Three days before Christmas in 1944, Sergeant Aurio Pierro and his platoon were in Petit Coo, Belgium, protecting a building that US forces were using as a first aid station during the Battle of the Bulge.
Suddenly, German forces descended from a hill and attacked. “Their mortars started to drop all around and there was mass confusion,” Mr. Pierro, a tank commander with the 33rd Armored Regiment, recalled in a 1990 video interview about his World War II experiences.
After initially protecting a nearby bridge, his platoon’s tanks moved back toward the first aid station after nightfall. Climbing out of his tank, Mr. Pierro was heading toward the building when a bazooka blast hit the tank behind his “and I was knocked flat on my face,” he said in the interview, which is posted online. “My helmet rolled off and I could feel something on my back.”
Over the next day and a half, before he made it to safety and the shrapnel was removed from his back, Mr. Pierro led his unit as it fought off the German attack, and he helped bring a wounded soldier across the nearby bridge to get medical attention. He was awarded a Silver Star for valor, and a Purple Heart for his injuries.
Mr. Pierro, who except for his time in the Army lived nearly his entire life in the Lexington house where he was born, died Monday in a Lexington health care center, where he moved a couple of days before turning 100 on March 1.
“I saw a lot of guys come and go and I was very lucky,” Mr. Pierro said in a video interview for wickedlocal.com that is posted online, and he added: “I’m still lucky.”
After being treated for his injuries, Mr. Pierro received a battlefield commission to lieutenant, his family said. According to a profile of Mr. Pierro on a Third Armored Division history website, he commanded his platoon for the remainder of the war. By the end, he was the only original member of his platoon that had landed on Omaha Beach in France in in 1944 who was neither killed nor seriously wounded.
Toward the end of the war, Mr. Pierro was in the lead tank when his platoon liberated the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp near Nordhausen, Germany. They arrived outside “and all of a sudden the prisoners came out of the barracks, opened the gates, and they realized who we were – they started jumping for joy,” he recalled in an oral history interview that Michael Hirsh drew from for his 2010 book “The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust.”
As soldiers searched the concentration camp, they found a brick building that housed “an operating table with dead prisoners” and emaciated bodies “tied hand and foot, on the floor, on the table,” Mr. Pierro told Hirsh.
The scene was horrific, he added, “but at the time we’d seen a lot of dead people and a lot of hurt people. We had a mission to move forward, long as we were able. We took casualties, and those that were casualties stayed behind and the rest of the crews moved forward.”
Aurio J. Pierro was born on March 1, 1917, a son of Donato Pierro and the former Mary Aquaro, both of whom were immigrants from Italy. His father initially had a railroad job in Pennsylvania after arriving in the United States, but Mary persuaded him to move to the Boston area, where he worked for a lumber company, a veterans’ hospital, and in other jobs.
Mr. Pierro was one of nine children, and the fifth oldest of the seven who lived past infancy and childhood. His family grew food on their land and kept pigs, goats, and chickens, according to the Lexington Board of Selectmen’s proclamation designating his 100th birthday as Aurio J. Pierro Day.
He graduated from Lexington High School in 1934, a time when many who wanted to become lawyers went directly to law school, rather than seeking a bachelor’s degree first. “Out of all his family, he was the only one to attend college,” said his nephew Bill Barrett of Lexington.
In 1938, Mr. Pierro graduated from Suffolk University Law School. He was inducted into the Army in January 1942 at Fort Devens, spent basic training at Fort Knox in Kentucky, and received further armored vehicle instructions before shipping out to England in 1943.
He landed on Omaha Beach in late June 1944, 17 days after D-Day, and his platoon saw action in France, Belgium, and Germany. At the time of the Petit Coo attack, his unit was part of what was called Task Force Lovelady – named for the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Lovelady.
“We had many talks, Aurio and I, about his experiences and what he went through. It stunned me,” said Steven Wightman, service officer and trustee of Lexington Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3007.
Mr. Pierro served as commander of the VFW post for many years and “was well-respected and liked by the veterans,” Wightman said. “Aurio wasn’t very tall. He was about 5 feet, 6 inches, but he had a lion’s heart.”
“He has meant a lot to the post,” said Ed Fitzgerald, a past commander. “He has given a lot to the post in his time and effort.”
After returning from the war, Mr. Pierro passed the bar exam and was an Aetna insurance lawyer until he turned 65, the company’s retirement age. He subsequently worked part time for a friend’s firm and handled claims for another insurance company before fully retiring.
Mr. Pierro, who formerly chaired the Lexington Republican Town Committee, never married and leaves other nephews and nieces in addition to Barrett.
A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Thursday in Sacred Heart Church in Lexington. Burial will be in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Arlington.
“He was a decent guy,” said Barrett, who added that his uncle was always ready to help out others. “Anybody who needed a ride to Mass, he’d be right there to take them.”
Throughout his life, Mr. Pierro grew vegetables at his longtime family home, including varieties of tomatoes and grapes for jelly. “We always used to get grape jelly jars from him when they were in season,” Fitzgerald said. “It was really delicious. My wife fell in love with it.”
In 2009, Mr. Pierro was grand marshal of Lexington’s Patriots Day Parade, and he received the Minuteman Cane in 2012. He always marched with veterans in parades, and joked modestly to Wicked Local about the grand marshal honor: “Do they know something about me I don’t know?”
“He was a very unassuming guy,” Wightman said. “His philosophy – and he reminded me of this over and over again – was that ‘I’m just so grateful that I’m here today.’ After his war experience, I think every day he felt blessed.”Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.