Blairsville’s Joseph (Guerrino) Prola, 95, was twice drafted during WW II. In medic training the young recruit was asked what he’d do if saw someone with their arm or leg blown off. “I don’t know what I’d do,” he stammered. “I’d be flabbergasted.”
Just months later when the Germans broke through their lines causing heavy casualties, Guerrino’s 1st Sgt was badly wounded and lay dying. The young medic had to do something. He cried. He prayed. And then he hastily amputated the man’s legs in a desperate attempt to save him. “I hope you get out of this,” he whispered to the Sgt. as he hurriedly packed up his medical gear and moved on to help other wounded soldiers, “I hope someone finds you.”
At an Army reunion several years after the war, the 1st Sgt. found Guerrino–and thanked him for saving his life.
he chance to interview WW II veteran Joe Prola came to us by accident while we were working at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Joe was there to attend the popular Italian Heritage Festival and we were there recording brief oral histories for that event. We had never met before, so our encounter and opportunity to preserve Joe’s story as a first generation Italian-American and WW II veteran are fortuitous.
This interview is produced by the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative, in partnership with the Veterans Breakfast Club. It was recorded October 5, 2014 at the Heinz History Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Interviewer: Todd DePastino. Audio production: Kevin Farkas.
In My Own Words
The Final Story
Guerrino Joseph Prola, 96, of Blairsville, PA passed away peacefully on Friday, January 23, 2015 at Indiana Regional Medical Center.
He was born January 7, 1919 in Homer City, PA to the late Joseph and Marguerite Prola. Joe attended Blairsville High School and enlisted in the United States Army in December of 1941 shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. After training at various army camps, he was assigned as a combat medic to the 99th division, A Company and served his country for four years until his discharge in December 1945.
He was involved with numerous engagements with the German forces, including one instance where he accompanied B Company on a patrol to capture a German soldier. His bravery and duty under difficult circumstances resulted in him being awarded the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf cluster as well as the Good Conduct Medal.
He served in the Battle of the Bulge, where he walked into enemy fire in order to save the life of another soldier. Because of his actions, he was awarded the Silver Star, the second highest military award a soldier can receive. During this same battle, he was struck by shrapnel yet continued to care for troops in the field and received the Purple Heart as a result of being wounded.
In recent years, he received many honors for his military service, which included the True American Hero Award from John P. Murtha, U.S. Congressman, the Legion of Honor Medal awarded by the French Government, and he was inducted into Soldiers and Sailors Hall of Valor in 2014. Throughout his life, he remained active in sharing his stories with students, boy scouts and community members. He regularly attended the 99th Division reunions and was chosen to be a part of the PBS series, “World War II, In Their Own Words,” which is now part of the Library of Congress.
After returning home from the war, he started working at Torrance State Hospital. He went on to have a long career as a salesman where he began working at Walter Kidde and then moved on to McCullough Coffee. His sales career ended in 1999 when he retired at the age of 80.
Joe was an active member of the United Presbyterian Church of Blairsville and served as a Deacon and Elder. He was a member of the Blairsville VFW Post #5821 and the Thursday afternoon poker club. He was involved with the Jaffa Temple Legion of Honor in Altoona, the Little Vets in Indiana and was a 32nd degree Mason. He was most proud of his association, with the Indiana County Ballroom Dance Club, where he was a charter member and proudly held the office of President. His love of dancing remained an important part of his life and he continued to attend monthly dances.
He is survived by three daughters, Kerry Dettorre (Nick) of Export, PA; Joni McCrady (Gary) of Mt. Joy, PA; Dana Thompson (Bill) of Indiana, PA. Also surviving are five grandchildren, Eric McCrady (Karen) Mt. Joy, PA; Jordyn McCrady Marietta, PA; Nicholas Dettorre Export, PA; Kelsey Thompson Indiana, PA; Sean Thompson Indiana, PA; one great-grandchild, Kirk McCrady, Mt. Joy, PA. Also a special friend, Ginny Welteroth from Shelocta, PA and numerous nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents, two brothers, Victor and Chester, one sister, Frances and his wife, Evelyn, whom he was married to for 57 years. Military services will be accorded by the Blairsville VFW Post #5821 and American Legion Post #0407.