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Salvatore Pacella, 101, steelworker, prisoner of war

Jan. 16, 1916 – Jan. 7, 2018

Beginning as a boy, Salvatore Pacella was a hard worker.

Born in Pacentro, a medieval village in the mountains of central Italy, he was one of six children and left school in the fourth grade to help support his family by taking firewood to town on a donkey and selling it.

“I went back with him this past August, and he showed me where he harnessed the donkey and collected the wood,” said his son Frank, executive producer of “AM Buffalo” on WKBW-TV.

To provide for his family in Buffalo, he routinely accepted double shifts at a steel factory and had part-time jobs on his days off. In retirement, he maintained a large vegetable garden.

“He didn’t stop,” said another son, Mario. “Last summer, he’d be out there in his garden for eight hours.”

Mr. Pacella died Sunday in his South Buffalo home after a short illness. He was 101.

He was a farm laborer when he married Fiorina Lepore on Dec. 2, 1937. Three months, later he was drafted into the Royal Italian Army. He served six months with the 11th Infantry Regiment as a clerk, returned home, then was recalled in September 1939 at the start of World War II. He spent nearly four years on the Greek and Albanian front.

When Italy agreed to an armistice with the Allies in 1943, German troops told his Army unit they were going home and put them on a train. They were taken instead to a concentration camp in Bislich, Germany.

There Mr. Pacella witnessed numerous atrocities against Jewish prisoners and worked long days as a slave laborer in a factory. The Italian prisoners were allotted one small loaf of bread a day to divide among six of them. A non-smoker, he traded his ration of cigarettes to guards for extra bread. After five months, his weight dropped from 160 to 60 pounds and he was hospitalized.

Recovering, thanks to a nun who sneaked food to him, he volunteered when a German officer asked any of the prisoners knew how to milk a cow. He was assigned to a dairy farm, where his diligence in tending the livestock and working in the fields gained him favor with his overseers.

Liberated by English soldiers at the end of the war, he worked for a few months assisting the Allies, then was released in September 1945. It took him two months to walk and hitchhike back to his home in Pacentro, where he saw his oldest son for the first time.

He again worked in the fields, but found it hard to earn enough to support his wife and family. In 1948, he borrowed $400 and went to Caracas, Venezuela, with relatives and friends to work at a Texaco oil refinery.

“He worked for Texaco in the daytime,” his son, Frank, said, “at night he was a guard in the warehouse and on the weekends he worked at an amusement park. That’s how he met the CEO of Texaco in Venezuela.”

When the Texaco executive offered him a $5 tip for allowing his children extra rides, his son said, “he refused to take it. The guy gave him a card and said, ‘Come see me.’”

The executive helped speed Mr. Pacella’s application to immigrate to the United States. He arrived in New Orleans in March 1953, then looked for jobs in cities where he had relatives. He worked briefly in Pittsburgh, then came to Buffalo for better pay. His wife and three children joined him in May 1954. Three more children were born here.

He worked in the coke ovens at Hanna Furnace for 28 years, never taking a sick day. He retired in 1981.

At the same time, he was a part-time truck driver for Columbia Market for 15 years, delivering orders to pizzerias, and a cement mason and landscaper for Lexington Homes. He helped build the stone walls in the Green Lake development in Orchard Park. He also helped build his home in South Buffalo on a double lot to accommodate a large garden.

In retirement, he assisted his children with landscaping and concrete work at their homes. In recent years, he also was a caretaker for his wife. She died in June 2017.

Survivors include four sons, Eusobio, Mario, Daniel and Frank; a daughter, Nancy Magno; 11 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Thursday in Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 3148 Abbott Road, Orchard Park.

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