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For Peter Porreca of Uniontown, his military service in World War II was in Europe, where he led a charmed life, suffering only a noncombat injury.

The veteran will be featured in a PCN interview from the cable TV network's “World War II: In Their Own Words” and “Voices of Veterans” series. His story will be broadcast at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Porreca did not begin his service in the war until he was drafted for a third time, in 1943. He did not know his father had him deferred all three times because he was working in the H.C. Frick coal mine, later U.S. Steel, under the elder Porreca.

“I was a white cap, loading coal, and needed two years' experience,” said Porreca, now 89.

All of his friends were being drafted, and he asked the draft board why he was not going. That was when he found out about his father's arranging his deferment.

“I went down, asked the pit boss, and had it canceled,” he said. “Two weeks later, I went.”

He trained at the Army's Camp Campbell, Ky., now Fort Campbell, on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee. His barracks was in Kentucky, and the soldiers ate across the street in Tennessee, he recalled.

After 10 weeks of armored training, he was sent to Camp Phillips, Kan. From there, his unit took a train to New York, then to Liverpool, England.

In England the soldiers were housed in large tents with a potbellied stove in the center that he said probably housed an entire platoon.

He was a member of the 702nd Tank Battalion, which trained with the 79th Infantry Division for the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

Fate intervened for the first time.

“German subs sunk the boat carrying the tanks of the (741st), so they took ours,” said Porreca.

Those amphibious tanks, according to Porreca, sank in the English Channel with their crews before they reached the beaches, having been left off too soon. The water was too rough and too deep.

“We had to wait a couple of weeks for more tanks,” he recalled. “We landed in France, Normandy, about a month or so after D-Day.”

The battalion's first taste of combat occurred in the battle to close the Falaise Gap in France in August 1944, as Allied forces trapped a large German army. The battle was considered the defining one of the Normandy invasion.

Many of the members of his battalion were lost in combat, especially early on. The 75 mm gun of the Sherman tanks was no match for the armor of the German Tiger tanks. And the 88 mm German guns could easily penetrate the armor of the Sherman tanks.

Later, the 75 mm guns were replaced by the more powerful 76 mm guns, which were able to punch through the German armor.

From their first battle for the Falaise Gap, the 702nd fought its way across France and through Austria, then met up with Russian forces at the Elbe River.

Because he had had the 10-week course in tanks at Camp Campbell, Porreca was placed in charge of a tank recovery unit. His job was to drag two treadways into place to allow the combat tanks to cross streams and gullies. The task became less dangerous as Germans were retreating without fighting the tanks because of their own armor losses.

Most of the danger came from German mortar shells. Porreca's friend, who took up a position behind him while he hooked a chain from the boom on his recovery unit, was wounded in the shoulder by a shell. Porreca took him to get his injury patched up.

His friend was given a medical discharge and a Purple Heart medal on recovering in 1944.

“I was pretty lucky,” he said. “I got one little wound (injury) when I was prying a spring and caught my finger. I was lucky. I was in the hospital for only two weeks.”

His unit left a jeep for him, he said, and he was able to catch up.

Porreca was promoted to private first class, then to technician fourth grade. The reason, he said, was that because of his training, he was familiar with everything in the tank.

Once when a motor had to be replaced in a Sherman, he wound up doing it. He replaced the in-line engine on a tank with a radial engine.

According to Porreca, the in-line engine produced more horsepower than the radial but was much more noisy.

His commanding officer told him to begin the work, and that he would get him some help. By the time the officer got back, three hours later, Porreca had installed the new engine. He started it, and it “purred like a kitten.”

After the war, Porreca came home and went to work in the mines. He also became post commander of the VFW and a president in the unions.


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