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  • Writer's picture1350 Distilling



This is an amazing story. It was provided to us with permission from Ray Schwabe.

It brings great pleasure to share this "Reluctant Hero's" story. It is a bit long, but surely could be volumes longer. I strongly encourage you to read it all. One key section that we would like to emphasize is the following towards the end of Lt. Pioli's time under German imprisonment nearly 76 years ago to the day:

"Then, finally, the most memorable day in my entire life, Sunday, April 29, 1945. It was a bright sunny day; a P51 buzzed the camp at rooftop so close you could see the pilot wave to us and a barrage of gunfire sounded just outside the camp. We were beside ourselves, all certain this was IT! Then all hell broke loose in the camp; bullets were flying from all directions. We hit the ground terrified that we had bought it and this the last day of our war. As suddenly as the gunfire started, it stopped and the stillness was deafening. Then came the rumbling of the tanks. The most beautiful people in the world, The 14th Armored Division, their tanks came crashing through the gate. Those poor GIs, we mobbed them, they were literally covered with humanity. We were overjoyed to see their friendly smiling faces.

...And them the most dramatic and emotional moment I have ever experienced occurred. Off in the distance we could see the Stars and Stripes slowly being raised over the nearby town of Moosburg. It was indescribable; there was not a dry eye in camp. I still get emotional when I think back to that moment. The flag may just be a symbol to many, but to me it's Moosburg and that day in April. I love to see our flag flying.

The Red Cross supply lines were cut by the advancing Americans and our food supply ran out shortly after liberation. The GIs did what they could for us and tried to explain that Patton's Armor advanced so fast that it outdistanced the field kitchens and to be patient. How could we be patient, liberation day had come and I think we expected warm clothes, food and home right now, today not tomorrow. Then lo and behold, over the horizon came the man himself, General George S. Patton! He was just what one expects, shiny helmet, trench coat, pearl handle six guns and always standing in the shiny jeep. What a figure impressive to say the least, we stood in awe. He seemed to take one look at us and gave the order "Feed these boys". That's it, that's all! Field kitchens materialized out of nowhere and we had hot food. The man is my Hero."





2nd Bomb Group

96th Squadron

15th Air Force

Amendola, Italy


Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 was a shock and a tragedy, in my mind it was all that, but I also looked on it as an opportunity to add some excitement to my ostensibly dull life. I was a High School graduate and employed in a chemical plant working for hourly wages. Higher education did not fit into my plans, our neighborhood was an ethnic "ghetto" of immigrants and first generation Americans who never considered higher education as an alternative to getting a job, marrying, having a family and settling in or near the neighborhood. I did want more out of life but didn't know what, I had little or no direction. I even attempted to enlist in the Marine Corps in the summer of 1940, but my mother adamantly refused to give her permission. After the outbreak of war I researched the branches of the service in earnest, with an emphasis on glamour. I really didn't know which way to go, my friends were leaving and I was still in the daily grind, I just wanted to go. I settled on the Army Air Corps, it looked pretty good to me. I applied for Aviation Cadet training and underwent the written and physical examination, passed everything with the exception of the weight requirement. After high school I had ballooned to 190 lbs., I was required to weigh a maximum of 172 lbs.. Two weeks later, I weighed in at 170 lbs. was accepted into the Aviation Cadet Program and informed that my appointment would be forthcoming in 6 months or longer. Too long, but I did have an alternative, I could volunteer for the draft as an Aviation Cadet and take my chances on an opening occurring in less than 6 months. My Mother would never hear of enlistment or volunteering of any kind, she understood that I would be drafted and that was the only way her son was going to war! I greatly respected her wishes but I just had to get into the war. Through much subterfuge, I volunteered for the draft. I was inducted into the Army in Buffalo, N.Y. and sent to nearby Fort Niagara. The day was October 23, 1942. My stateside Army career was fairly typical. I left Fort Niagara bound for Mitchell Field N.Y. where I waited with other future cadets for an opening in the Aviation Cadet Program. After a relatively short period we were sent to San Antonio, Texas, for classification, I thought I really lucked out. I was accepted as a Bombardier candidate and sent to Houston, Texas, and preflight schooling. Following preflight I entered Bombardier training at Big Springs, Texas, commissioned a 2nd Lt., and graduated with the class of 43-9, in June 1943. Unlike some Bombardiers, I was not a pilot reject. I requested Bombardier training for several reasons, among which are: 1. It was the shortest training period, and I was concerned that the war would be over before I could get into combat. I can hardly believe I felt this way, but I did. 2. I had a motion sickness problem and felt I couldn't accept the responsibilities of piloting or navigating. I didn't realize how serious a problem my ailment was until I began to fly the low level training missions. I was airsick day in and day out. I still wonder how I did it, but I was determined not to flunk out. Oddly, and I still do not understand, but I never became airsick in a B-17. Even today, civilian airplanes and automobiles can make me ill. After graduation I bounced around without an aircrew assignment to such bases as Salt Lake City, Utah; Mountain Home, Idaho; Moses Lake, Washington; and Rapid City, S.D. I ended up in Rapid City, S.D., at Christmas time. Since I still was not assigned to a crew I applied for and received a real plum...Christmas Leave. I was elated, I was going home, but life does have its dark moments. My leave was cancelled the day before I was scheduled to leave. I was assigned to a crew in training as a replacement Bombardier and I accepted this as just another part of Army life. But to my astonishment, I later learned that the individual I replaced had been grounded because of CHRONIC AIRSICKNESS. It was completely foreign to me that an Air Force Officer would conduct himself in this manner. Shame. My assignment was to the 483rd Bomb Group, 815th Squadron. Coincidentally the squadron insignia was a red Devil very similar to the Red Devil of my later squadron, the 96th. The group left Rapid City and completed training at McDill Field in Florida. The training at McDill was rigorous; we flew simulated bombing missions, practiced formation flying and just slept, day in day out. Rarely did I visit nearby Tampa. Up to this point in my career I was enjoying the carefree life of an Officer, reveling in the social life and basking in that debatable limelight a uniform brings to one. However, this way of life was all style and I needed substance. Now I felt I had it all, I was an integral part of the best combat air crew in the Air Force flying in the superb B17, well trained and extremely confident in my abilities. It was a heady feeling, I was ready. We left McDill field for staging in Savannah, Georgia, preparatory for overseas assignment. In my euphoric state I unthinking wrote to my parents that I was about to leave for overseas assignment. My Mother was a teenager who lived through WWI in Italy, in fact one of her brothers died in an Austrian POW camp. She knew war firsthand. That letter must have shook my parents to the core; they dropped everything and visited me in Savannah. I was surprised, pleased and concerned, civilian travel in 1944 was no mean task, but for two who had lived all their American life in Western New York, had limited funds, and only a working knowledge of the English language I thought the trip was impossible, they would never reach Georgia. They made it and it was a great visit. The scene at the train when we said our good-byes was heart rending. I thought my Mother was going to faint and my Dad fought back the tears. It was difficult for me to understand, I was riding the heights and my parents were in the depths. The aircrews left Savannah in March 1944. How dramatic, just like the movies: sealed orders to be read to the crew after we were airborne. When I learned it was the ETO I felt at last I was finally embarked on my personal crusade to rid the world of the Nazi horde. Little did I know soon this feeling would end. We flew to Europe via the southern route, stopping at such exotic places as Puerto Rico, British Guinea, Brazil, Dakar, and Algiers. It truly was a poor man's vacation, and I marveled at all those strange sights that up until now I had only read about. The world was my oyster and I could hardly contain myself. We landed on one of the many airfields around Foggia, Italy in March 1944. I do not recall when we were told to report to the 2nd Bomb Group, 96th Squadron as a replacement crew. It didn't bother me in the least, I was excited and eager to get on with it, and I was finally a member of the 15th Air Force. I can still vividly remember my first day with this veteran combat group. The B17s were returning from a mission; I saw blood and guts for the