The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Breaking News

Local News

June 6, 2014

Hermitage man was there, watching history in making

HERMITAGE — Ralph Saternow took a trip to France that he never thought he would survive.

It was on this day in 1944 that Saternow walked ashore on the beaches of Normandy with the Allied invasion of France. Those steps have never been forgotten by the 91-year-old.

While never firing a gun in anger, the images he saw of dead soldiers and the wounded are still with him. Yet, at the time he didn’t grasp he was watching history in the making. He was, after all, in a deadly battle.

“When it’s happening you don’t think anything. You just do it,’’ the Hermitage resident said. “You don’t think anything about the history – you just wanted to come out alive.’’

A retired advertising representative from The Herald, Saternow’s journey to D-Day had interesting twists and turns. Graduating from Sharon High School, by 1941 he was working at the former Westinghouse Electric Corp. plant in Sharon when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

He immediately decided to enlist. Bound and determined to fight in the Pacific Theater, he hopped aboard a train headed to San Diego.

“I was afraid if I enlisted here I would be sent to the Atlantic,’’ he recalled. “I wanted to fight the Japanese.’’

Initially wanting to join the Marines, he opted for the Navy.

“San Diego was a Navy town,’’ Saternow said. “The sailors seemed to be having more fun than the Marines.’’

After undergoing training in San Diego and then Toledo, Ohio, he was sent to Pittsburgh to float a Landing Ship Tank 272, known in the Navy as a LST, down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. Later in the war sailors would say the letters of the amphibious craft should stand for Large Stationary Target or Large Slow Target. The slow moving craft was the largest beaching vessel in the Navy that could land cargo ashore.

Completing this mission to New Orleans, Saternow returned to Pittsburgh, where he was assigned to a new ship, LST 139.

Constructed in nearby Ambridge, it was LST 139 that Saternow would think of as his true ship. Also sailing the vessel to New Orleans, he and his crewmates took the craft directly to England, where preparations for the invasion were already under way.

It was a little disappointing to a man who did everything he could to get into the Pacific Theater. But he found enjoyment with his fellow sailors.

The 100-man crew of the LST joined the training in England and Saternow was assigned to man the ship’s 20 millimeter gun. His official assignment was storekeeper 3rd class, which was a sailor who oversaw supplies. It was his post as the gunner that he took most seriously.

On debarkation day for Normandy, he and his shipmates sensed something was up.

“They shut down the telephone system on the base,’’ he said. “But we didn’t know what was going on.’’

No information was given to the sailors about their destination – none.

It turns out LST 139 was assigned the roll of transporting tanks, British and Scottish troops to what was called Juno Beach. It was one of five beaches Allied forces landed on. This beach spanned from Courseulles-sur-Mer, just east of the British beach Gold, to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer, just west of the British beach Sword.

While onboard the LST, Saternow could hear the thunderous belch of Allied guns from other ships and German guns returning fire from ashore. Charged with watching the skies for enemy German planes, Saternow manned his gun and was ready to pull the trigger.

That moment never came.

“I didn’t see a single German plane,’’ he said.

When his LST landed on Juno, the fighting near the shore was over.  

“I never saw any bullets,’’ Saternow said. “And our ship was never under direct fire.’’

But he observed scenes of the dead and wounded that can’t be forgotten. Because his ship was carrying vital cargo such as tanks and troops in hostile territory, sailors were forbidden from picking up dead comrades in the water.

Even though he didn’t come under fire while ashore, there were still landmines to content with. And, as it turns out, Saternow had to be careful not to get picked off from friendly fire. Donning his sailor’s white hat, he stood out against soldiers wearing green helmets.

“A British soldier told me to get off shore because I was wearing that white hat,’’ he said. “He told me if the Germans didn’t get me the British would because they didn’t know who I was.’’

In all he made two trips ashore that day with supplies and brought back wounded Allied and German soldiers for medical treatment.

Although he and his fellow sailors were on dry land, they still weren’t told what was transpiring.

“We knew we were in France, but we didn’t know where in France,’’ he said.

But when returning to English shores a few days later, it became clear to the men they had been involved in a major action.

“By the time we got back to England everyone pretty much knew what was going on,’’ he said.

Eventually, Saternow and his ship made 50 trips to France and got to land on the other four beaches that were made famous on D-Day.

He downplayed his involvement on that day now made famous for helping end the aggression of the enemy.

“I’m glad I was there. And I’m glad I got back alive,’’ he said. “There were a great many heroes there – but not me.’’

1
Text Only
Local News
  • Better security Grant available to boost security in district courts

    County officials are looking to quickly upgrade security systems in the five district judge offices, not due to an increase in risk, but because current systems are antiquated and there is a short window to apply for some financial help with the costs.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Officials split over selling older monitors

    What to do with a pile of older LCD computer monitors, keyboards and mice remains up in the air until the third, and often absent, county commissioner makes a decision.

    July 24, 2014

  • Police anxious to talk with victim

    Sharon police want to talk to a West Hill man about several other men who came to his house shortly before he was shot and critically wounded Tuesday.

    July 24, 2014

  • AED presentation Heart-friendly pool

    The Lackawannock-Shenango-West Middlesex Pool has some pretty obvious changes from when it was opened almost 46 years ago.

    July 24, 2014 4 Photos

  • Sharon man 'stable' after being shot in his West Hill home

    A Sharon man was in stable condition this morning after being shot by one of several men he had let into his West Hill home, police said.

    July 23, 2014

  • GJR killer not eligible for parole, court rules

    State Superior Court on Tuesday reversed a local judge’s decision that the sentence for one of two men who killed a night supervisor at George Junior Republic, Pine Township, was unconstitutional.

    July 23, 2014

  • Duplicated files, former worker confesses

    A Mercer woman accused of stealing customer lists, billing information and other data from her former employer headed off trial Monday by pleading guilty to a charge of unlawful duplication.

    July 23, 2014

  • Starved house Vandals vent their emotions

    Vandals kept police busy Sunday and Monday nights at a home in Greenville where the Mercer County District Attorney’s office said a boy was starved and beaten by his mom.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Couple, another man charged in thefts

    Pennsylvania State Police have filed charges of burglary, theft, receiving stolen property and criminal mischief against an East Palestine, Ohio, couple and another man in connection with two robberies in rural Mercer County.

    July 22, 2014

  • Taking stock Where’s the beef? Bull’s still missing

    Is it possible that an alien abduction took place in the Mercer area last week? A solid red, 2-year-old Watusi bull with 3-foot-long horns has been missing since July 14 with no trace of its existence left on earth.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Buhl Day honorees

    The Buhl Day committee has chosen for this year’s celebration five honored guests whose volunteer work they feel best showcases the legacy of philanthropic work left behind by Frank and Julia Buhl a century ago.

    July 22, 2014

  • GC pair not hurt in accident injuring 2

    Two drivers were taken to a hospital after an accident at the intersection of state routes 965 and 173 in Worth Township, police said.

    July 21, 2014

  • WaterFire crowds WaterFire doused

    Sharon’s WaterFire wasn’t lacking either of its elements on Saturday. There was steady, day-long rain but the day concluded with the Shenango River ablaze.

    July 21, 2014 2 Photos

  • ‘Starved’ boy released from hospital

    A 7-year-old boy allegedly starved and beaten by his mother is out of the hospital and ordered out of his Greenville home by Mercer County Common Pleas President Judge Thomas R. Dobson.

    July 20, 2014

  • WaterFire walking tour Time traveling

    A group of more 50 people walked between the raindrops Saturday during an historical tour of downtown Sharon during the city’s WaterFire celebration.

    July 20, 2014 6 Photos 1 Story