Italian American WWII Hero Sgt. Horatio J. Petrocelly Sr.

To remember the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, NIAF is recognizing Italian Americans who sacrificed, served and defended peace, freedom and democracy during the war, using the tag #IAWW2Heroes on social media.

This entry is a special submission from Sgt. Petrocelly’s granddaughter, Mia Petrocelli, who has shared with us the incredible story of how her grandfather fought in D-Day and survived as a POW for seven months.

Born on February 26, 1918, Oratzio Giovanni Petrocelli was the son of Italian Immigrants Virgilio and Giulia (Delfino) Petrocelli of Acquaviva di Isernia, Italy.  A lifelong resident of Pittsburgh, Penn., he married Mary A. Furguiele on May 4, 1941, 11 days before being inducted into the U.S. Army.  His name on U.S. Army records and on documents post-war was permanently changed to Horatio John Petrocelly.

Following basic training in the U.S. Army, Petrocelly was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division and became a Technician Third Grade, Headquarters Medical Detachment.  For the D-Day Invasion, he was part of the 121st Engineer Combat Battalion, 18th Medical Detachment. His Military Occupation Specialty was as a Surgical Technician (861). 

The events recorded below are primarily from Petrocelly’s hand-written notes documenting what he experienced starting on D-Day—June 6, 1944, and ending Feb 3, 1945:

On June 6, 1944, Petrocelly landed on the coast of Normandy, France, specifically on the western edge of Omaha Beach above Place de Vierville/St Mer.  Shortly after landing, Petrocelly was injured, receiving a bullet wound to the foot.  He treated himself, and then continued to tend to the wounded throughout the day.  In the evening, they broke through German defenses and moved inland, only to be cut off and surrounded.  He and members of his platoon attempted to evade the enemy but were ultimately found hiding in their foxholes and were captured, becoming Prisoners of War (POW) on June 7 at 6:30 a.m.

On June 9, Petrocelly arrived at Notre Dame Monastery (Church of Notre-Dame-sur-l’Eau).  The prisoners called it “Starvation Hill” because they were not given any food for 10 days.  During this period, he and others were subjected to abuse by the Germans, including mock executions.  When the German commander discovered that Petrocelli was a medic, he was given some protection so that he could treat Germans.

Back in the United States, the U.S. War Department declared that Petrocelly was Missing in Action and sent a telegram to notify Petrocelly’s family on July 18, 1944.

On July 28, Petrocelly left the Notre Dame Monastery and marched to Limberg, Germany, arriving to a German POW camp for Allied soldiers, Stalag XII-A, on August 3.  He was then transferred to another POW camp, Stalag III C, near Alt Drewitz in Eastern Germany and arrived on Sept 20, 1944. 

Petrocelly’s hand-written notes.

Finally, on January 31, 1945, Petrocelli was freed when Stalag III C was liberated by Russian troops. Petrocellly spent a total of seven months as a POW.

Horatio J. Petrocelly was honorably discharged from the Army on July 5, 1945, with the Rank of Staff Sergeant.

For Petrocelly’s action during the D-Day invasion, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre. He also receivedthe American Defense Service Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, the Foreign Service Clasp/WWII Victory Medal, and The Purple Heart.

Following the war, Petrocelly returned to Pittsburgh and to his profession as a pressman. While remaining in the printing business, he also opened an Italian Restaurant, Petrocelly’s Pizzeria in 1962.

Sadly, Petrocelly passed away from a heart attack on November 26, 1974.  He was survived by his wife Mary; his sons Horatio Jr., John, and Richard; and daughters Julie and Maria.

His courage and sacrifices will never be forgotten.

If you’d like to make a submission to NIAF’s #IAWW2Heroes initiative, email the photo and description to media@niaf.org.

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2 Responses to Italian American WWII Hero Sgt. Horatio J. Petrocelly Sr.

  1. CRAIG SHANE says:

    When men were made of steel!

  2. Sally Jo Mosca Hilderhoff says:

    Enjoyed and appreciated reading about Horatio. I knew him and wife.Mary. However, I did not know of his war experience. Nice tribute to him. Growing up on Cornell Ave. I was friends with Lucy Furguiele. Sometimes I helped her watch the two older sons, while Mary was working in her beauty shop. Great memories. They and all their other relatives on Cornell were so friendly and good neighbors.

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