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Double honor for Link Piazzo
by Harry Spencer
Mar 05, 2010 | 3884 views | 1 1 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Courtesy/Harry Spencer - Local philanthropist Link Piazzo as he appeared when a captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, flying 67 B-52 combat missions in the Pacific Theater.
Courtesy/Harry Spencer - Local philanthropist Link Piazzo as he appeared when a captain in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, flying 67 B-52 combat missions in the Pacific Theater.
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More than six decades slipped quickly away for local businessman and philanthropist Link Piazzo recently as he watched a restored B-52 World War II bomber have its nose section unveiled at Reno’s Jet West airport. The unveiling revealed the nose art that had adorned the B-52 in which Piazzo flew some 67 missions in the Pacific theater.

The occasion was hosted by the American Aeronautical Foundation, which restored the legendary aircraft and flew it to Reno from its home base in Southern California.

The name that Piazzo had chosen for his Army Air Corps plane (there was no Army Air Force in those days) was “My Buck” and the comely female that accompanied the phrase was modeled by Piazzo's wife, Helen. The new rendition was an exact copy and when the camouflage tarp was pulled from the nose to reveal the fresh artwork, Piazzo's eyes welled with tears.

About 100 people were invited to the ceremony, which was held in a spacious — but unheated — hangar at Jet West, which is located at the eastern end of Gentry Way, a road that led to the old Reno airport when it was housed in nothing more than a lone metal hangar.

On hand for the event were representatives from the University of Nevada, Reno and Reno High School, two of Piazzo's favorite organizations to donate to. Things got started with a presentation of the colors by the color guard from the Reno High ROTC. Vocal assistance was lent by the Reno High choral group and the emcee for the celebration was local TV anchor Bill Brown. Brown waxed emotional on several occasions as he gave credit to Piazzo and the other veteran airmen assembled as well as all those who had served their country in World War II.

The university mascot, in full wolf costume, was accompanied by several members of the UNR pep squad, who gave cheers for Piazzo through the program.

Participants were actually allowed to climb inside the aircraft for an up-close inspection of the heavily armed attack bomber. About 10,000 of the craft were built and it gained most of its fame when Gen. Billy Mitchell led a squadron of them off the deck on an aircraft carrier in 1942 for the famous air raid on Tokyo. As those there recalled, it was a one-way mission that later inspired books and movies and was most recently replicated in the current screen version of the movie “Pearl Harbor.”

Not to be overshadowed by the Saturday morning event was another award that was bestowed on Piazzo on Jan. 25: his introduction into the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) hall of fame.

That ceremony took place in the Silver and Blue room in Lawlor Events Center on the UNR campus. Piazzo joined nine other inductees that included Glenn Carano, Ken Dalton, Lyle Damon, Bob Gallagher, Wint King, Glenn Miers, Jack Beach, Phil Pearson and Alana Williams.

The NIAA hall of fame was originated in 1992 by Dr. Jerry A. Hughes, former director of the NIAA. As Hughes put it, “The purpose of the NIAA hall of fame is to recognize and honor those outstanding individuals who have had a significant and positive impact on the lives of Nevada’s young people through their involvement as an administrator, athlete, coach, contributor or official.”

Piazzo certainly filled the bill on the above requirements as he has been a steady contributor to both Reno High School and UNR. More importantly, he donated his time to act as head scorer for some 38 years for the NIAA Northern Zone basketball tournament. In addition, his company, The Sportsman, always served as the sponsor for the tournament’s hospitality suite.

Piazzo and his late brother, Chet, co-founded The Sportsman sporting goods store in 1938. As Piazzo tells it, he and Chet were involved in some tough physical labor, probably digging ditches, when they suddenly looked at one another and said, “There has got to be an easier way to make money than this.” Their family kept the store open for them while they did their service hitches and once they returned, they developed their store into one of the most complete retail sports facilities in the country.

This writer also remembers Piazzo as the radio voice of the Wolf Pack when I played there in the late 1940s. Link was omnipresent at every major sporting event that occurred in northern Nevada in the latter half of the last century and was one of the co-founders and developers of the Hidden Valley Country Club and Golf Course, where he now resides.

Giving not only millions of dollars to charitable causes in the area, he also gave generously of his time and was co-organizer of the Reno Little League and co-founder of the Junior Ski Program.

No slouch as an athlete himself, he was chairman of the Holiday Hotel, now Siena’s, amateur golf tournament, which was the most successful of all the hotel and casino-sponsored celebrity-type golf events that used to proliferate here. A natural leader, he was also the High Chieftain of the Carolina Indians, a trap and skeet organization that made yearly pilgrimages to this area when that sport was in vogue at the old Harold’s Club gun venue on Pyramid Highway. It was also a sport that made localite Dan Orlich, a top UNR and NFL athlete, a national champion of the gun sport.

Due to the phenomenal success of The Sportsman, the Piazzo brothers were able to develop three local shopping centers and amass a considerable fortune of which Link has donated a million to the community from his portion.

At age 90, he is still as sharp and articulate as he was in the days when he almost left the Reno area to pursue a career as a sports broadcaster and telecaster.

His two honors last week were well deserved.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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Greg Bishop
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October 25, 2010
The aircraft is misidentified as a "B-52"; it is a "B-25" Mitchell bomber ('J' model).
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