During WWII, Guy Prestia of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania was among the first Army troops to reach Europe through North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio. From June 1943 through Allied Occupation, Guy served with the 45th Infantry Division, a unit formed out of the Oklahoma Army National Guard from the American Southwest.
Official military records state that the 45th endured 511 days of combat and more than 63,000 casualties. “We really didn’t know what we were doing at first,” Guy admits. Mistakes were made. Friendly fire in the fog of war, literally.
One night early on during the invasion of Sicily, Guy’s unit heard planes overhead and someone started shooting into the mist and clouds above. “We were new in combat. We didn’t know,” Guy says. “We all fired up in the air.” The next morning the men discovered that they were shooting at paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division.
After pushing through France and Germany, the 45th was among the first to liberate Dachau. Despite their battle hardness, the men were unprepared for the inhumanity. It was terrible, almost beyond belief. Many soldiers, through the tears and vomit, now understood the importance of their service.
And that smell . . . “It never leaves you,” Guy laments, thinking of those who perished.
This interview is a production of the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative, in partnership with the Veterans Breakfast Club. It was recorded January 19, 2015 at the Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Interviewer: Kevin Farkas.