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Local World War II vet celebrates 100th birthday

REMEMBERING SERVICE — Art Panepucci, who celebrated his 100th birthday earlier this month, remembers being eager to serve in World War II. (Photo by Esther McCoy)

By ESTHER McCOY

Correspondent

SMITHFIELD — Arthur A. Panepucci, known to most as Art, celebrated his 100th birthday on Oct. 6, but he still has a clear and vivid memory of the day he rode the train to Columbus, in his first step of being drafted into military service with the U.S. Army.

He was so excited about getting the preliminaries over with that he jumped the line of other young draftees. That little matter of haste didn’t work. He tells that he was sent back home for 30 days to learn to follow orders.

Panepucci thought since he was home, he might as well look for work and went to the Piney Fork mines. He didn’t want shift work so he left there for a job on the railroad. That didn’t last long either, as he was called up again to join Uncle Sam and received basic training at Fort Knox, Ky.

Panepucci was sent overseas on Nov. 23, 1943, to prepare for the invasion of Europe. While in Europe, he had the honor of being chosen as one of 10 men to be honor guard to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Also there were England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill; Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the European Theatre of Operation; and British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.

“Being in a war will get you in the best of shape and you really need that,” he explained, as he was assigned to the 82nd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, Company B, as a gunner. Their unit entered the European Theater, landing on Omaha Beach on June 8, 1944, two two days after the initial invasion, and began their job of seeking out enemy strongholds. During this stage of fighting, the young man from Dillonvale was responsible for saving 31 men in his unit by clearing a hill minutes before it was wiped out by German bombs.

His job was to spy on the enemy and check bridges. Once out on such an assignment, he had a shot go whizzing past his ear. In reminiscing about those years, Art said they were once situated on a hill and were to be there until a replacement came. “A voice told me to look to the left and there was a German Reconaissance. I told the officer in charge to get in touch with those in charge and tell them we needed to get off the hill. He came back and said to stay. I told the officer that we really needed to get off the hill and this time they changed their minds and we moved out. Within a short time the hill was blown up.

During the fighting in Chartes, France, Panepucci was wounded with a shot to the stomach and liver and was bleeding badly. He spent the next 294 days in different hospitals recovering from abdominal wounds. In flying to the first hospital to care for his wounds, the airplane would hit air pockets that would cause more pain.

“I had great care in the hospitals, but a priest gave me the last rites on one occasion,” he remembered. He spent four months of recovery in England, then in New York, Battle Creek, Mich., and the Percy Jones Hospital in St. Louis.

Panepucci would not talk of his time overseas when asked to do a story or to talk to a group for a long time. It was his own experiences and he wanted to keep them buried. He is talking more about it now and his memory is serving well.

He joined the Dillonvale American Legion Post soon after arriving back home from the service. He served there for 75 years, sometimes as commander, and was honored for 60 years service in the 1990s. He was an overseer for the Yorkville VFW for a time and is a member of the Jefferson County Veterans Association. He has been honored many times for serving his country, including Sept. 10, when the Jefferson County commissioners recognized him.

Art received the World War II Victory Medal; the European, African, Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon, with two bronze service stars, one for the Normandy campaign and the other for the Northern France campaign; a Good Conduct medal; the Purple Heart; and the French Freedom Medal. He received an honorable discharge from the Army on June 9, 1945.

Art was owner of Panepucci Service Station, that he started from his dad’s confectionary store, with the theme, “Service is our business.” He worked 16 hours a day at times at the start and held the business for 39 years. He resides in Steubenville now, with his wife, Louise. They take it easy on a shaded patio where they can enjoy the still warm weather.

He celebrated a happy 100th birthday by his friends and have memories of the years that have gone by.

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