The mechanical engineering degree that Max J. Palena received from Pennsylvania State University in 1942, paired with some quick thinking during World War II, gave him an additional 65 years of life.

On Feb. 18, 1945, one of the aircraft assigned to the escort carrier Lunga Point, which Navy Lt. Palena was on as it prepared for the invasion of Iwo Jima, had a midair problem with one of its firebombs.

The plane headed back to the carrier so technicians could check out the problem, but as it landed, the bomb "broke loose" and "skidded across the flight deck," according to Navy documents.

Mr. Palena immediately ran to the moving bomb and threw himself across it, "clinging to the explosive," according to the documents.

"He was yelling, 'Get me a wrench! Get me a wrench!' " his daughter Pat English said.

After disarming the bomb, Mr. Palena threw it overboard, saving his shipmates from injury and the ship from serious damage. He earned a Silver Star.

He returned to civilian life to have a successful mechanical engineering career in South Jersey.

Mr. Palena, 89, formerly of Barrington, died of cancer Tuesday, June 1, while in hospice care in Atlanta.

He was born and raised in South Philadelphia and graduated from South Philadelphia High School in the late 1930s before going to Penn State.

In 1947, he married Eleanor Barker, whom he had met a few years earlier in the South Jersey nightlife scene. The couple settled in South Jersey, living for a few years in Collingswood before moving to Barrington in 1952.

Mr. Palena worked for several small engineering firms in South Jersey during a career of more than 30 years. During the 1960s and '70s, he did a lot of contract work for the government, including NASA, developing metal and other materials that were resistant to very high temperatures, his daughter said.

When the Palena family took a Florida vacation several years ago and visited the museum at the Kennedy Space Center, Mr. Palena pointed out the different rockets he'd had a role in developing.

In 1977, Mr. Palena received a patent for his invention of metal nonskid coating, which won him several awards, his family said. Around that time, he also started Mebac, an engineering company, his daughter said.

He sold Mebac by 1984, when he retired and moved to Fort Myers, Fla.

Besides his Silver Star, Mr. Palena was recognized with the rest of the Lunga Point crew with a Presidential Unit Citation. The carrier fought Japanese forces in "the air, ashore, and afloat," including repeated kamikaze attacks.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Mike; another daughter, Marie; and four grandchildren. His wife died in 1993.

A memorial service will be held at a later date in Fort Myers.

Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917 or cvargas@phillynews.com.