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World War II veteran from Flatwoods Guariglia: 'We never celebrated Christmas'

| Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Pat Guariglia (center), 92, of Flatwoods, looks through a scrapbook of photos, with great-granddaughters Lauren White (left), 5, and Katie White, 2, inside Guariglia's residence in Flatwoods on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. Guariglia had spent three Christmases away from family and the Connellsville area while serving in the Army.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Pat Guariglia, 92, of Flatwoods, spent three Christmases away from family and the Connellsville area while serving in the Army.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Pat Guariglia, 92, of Flatwoods in a photograph circa 1944 in Saidor, New Guinea. Guariglia had spent three Christmases away from family and the Connellsville area while serving in the Army.
Evan R. Sanders | Daily Courier
Pat Guariglia (center), 92, of Flatwoods, in a photograph circa 1942 with his Aunt Rose Fao (left) and mother Mary Guariglia in front of a home in Connellsville, shortly before Pat Guariglia deployed for overseas action. Guariglia had spent three Christmases away from family and the Connellsville area while serving in the Army.

“We never celebrated Christmas,” said Pat Guariglia, 92, of Flatwoods of his Army service during World War II. “We never had a chance. It was just another day.”

Guariglia entered the U.S. Army on Aug. 25, 1942, two years after he graduated from Dunbar High School in 1940.

He had been drafted.

He spent his war time in the Pacific, assigned to the 114th Engineer Combat Battalion, attached to the 32nd Infantry Division.

He spent three Christmases away from home.

On Christmas Day 1942, he was aboard a troop transport out of Charleston, S.C. and Newport News, Va. The ship was headed for the Panama Canal and then to Australia.

“I stayed on the upper deck,” he said. “If the ship ever got sunk, I wanted to be able to get off.”

His battalion spent about five months in Australia before moving on to New Guinea. There, he was assigned to the battalion's headquarters unit.

Christmas 1943 found Guariglia on Goodenough Island, off the southeast coast of Papua New Guinea in the Solomon Sea. The tropical weather, the monsoon season in New Guinea, was hot and wet.

There was no “white Christmas,” but he did see two Bob Hope shows, one on Goodenough Island and one on Papua New Guinea.

By Christmas 1944, Guariglia and his unit were on Leyte in the Philippines. The weather there was not like a normal December back home.

“It was so wet,” he said. “I hit the monsoon season. My feet were wet and had turned white almost all the time,”

Guariglia is a Purple Heart recipient.

During his time fighting the Japanese, his unit was the target of a Japanese bomber coming in low over the sea while at Saidor, New Guinea. Some of the members of his unit had turned on a small light. A bomb was dropped, striking about 20 yards from Guariglia. He was wounded and 19 members of his unit were killed. He was awarded a Purple Heart. He said he was saved from a more serious injury because he was in a location surrounded by trees. The trees stopped a lot of the bomb fragments.

After Leyte, his unit moved on to Luzon, the main island of the Philippines.

Guariglia praised his battalion commanding officer, Col. Julian Solohub, who took command of his unit on Luzon. A West Point graduate, Solohub once led a group of his men against the Japanese. A small group of the enemy had broken through the lines and he set out to track them down.

“He took about 10 of us, then went on to go take out the Japs himself,” said Guariglia.

One problem of serving in the tropics were the mosquitoes and the diseases they carried, He contracted malaria, with which he suffered for several years after he came home.

He said what scared him more was the typhoon his ship went through on the way back to the United States.

“That was the worst thing we ever had,” he said. “I thought the ship was going to break in two.”

His ship made it back to the United States and docked in California. He was then sent to Attabury, Ind., where he was discharged on Nov. 10, 1945. He arrived back home on Nov. 11, 1945.

Back in civilian life, he served 30 years with the Postal Service as a rural mail carrier before retiring.

Karl Polacek is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kpolacek@tribweb.com or 724-626-3538.

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