Paul Cannarella: Normandy veteran shares story 70 years after D-Day

By: Brian Louwers | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published June 4, 2014

 Paul Cannarella, 91, served in North Africa and Sicily with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division before he landed in Normandy on June 9, 1944.

Paul Cannarella, 91, served in North Africa and Sicily with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division before he landed in Normandy on June 9, 1944.

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Paul Cannarella
91, Roseville
Utah Beach

Paul Cannarella said he was lucky as he spoke about his service in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division during World War II. The division, bearing the famous “Hell on Wheels” insignia, saw action in North Africa and Sicily before its deployment in Normandy. 

Cannarella was there through it all. 

Before heading to Europe, he arrived in Casablanca on Christmas Eve 1943 and watched the Germans greet the Americans by bombing the harbor, while the division waited safely in the hills outside of the city. He later drove 2 1/2 ton trucks loaded with fuel and ammunition across the desert and through the narrow mountain passes of Sicily. 

Cannarella landed at Utah Beach on June 9, and the division was involved in fierce fighting around Carentan and Saint-Lô. He recalled an incident that took place on his first night in France, while he guarded his truck in a field where the division camped. 

“I’m standing by a tree. Pitch black, can’t see a thing. Everybody’s sleeping. I’m standing there with my Tommy gun. I heard footsteps,” Cannarella said. “I turned off the safety, put it on rapid fire. I couldn’t see a thing, but I heard footsteps. This was June. Cold sweat was running down my arm, you know, and I waited and waited. Could you believe a cow walked by? I almost shot a cow.” 

The division later raced across the fields of Western Europe under the fiery General George Patton. 

Cannarella said spirits were high when the tanks and trucks were charging ahead, but that the mood darkened in December 1944 when he found himself driving a half-track through the frozen Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge.

“It was cold and snowy. We were lucky. New Year’s Eve, we found a beet factory to sleep in,” Cannarella said. “We had an old-timer with us. He was 48. He brought out cognac and wine.”

The men had to buy it, of course, and it was payday.

Cannarella said he spent that night in the factory writing a letter by candlelight before rejoining the advance toward Nazi Germany in 1945.

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