It's been 68 years, but Bob Pioli will never forget the morning of April 29, 1945 when, after more than a year of incarceration, he was one of 100,000 soldiers liberated from a Nazi prison of war camp at Moosburg, Germany.
"From what I understand, Hitler was planning to hold all the POWs and use us to negotiate with the Allies at the end of the war," Pioli, 91, said during a gathering marking the anniversary of the liberation at his Devola home Monday.
Ironically, Hitler committed suicide the day after the liberation, and Germany surrendered eight days later as Pioli and other former POWs were being flown out of the country.
Lt. Bob Pioli, right, talks with Congressman Bill Johnson during a ceremony at Pioli’s Devola home Monday celebrating the 68th anniversary of his liberation from a Nazi prisoner of war camp at the end of World War II.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Monday's anniversary celebration with many of Pioli's neighbors was highlighted by a surprise visit from Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, who presented Pioli with a U.S. flag that had flown over the nation's capitol in Pioli's honor last month.
"How many times does a congressman come to your house and give you a flag?" Pioli said after receiving the banner.
Johnson said he was honored to be able to present the flag to one of "The Greatest Generation," a term often used to describe World War II veterans.
At a glance
Lt. Bob Pioli, U.S. Army, Air Corps, 2nd Group, 96th Bomb Squadron, 15th Air Force.
Family: Wife, Roberta; seven children; 14 grandchildren; one great-grandchild.
Occupation: Retired chemical engineer.
"This is something for which I will gladly clear my schedule-to honor our nation's heroes is very important," he said. "And I'm especially honored to be able to do this on the very day of his liberation."
Pioli recalled the deplorable conditions of the camp in which the Allied soldiers had been forced to live for months before they were finally set free.
"We were infested with lice. At night you would just itch and scratch," he said. "We lived with all sorts of vermin and it was cold as hell. It was like hell on earth."
Years later Pioli describes the day Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army broke through and liberated the POW camp as one of the best days of his life. He said the liberation began around 10 or 11 a.m. that morning.
"A P51 (fighter plane) came over so close we could see the pilot," he said. "He waggled the wings, and we knew we were coming out."
Pioli said about the same time a tank rolled in from the 14th Armored Division.
"We were so glad to see them, and about the time the tank came through we saw the Nazi flag over Moosburg coming down and the Stars and Stripes being raised," he said. "They say grown men don't cry, but there wasn't a dry eye in the entire camp that day."
A crowd of friends and family assembled at the Piolis' home for the occasion.
"I'm just glad to be his neighbor and to know what he did for his country," said Bert Goddard. "This is someone who was willing to give his life, and I can't imagine what he went through as a POW."
Also presented a U.S. flag flown over the capitol was Navy veteran Charles Meeks who served from 1962 to 64.
"We need to thank all of our veterans who have served in all wars," Meeks said. "And it's good to see the support our current veterans are receiving when they return home. It's well deserved."
Edwina Campbell, secretary for the Ohio Patriot Guard organization, coordinated Monday's event.
"I've read Bob Pioli's memoirs, and it's just phenomenal," she said. "When you read the part about the U.S. flag raised over Moosburg, it brings tears to your eyes."