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MELBOURNE, FL (Florida Today) -- Retired Air Force Col. Larry Guarino, a fighter pilot who in the Vietnam War was shot down near Hanoi in 1965 and held as a prisoner of war for more than seven years, has died.

He was 92.

Guarino, an Indian Harbour Beach resident, was a highly decorated veteran, who also served in World War II and Korea. He told the story of his captivity in Vietnam in "A POW Story — 2801 Days in Hanoi."

"That book inspired so many people," said Evelyn Guarino, his wife of 71 years.

She said a young private once wrote her husband to say that after reading about what Guarino went through in prison, he was ashamed of himself for complaining about not having his family with him in Germany where he was serving.

"He was a wonderful man," Evelyn Guarino said. "He had a great sense of humor."

She said he served for 33 years as a pilot and loved the plane he flew in World War II, the Spitfire.

His medals included the Air Force Cross, the second highest military award, Air Force Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Purple Hearts.

"He was a very unforgettable person," said his daughter-in-law, Carolyn Guarino. "He had a lot of spirit. He always kept that energy and spirit to the end."

Guarino was commissioned in 1943. During World War II, he served in North Africa, Italy and China.

He was recalled again for the Korean War. He was later assigned to the Philippines, Japan, and Okinawa.

As a Major, Guarino was flying combat missions in Southeast Asia in early 1965 when he was shot down and forced to eject over North Vietnam. He was captured and taken as a prisoner of war, spending the next 2,801 days in captivity. He was released on Feb. 12, 1973.

"He was never afraid to give his opinion on issues," said Carolyn Guarino.

He was stationed at Patrick AFB from 1973 to 1975, when he retired.

Carol Jose, who edited Guarino's book, "A POW Story," said Guarino suffered tremendously as a prisoner of war, but was able to put that behind him and had a good outlook on life.

"I admired that," she said. "He adored his family."

He is survived by his wife, Evelyn; sons Allan, Thomas, Raymond and Jeffrey; eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Contact Moody at 321-242-3651 or nmoody@floridatoday.com Follow at facebook.com/floridatodaymilitary ot Twitter @RNormanMoody

In his honor

There will be a celebration of his life at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Florida Memorial Gardens and The Life Event Center in Rockledge. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project in his name. woundedwarriorproject.org/Donate

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