The first thing that Peter J. Liberatore will tell you is the English translation of his Italian last name: liberator.
Which makes him proud.
The 91-year-old veteran is even more proud that his role in Europe during World War II lived up to the name.
Liberatore is ever grateful that his mother and father left Italy to come to America. Maria Galando and Ralph Liberatore fell in love in Buffalo, married and raised a family of 14 children.
“I was the second-youngest,” he says.
Liberatore could talk for hours on why he loves America.
“I have my liberties, freedom of speech, freedom of religion. You don’t have that in other countries. It’s an honor to be born here,” he says.
He he had considered enlisting, but realized that the draft notice would arrive soon enough. And sure enough, it did.
“When we got in the Army, we were lined up and they pointed at us and said, ‘you go here, you go there,’ ” he recalls, “I ended up with the medics.”
Peter J. Liberatore, 91
Residence: West Seneca
Rank: Private first class
War zone: Europe
Years of service: 1943-45
Most prominent honors: Bronze Star, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three battle stars, Combat Medical Badge
Specialty: Combat medic
Soon after he completed his training, he crossed the Atlantic and set foot in Scotland, then went south to England, then across the English Channel to France.
“I arrived about four or five months after the invasion of Normandy,” he says. “I was assigned to a replacement depot. They needed MPs, and I did that a couple weeks.”
But with heavy casualties on the front lines, Liberatore was soon assigned to the 3rd Army’s 35th Infantry Division, where he put his medic skills to work.
“They drove me out in a Jeep to the front lines, and what I saw there is not fit to be heard by other people,” Liberatore says of the carnage.
“I prayed that if I was hit, God wouldn’t leave me. I prayed God would stay and guide me. If I was killed, I prayed that God would have mercy on me. I had a lot of close calls.”
An array of weapons – artillery shells exploding with shrapnel, machine guns discharging a blizzard of bullets, mortar rounds ripping apart whatever got in their way – wounded or killed soldiers all around him. And throughout it all, Liberatore says, he never hesitated to rush to their sides.
“If someone was hurt, I would be there patching them up and giving them a shot of morphine. If there was a really big battle, there would be another medic working with me,” he says.
All the while, the Allies pushed forward, finally arriving in Germany, where Liberatore made an unexpected discovery – so many churches.
“In the big cities, you had cathedrals and churches. In the villages, there would always be at least one church,” he says, adding that seeing those houses of worship was a source of comfort.
As for the German people, “I could see that they did not want us there no more than we wanted to be there,” Liberatore says, but “they were always cordial and nice to us.”
When the war ended, Liberatore says, he returned to Buffalo without a physical scratch, but “the war had shaken me up.”
And his father had a gift for him.
“He started a construction company named after me, ‘Peter J. Liberatore.’ My dad gave me my job,” he remembers. “It was a small company, two or three men. But I had to keep an eye on them, and finally I threw up my hands and said, ‘I’ve had enough of this.’ I became a union cement mason.”
That trade agreed with Liberatore, so much so that he worked at it until his mid-70s before retiring.
He also raised a family of three children. His youngest son, James J. Liberatore, became a career soldier.
“When he served in Iraq, the front of the vehicle he commanded was blown up, but by some miracle, he survived,” Liberatore says, adding that his granddaughter also served in Iraq and made it home safely.
“That’s three generations of liberators,” the patriarch says with pride. “And you better believe it.”