Mario "Lee" Sirabella was born in 1921 in New York City, the son of Italian immigrants who came to America in 1920 through Ellis Island.
Lee graduated from high school on Long Island and, following America’s entrance in World War II, joined the Army Air Corps. Lee received training in aerial photography after which he was assigned to duty in Presque Isle and then Greenland. During one flight from Greenland, Lee was testing new photo equipment and was instructed to “just keep taking photographs.” When his plane landed all his film was taken off to be developed. A short time later it was announced that a German weather station had been discovered in the area that Lee had been photographing.
“My father’s photos were never directly credited with that discovery,” says Lee’s son Noel. “But the general assumption was that his photographs contributed to finding that weather station.”
After Greenland, Lee was stationed at Dow Army Air Base in Bangor, where he continued serving as an aerial photographer throughout the war. Among his more difficult assignments was documenting many of the tragic noncombat crashes that occurred as Army aircraft were training or heading off for Europe. Of special note was the July 1944, crash of a B-17, en route to Europe, at Deer Mountain near the New Hampshire border. Lee remembers driving from Bangor to the site to photograph the horrible crash scene. After taking the necessary photos, Lee helped retrieve the remains of the crew, some of which were found hundreds of feet from the impact.
“When you do a few of those, I guess you become a bit numb to it, although it always affects you, “ Lee said in one interview. “A lot of those young fellows never even made it out the US—they died before they went to war.”
Following the war, Lee decided to remain in the reserves in what eventually became the Maine Air National Guard. He settled in the Bangor area, married, and opened up his own photography studio in downtown Bangor. Lee and his wife, Stella, had three children together—Noel, David, and Lauri. Both Noel and David followed in their father’s footsteps, enjoying distinguished careers in the Air National Guard (Noel retired as a Lt. Colonel).
At the outbreak of the Korean War, Lee was called back to active service and stationed for much of the war in Manchester, New Hampshire. When the fighting in Korea ended, he again chose to stay in the Maine Air National Guard at Dow, where he remained until retiring as a master sergeant in 1964. He served a total of 22 years.
Lee’s photo business met with success and eventually was moved to Brewer. He earned a reputation for his photography of children and families and that soon became his specialty.
When he wasn’t working in the photo studio, Lee enjoyed driving to his camp in Amherst where he maintained blueberry fields and a tree farm. He also made contributions to the Bangor/Brewer community, leading a community photo club for many years and later teaching Photoshop at the Senior Citizens Center. Lee’s room at the Veterans Home is adorned with several of his beautiful photographs.
Thank you Lee for your service to our nation and our state!
Maine Veterans’ Homes is an independent nonprofit organization serving Maine’s veterans and families. For more information, contact Maine Veterans’ Homes online or give us a call at 800-278-9494. We also welcome you and your family to explore employment or volunteer opportunities with us.
Maine Veterans’ Homes…Caring For Those Who Served!