News: Knighted WWII El Paso veteran shares war stories
Story by Sgt. Barry St. Clair
EL PASO, Texas - Living legends of the 1st Infantry Division and other World War II era veterans may be closer than you realize. They may be living next door, or just down the street. It may surprise you to hear of the incredible stature of those who were called to serve a nation in crisis.
Sabrano was born on Sept. 25, 1921, to poor parents of El Paso, Texas, and lived through the Great Depression.
Sabrano was drafted into the Army in 1942 and shipped to Fort Francis E. Warren [now Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.] just outside what is now Cheyenne, Wyo. There he was trained in automotive craft including engine overhaul and repair. He received additional training at Fort Crook, Neb., [now Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.].
“The vehicles would come in boxes and we would put them together,” Sabrano said.
Sabrano went to Camp Kilmer, N.J., where he and other service members were loaded onto troop ships bound for North Africa.
“We had heard that we would join Big Red One [1st Infantry Division] but we didn’t find out for sure until we arrived in North Africa,” said Sabrano. “From there we went to French Morocco to organize for the invasion of Sicily.”
“We finished the job in Sicily in 27 days and transferred to Dorchester, England, to train for D-Day of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, France,” Sabrano continued.
“I was on the second wave to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day plus 5, on June 11, 1944, assigned to Kilo Company, 18th Infantry Division,” Sabrano stated.
The Allies continued through France, liberating Paris on August 24 and 25, 1944. They continued on through Belgium and into Germany.
Sabrano placed his squad in foxholes on October 16, 1944, during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest in Germany.
“Just before dawn we went into the pillbox [more permanent fortification]. After some time, I heard some firing and went outside, I couldn’t find my squad. I returned back inside the pillbox.” He said. “I had my rifle, a bandoleer, and some ammunition … the back door was booby-trapped with a shoe mine that contained liquid explosive. Finally I decided I was going out, one way or the other. I laid my rifle down as close to the mine as I could without detonating it. Then I flung myself into a hallway that wrapped around the observation room to slow the enemy down, and protect those inside. I got as far away from the device as I could; but shortly, it exploded. Several Germans outside were killed or injured from the explosion. My clothes were tattered and I was covered in mud.”
“When I regained consciousness, I ran into the observation room down the hall. By this time, we were out of ammunition, out of gas to move the tanks and the artillery was out of munitions. The first sergeant began to prepare us to surrender to the Germans outside. On Oct. 17, 1944, I became a prisoner of war along with about 40 others. A German medic treated me, first scrubbing off all the mud. He muttered under his breath, ‘Germany Kaput’ (Germany’s finished).”
Sabrano’s German captors marched the POWs over harsh terrain towards Berlin.
“We marched, and marched, and marched for several days through rain, snow and mud,” said Sabrano. “Finally, we were loaded onto boxcars.”
Sabrano’s stay in the boxcars was cut short as Allied Forces strafed the train, hitting the locomotive, before it could leave.
“We remained in the boxcars overnight. A lieutenant attempted escape during the night and was shot dead.”
Back on foot the Germans pushed the POWs onward towards Berlin.
“We heard that the Russians were close by. About a mile down the country road, we were fired on. There were about 40 POWs. One was killed and two more were wounded. I took off alone and returned to a camp we had been held at before. I remained in a culvert for several days waiting for the Russians. Finally, I heard the sound of a tank approaching. I waited until I could identify the red star on the hull. When the hatch opened on the turret a woman popped out nursing a baby. She was the tank group commander.”
Sabrano said his stay with the Russians was short due to unknown reasons and he was handed back to the Germans. He said all the POWs were brought back to Kustrin, Germany, and were informed after a few days that they were free to go.
“We walked the entire way, over 1053 miles through Poland to Odessa, Ukraine. It took us a couple of months to arrive there. The people of Poland fed us and let us get some rest from time to time,” he said. “When we arrived in Odessa, the Russians wanted to keep us to load ammunition … [but we] left the next morning on the Black Sea.”
“When we arrived in Naples, Italy, we were given clean clothes, food and medical examinations. We remained quarantined in Naples until we were shipped back to the U.S. We encountered a terrible storm on the Atlantic [Ocean] on the way back to Boston,” said Sabrano. “Five days after our arrival in Boston, we were put on a troop train to El Paso.”
“I am very proud of my time in service,” said Sabrano.
Sabrano, along with retired Lt. Col. Robert Chisolm of Dallas, former Pfc. Angel Romero of El Paso, and William Elsey of N.Y., were knighted here Aug. 24, 2012 by French Consul General Frederic Bontems from the Houston French Consulate and awarded the Legion of Honor for their part in the liberation of Paris, Aug. 24 and 25, 1944.
“It is a great honor to receive the Legion of Merit from the French representative – it’s wonderful,” said Sabrano.