World War II

Mike Richards / 90.5 WESA

John Tippins takes his nieces and daughter for an occasional ride on his farm in Ligonier -- on his tank.

That 1944 M4A3 Sherman is now parked in front of the Heinz History Center in the Strip Distrtict after a 60-mile journey Wednesday on a lowboy truck, which typically transports bulldozers, not military-grade vehicles. 

Tippins loaned it to the history center until Jan. 4 when the museum's World War II exhibition "We Can Do It" ends.

PhotosNormandie / Flickr

Seventy years ago this month, Pittsburgh native George Pietropola battled frostbite in the Ardennes Forest during World War II. Just after the war ended, then-Staff Sgt. Pietropola was presented with a Bronze Star for his heroism under fire from February 9th to February 24th. 

"It looked more like a slaughter to me. It was terrible. That was one of the worst things I’d ever seen – that ever happened, all the time I was in the war." - George Pietropola

Local Men Remember D-Day, 70 Years Later

Jun 6, 2014
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

In the early morning hours of June 6,1944, tens of thousands of men from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and several other nations poured out of landing crafts on the beaches of northern France.

It was the largest amphibious landing in history, and had been preceded by more than a year of planning, deception, and training. The Allied powers lost at least twice as many men as their enemy, but succeeded in their goal of establishing a foothold in Nazi-occupied France.

Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the famous battle, so Essential Pittsburgh talked with three Pittsburgh veterans of World War II who landed on the beaches of Normandy.

As part of the first wave of the invasion, Warren Goss explained that he had been trained extensively for months before June 6, but nothing could prepare him for what happened during the invasion.

“We’re trained for everything except what really happens. You’re coming in and you see a whole boatload of Higgins boat soldiers disappear, it gets hit direct, it sinks. You see it not making it, you don’t see this in your maneuvers. You don’t expect to see the buddy beside you get hit and you don’t even know it because you don’t have time to look at him. It’s just completely different than what you were trained for, but you’re still trained to go ahead and you obey what you’re supposed to do and you did it.”

Michael Vernillo and Ralph Russo, landed on the beach in the second wave of the invasion. They were recently awarded the Legion d'Honneur at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland, the highest military honor issued by the French.

“All I know is we wanted to get off that beach which we did because there was a lot of casualties,” recalls Ralph Russo of New Castle about the D-Day landing at Normandy 70 years ago today.

There where thousands of casualties—9,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded including 6,600 Americans.

96-year old Mike Vernillo of Pittsburgh served with the US 227th Field Artillery Battalion on June 6, 1944.

“It was very difficult; you can’t stop to help nobody, you have to just keep running.”

Remembering Wendell Freeland

Jan 27, 2014
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh attorney and pioneering civil rights leader Wendell Freeland died Friday, January 24 at age 88. Mr. Freeland was one of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen.

Essential Pittsburgh spoke with him in 2012 about his experiences in the segregated services during World War II and whether he questioned why he was fighting for a country where he was treated like a second-class citizen.

Vanished: The Missing Men of WWII

Dec 4, 2013
Wil Hylton / Facebook

In his new book, Vanished: the Sixty-Year Search for the Missing Men of World War II, author Wil S. Hylton recounts the story of a group of missing WWII servicemen.

"The Big Stoop Crew" got it’s name from its commanding officer, Frank Arhar, a native of Johnstown. Described as a big, incredibly friendly man, his nickname “ Big Stoop” came from a popular friendly giant character in a popular 1940 serial film. Once the group got their own plane, they named it and their crew after him.

Hylton says he first discovered this story as an embedded journalist with the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command, also known as J-PAC. Their mission is to track down missing aircraft from the last one hundred years of military conflict, and attempt to recover and identify the remains of military personnel.

SWPA WWII Memorial

This Friday, Southwestern Pennsylvania World War II memorial will be unveiled on the North Shore. Larry Kirkland, the artist behind the project says it was a long time coming.

“The memorial has had four different locations and four different designs. It really has been a challenge. No one had any idea how complicated building something like this would be and we had no idea how to go about fundraising for it,” he says.

The memorial is meant to represent Pittsburgh's unique role in the war, "very quickly they shifted from making pickles to making airplanes" he explains.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Imagine your mom, or your grandmother, maybe even your great-grandmother, with a secret past. Perhaps you know that she’s lived through some major historical events like World War II.

Now imagine finding out she not only lived through it – but was an integral part of secret military operations during the war.

That is part of Pittsburgh native Julia Parsons’ story. She was part of an all-women’s German code-breaking team.