Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Michael T. Vernillo April 20, 1918 - March 12, 2017 Hair Stylist Was Ww II Hero, Raconteur

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Michael T. Vernillo April 20, 1918 - March 12, 2017 Hair Stylist Was Ww II Hero, Raconteur

Article excerpt

During World War II in 1944, Army Tech Sgt. Michael Vernillo, 25, of Burgettstown was captured by a Nazi officer and a Wehrmacht soldier. Having learned a little German in high school, he understood when the officer ordered the soldier to shoot him. Sgt. Vernillo then pulled a pistol from his holster and killed them both.

A swastika armband taken from the officer that day was recently rediscovered by family members searching through Mr. Vernillo's belongings at his North Side home. He died March 12 of complications following hip surgery. He was 98.

An articulate and passionate storyteller, Michael T. Vernillo had no shortage of tales to tell about his part in a savage military campaign that started at Omaha Beach in France on June, 6, 1944, and ended on German soil. He dug in at the Battle of Saint-Lo, nearly froze during the Battle of the Bulge, saw Soviet tanks lined up on the east bank of the River Elbe and was awarded four Bronze Stars. In 2014, he became a member of the French Legion of Honor.

"He could bring tears to your eyes telling how his officers and friends died, but he didn't like to talk about the times when he had to kill to survive," said his friend and fellow veteran, Frank Losos of Thornburg.

Mr. Vernillo was the oldest of three boys born in Burgettstown, Washington County, to Italian immigrants Dominic and Julia Muscato Vernillo. Impressed by a local hairdresser who always had a fancy car and pretty girlfriends, he worked as a laborer to earn money to attend cosmetology school in Pittsburgh. Months after he and a friend opened a hair salon in 1941, Mr. Vernillo was drafted. He was at home on leave the day Pearl Harbor was bombed.

After training for two years in England, the young member of the 29th Infantry Division climbed over the side of a landing craft during the second wave of Americans to arrive at Omaha Beach.

"He described what a bloodbath that whole day was, how they had to bulldoze bodies off the sand so the boats could land," said Mr. …

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