WEST MAYFIELD, Pa. — “Eighty-six!”

It’s what Joe Norton would say whenever something was good, Roger Soriano said.

In the 1940s, Soriano served with Norton in the 776th Field Artillery Battalion, both men in charge of different aspects of supplying the battalion with equipment - Norton handled the vehicles and Soriano the other supplies as they trained in Texas.

When something was repaired to his satisfaction, Norton would say “That’s eighty-six!” If they were off base and an attractive woman walked by, he’d say “Eighty-six.”

When the battalion shipped out of New York City on the RMS Aquitania to join the fighting, the troops walked to the pier, Soriano looked up and had to smile.

“It said pier number 86,” Soriano said.

He was with Norton and told him: “Holy mackerel. Now is that a good omen or a bad omen, Joe?”

“He (Norton) says ‘It’s got to be good,’” Soriano remembered.

It was, as Soriano survived being in the thick of the fighting in Europe during World War II. The West Mayfield native celebrated his 98th birthday on July 29.

Although he has memories of horrific experiences during the war, as he was part of a unit that supplied the ammunition for the front lines, Soriano chooses to focus on the better memories of his time in the service.

“This is a little story now,” Soriano said a couple days before his 98th birthday party.

He was on a troop train making its way to Texas that was stopped in Montgomery, Ala., for what was supposed to be a 20-minute layover.

They weren’t supposed to be drinking hard liquor, but Soriano, who was a sergeant, and three other guys went to a bar and had a few.

“We get back to the station (and) the train’s gone,” he said.

As the ranking member of the party, it was Soriano’s job to figure out how to catch the train. The station master was annoyed with the men: “You GIs cause me nothing but trouble,” he told them, Soriano said.

The train was stopped 20 miles outside of town and Soriano managed to hail a “black market” cab that charged them $20 to get there because taxis weren’t allowed out of the city limits during the war. They ended up getting pulled over by a state cop, who was sympathetic to their cause and let them meet up with the train.

When they were finally aboard the train, the guys were dressed down for drinking, but otherwise weren’t punished.

In Europe, the 776th landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy post-D-day and made its way to the front.

“We marched for about 5 miles, ended up in a place with a big field, next to a great big stone house,” Soriano said.

That was where they were to stage as they awaited their equipment, Soriano said.

It was raining and the pup tents they slept in provided no shelter, so the men gathered timber and built 10 huts.

“We slept in them for two or three weeks,” Soriano said.

The called the place Camp Crud.

“After that, we got into the war... France, Holland, Belgium, (we) got into the Bulge,” Soriano said, referring to the Battle of the Bulge, one of the bloodiest battles of the war.

They fought for 176 straight days, “shooting and moving,” Soriano said.

He remembered the unit lost a cook, who was hit by a shell while standing under a tree.

“Our battery was a half-mile back of the firing batteries,” he said.

Another story Soriano remembers is how a soldier who was shell shocked was sent back to where his unit was sheltering -- they were inside a house.

“He’s sitting there with four or five other guys in this room,” Soriano said.

The kid picked his gun up at one point and fired it at a pile of straw.

“Pow,” Soriano said they heard as the soldier fired his gun.

“I seen it move,” the man said.

Inside the pile, a German soldier had been hiding.

“Evidently he wasn’t too bad off,” if he was sharp enough to spot what the others hadn’t, Soriano said.

Another time, in eastern Germany toward the end of the war, Soriano encountered two German kids, a brother and sister.

“I gave them each a bar of candy and a package of chewing gum,” he remembered.

After a time, their mother returned to thank him for the gesture and presented Soriano with two Nazi swords and a sabre that he brought home.

Some of Soriano’s other memories are disappearing with age.

“I’m getting to the point where I forget a lot of stuff,” he said.

He focuses on the good times because the bad times are tough to forget.

“I could tell you stuff you wouldn’t even believe,” Soriano said.

That includes another story about Joe Norton, whose “Eighty-six!” meant all was well. During the war, Norton’s wife was shopping in a grocery store and ran into another woman and they talked about their husbands.

The more they talked, the more it became evident that Norton was married to both of them, Soriano said.

“He (Norton) took his discharge overseas, he didn’t come back home,” Soriano said.

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