Clear56° WeatherClear56° Weather

Sam Lembo raced pigeons, produced songs, rubbed elbows with the famous

Sam Lembo, 89, debriefed German generals, wrote books and produced a rock ’n’ roll hit record.

Sam Lembo, 89, debriefed German generals, wrote books and produced a rock ’n’ roll hit record.

SPRING HILL — His assertive personality and wartime experience as a translator had brought Sam Lembo face to face with well-known figures in Europe and the United States. He had conversed with the king of Hungary, Richard Nixon and Robert Kennedy, and produced a hit record at the dawn of rock 'n' roll.

Before and after those experiences, from boyhood until his late 80s, Mr. Lembo communed with homing pigeons. He bought elite birds from Europe and sold them to other fliers.

After settling in Spring Hill, he checked on his pigeons first thing in the morning, fed them formula and vitamins and gave them shots.

Four years ago, he self-published his second book, Are You Listening, Obama?, urging the president to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Mr. Lembo, a man of diverse accomplishments and firm convictions, died May 7 at home after an illness. He was 89.

Aficionados of pigeon racing, in which flocks of homing pigeons fly as far as 600 miles — the best bringing tens of thousands of dollars to winners — knew Mr. Lembo as a flier and breeder who had won two national races.

"Early in his career he was known as a flier," said Gene Yoes of Emigrant, Mont., the editor and publisher of Racing & Pigeon Digest. "Then he became known as a translator of articles. Then he became known as a breeder of two different breeds of pigeons."

Besides his native English, Mr. Lembo also spoke French, German and Italian. The Army had used him as a gunner but moved him to intelligence work, debriefing captured German generals who, he later wrote, "worked with us to win the war."

He saw many men maimed and killed, and relived the horrors in dreams for the rest of his life.

Mr. Lembo also left his military service angry about the Battle for Cassino in 1944, which captured Rome but with massive Allied casualties, one of them being Mr. Lembo's older brother, Salvatore. That battle led by Gen. Mark Clark would factor prominently in Mr. Lembo's first book, Boiling Mad — First-Hand Witness to Many Injustices and Inept Leadership That Led to Tragedy, which he published in 2001.

His knowledge of French also brought him into Belgium, a country Yoes called the "cradle for racing pigeons."

"He had rubbed elbows with some of the premier pigeon fliers when he was in Europe, so he was very knowledgeable," Yoes said. "And he had access to the upper bloodlines."

Especially, Mr. Lembo bought and bred stichelbauts and pigeons from the Roosen family.

After the war, he majored in history at Boston University. He married Ann, a classical pianist, and began writing songs. Over the next couple of decades, he produced records for singing groups.

"In the rock 'n' roll era of the 1960s, I was a songwriter, record producer, music publisher and artist manager," he wrote in the introduction to his second book. "I discovered Freddy Cannon and his 2-million record seller, Tallahassee Lassie."

Mr. Lembo and his wife later moved to Arizona, then Florida.

Ann Lembo died around 2000, Mr. Lembo's family said.

Santo James Lembo, who always went by "Sam," was born in Boston in 1923, to Sicilian parents. The family lost their home during the Depression but were allowed to sleep in an abandoned house with no heat and broken windows.

"In the winter it would be 20 below zero in the house," he wrote. "I found out what it is to suffer."

He said he wrote Boiling Mad in an attempt to prevent injustices. He was proud when President George W. Bush wrote him in 2001, saying he was placing the book in his presidential library at Texas A&M University.

In his YouTube promotion for Obama, Are You Listening?, Mr. Lembo revealed that he regretted voting for John McCain in 2008. "Being president of this country is a lonely, lonely task," he said. "And President Obama needs your help, the citizens of this country to back him up and praise him for not rushing your sons into battle."

Mr. Lembo frequented the Gulf Coast Homing Club in Spring Hill, the largest pigeon-racing club in the United States. In his early 80s, he won a couple of races there, said the former Kathleen Bryan, his wife since 2008.

Unlike more ruthlessly practical fliers, Mr. Lembo never killed a pigeon after it got too old to fly. He simply kept the birds in the loft with the others on his rural property.

When they died, he buried them by the side of the house.

Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

.Biography

Santo James "Sam" Lembo

Born: July 9, 1923

Died: May 7, 2013

Survivors: wife, Kathleen; son, James Lembo; and three grandchildren.

Sam Lembo raced pigeons, produced songs, rubbed elbows with the famous 05/17/13 [Last modified: Friday, May 17, 2013 10:54pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...