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Prime Time: A Bristol veteran's experiences in World War II

The Bristol Press - 12/18/2017

I've been collecting and sharing the stories of those from Bristol who served during World War II, and with this have obtained some information on the service of Nick Provenzano who stopped by this office last week.

He says his exploits aren't as "heroic" as others like Tony Sileo, Chuck Aldieri or John Wartonic, but as far as I'm concerned he was sent overseas and put his life on the line despite not being directly in the midst of enemy fire, however, not too far back, though. So, here's Nick's story:

On Aug. 12, 1943, his orientation into the Army began at Fort Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts. From there it was six months of rigorous training in the Corps of Engineers at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which prepared him for transfer to the European Theater in February of the next year.

That was to Chester, England, where he experienced the almost nightly blackouts with sirens sounding to warn of the German V-2 rockets that whistled through the month of June.

On July 5, 1944, 30 days after D-Day, he crossed the English Channel to Utah Beach, France. By this date, U.S. troops were engaged in the Battle of St. Lo, one of three battles that month that gained important ground for General Bradley, but at a cost of many American lives.

Boarding a truck on July 6, he and others in his group traveled inland to a destination near St. Lo, where they would assemble for assignments.

During this trip, his truck was strafed by enemy planes twice, forcing the men to take cover in the hedgerow fields. Provenzano says his exploits weren't heroic, but imagine the fact that he could have been killed right then and there, although none of the men became casualties. He had placed his life on the line in joining the Army in the first place.

He and his fellow soldiers later arrived at a huge bivouac area where other GIs were digging below ground level for their first night's sleep. A convoy of trucks loaded with supplies was on the perimeter of this field, stationed to be forwarded to the battle area the next morning.

At approximately 3 a.m., enemy planes lit up the sky with parachute lanterns, turning nighttime into daylight. This was followed by a blockbuster bomb that obliterated the entire truck convoy. This was Provenzano's initiation to the events he would experience in the days to come.

The next day, Provenzano, who would be promoted to corporal, was assigned to the cadre of the 340th Replacement Company, Fifth Battalion, a system implemented by Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall and General Leslie J. McNair.

His duties required moving forward to within 12 to 15 miles of the combat, which was in earshot of the heavy artillery and other sounds of nearby battle, to serve the needs of those in battle.

The company would answer the needs of the armies commanded by Generals Mark Clark, George S. Patton and McNair. They'd request a number of infantrymen to replace those killed or wounded in battle, sort of being on deck in what could be your last baseball game. These replacements were fresh out of training in the U.S. and his cadre equipped them with the necessary battle gear they needed, and that was filling orders for the First, Third and Fifteenth Armies.

The 30th Infantry Division, which took in 13 days of battle, experienced an unexpected wartime disaster at the battle of St. Lo. The plan was to fire red smoke bombs in the early morning on the southern side of a highway that was occupied by enemy forces. The smoke would define the area they were in and under radio silence so the enemy wouldn't be forewarned.

U.S. Air Force bombers left England while the smoke was being dispersed. However, a gust of wind caused the smoke to drift back to the north over the 30th Division which was ready to go into action.

A disaster took place, because the friendly troops were hit by the bombs directly from overhead. Twenty eight men were killed and 156 wounded. It was decided to try the plan the next day, but the same thing occurred when the wind shifted once again. This time, there were 64 men killed, 374 wounded and 60 missing.

Among those killed was General McNair who had driven his jeep to observe things in order to prepare a strategic plan of battle from that point on. When his body was located, the only thing that made him recognizable were the three stars on his uniform. This became a sad day and great loss for those who served under him.

Following the liberation of St. Lo, Allied troops moved swiftly through Paris, which was liberated on Aug. 24. Provenzano's company then moved forward to Charlesville, France, on the Belgium border.

In October, Allied troops were approaching Aachen, Germany. To enter that country, the U.S. had to capture Aachen, a task of General Bradley's 12th Army Group. It was the door to the heart of Germany and the Germans didn't want to give up the city.

Hitler knew that if the city fell, the rest of the country would also. Every effort used to stem the tide failed. They battled from Oct. 2 to 21 and Aachen became the first city to be taken.

(Part 2 of 2 will appear next Monday)

Write to Bob Montgomery, c/o The Bristol Press, 188 Main St., Bristol, CT 06010. Call 860-973-1808 or email: bmontgomery@bristolpress.com.


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