Intermission Stories (21)

!8 yer old, Walter Gumula

!8 yer old, Walter Gumula

Walter Gumula

D-Day Frogman

Walter Gumula was a state champion swimmer from Hammond, Indiana and became an 18 year old frogman among the first waves to land on Omaha Beach.  He recounted his experience as:

Their mission was a secret, so Walter and his 6-man crew boarded a British freighter, wearing Army green instead of Navy blue.  The idea was to fool the Nazis into thinking they were regular troops instead of frogmen, the highly-trained underwater demolition experts known today as Navy SEALS.  Their orders were to blow up the fearsome German fortifications on Omaha beach.  But as soon as they boarded the landing craft, the plan went horribly wrong.

“When we got close to the beach, a shell hit the front door and went through the boat.  It went right through a bunch of guys in my unit.  One guy lost an arm and another lost his eyes.  They were all wounded including our ensign.  Anyone who stood up in the boat got hit because machine-gun fire was coming through the open door.  Bullets were flying in.  The boat was drifting.  As soon as it turned away from the beach, those who could, went over the side.”

For months they had trained together closely in Fort Pierce, FL, expecting to assault Pacific beaches.  Now, only Gumula was left on a cold and bloody French beach.  “When I got to the beach, I was all alone, ” he said.  With his crew gone, along with his mission, Walter followed 8 Army engineers up a rope ladder to the top of a cliff where they were trying to take out a German position.

Walter Gumula, today

Walter Gumula, today

They gave him a Browning automatic rifle and told him to lay down covering fire as they crept toward an underground Nazi observation post with knapsacks of plastic explosives, which they threw into the hole.  The blast severed German communication lines to inland artillery.  Gumula asked to stay with the engineers, but the sergeant sent him back to the beach.  “I was young and dumb and didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing.”

Walter began crawling, aiming for a spot where the bluff ended at the beach.  When he dared to raise his head, he was astonished at the scene below.  “I couldn’t believe what I was looking at.  There were literally thousands of boats out there, three lines of ships coming across from England.  One battleship was blasting right over the cliff I was on.  Those shots were coming right over my head.  They sounded like a fast train coming by, making a weird noise.

But the boats were piled up, unable to land.  The troops already on the rocky beach were trapped between withering German fire and a rising tide.  “They were starting to pull back.  I thought they were going to leave us.  The worst barrages were coming from the large gun emplacement pillbox close to the beach.”

equipment for the WWII frogman

equipment for the WWII frogman

Suddenly he watched a destroyer with 5″ guns pull in so perilously close to shore he expected it to run aground.  At point blank range, the ship’s guns blasted apart the German pill box.  Immediately, troops started heading inland across that stretch of beach.  “He saved the whole thing,” Walter remarked.

As the ship turned to head for deeper water, German guns opened up, pounding the Allied armada with massive 14″ and 16″ shells.  Gumula watched the ship get hit 3 times.  “It broke in half and sank immediately.  I actually saw that”

By the time Gumula found the officer in charge of his stretch of beach, shrapnel was raining down like hail on the living and the dead.  “There were literally thousands of bodies,” Walter said as he recalled the events of 70 years ago and related them to reporter, Barbara Marshall, Palm Beach Post.  Mr. Gumula now resides in Port Salerno, FL.

“You never forget it, the look on someone’s face when they die right in front of your eyes.” ______ Walter Gumula, frogman

U.S. Navy SEAL Museum, Fort Pierce, FL

U.S. Navy SEAL Museum, Fort Pierce, FL

 

Click on images to view full-size.

############################################################################################

Farewell Salute – 

Eugene Allen – Harlington, TX; USMC, Cpl., Korea

Kenneth Bradley – Bellville, AR; US Air Force

Allan Berry – Birkdale, NZ; RNZVR, SubLt., WWII

Angelo DiMascio Sr. – Cranston, RI; US Army, WWII, 82nd Airborne

Rosemary Gannon – Highland Falls, NY; civilian employee at West Point 1942 thru 1987

Walter “Cap” Haworth Jr. – Pocatello, ID; US Air Force, Captain (Ret. 20 years), 3 tours Vietnam

Gordon Kendall – Toronto, Can; RC Air Force, WWII

Robert Kranich (100) – Winchester, VA; US Army, Colonel (Ret.), WWII

Jesse Schaudies – Raliegh, SC; US Army, Corps of Engineers, WWII, PTO

#############################################################################################

Advertisements

About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on June 11, 2014, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 81 Comments.

