AURIO J. PIERRO, was born March 1, 1917, in Lexington,
MA. Prior to joining the Army in January, 1942, he had graduated
from law school. He was assigned to the 33rd Armored Regiment
of the 3rd Armored Div. at Camp Polk, LA, in March 1942. He was
involved in the "wet" landings at Omaha Beach in June,
1944, in which the 33rd's water-proofed tanks were unloaded from
LST's in turret-level water. As a tank commander, Pierro saw
action in the confined and perilous hedgerow fighting in Normandy.
It was there for the first time his tank would be the intended
target of a German bazooka. And it was there that for the first
time he would hear on the radio, "Your tank is on fire"!
It would not be the last.
Pierro saw far more than his share of front-line combat across
France, Belgium and into Germany. He witnessed much in the way
of death (including his own tanker comrades) and destruction.
His most harrowing experience came during the Battle of the Bulge
at the small town of Petit Coo, Belgium, as part of Task Force
Lovelady (named for Lt. Col. William Lovelady, the battalion
commander). SSgt. Pierro was a tank commander in "B"
Company's 1st Platoon, which was protecting a building at Petit
Coo being used as a Task Force first-aid station.
On December 22, 1944, in the afternoon, Germans attacked Petit
Coo with three companies of infantry supported by mortars. The
1st Platoon, which consisted of five M-5 Stuart light tanks,
was forced to fall back or risk being surrounded and wiped out.
There had been no choice but to leave the approximately half
dozen wounded GI's in the first-aid station with several medical
personnel. One of the tanks, however, somehow disappeared and
was no longer with the unit. The whereabouts of the platoon commander,
who had been in that missing tank, was unknown. Consequently,
Pierro then took command of the four tanks.
He had his men form a defensive position at a bridge within
sight of the station and surrounding buildings. The bridge crossed
over a small river and railroad tracks, and, although unknown
to the tankers at the time, the German infantry had needed to
secure that bridge to allow their reinforcements to reach a German
task force lead by the infamous Col. Piper. But at this point,
their infantry advance was now stalled at Petit Coo. The quicker,
lighter Stuart tanks, with three .30 cal. machine guns and 37mm
cannon with an anti-personnel buck-shot load, were more feared
by the infantry than the Sherman's.
With the sun going down, and the GI's in the aid station now
being prisoners, Pierro radioed Battalion with the situation.
Orders came back to stand his ground and wait for an American
infantry unit that would arrive and join the tankers in re-taking
the station and that section of the town. It was well after sundown
when the infantry arrived, but they were only about fifteen riflemen
from the 30th Inf. Div. There would be no chance for sleep, as
the platoon's counter-attack was to begin in darkness, with the
Germans least likely to expect it.
Suddenly and without warning, Pierro's tanks charged toward the
station, with the riflemen riding on top. The two lead tanks
were abreast, each blazing its machine guns at buildings on the
nearest side of the road, and setting several on fire. As the
platoon neared the first-aid station, Pierro moved his lead tank
ahead and rumbled to a stop in front of the building. Armed with
a .45 pistol, he climbed down from the tank to enter the station.
As he did so, the projectile from a German bazooka exploded close
by. Shrapnel from the blast struck Pierro in the back and knocked
him to the ground. Somehow not seriously injured, he climbed
back in his tank, as sustained German bazooka and small arms
fire was coming from three sides.
The tanks returned fire with their machine guns and 37mm cannon,
while the riflemen fired from whatever protected position they
could find. The tank behind Pierro was knocked out by a bazooka,
and one crewman was killed. One of the other tanks had maneuvered
behind the station. Some of the riflemen made it inside the building,
as the tanks continued firing. But then a bazooka round penetrated
and started an internal fire in Pierro's tank, and he and his
crew escaped and joined the riflemen and other tankers in the
The building was partly on fire and was now surrounded by Germans.
A vicious siege and firefight began. The Americans inside, close
to thirty men including the wounded and newly wounded, took refuge
on the ground floor, firing back from windows. Incredibly, the
GI's also had three German POW's to watch after. The three had
been captured in the building when the riflemen first burst in.
Bullets were coming through the windows and small cannon rounds
were coming through the brick walls.
A number of smokey fires, while miraculously not sweeping
through the whole structure, forced the Americans (and their
POW's) to move to the cellar. Somehow none of the group had been
killed, although the Germans probably assumed that there were
many casualties inside. In this large, dark cellar, with no view
out except through a rear door, they knew that this was where
they would make their last stand. The fire and smoldering above
in the building was continuing. They had no food or water.
It can be assumed that the Germans could not understand how many
GI's were still fighting in the building or where they were all
located. But eventually, after daybreak, a shout came from outside
the rear cellar door. It was in English and was effectively "You
must surrender! This is your last chance!" There was no
response of any kind from Pierro or his men, which probably befuddled
the Germans. Firing from outside continued, but only sporadically.
This continued past mid-day, and, with no radio available, Pierro
had no idea if relief was on the way.
Finally, Pierro dashed outside the rear door to see if the radio
was operating in the Stuart tank still parked there. A dead German
soldier lay next to the door. In disbelief that no one had shot
at him, Pierro climbed in the turret. In more disbelief that
the Germans had not destroyed the tank's interior, he was able
to reach Battalion HQ on the radio. He was authorized to evacuate
the station whenever possible. This meant escaping by way of
the railroad tracks that lead behind the building and toward
American lines. Pierro then returned to the cellar, still apparently
unnoticed by the Germans.
Within the next hour, shooting outside had ceased. Although the
town was still under enemy control, the siege on their position,
incredibly and unexplainably, seemed over. The group prepared
for their cautious dash out the rear door into daylight. Except
for the several seriously wounded and the POW's, they began their
escape -- about twenty-five men total. Tragically, a distant
machine gun from some unknown position opened up on the lead
men in the group. At least three GI's were killed, and several
more were wounded from what turned out to be friendly fire from
an American unit that had just arrived at the bridge. Still,
Pierro and most of his party made it to safety away from the
For his actions at Petit Coo, including bravery under fire, the
survival of most of his men, and the tying down of a significant
enemy force, Pierro would receive the Silver Star and Purple
But the war had a long way to go, and after removal of some shrapnel
at a first aid station, Pierro drew another tank and with an
entire new crew. Off they went to a new assignment. After his
lieutenant was wounded just outside Marburg, Pierro again took
over the 1st Platoon and remained in command to the end of the
war. He had been recommended for a field commission as a lieutenant,
but, by the time the commission was approved, he would be on
his way back to the States. At that point, of the entire original
1st Platoon that had landed at Omaha, Pierro was the only one
who had not been killed or seriously wounded.
Other action he saw included (1) his being the lead tank to enter
the Nordhausen concentration camp and adjacent V-2 rocket assembly
complex, (2) having his tank again knocked out by a bazooka at
Thurland and Raguhn at the Mulde River, (3) having his tank fired
on by a German plane, and (4) being isolated in a forward position
when the Germans overran Thurland and Task Force HQ behind him.
Now (in 2003) Aurio Pierro is retired and living in Lexington,
MA, having practiced law for over fifty years. He is the President
of the New England Chapter of the Third Armored Division Association
(WWII veterans) and is the Commander of the Lexington VFW. He
is also Chairman of the Republican Town Committee. He enjoys
gardening and is an avid hunter.