During WW II, Frank R. Strano of Ambridge, Pennsylvania served with the 998th Treadway Bridge Company of the 300th Combat Engineers. “We were not infantry,” Frank says proudly, “although we got shot at a lot, we were engineers.”
And that’s how the Army’s 1943 Engineer Soldier’s Handbook puts it as well,
“You are an engineer. You are going to build bridges and blow them up. You are going to stop tanks and destroy them. You are going to build roads, airfield, and buildings. You are going to construct fortifications. You are going to fight with many kinds of weapons. You are going to make sure that our own troops move ahead against all opposition, and you are going to see to it that enemy obstacles do not interfere with our advance. You are an engineer.”
It’s been said that WW II combat engineers were the most highly and diversely trained of any U.S. troops; they could build or fix anything, anywhere, using what was available. However, the men of the 998th Treadway Bridge Company were specialists in setting up and tearing down metal-topped pontoon bridges. Their greatest tool was the specialized Brockway trucks with boom arms and cranes attached.
Before the war Frank was a steelworker and crane operator with the American Bridge Company, so he was at home in the 998th.
Oftentimes someone will come up to us and tell us about a veteran friend or neighbor who likes to tell stories about their military experiences. War stories mostly. That’s often what people talk about, from WW II onward. War stories. However, it’s our experience that given the chance most veterans like to talk about other aspects of military life, from boot camp to KP duty, friendships made and friendships lost. Of course, most veterans light up when they share their stories of coming home.
At 91, Frank Strano has a lot of these stories, according to Betsy McGurgan’s daughter. They’re neighbors. So when Betsy found out about our project she didn’t hesitate to refer us to Mr. Strano. “I’ll talk to my daughter to ask Mr. Strano of he’d be interested in an interview and when she gets back to me I’ll let you know.” So we waited. And waited.
Eventually, we got a call from Mr. Strano’s son. Indeed, Frank was interested in sharing his stories with us. Where? When?
On 25 June 2013 we finally met Frank Strano and his son Edward at our makeshift storeroom-converted-studio on the second floor of Carnegie Free Library in Beaver Falls, PA. We were in the middle of our first heat wave of the summer, topping 90 degrees outside. Inside without air conditioning our studio was sweltering. We worried if we could conduct the interview, but Mr. Strano seemed to be the coolest of all of us. He took conditions in stride.
As for us, we kept calm and carried on. We’re committed–sometimes very hot and sweaty, but committed. The interview, which lasted forty-five minutes, was a terrific success as Frank spent the morning delighting us with a range of tales from childhood to retirement–war stories, included.
In My Own Words
In this picture from the WW II 300th Combat Engineers website, the sign reads: “Built by Company C, Spirit Company 300th Engineer Combat Battalion. Equipment furnished by 998th Treadway Bridge Company,” Frank Strano’s outfit.
With origins dating back to ancient China, the floating Steel Treadway Bridge is specifically designed to carry medium sized tanks and similar equipment. The bridge floats using special rubber pontoons. Steel track grating (treadways) serves as runways that are put in place by special truck mounted cranes.
This interview was recorded as part of the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh/Carnegie Fee Library Oral History Project, Beaver Falls, PA, June 25, 2013. Interviewer: Kevin Farkas.
The WWII 300th Combat Engineers
The Rhine River Crossings, by Barry W. Fowle
The Corps of Engineers-The Technical Services: The War Against Germany (United States Army in World War II) by Alfred M. Beck and Center of Military History (U.S. Army) (Dec 31, 1985)
The Final Story
Frank D. Strano Sr., 95, of Harmony Township, died Friday, May 15, 2015, in Elderberry Court, Ambridge, where he had been a resident for the past three months. He was born Sept. 14, 1919, to the late David and Concetta Jerson Strano. He worked as a crane operator for the former Wycoff Steel Corp. and A.M. Byers. In 1947, he started his home remodeling business and actively worked the business until his early 90s. He was a member of Good Samaritan Catholic Church, Ambridge. He served his country in the Army during World War II. Preceding him in death, in addition to his parents, was his wife of 58 years, Mafalda “Muffie” Strano, Feb. 9, 2000; four siblings, Mike (Frances) Strano, Joe (Emma) Strano, Kay (Floyd) Russo and George (Vilma) Strano. Surviving are three sons, Frank D. (Christine) Strano and Robert (Lorraine) Strano, all of Harmony Township, and Edward Strano, of Ambridge; nine grandchildren, Jacob Strano, Adrien (Matt) Collavo, Phillip Strano, Sara (Christian) Yannessa, Dave Strano, Gabriel Strano, George Strano, Neil Strano and Timon Strano; three great-grandchildren, Nico and Leo Yannessa and Lucas Strano; a brother, David (Marge) Strano, of Virginia Beach, Va.; and numerous nieces and nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.
Members of the Beaver County Special Unit and the Army will conduct full military honors.