5's Ian Roth Wins award for "Local WWII veteran celebrates 100th birthday" story
CLARKSBURG, W.Va (WDTV) - Benjamen Portaro celebrated his 100th birthday on Monday! Benjamen is a veteran of the battle of the bulge, a survivor of Nazi imprisonment, a devout family man and a proud West Virginian.
“To me, I wouldn’t want to be raised anywhere else,” said Benjamen. “Back then everything was tough. We didn’t have a whole bunch of toys, we made our own like stilts, and pole-vaults, and hanging rope up in the tree to swing, and set traps.”
It wasn’t before long into his young adult life when the war broke out and after fighting through France, Benjamin found himself in the middle of one of the deadliest attacks of the war, the battle of the bulge.
“We ran out of ammunition and some of our buddies were killed. I had a wound in my leg. And, uh, they came in there just pointing their guns at our bellies and they lined us up...They were, you know, gonna do away with us,” Benjamen explained.
Benjamen won a plethora of awards during his time in service: Bronze Star, Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War medal, WWII Honorable Discharge, “Ruptured Duck,” Marksman Badge with rifle bar, Honorable Service, American Campaign, Yankee Division badge, WWII Victory Medal, European Campaign, Army Good Conduct Medal, Combat Infantry Badge and staff sergeant badge.
After he was captured, he came face to face with the atrocities of being a prisoner of the Nazis.
Benjamen said, “We stood around picking lice off each other - we didn’t have nothing to eat but some kind of soup. And, uh, I was on a burial detail. We were burying some of our guys for 2 or 3 weeks every 2 or 3 days.”
He soon realized that in order to survive he would have to escape and not leave his friends behind.
“Some boy was walking alongside of me; I never knew him before, and we started talking. And I told him, I says, ‘I’d rather get shot in the back running away than lying down and get shot in the head.’ so after a while he says, ‘I think I feel the same way.’ he says, ‘if you go, you take me with ya.’”
Looking back, Benjamin says waiting for the attack to come was the hardest part.
“Well, you’re real anticipation, you’re waiting on them. You know you’re going to get into it. We had been in combat up through France in several places, I mean, that wasn’t the first one but, we knew there was going to be a big battle.”
76 years after the end of the war, and 100 years of life, he says the key to making it that far is keeping yourself busy, something his family has always done.
“I was never one for drinking or smoking or anything like that. I worked hard my whole life. My dad worked hard. My dad lived to be 93 - my mom 97 - and they never had nothing but hard work. So, I still love to work now.”
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