  1. Fact or fiction it would have been an unforgetable experience for the young Walter Gumula.
    I actually thought the movie Bridge over the River Kwai as being correct, until I was advised there was no Bridge over the River Kwai, it was actually The Bridge along The River Kwai.
    I do stand corrected if I have been incorrectly advised.
    Emu aka Ian

    Like

    • Also, the POWs did not blow up the bridge, an Allied aerial did that. You have to be careful believing in Hollywood, they’re in the business to entertain and make money. Good to see you, Ian.

      Like

  2. You bring all the incidents to life with awesome clarity. A tribute to those who served and sacrificed so much, but an indictment of those who caused the bloodshed by inciting people to go to war. Thanks for sharing. Such men and their deeds must be honoured as treasured memories.

    Like

  3. Yet another wonderful and thoughtful post. I could not imagine what it felt like minutes before hitting the beach. What thoughts went through their minds. The first wave must have known their mission would be sacrificial and the last moments of life. The opening scene of Private Ryan to me anyway helped me to understand what those men endured. Chaos and death.

    Like

    • Very true, we can never know precisely what it was like to go in there. Some say Private Ryan was as realistic as it gets in Hollywood and others still say it wasn’t realistic enough – I believe that’s where the individual emotions came into play. There’s no way Hollywood can give us that, even on a 3-D screen. Thanks for taking the time to stop in!

      Like

  4. Such a gut wrenching account. Hard to imagine living with those scenes in your brain afterward.

    Like

    • I believe people are now understanding just why it is difficult for these men to talk about the war. Thank you for sensing the emotional turmoil they went thru, Sue.

      Like

  5. Reblogged this on weggieboy's blog and commented:
    Today is Flag Day in the United States. As much as I want to wave the flag and feel warm and fuzzy to be an American, I am haunted by the stories of those who fought and died to preserve what we have in America. Without those sacrifices, the flag is just a fancy piece of cloth.

    Like

  6. I’ve decided to reblog this today, too. Though I enjoy a display of patriotism – Flag Day – I think the connection between the flag and those who died to give us a little time off from work on July 4th and so on is all too often lost.

    Like

  7. Today is Flag Day. The remembrance you posted today takes on a heavy significance when one realizes how many fought and died under the 48-star flag that tough June day in 1944, and how many fought and died before the scourge of Nazism was brought to a halt if not totally eliminated.

    This – your post today – is a part of the story I’d never heard before, of frogmen trying to soften up German defenses in preparation for the invasion, and it is especially poignant in the context of Mr. Gumula’s comment at the end.

    Like

    • Thank you for reading the story so carefully and for giving us a detailed comment. You and I kid about your two boys all the time, but I think it’s good for everyone to see your serious side like this. I appreciate you stopping in this morning and commenting, Doug.

      Like

  8. Just unbelievable. And to think so many fathers and husbands and son went through such horrors. I was moved by Walter’s thoughts on the last look on a dying man.

    Like

  9. Hi! I nominated you for a Black Wolf Blogger award. Check out my latest post for the further instructions:) Your blog is great and you are very talented!
    Inese

    Like

    • I thank you very much and I am extremely honored, but I am afraid I will have to refuse, just as I have always done in the past. I suppose I should have a disclaimer on the site. I do not have an About page for the same reason – Nothing about this blog has to do with me. I started it for my father Everett Smith, “Smitty”, and his unit the 11th Airborne Division – the honors ALL go to the men. I hope you do not take offense at my refusal and will continue to visit this site, Inese.

      Like

      • Oh not, not at all. And I will continue to visit your site, because it is not only about your Father, but about the era and all the horrors he had to go through. Thank you for your work! My Dad always wanted me to write a book about the War, but he never recovered to tell me the story. He would say ” One day I will tell you everything and you will write it down…” and he would start crying…
        The blog world awards are not a big deal. They are created to spread a word. If you nominate 10 bloggers, your readers check out the links and discover something new:) Even that you refuse the nomination, I won’t delete your link on my post. I still want the others to read your blog.

        Like

        • Thank you very much for your understanding. It is very sad that you were unable to get your father’s story, just as I regret not pressuring mine on more info – I was always concerned about him feeling too much from the memories. That’s why I keep pressing people to try to get the stories. Hope you like today’s Flag Day post as well.

          Like

  10. I enjoyed comparing the two photos of Wayne Gumula. Even though he was much older in the second photo his facial features haven’t changed much across the years.

    Like

    • Excellent observation, Sheryl. But of course, someone who knows 100 years ago as well as you do, you would see things like that. Thanks for coming by and taking the time to read.

      Like

  11. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    Frankly, I like the name frogman better than SEALS

    Like

  12. singleseatfighterpilot

    Check out stories on Discrepancy on sinking of USS Corry, June 6, 1944.

    Like

    • I thank you for having this post on your site. I firmly believe that the more who honor these types of heroes will turn out to be better people themselves.

