CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
James Serano was born in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania in December 1919. He joined the Pennsylvania National Guard in 1937 because of the free food, a bit of pay and something to do in a still depressed economy. In 1939, Serano served in the Civilian Conversation Corps. He recalled that before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the country had seemed complacent and disinterested in the war in Europe. His National Guard unit, the Twenty-Ninth Division, was federalized in 1941. After completing cooking school in New Mexico, Serano was promoted to staff sergeant. He was transferred to Fort Meade, Maryland, assigned as a mess sergeant, and he remained there for a year before war was declared.
Following the outbreak of the war, Serano’s unit was ordered to England and left the United States in October 1942. He did not enjoy his time there. He got into an argument with a lieutenant after being ordered by the officer to cook him a steak at 3:00 AM. Serano refused, and the incident resulted in his demotion and reassignment! He was transferred to the infantry. After completing infantry training, Serano applied to enter Mines and Demolition School, which was in Morocco, where he trained with the British army.
After graduating Mines and Demolition School, Serano was assigned to Company B of the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion, which was attached to the First Armored Division in North Africa. The battalion, equipped with M3 Gun Motor Carriages, 75 mm artillery pieces mounted on Half-tracks, was essentially a mobile artillery unit. and took part in the famous battle of Kasserine Pass in North Africa. He recalled that the unit suffered heavy casualties, yet held out long enough for General Patton to arrive with reinforcements. Serano ran through shell fire to retrieve ammunition, and his bravery earned him a citation for gallantry in action.
After the five-day battle of Kasserine Pass, Serano was exhausted and fell asleep on the back of the Half-track. While he was dozing, part of his unit was captured by Germans; he was awakened by an enemy soldier poking him in the ribs with a rifle while saying, in English, “put your hands up dumb head.” Things were very chaotic; and, after several hours, Serano was able to make his escape by rolling into a ditch under cover of darkness. Ironically, he would subsequently pull a wounded German soldier out from under a tank, and the soldier gave him his watch.
During the North African campaign, Serano’s unit, now reassigned to the 34th Division, was reequipped with the newer M10 tank destroyer, which was armed with a three-inch gun. It resembled an actual tank, but with an open turret and thinner armor, which cut its weight, and made it able to maneuver faster than a tank. The 805th, reequipped again with towed three-inch anti-tank guns, moved on to Italy and participated in the Battle of Monte Cassino.
Serano, now a sergeant again, served as a forward observer at Monte Cassino, and was tasked with picking out a target and reporting it to his officers, who would then call fire on it, and adjust the fire if need be. In this job, Serano was on the front lines, which shifted on occasion; and, he was almost captured again while on the road to Rome. He and several other men were pinned underneath a viaduct by German strafing, and Serano decided to scavenge for food. As he approached a house, he encountered a German soldier with a rifle pointed at him. The soldier looked young and, instead of capturing Serano, he surrendered to him. Although Serano was not supposed to be in the business of taking prisoners, he had pity for the teenaged German and handed him over to the appropriate authorities.
The 805th was reassigned several times, to the Thirty-Sixth Division and then back to the First Armored Division. It was reequipped once more, this time with the M18 Hellcat tank destroyer, a faster machine armed with a 76 mm gun. Serano’s combat tour in Italy ended abruptly when he was wounded in the leg while serving as an observer in an observation tower near Pisa. He remembered the injury as not being too serious, yet he was sent home to recover. Serano was discharged with the rank of Staff Sergeant in July 1945.
James Serano received a Purple Heart due to his wound. He was also awarded the American Defense Service Medal, Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle-Eastern Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
After the war, Serano moved to Wanamassa, New Jersey, where he established a heating and cooling business and was a member of numerous civic associations, as well as the local volunteer fire department and first aid squad, eventually becoming Fire Commissioner for Ocean Township. He settled down and ended up with four children, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His battalion held numerous reunions in the postwar years, and Serano attended as many as he could. James Serano passed away on January 30, 2015 at the age of 95.