Guy Prestia: Keep It Clean 


Examining a wide range of military records and other government data as far back at 1819, historians tell us that rates of suicide while in uniform have fluctuated greatly from era to era, war to war. The highest peak on record occurred in 1883, with more than 118 deaths per 100,000 (the typical way suicides are measured against a general population). The next highwater mark (nearly 30 deaths per 100,000) came in 2012 during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Surprisingly, suicides during WWII were relatively rare, estimated at only 5 per 100,000.
Of course, we must be cautious when considering these numbers; confusing bureaucratic record keeping, inadequate attention to the issue, and the profound social stigma surrounding suicide in the military are all confounding variables. In all likelihood, the numbers underreport the true number of military suicides. Moreover and until recently, we’ve had very little little historical data by which we can link veteran suicides rates to active duty experiences perhaps years and decades later.
WWII veterans, for example, suffered greatly from post wartime trauma–and suicide. In “The History of PTSD in the Military” (Home Base website, June 29, 2021), Danielle Leahy writes, “Cultural norms of the time promoted and even expected a male attitude in which men were ‘masculine,’ strong, and resilient. In order to fit into this mold, most male veterans avoided speaking about their traumas in fear of appearing weak or ‘crazy.’ Likewise, WWII veterans were celebrated upon their return home as the American public viewed the war as a victorious one, one that unified the country behind a common cause. This only reinforced many veterans’ desires to remain quiet about their struggles, due to survivor’s guilt and the pressure to reintegrate seamlessly back into society . . . making it extremely difficult for anyone to admit to any inner distress or turmoil.”
But during WWII, suicide in uniform was indeed rare and uncommon. However, WWII veteran Guy Prestia of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, encountered a military suicide on the shores of Italy nearly 80 years ago.
His story, “Keep It Clean,” is as tragic and sorrowful as the event itself.
This audio short story is adapted from our oral history interview with Guy Prestia in January 2015 by The Social Voice Project’s Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative.

On this episode of Argot: Audio Short Stories from the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Collection, WWII veteran Guy Prestia of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania shares a story about a young man who was unprepared for battle, as originally told in January 19, 2015 to the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.  This audio short story is engineered and produced by Kevin Farkas.

During WWII, Guy Prestia of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania was among the first Army troops to reach Europe through North Africa, Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio. From June 1943 through Allied Occupation, Guy served with the 45th Infantry Division, a unit formed out of the Oklahoma Army National Guard from the American Southwest.

Official military records state that the 45th Division endured 511 days of combat and more than 63,000 casualties. By war’s end it was a tough, seasoned outfit. But it wasn’t always that way. “We really didn’t know what we were doing at first,” Guy admits. Mistakes were made. There were tragic friendly fire accidents in the fog of war, literally.  And some casualties were neither from the enemy or friendly fire.  Guy tells the story . . .

The original interview was recorded January 19, 2015 by the Veteran Voices of Pittsburgh Oral History Initiative. This audio short was engineered and produced by Kevin Farkas.