Anthony J. Sercel, 95, served with the Army’s 82 Airborne Division (504th Regiment, 3rd Battalion, I Company) in Europe during WW II. Unlike other units of the Division that prepared for the Normandy invasion, Mr. Sercel’s 504th Regiment was held back to fight in the Italian campaign–Anzio, Naples, Foggia, Rome. It was here that the 504th got its nickname from the diary of a killed German officer: “American parachutists . . . devils in baggy pants . . . are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere.”
In April 1944, the 504th returned to England. While the rest of the 82nd participated in the June Normandy invasion , the 504th waited until September, when it then became the first of Allied troops to land in the Netherlands (Operation Market Garden); it would be the largest airborne operation in history.
On our project’s third day of recording on 19 June 2013 at the Carnegie Free Library in Beaver Falls, PA, Marilyn Dyrwal arrived with her father, Tony Sercel, from Aliquippa. At 95, Tony is older than many of the WW II veterans that we meet, but he is remarkably fit and able.
Months earlier Marilyn saw some local press coverage of our organization and she contacted us through our website to request an interview for her dad. As our Beaver County project shaped up and we finalized our recording schedule at the library, Marilyn was on the top of our contact list.
“We brought a few items,” she said upon reaching our 2nd floor storeroom-turned-studio in the library. She handed me a handsome photograph of Tony in uniform, with his jump wings squarely presented on his chest. Then I noticed that Tony himself was wearing these same jump wings pinned to his shirt, next to his WW II Victory Medal. “These are my original wings,” he said proudly, patting his chest. And that hat? It’s the 82nd Airborne. “My outfit. The All American Division.” Legendary, I said.
And with that, we knew that we were in for a very interesting interview.
It Made Us Awful Angry
Anthony Sercel, 95, shares some memorable moments from his WW II experiences with the Army’s 82nd Airborne. Tony Sercel survived the war. He lives in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. This audio short is available for broadcast syndication.
In My Own Words
“I’ve seen a lot of terrible things during the war,” Tony Sercel reminds us. Death, destruction, casualties on both sides. And the worst? . . . the concentration camps that he and his men stumbled upon. Or maybe it was the blinded woman, the babies, the crying German soldier, or the notorious “Massacre at Malmedy.”
“It took me a good while to get over it,” Tony says, uneasy with his own words. No one gets over it. That’s just how many of his generation put it, despite certain memories still too painful to talk about or the nightmares that keep returning after seventy years.
Recorded June 19, 2013 at the Carnegie Free Library, Beaver Falls, PA, as part of a Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh recording project in Beaver County.
‘Real heroes’ didn’t come back: Center Township World War II vet Tony Sercel remembers his fallen comrades on Veterans Day.
504th Infantry Regiment (United States)
Although he still had his original wings, he had given his mother his medals back in the 40’s and somehow they became lost over time. Marilyn decided to write to Representative Keith Rothfus and ask if it would be possible to have another set of her father’s medals presented to him. Not only were they able to replace the medals he originally had, they had a pleasant surprise for Marilyn and her dad.
During the war, Mr. Sercel’s Lieutenant had been shot through both legs. Mr. Sercel carried his wounded commander to the rear and found an aid station. He then returned to the fight. Days later he heard rumors that he had been put in for a Bronze Star, but never received one. As Rothfus’ staff researched his medals, they found the recommendation paperwork for his Bronze Star and had a new one engraved with his name on the back.
Yesterday afternoon, Rothfus presented Mr. Sercel with all of his World War II medals including his “new” Bronze Star almost 70 years after the fact!
The 504th took their nickname from the diary of a dead German Officer at Anzio: “American parachutists… Devils in Baggy Pants… are less than 100 meters from my outpost line. I can’t sleep at night; they pop up from nowhere and we never know when or how they will strike next. Seems like the black-hearted devils are everywhere…” “Devils in Baggy Pants”, a name proudly carried by the 504th to this day.