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My Own “Louis Zamperini”

September 18, 2015
WWII Veteran

Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort “Unbroken” is about a World War II Prisoner of War survivor named Louis Zamperini. This extraordinary story began with viewers getting a peek of his insubordinate childhood, how he eventually funneled his energy, turned it in the right direction and competed as a runner in the 1936 Olympics. In 1941 he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He survived a B-24 plane crash in the South Pacific, which left him, lost at sea for 47 days all the while being shot at by Japanese bombers and terrorized by sharks. Zamperini thought his salvation was near when he spotted land in the distance until he learned it was Japanese Territory. He was captured and placed in a Japanese labor camp and that is truly where this war hero’s astonishing story began.

After viewing this story of faith and the triumph of the American spirit, the question arises, what stories lye behind our own WWII Veterans?

Roy F. Schmunk, 90, a local of Mendocino County for 16 years was born in 1924 in Hot Springs, South Dakota. He was the fourth and last child of his Russian immigrant father, Henry and American mother, Eva. Schmunk grew up on an Apple Ranch, where his parents turned a small apple pie business into a bakery eventually producing 4,000 loves of bread a day by wood fired ovens. At the age of just five years old, he remembers waking up in the early hours of the morning to help out in the bakery, “Work was just part of living in those days,” Schmunk very matter-of-factly stated.

He was sent off to a Seventh Day Adventist school at the age of 13, completed a couple more years of school in Oregon but ended up finishing high school near his Uncle in Colorado. Soon after graduation he became a Wrapping Machine Operator for Birdseye and in 1944 at 19 years old he was drafted during WWII.

Omar Bradleys 12th Army WWII

Schmunks desire was to follow his already enlisted brothers and go into Medics. He wanted to make it very clear to the recruiters that he did not want to wield a weapon because of his religious views. “I just wanted to take care of people,” Schmunk said. They chose to send him to Roseville, Calif. for Signal Core training anyway.

It was there that Schmunk was approached about a “hot” Ambulance Driver position. Meaning if he took it, he would deploy only after three months of training. Without any hesitation, he accepted, held the title of Technician Fourth Grade and deployed on the large luxury ocean liner turned troop ship, named the SS Il De France. They were on bunks eight feet high; Schmunk was lucky enough to have a porthole, often gazing out, looking for the fatal U-boats.

Arriving in Verdun, France he joined the largest and most powerful army at the time, General Omar Bradley’s 12th army. Stationed only ten miles away from General George Patton’s 3rd Army.

“I was in chow line and heard this terrible roar coming,” said Schmunk.

He recalls looking up in the sky and explaining what looked to him like one big fist, spreading out slowly like fingers over the sky with groups of four or five planes everywhere.

Sergeant Schmunk spent the next two years driving allover France and Germany witnessing the terrible destruction that the war brought and fervently did all that he could to protect and help keep our American Troops healthy.

“I was in the war but I didn’t win it,” the extremely self-effacing Sergeant said with a coy smile.

It is well known that every person who served in WWII put his or her life on the line for our freedom and that is winning the war. Not every man can go into their golden years knowing they lived a meaningful life but Roy F. Schmunk can.

WWII Veteran

In WWII 16,112,566 U.S. Troops served, 405,399 lost their lives and 670,846 were wounded. Only 1,711,000 WWII Veterans are left and according to the Veteran’s Administration are dying at an approximate rate of 550 a day. Let’s remember to take the time and thank them for their service and sacrifice to our country while we still can.





Goldie James

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4 Discussion to this post

  1. Curtis Rupert says:

    Thanks Goldie. We need to not forget this greatest generation.

    • Goldie James says:

      Thanks for the comment Curtis! So true! Stay tuned for a post about WWII flying Ace Dean Laird. I got to meet him last weekend on the USS Hornet. Exciting stuff!

  2. Chrystal says:

    Great story. It’s not possible to write too much about our WWII vets…there are always more stories of theirs to tell!

    • Goldie James says:

      So True Chrystal! We need to get the their stories on paper and show them appreciation before they are all gone. Thanks so much for your comment!

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