War stories from two veterans:
SANTO CHIMENTO, POW
Under orders to take a hill and move up the Ruhr Valley in Germany during World War II, Santo Chimento heard bullets and fell to the ground for protection.
“The Germans had us surrounded,” said Chimento, 84, of Canonsburg, recalling the day in September 1944 when he became a prisoner of war.
“I felt a gun on my back. I put my hands up. That was it,” he said.
The rifleman with Company B 180th Infantry would spend the next nine months in a prison camp, working for the enemy clearing bomb craters or laying railroad tracks.
“It was up and down. The food wasn’t good at all, enough to sustain us. They worked us very hard.”
Prior to being taken prisoner, Germans surrounded his unit in Italy, forcing Chimento to survive by spending an entire month in the same foxhole.
“The only time we could go out was at night,” he said.
But by early May 1945, the situation began to improve after German forces surrendered in Italy. The same German command operated the prisoner camp near Salzburg, Austria, where Chimento had spent the past month.
“We liberated ourselves,” he said. “We took over the camp. We started disarming Germans and they became our prisoners.”
Chimento turned 18 his senior year at Canonsburg High School and immediately volunteered to join the U.S. Army. He was discharged honorably before his 21st birthday.
“We should make it known that freedom is not free. Thank a veteran. We’d all be speaking German or Japanese if it weren’t for us. They were good fighters.”
LT. GEN. WILLIAM "GUS" PAGONIS
Retired Lt. Gen. William “Gus” Pagonis was far from being a media sensation during the first Gulf War.
The Charleroi native worked behind the scenes to supply more than 500,000 U.S. Army troops while Gens. Norman H. Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell faced the cameras.
“The troops loved getting their pictures taken with Schwarzkopf and Powell,” the 67-year-old Pagonis said. “The kids would actually line up 100 deep.”
One particular photo op stands out as his favorite story from America’s six-month conflict that freed Kuwait from the grips of Saddam Hussein.
While in the shadows of those generals that day, Pagonis felt honored when a young soldier from his hometown area asked to stand beside him for a photograph. Somewhat surprised, Pagonis asked the man for an explanation.
“The kid looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Your line is a lot shorter.’ He gave me the straight-ahead, honest truth.”
Commanders of that 1990-91 war broke military tradition by mingling often with soldiers in the field.
“These generals, including myself, went out with the troops all the time. Everybody had a camera. It was just one of those things. Every war has its funny little traits.”
Pagonis became highly respected for his ability to maneuver supplies, especially during Operation Desert Storm. Another story has him sleeping two nights in the back seat of a rental car when he first arrived in Saudi Arabia in advance of the military strike because he couldn’t find a hotel room.
He later wrote a book, “Moving Mountains: Lessons in Leadership and Logistics from the Gulf War.” In it, he describes his mission that has been likened to relocating the entire population of Alaska to the other side of the globe.
He retired from the Army in 1993 and worked 11 years directing logistics for Sears.
Today, Pagonis works for his wife, Cheri, who decided to purchase an Arabian horse farm in Butler County “after following me around,” he said.