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Bert C. Ponceroff
1924-1944

"We know that enduring peace cannot be bought at the cost of other people's freedom."

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Bert C. Ponceroff was born in Monongalia County, West Virginia, on September 24, 1924. His parents were immigrants. Gregor and Cora, who first lived in Pennsylvania, were from Poland. Bert Ponceroff’s older siblings—Jake, Tony, Frank, George, Charley, and James—were born in Pennsylvania. Siblings Katie, Margaret, Mary, Raymond, and Louis were born in West Virginia. Raymond was Bert’s twin.

According to the 1930 Federal Census, Cora Ponceroff was already a widow, living with the children in Jere, Monongalia County. The older boys were coal miners. In 1940, according to the census, Tony and James worked in the mines, while Margaret was an assistant to the public schools’ registrar. Raymond and Bert were laborers in the school system.

In 1942, tragedy struck the family when James Ponceroff was killed in a mine explosion in July. The explosion in Pursglove No. 2 killed 20 miners. As the West Virginia Encyclopedia describes the event,

By 1942, despite decades of production, the numerous coal operations of the Scotts Run district near Morgantown had never experienced a mining disaster. Then, with the mines in full production for World War II, three disasters within eight months killed 89 miners.

The first of these disasters occurred in May at Osage and killed 53 miners.

[Then] on July 9, 1942, a roof fall in nearby Pursglove No. 2 Mine suspended a volume of coal dust into a methane-charged atmosphere and dislodged a trolley wire. An arc between the wire and track ignited the mixture and sent an explosion through two of the mine’s sections, killing 20 [one of whom was, of course, James Ponceroff].

The third disaster occurred in January of 1943, when a foreman, a motorman, and a mine crew perished. (Paul H. Rakes, “Osage and Pursglove Mine Disasters,” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia, 12 May 2016, accessed 3 May 2017, https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1781.)

U.S. Army World War II Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, show that Bert Ponceroff registered at Clarksburg, West Virginia, on July 23, 1943. He was single with dependents, which probably referenced his mother and his younger siblings, and his record shows that he had one year of high school. He eventually was assigned to the 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, Company F as part of the 7th Army. The 45th was known as the “Thunderbirds.”

Meanwhile, Raymond entered the Navy in 1943.

Given the service record of Bert Ponceroff’s unit, it would appear that he was involved in Operation Dragoon, which involved the 45th Infantry Division from August 15 through September 14, 1944, in southern France. Research revealed no record of his entering Europe, but it’s possible he took part in at least one campaign previous to entering Operation Dragoon.

A brief history of his division recounts the operation thus:

Initially to be undertaken simultaneously to Operation Overlord in Normandy, Dragoon was postponed until mid-August due to shortages in landing craft needed to carry out both landings. The 45th landed against light resistance and began the rapid advance inland, spearheading the drive for the Belfort Gap. After coming ashore near Ste. Maxime, just southwest of Cannes, the division headed west towards Marseille before turning north at Peyrolles. The German defenders were unable to effectively stage a cohesive defense against the rapid advance of the Seventh Army and by September 1st, the 45th had taken Meximieux. In 15 days the Division had moved approximately 250 miles from the landing beaches. By September 15th, the Thunderbirds advanced only 75 more miles, indicating that the German defense was strengthening as the Seventh Army approached the Vosges Mountains. (“A Brief Outline of 45th Infantry Division: WWII History,” I&R Platoon Website, accessed 3 May 2017, http://www.iandrplatoon.org/45th%20ID%20History.html.)
45th Division landing

45th Infantry Division lands at Sainte Maxime, France, August 15, 1944. National Archives and Records Administration, Signal Corps Photo 193147

Though the Germans were unable to mount a stable and effective defense, skirmishes occurred as the Germans retreated, which cost the Allies 12,000 casualties of the 175,000 – 200,000 Allied troops that were involved. Among them was Pfc. Bert Ponceroff on September 8, 1944. Operation Dragoon is credited with having liberated France. (“Operation Dragoon,” Historynet.com, accessed 3 May 2017, http://www.historynet.com/operation-dragoon#articles.)

Raymond Ponceroff

Machinist Mate 3c Raymond “Jumbo” Ponceroff. Source unknown

Although no photo of Bert Ponceroff was available at the time of this writing, his file at the West Virginia State Archives includes a photo of his twin. Machinist Mate 3c Raymond Ponceroff served from 1943 through 1945. His memory of the war was receiving word of his twin brother Bert’s death from wounds received in action in France on September 8, 1943. Other sources give the date of Bert Ponceroff’s death as 1944. Thus, the year stated in Raymond’s “war memory” is most assuredly an inaccuracy, as Bert did not enlist until July of ’43 and would not have had time to train; moreover, the 1944 date coincides with Operation Dragoon.

An announcement of last rites for Bert Ponceroff was published in the Morgantown Post on May 5, 1945. He is buried in East Oak Grove Cemetery in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Ponceroff headstone

Headstone for Pfc. Bert Ponceroff, East Oak Grove Cemetery. Photo courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Bert’s twin brother, Raymond Ponceroff, lived until 2006. Cora Ponceroff lived until 1962.

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens, with editorial assistance from Patricia Richards McClure
April 2017

Honor...

Bert C. Ponceroff

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.


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