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WWII Tech Sergeant William Pilati reflects on Battle of the Bulge, day Germans surrendered
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By Thomas Clapper
U.S. Army Tech Sergeant William E. Pilati was drafted into World War II, fought in the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 14, 1944 and remembers the moment he heard Hitler and the Germans surrendered.
Born in Waynesburg on May 21, 1925, a young Bill Pilati attended a two-room elementary school in Negley, OH and went to high school in East Palestine. It was in elementary school where he would meet his future wife, Ruth, a new student who moved to the area.
Pilati’s father worked at a brickyard called National Fireproofing Co. that closed during the Great Depression. Bill recalls his father making $1 a day in Rogers, OH digging coal and then making $2.40 a day at a railroad.
Pilati graduated from East Palestine in 1943 and was drafted by the U.S. Army in November of the same year.
“I will never forget hearing when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” said Pilati, now age 97 in his home in Minerva. “I looked at my father and said ‘Dad, it looks like I am going to war,’ and I remember, plain as day, my father replied, ‘We’ll just have to see.’”
He stated he was certainly concerned when he got drafted for various reasons, mainly he was an only child and so young. He was sent to Fort Sill, OK, for basic training and then went to Camp Campbell in Kentucky in April of 1944.
“We only made $18.75 a month back then as a private,” Pilati laughed. “But we really had no expenses, we had a place to stay and food to eat.”
Pilati became a part of the 275th Armored Field Artillery Battalion where his main duty was to keep the tanks and large artillery fed with ammunition. There were approximately six or seven tanks in each Battery, Pilati belonged to Battery B. He and his battalion went to Camp Shanks in New York where they took a 13 day trip to Liverpool, England.
“We crossed the English Channel in mid-September and fought through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, to the Belgian-German border where the Ardennes Forest is,” said Pilati. “We were going to wait there throughout the winter until spring so we built bunker areas and made walls and planned to stay. But Hitler had other plans.”
On Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans launched their offensive in the bitter cold winter. Pilati’s battalion was attached to the 106th Infantry Division on the front lines.
According to Pilati, the temperature was five to 10 below zero and there was always a foot of snow in the Ardennes forest during the Battle of the Bulge.
“I look back now and wonder how I survived the cold,” said Pilati. “But we were young and able to handle it. Other than frostbite, I don’t remember anyone ever getting sick.”
Pilati recalls seeing enemy tanks in the distance but was fortunate enough to never have fought close up. He recalls getting out of the area 10 minutes before there was hand-to-hand fighting and being encircled at St. Vith, getting out on Dec. 27. The Battle of the Bulge ended on Jan. 20, 1945. It was the largest battle the U.S. Army was ever involved in. There were approximately 600,000 U.S. Troops involved, with 80,000 casualties including 23,000 prisoners and 19,200 killed.
Pilati then continued fighting from the Rohr River to the Rhine River in March of 1945. Fighting was not as intense as the Battle of the Bulge.
“It was very sad to drive through small towns the size of Oneida, Malvern and even some like Minerva, and see people leaving to get away from the fighting,” said Pilati. “It was so sad to see; people would leave things cooking on the stove and leave everything but a small cart and have a kid on their backs.”
In May of 1945 the Germans surrendered.
“God, we couldn’t believe it when the Germans surrendered,” said Pilati. “I remember it as plain as day, we dropped our guns and hugged each other. We sure did a lot of praying during the war and it finally ended.”
Pilati’s battalion remained in Germany as an occupational force. They stayed at Gottingen, Germany for a couple of months. It was there he met a family with two small kids while the soldiers stayed in their main mansion.
“In 1975 I got to return to many areas I was at, including Gottingen where I met the kids who was, by then, grown adults and their mother was still alive,” said Pilati. “That was really something and we kept in touch over the years for as long as we could.”
One interesting interaction took place while Pilati was overseas. While he was fighting in the war, his girlfriend and future wife, Ruth was attending Youngstown Hospital School of Nursing. He met a fellow soldier named Bob Campbell who was from Youngstown.
“I told Bob my girl is attending nursing school there and Bob said his wife was an instructor at the school. It turns out that Bob’s wife had my Ruth in her class,” Pilati smiled. “It really is a small world.”
After staying in Germany for a couple of months, he was sent back to the States with the intent of going to The Pacific front.
“I went from Camp Lucky Strike in France, boarded the Santa Maria ship to Camp Myles Standish in Boston and got a 30-day furlough, then was sent to Camp Bowie in Texas,” said Pilati. “We were going to train for six weeks then be sent to the Pacific. We only trained two weeks then the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place and I was sent to Camp Atterbury in Indianapolis. Then I was finally discharged.”
Pilati served 27 months in the U.S. Army, including a year overseas. He was discharged in January of 1947.
“There were 16 million men and women involved in World War II,” said Pilati. “There are 240,000 of us still living and they say 100 are dying each day. I used to not talk about the war much until recent years because I think with so few of us left, it is important to get as much information out there as possible before it is totally gone.”
Pilati returned and married Ruth in December of 1947. He worked for Metropolitan Brick and was transferred to Minerva in 1955, where he laid down roots and has remained to this day.
Pilati was married to Ruth for 64 years. She passed away in February of 2012. He has five sons, 9 grandchildren, 5 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
“Coming back was a shock at first and then a relief when you finally realized you were back,” said Pilati about returning to civilian life. “We had a lot of respect for the flag. We did it all for our country.”
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