      Like

  13. Thank you again for sharing the honor of these men.

    Like

  14. Phew, that is a vivid account. For a while I was actually there – and terrified!

    Like

  15. The destroyer was probably the USS Corry. The official report into her sinking says that she hit a mine, but her captain’s initial report says that she was hit by fire from a shore battery. A German battery claimed to have hit a US warship at the same time as the Corry sank.

    My Dad was trained for the same role as Walter Gumula and would have been in the first wave of a landing in Malaya had the Japanese not surrendered when they did. Afterwards their CO told them that the War Office estimate of their casualty rate had the operation taken place as planned was 90%.

    Like

    • Thanks, Martin – you’re a lifesaver – I appreciate you spotting Gray’s question and me hanging in mid-air! You’re a trove of information!

      Like

  16. Incredible story and WONDERFUL photos of Gumula.

    Like

  17. What a harrowing experience for ANY human being to endure… but when leaders of a nation fail in their “job”, war becomes inevitable. People die. But it angers me to no end if a POTUS – the CIC – dodged his duty to serve or did drugs, too. If everybody were like Clinton, for example, and dodged the draft, there would have been nobody where the bluff met the beach in Mr. Gumula’s brave story.

    Like

  18. The last line cuts to the bone.

    Like

  19. 18. A field of poppies is a field of tears.

    Like

  20. Incredible. such bravery and true grit and guts….

    Like

  21. Do you know the name of the destroyer that destroyed the German gun emplacement?

    Like

    • I’m afraid not. Gumula didn’t mention it and I am not that adept in ETO data to have it. But, maybe you could research and get back to us?

      Like

      • Ah, now you want me to do some work!

        Like

        • Ah, remember those wonderful days when all we had to complain about was having homework to do? I’m in the middle of a book on Tarawa at the moment and being that this “black hole” I call a brain (everything goes in, but very little gets out 😉 ), becomes scrambled very easily – I don’t want to push it. Besides – I just noticed that Martin in the next comment did the work for both of us; zip on back here and see what he has to say, gray.

          Like

  22. Every good war movie should make you realize the true cost of war and to recognize the sacrifices that are made. BTW, it’s been awhile since I heard the term “frogman.”

    Like

  23. What a story. Thank God this young guy knew how to think as well as everything else.

    Like

  24. Amazing story. I can’t get over how young he was.

    Like

  25. Awesome story. My Dad was a UDT Frogman in Korean War. I remember watching a documentary about D-Day and the soldiers climbing up the side of the cliff by rope. This must be Walter Gumula….Great post.

    Like

  26. These stories are so powerful. Trying to put myself in that man’s shoes just makes me realize that “you had to be there” and he was there and we are all so very lucky he (and everybody else) was.

    Like

  27. Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

    Like

  28. I can almost imagine the type of nightmares that Gumula has experienced. So many horrific things happening all at once.

    Like

  29. Pierre Lagacé

    I concur Sir…
    And these people have to guts to parade in front of graves in photo-ops.

    I think someone once wrote that Spielberg’s scenes of D-Day landings did not convey what really had happened on the beaches.

    I could be wrong.

    Like

    • I’ve heard both views – perfect depiction and “Hollywood-style”, so I suppose it boils down to personal experience and observation – and memories thru time.

      Like

      • Pierre Lagacé

        I prefer the kind of stories I read on your blog Sir…

        Like

      • singleseatfighterpilot

        Hollywood has overworked the call, “Incoming!” Gumula provides sound realism with his “fast train” analogy of the 14″ to 16″ shell. Perhaps the sound of zipping and thudding bullets was one thing Speilberg got right about being on the beach?

        Like

        • If a shell coming at you sounds like a roaring train, is someone yelling ‘incoming’ really necessary – especially if it’s Hollywood? Whenever a person watches a movie, everything has to be taken with a grain of salt unless it’s a documentary of course. They didn’t even produce “Bridge Over the River Kwai” accurately – anything for the dramatics.

          Like

  30. The last quote said what war is really all about.

    Like

  31. This is the true ‘blood and guts’ that John Wayne and Errol Flynn never manage to portray.

    This is the the true meaning of war that armchair hawks and paper warriors can never understand: I say again that nobody, no matter what his office, should ever be able to commit a nation—any nation—to war without a clear mandate from the people in the form of a single plebiscite specific to that very question.

    And the ‘hawks’ should put their money where their mouth is and be in the first wave to hit the beach—regardless of age, condition, or office.

    Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: For D-Day, Two survivors sing a WWII foxhole song … | Pacific Paratrooper

  2. Pingback: Memorial Day – 2015 | Pacific Paratrooper

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: