WWII vets recall Pearl Harbor
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Today on the 78th anniversary of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii that spurred the United States’ entry into World War II, area veterans are thinking back to their reactions upon hearing that fateful news and their subsequent experiences in the fight.
William Precek of Shadyside served as a technical sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II. His service took him to the India, Burma and Chinese theatres, where he served with fellow medics as an X-ray technician. He had been drafted and expected to spend a year in the service, then go into the Reserves.
“We were on our way back from maneuvers down at … Chester, South Carolina, and we were up in the mountains in New York when we heard Pearl Harbor was attacked. And, of course, we were on convoy going back to our own base at Massachusetts, Fort Devens,” he said. “I never got out. I got sent overseas. I was there for over two years.”
Like most civilians, Precek said he was informed of the attack by newspaper.
“We didn’t know nothing. We were just on our way back on these trucks in the convoy, and we stopped in this one town and the newspaper boys were out on the corner, and that’s how we heard it,” he said. “We hadn’t thought anything about war. When it happened, the commander came back. … He said, ‘All leave’s canceled.'”
Precek served in the Pacific theater in Ramgarh, India, a Chinese training center, then went on to Burma. He said his unit provided medical support for the Chinese, and the patients he worked with were primarily injured in combat.
“After, they started discharging us,” he said. “They flew me back to India. I stayed in India about a month and I went by train … clean across India.”
From India, he was transported to Egypt, then New York.
Precek’s brother, Karl, was killed in combat in January 1944.
“He was in the artillery,” Precek’s son, Randy Precek of Springfield, said. “He wasn’t among the troops who were famous for the Battle of the Bulge, but they were with the counterattack, pushing back because of the Battle of the Bulge. He was killed in Luxembourg. He was a technical sergeant.”
Precek added that his brother is still buried in Luxembourg.
“Quite a few boys from Shadyside were killed there that were friends, that grew up in the same neighborhood,” he said. “At that time, Shadyside wasn’t very big.”
He said their names are all displayed on a tombstone at the American Legion.
Since those days, Precek has often considered the wider scope.
“I didn’t think too much of it. I just wondered why did Japan attack us?” he said.
Precek recalled the news of the day, which included reports of combat overseas and the rumors of war and potential U.S. involvement. He said he has since since looked into various theories as he tries to make sense of international actions during that time. These theories include economic conflicts between the United States and Japan.
“I’ve even heard rumors that Churchill knew they was going to attack. Of course, who knows whether it was true or not?” he added.
Joe Binni, a Powhatan Point resident, also recalled the attack that launched the U.S. into the war. Binni was a technical sergeant who served as a communication chief and served in major conflicts, including the Battle of the Bulge. His duties included running wire and maintaining communications during operations.
Later, his unit supported Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army.
Binni was out of high school and working as a coal miner when Japan launched its attack.
“Conscription was already in effect. All 18-year-olds were registered. I figured someday I’d be in the service, but it happened in 1942. February of ’43 I was inducted into the Army, and I was there until Dec. 12 (1945).
“Everybody thought it was a dirty, rotten trick, but it was a little more than that,” he said of the attack on Hawaii. “They killed a lot of Americans, and of course there was revenge in mind, too. I didn’t regret having to go.”
After the European fighting was over, Binni and other soldiers were training for jungle warfare in the planned invasion of Japan when the United States dropped atomic bombs, ushering in the end of the war.