By Joe Wiercinski
Herald Staff Writer
During World War II, they did all the jobs that had to be done. They did the fighting on land and sea.
They also did the day-to-day work military operations require.
Among them Sunday at a ceremony in Sharpsville were a cook, mechanic, infantrymen, radio operator, aviation machinist, medical corpsman, truck driver and forestry engineer who cut timber for pontoon bridges.
They were boys then, many of them still in their teens. Now, they’re between 87 and 93 years old and a national veterans organizations wanted to thank them again for serving their country and helping to defeat the forces of the Empire of Japan and Nazi Germany.
The Non Commissioned Officers Association of the United States of America selected 15 soldiers and sailors who received the group’s WWII Medallion in recognition of their service.
The Washington, D.C.-based organization represents enlisted men from all military branches who later earned promotion to sergeant.
Nick Caputo, a Farrell native and firefighter who moved to Virginia, coordinated the ceremony at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6404 in Sharpsville.
“We can’t honor all the living local veterans of the war so we’re asking you to represent them,” Caputo told the men who brought along some of their family members.
Sailors like William “Bill” Shaffer, of Hermitage, and Saul Capson, of Mercer, retold stories of experiences that they and the others had while fighting all around the world.
Shaffer, serving on the battleship USS Nevada helped to escort convoys across the Atlantic Ocean. He was later transferred to the USS Missouri and was aboard when Gen. Douglas MacArthur formally accepted the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.
Saul Capson was a gunner’s mate on a landing ship tank used to transport troops and supplies. LST 935 was one of the largest cargo carriers, capable of shipping tanks, artillery, trucks and jeeps in addition to troops.
Capson’s ship helped to pick up survivors at the Battle of Midway. Those who fought in it didn’t know until much later that the battle was the turning point of the war against Japan.
His ship had participated in landings in Borneo and the Philippines and was steaming toward Japan for the expected invasion of the mainland.
“That’s when they dropped the atomic bomb and the war ended,” Capson said. “The war was over and we took the occupation forces into Japan. All the lights came on in the harbor and we celebrated.”
Paul Avril saw the end of the war in Europe where the Army had assigned him as a motor pool driver and mechanic in Germany and France.
“There was complete destruction everywhere,” he said. “Everyday, I used to watch an old man picking through the rubble of his house near Frankfurt am Main. He chipped off the mortar and was trying to rebuild his house that had been destroyed.”
The medallions were presented by Brig. Gen. George M. Schwartz, who is assistant Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard, and by retired Air Force Col. James D. Frishkorn.
The program included a short biography describing when each man had served, and where, as well as the battles they had fought with their units.
The brief sketches were accompanied with photographs of each of them as young men in late teens or early twenties.
Frishkorn praised the organizers for compiling and summarizing the men’s service in the biographical sketches.
“Without the details in the program, a lot of their families might not know what these guys did,” Frishkorn said. “A lot of them didn’t talk about their war experience when it was over. They came home and got married, had families and got on with their lives.”