The roaring could be heard before it could be seen. Appearing at night, sometimes as low as tree top-level, the black V2 rockets, each with a 40 foot flame, sailed through the night sky courtesy of the Germans. Running out of fuel, the rockets would take a dive, destroying anything in their path. Churches and schools were just a few of the structures Private First Class Frank V. Porto saw destroyed during the 11 months he spent in England during World War II.
Frank Porto sits comfortably in his home in a senior residence in Saugerties. New York Yankee memorabilia and pictures of grandchildren and great-grandchildren cover the walls. One wall is entirely devoted to an American flag.
Porto laughs as he remembers, “It’s so long ago now. You know, I’m 91 years old. I’ve got to think a lot.” Some memories come easier than others. However, he does remember where it all began. “I wanted to volunteer but my father wouldn’t sign because I wasn’t 21 yet. He said ‘don’t be in a hurry because they are going to call you anyway.’ And that’s how it happened.”
After receiving his draft papers at 21, Porto left for Fort Dix with fellow draftees, also from local areas such as Glasco and Malden, both hamlets of Saugerties. Although his memories failed to recollect many experiences from this time, Porto had no trouble recalling the many places he traveled while stateside. After receiving shots and a uniform from Fort Dix, troop trains transported Porto from one camp to another for almost six months.
After leaving Fort Dix, Porto spent a few weeks in Colorado and was then sent to Florida. His next stop was Santa Ana, California. He was then sent back to Florida, which was followed by a stop in New Orleans, and finally he moved on to Mobile, Alabama. Porto then left for New York where he boarded the Queen Mary. Four days later he arrived in Scotland, boarded a train, and settled in Braintree, England.
Porto joined an outfit that loaded bombs on B-26 Bombers. After finding the desired bomb, he’d bring it to a ship where it was raised, fused, and finally loaded on the plane. However, it was not always that simple.
“Sometimes we used to load them with certain types of bombs, go home and go to sleep,” he said. “They would come and wake you up, say you got to change your bomb loads, we got to get different ones. One night we changed four times and we ended up with the same type of bombs we started with. We didn’t sleep at all that night. That happened two or three times.”
Sitting in his living room, Porto holds on to his cane with both hands. The sun shines through two generous windows, brightening the room. The hum of the television in the background does not distract him as he recalls his time spent in England. He is the first to admit he had it pretty good compared to other soldiers during the war.
“The only thing I didn’t like was when you used to go in to the mess hall and you had to cook the mutton. Stunk like hell.” He also admitted to eating in the Post Exchange, refusing to eat in the mess hall with the stench of mutton. Aside from that, cooks were available and did a good job. And although he was housed in a big tent, Porto recalled that it was comfortable and contained bunks and a little stove.
After leaving England, France was Porto’s next destination. He cannot recall how long he was there, but does have one fond memory of time spent in Paris. His first – and last – time getting drunk.
“Three or four of us all went out to this café and started drinking red wine. The next thing I know, they are out of red wine. So we started tackling the white wine. The guys decided they wanted to go somewhere else. I was pretty shaky and all that. I hit the air outside, and that’s all I remember. I don’t remember how I got back to the base. I woke up in the morning; my uniform was all full of mud. I was a mess. I think they rolled me over. That’s all I could tell you about when I got drunk. I don’t remember nothing. And I never drank anymore. I don’t drink even today. I drink iced tea.”
He proceeded to dip his uniform in gasoline, hung it up and aired it out. It was as good as new. Throughout this time, Porto recalls exchanging many letters, many written to his nine siblings, as well as his future wife, Sarah Ruspoli. Porto first met Sarah’s brother, whom he was stationed with in Florida. The Ruspoli family hailed from Mississippi, and invited him to visit if he was ever stationed close enough. While in Mobile, Alabama, he was able to get a weekend pass and traveled 90 miles to make the visit.
“That’s where it all started,” Porto beamed. They would continue to write letters for the duration of the war, and married in 1945 after his discharge. “I wrote a lot of letters,” he continued, “When I got home my sister had a bag of all of what I sent.”
After leaving France, Porto spent time in Belgium, where he continued to load bombs on planes as he did in England and France. He was then put on duty in Germany. His assignment was to drive a jeep that he shared with a second lieutenant and a staff sergeant, and cover different territories looking for guns and ammunition. It was there that he received word that the war was over.
Porto departed Germany and arrived back in France. From there, he boarded a ship called the SS Sea Porpoise and arrived stateside ten days later. Porto received his discharge at Ford Dix and returned home to New York.
“I was so happy to get home. Before I left I had a black ’33 Chevy Coupe with a rumble seat and red wheels. While I was gone, my brother was using it. He made a wreck out of it. When I got home the rear end was making noise and he went and changed the registration as if he was the owner of the car. When I got home I said what the hell is going on here? I ain’t the owner of this car? Then I had to take it to the garage and have the rear end fixed and that put it in to shape. I don’t know how he done it but he done it. So I did the opposite. I went and changed it too. I was the owner,” he said laughing.
After a few minutes of searching his bedroom, Porto returns to the living room holding his dog tags. He carefully handles the dog tags, showing off the last ones he received. The more recent ones had been modified compared to the oldest. The oldest tags contained his mother’s name and information.
Aside from his clothes, Porto admitted he didn’t bring anything back with him. When asked if he still had his uniform he responded, “Not too long ago I got rid of it. It was so small and it was down in the basement. I burned it up. Put it in a barrel and poured gas on it.”
After returning to Glasco, New York, where he was born and raised, Porto began working in construction. He was involved in the making of the PVI Hill Bridge in Saugerties as well as the New York State Thruway. He was married to his wife Sarah for fifty six years until she passed away in 2001.
Together they had two daughters and now have five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. Porto reaches across his dining room table and hands me a card he received asking for donations for injured Iraq War veterans. “I send a little bit. I feel sorry for them. I didn’t go through what they did because they were in the front lines.” He continued, “That was a World War. These other ones like Vietnam and Korea, and all that, were all these little wars. Unnecessary wars.”
He takes the card back and gazes at it for a few moments. As he points to the picture of the veteran standing with his wife and three daughters on the front of the card, Porto smiles and says, “He has a nice family, doesn’t he?”
Photo: Photo of Frank Porto courtesy of Frank Porto.