Thursday, December 25, 2008

REMEMBERING WWII FROM A RESIDENT’S PERSPECTIVE

Pine Lake PLAINTALK

By Paul Jasionowski

Mr. Paul Gumz has been a resident of Pine Lake since 1963. We know
him as the man who decorates his front yard with lighted displays for just
about every holiday. Within the last few years, I have gotten to know him
as a gentleman and a World War II veteran.

Where are you from? Chicago, Illinois. I was born in 1922.

Were you drafted, or did you volunteer? I was drafted into the army. I finished high school in 1940; worked in a foundry/steel mill- Linkbelt was the name. They made ship propellers for the U.S. and British Navy. My draft was deferred until January, 1943. Basic training was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

What did you do in the army? I manned a heavy, 30- caliber machine gun. In September, 1943, I joined the 15 Regiment, H Company, 3 th rd Division of the 5th Army in Italy. We fought in the Monte Casino Campaign. In December I developed frozen feet, otherwise known as trench foot. Went into the hospital December 24th. Christmas Day I was sent to a hospital in Naples. Christmas evening, the German Luftwaffe bombed the hell out of Naples. They were trying to destroy the docks in the harbor. The U.S. Air Corps didn’t have air supremacy at that time. We were evacuated by hospital ship to Oran, North Africa. I spent two months in the hospital, then another month to rehabilitate. I was sent back to Palermo, Sicily, on limited duty and trained as a front line medic with the 56th Medical Battalion. After I was sent back on duty, we traveled from Berzite, North Africa, to Palermo on an LST, (land ship trucks/tanks), large ship where the bow opens up to enable the trucks and tanks to drive out right onto the beach. While traveling from North Africa to Palermo, a German u-boat shadowed us for the entire trip. The ship’s crew fired at the surfaced u-boat to keep it at bay. The u-boat needed to get close to the LST. The LST had a shallow, flat hull which a torpedo could not hit. As we arrived in Palermo, a liberty ship, (transport ship), left Palermo and was sunk by the same u-boat. Ships were sent out to rescue the survivors. We crossed the Strait of Messina by ferry into Italy. Mount Vesuvius, near Pompeii erupted, spewing ash and smoke while we were traveling up the Italian coast. That was quite an experience. I was sent back to Monte Casino.

What campaigns were you in besides Monte Casino? I was in the Anzio Campaign, then Rome. We went 100 miles past Rome, then pulled back. We trained for an amphibious assault. We were in the first wave of the invasion of Southern France near Cannes. The Germans were completely surprised. We came in on an LCI (landing craft infantry ship). Our ship was hit many times by German shells; otherwise, resistance was sporadic. We joined up with the 7th Army. We traveled close to the Swiss border, mountainous terrain. Continued through Lyon, Grenoble, Moulhouse, then over the Rhine River and into Germany, treating casualties along the way. In April, 1945, we were traveling toward Munich and ran out of gas. All the gas went to the tanks. After receiving gas, we traveled all night. We received an intelligence report that there was a train load of prisoners arriving at a concentration camp near the town of Dachau. The train arrived a day or two before we arrived. The guards machined- gunned and killed everyone on the
train. The prisoners were from the Balkan States. We went in with the tanks and infantry as they smashed through the gate. It was a horrible sight. Dead bodies stacked like cordwood. The inmates were in bad shape. They were walking skeletons. We could not feed them; it would have killed them. We had a soldier who could interpret for us. He asked where the guards were. The inmates pointed to the cellars of the guard houses. We found six or eight of them. One guard was pointed out as a specially mean one. He was very arrogant to us. We handed him over to the prisoners and they severely beat him. One G. I.. handed a pistol to an inmate to finish him off. We stayed for two days until the hospital unit arrived to relieve us. We traveled on to Munich. The Germans threw the Volkssturm (Homeguard) at us. They consisted of children and old men. General Patch, commander of the 7th Army didn’t want to expend any more American lives. He was a good general. He sent in the artillery, and they blasted the outskirts of Munich. It wasn’t much of a fight. The battle lasted three to four hours. We went through Munich three
or four days later. The buildings were bombed out. We traveled through Bavaria to
Bad Reichanal, Austria. It was a resort town. We were the occupation force, so we stayed in the hotel and slept on featherbeds. It was terrific, almost like going to heaven. During that time the war ended. I went into the army occupation force stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. It was a beautiful city. It didn’t get bombed during the war. I did this until October, 1946, when I was discharged.

