jets.

But this time turned out differently -- dozens of volleys of anti-aircraft flak the Koreans were firing into the sky sent shrapnel crashing through the B-26 fuselage and into the hind quarters of U.S. Air Force Sgt. William Cardimino, a native of North Adams. It was Feb. 10, 1952.

"It was a very, very high concentration of flak -- the heaviest of all," Cardimino recalled.

On this Memorial Day, Cardimino, 82, is celebrating the 54th anniversary of his marriage to his wife, Charlotte. Former owner/operator of the Mohawk Auto Wrecking on Curran Highway for 28 years, he still operates a number of residential rental units in town.

Cardimino pulled two tours: The first was for 50 missions as a gunner on a B-29 based in Japan. For his second tour, the B-26 and its crew were based in South Korea. He pulled 56 missions in the B-26.

He recalls the incident over MiG Alley, and that he didn't feel any pain. When the captain called out to see if anyone was hit, he didn't think he was. Then he felt moisture in his pants. When he checked, it turned out to be blood.

The pilot immediately pulled out of the battle and headed back to base. Upon landing, Cardimino was put under and transferred to a hospital.

"I woke up a couple of days later," he said. "The shrapnel had ruined my bowels, they told me. They patched me up as good as they could."

The doctors suggested that Cardimino should use a colostomy bag, but he declined. Aside from a few difficulties, for the most part his old wound hasn't given him that much trouble.

Cardimino signed up for the Air Force just before he graduated high school. He deployed in 1950. After his injury, he spent the rest of his hitch in cemetery registry, finding spots in American graveyards for soldiers killed in action until his discharge in 1954.

Today, he suffers from stage 4 cancer in his neck. Four years ago, Veterans Affairs doctors in Albany, N.Y., told him he wouldn't last long. Now they call him lucky.

"They call me the Miracle Guy over there," Cardimino said, chuckling and shaking his head. "They can't believe I'm still working every day."

Because of his illness and status as a U.S. war veteran, Cardimino has been able to join a couple of special trips for WWII vets and vets who are terminally ill.

And he says he loved every minute.

The first was an Honor Flight last year on Memorial Day weekend. The other was a Patriot Flight he took earlier this month.

One flight took the vets to Washington, D.C., to visit the memorials and Arlington Cemetery, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The other took them to Baltimore and to D.C. Along the way there was an escort of 200 motorcycles.

"I never saw so many motorcycles in my life," Cardimino said.

There was a firetruck salute at the airport, bands played in their honor, there was an honor guard made up of representatives of all five military services, and there were cards and letters written by elementary school students thanking the veterans for their service to the country.

Kilroy was even there.

"They treated me like a hero," Cardimino said, seeming somewhat mystified. "I never felt like a hero. There are guys who did a lot more than me."

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 663-3741, ext. 227.
On Twitter: @BE_SStafford