Joseph “Bob” Pocoroba doesn’t think he’s a hero. But many others disagree – including the government of France, which recently bestowed upon the 95-year-old Brick Township resident the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor for his actions as a U.S. Army soldier during World War II which led to the liberation of a French town in 1944.
The French ceremony was held last month in New York City. Back home in Brick, Pocoroba was honored Tuesday night by township officials, with Mayor John Ducey declaring Thursday Joseph “Bob” Pocoroba Day in town.
With a sharp memory and sharper wit, Pocoroba recalled his time overseas fighting the war, during which he also fought malaria and a bout of blindness brought on by an allergy to native plants during the allied invasion of southern France.
“My wife said nothing would happen to me because she said so many Novenas,” he joked.
It was Pocoroba’s leadership and bravery in the French town of Bitche on Dec. 31, 1944 that earned him a Bronze Star and ultimately the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, the French equivalent of knighthood.
Pocoroba, at the time a sergeant, was in charge of a howitzer crew when another officer requested assistance in the heated battle that was in progress, saying his men were surrounded by Germans. Despite taking incoming fire and being largely unable to see where he was aiming, Pocoroba kept on the gun, directing fire at the enemy for four long, grueling hours. Pocoroba’s skill and precision was key to the eventual victory of the Americans in the battle, as he only had 50 yards of clearance between friendly and hostile forces.
Eventually, the enemy withdrew, which led to the liberation of Bitche.
“I don’t think I’m a hero because I was just a sergeant and did what I was trained to do,” said the humble Pocoroba. He did submit to the fact that he did his job well, “or I wouldn’t be here right now.”
“Everybody should be taking the time to know the stories, or when this generation is gone, we won’t have those stories anymore,” said Councilwoman Marianna Pontoriero, who added that it was the township council’s honor to have Pocoroba at the meeting.
Pocoroba returned home to the United States in the summer of 1945, and soon afterward married his high school sweetheart, Doris. Though she died some years ago, Pocoroba has been a Brick resident for nearly three decades and said he was thankful for the honor by Ducey and the township council.
“I’ve lived in Brick for 27 years, and I don’t think I’d want to live anywhere else,” said Pocoroba.
After the meeting, a neighbor who was in attendance said Pocoroba continues serving his community to this day, and has been instrumental in organizing help for neighbors in Greenbriar II, where he lives, who need assistance with wheelchairs or the mobility to get to doctors appointments.
Now, as for being a French knight, no formalities are needed if you see Pocoroba around town.
“You don’t have to call me Sir,” he said with a smile.