What was the worst experience for you during the war? There were a hell of a lot of them. The Southern France Invasion. Our ship was hit many times. When I returned to Casino as a medic, the German Luftwaffe dropped an antipersonnel bomb. An antipersonnel bomb is one bomb which opens into little bombs. The Germans dropped the bomb from an airplane. It landed amongst our tents. Everyone hit the deck. Miraculously, no one was wounded. Most of the tents had lots of holes in them or were completely shredded. Getting straffed by German airplanes was pretty awful.
Getting trench foot: In Monte Casino we had to stay in our foxhole during the day because the Germans had the high ground and they could see right down on us. Water was always in the foxhole, no matter how much we bailed it out. That’s how I developed trench foot. The food: It was usually hash/beans or stew. The stew caused diarrhea. The hash/beans caused gas. The German jet: One day I watched one fly by. I didn’t know what it was. If the Germans had gasoline for their airplanes and jets, they would have had a time with us. As we traveled through Germany, the autobahn was lined with miles of airplanes and jets.

What was the best experience for you during the war? Touring Rome. Touring the Vatican. Seeing the beautiful paintings in the Sistine Chapel and the cross that Christ died on. Seeing the sights of Rome. That was the best experience.

Where were you at the time of the German surrender? Bad Reichanal, Austria.

What did you do after the war? I went back to Chicago. I worked on the El as a motorman. Later, I joined the post office as a letter carrier. My feet couldn’t take the Chicago winters. I moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, at the end of 1949, where I met my wife Dorothy. We were married in 1952. I worked for W.T. Grant department store. I transferred to Atlanta in 1963 and went back to work for the post office. That’s when I moved to Pine Lake. We both retired in 1992.

Any reflections on the war 60 years later? It took a long time to get over the war, especially Dachau. I didn’t quite get over it until I sat down after I retired and documented my memories. Then it eased it somewhat. Prior to that, I would never watch any war movies or documentaries. Now I do. I was thankful to be in the European theater instead of the Pacific theater. The Japanese were crazy as hell. When you’re 21, you think that you’re invincible. The Germans had far better firepower than we did. We just had more of it, that’s all. It was a war we had to win. We were unprepared for it, but we all had patriotism.

Copyright © 2005 Paul J. Jasionowski

Paul Jasionowski is a music specialist for the DeKalb County School System, musicdirector/conductor for the Atlanta Musicians' Orchestra, and Principal Percussionist/Assistant Timpanist for the Gainesville, Ga. Symphony Orchestra. He enjoys interviewing people in his areas of special interest, and has had the opportunity to talk with Jaime Escalente, the famed math teacher on whom the movie “Stand and Deliver” is based; and Saul Goodman, timpanist for the New York Philharmonic for 46 years. World War II has been particularly meaningful to him as he lost two relatives in the death camps in Poland, and most of his male relatives are veterans of that war.

2 comments:

Meredith said...

Interesting to me. I went with one of Paul Gumz' sons in the 1970's. Mr. Gumz was, as I remember, a kind and gentle man. Not one to talk too much. I never knew about his WWII experience. I am sorry I didn't have the maturity at the time to find out. And I am sorry to hear of his passing. I remember Dorothy well, especially as she smiled with a glint in her eyes while peering at me from behind her glasses. I hope the rest of the family is well and have thought of them often in the decades since... for so many memories and so many reasons. If the word gets passed on, please send my well wishes and God bless. Meredith

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