WWII vet shares his story at parade
“It’s not easy to talk about,” he says, so many years later. Fresh tears well unbidden, and he pauses. Deep breath. “I was no hero.”
The memories are old but not faded: the Battle of the Bulge, those first days in Berlin, the 19-day ship ride home after the war. He remembers it all, but the memories are uneasy.
“I saw a lot of my friends die,” he says. “It wasn’t pleasant, but I survived.”
He survived, and he sits with his wife downtown Saturday, watching the bands and the floats, the motorcycles, the Cub Scouts, the colors, the old soldiers. He wears tidy jeans and a blue sweater, and a cap embroidered with “World War II veteran.”
Saturday he is Michael Pisciotta, 89 almost 90, married 46 years to Mary, quietly retired in Grand Junction, a VA volunteer. At Saturday’s Veterans Day parade down Main Street, the currents of memory carry him back to the war, to being Staff Sgt. Pisciotta, to more than three years of his youth when the world ignited and the flames drew him in.
“All the poor guys that are dead, there was no glory in that,” he says.
He was never deluded by visions of glory, though. He enlisted in spring of 1942 because he was the third of 13 children, “and I wanted to get the hell out of there,” he remembers. He went to his local Denver recruiting office and signed up, becoming an infantryman in the European theater.
There are no wonderful memories. There are visions of death, of freezing winters and steamy summers, of terror and philosophical uncertainty.
“The enemy is one thing, but they’re still people,” he says. “You can’t brag about killing them.”
He was awarded two bronze stars. He never wears them, and he doesn’t really talk about it.
But he’ll laugh now about the “couple of times I was a naughty boy,” when he got demoted in rank but then, because he was a good soldier, promoted again. He remembers the ship ride home, 19 days through the north Atlantic with 1,500 soldiers on a ship built for 400. A lieutenant ordered Pisciotta and his men to guard the bow of the ship, “and I said, ‘What are we going to guard it from? The fish?’ “
Seasickness eventually drove him below decks, where the lieutenant ordered him back to the bow under threat of a court-martial. Affixing his bayonet to his rifle, Pisciotta pointed it at the lieutenant and told him, “I’ll give you something to court-martial.”
Back in New York, a captain — and understanding fellow Italian — took away Pisciotta’s sergeant stripes instead of throwing him in jail. Then, at Pisciotta’s home base, a colonel promoted him to corporal.
This is what he’ll talk about, or about his first taste of real eggs and milk back on American soil, or about the wonderfully generous reception he feels veterans receive in Grand Junction. Things like that, which don’t irritate scars that still feel fresh.
He remembers it all, though, and Saturday he stands as the colors go by, removing his cap and holding it over his heart, standing at attention. He remembers the friends he lost, and the parts of himself. He remembers the war.
And he remembers why he served.