Sunday, November 12, 2017

Veteran's Day, H. Smith Shumway: My Favorite Veteran

H. Smith Shumway, at age 21, a year before he landed on D-Day.
My father-in-law, Hyrum Smith Shumway, was one of the best friends of my life. If you were lucky to have met him, he would have probably told you a joke or a funny story immediately because he loved to laugh.  He could out pun anybody on the planet. If he had his harmonica, violin, or a piano nearby, he would have readily played for you. If he had his bag of magic tricks with him, he would have given a professional-like magic show to entertain you. He was one of the most prolific readers I have ever known. He read a few books a week. But not on the printed page. He used braille and "talking books" because he was blinded in World War II. His sight was taken away from him six weeks after he landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 when he was 22.

His memorable wit and encyclopedic knowledge of 1930 and 1940 songs were legendary. His 67 years of darkness only turned him into a man of remarkable inspiration and hope. He did not consider himself amazing or unusual. He only wanted to be independent and live his life with purpose and value. Even in his later years, he scaled climbing walls and repelling courses in his 70's, went cross-country skiing, hiked mountains, won jitter-bug contests and swam several miles a week. Living in darkness did not derail him. I heard him often say, ""I might not have sight. But I have insight."

Smith Shumway lived life with immense cheer, hope, and laughter--despite his blindness. Somehow as a passenger on the Queen Elizabeth ocean liner (a converted hospital ship) bound for America from England to take him home from the war, he committed to living a full life that knew no limits. Being blind would dramatically change his life, but not his resolve to be happy. Grandpa Shumway, as he was called by hundreds and perhaps thousands of people, was a man of great faith in God. He truly never doubted his ability to make a difference. After marrying his college sweetheart, they raised eight children--seven daughters and one son. His family now has nearly 100 great-grandchildren.

He spent three years in rehabilitation--starting in a makeshift tent hospital in Normandy after he was hit by a landmine, then on to several hospitals in England, and eventually for two years in the United States. One nurse told him she had never seen so much shrapnel in one body. He received the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart. At the end of his life, he was knighted and given the French Legion of Honor, which is the highest award the French government gives.

 In 1996 we brought him back to Omaha Beach for the first time since he had landed on the beach and climbed to secure the beachhead. As we walked together on those sandy beaches over 50 years later, the seagulls chirped and flew over us. With the tide washing our feet, he continually spoke of the quiet and peace on the beach. Although he had not been on the beach for 52 years, he knew which direction he was on the shore. He could even point, with accuracy, the pillboxes on the hill and a small church steeple on the horizon, that must have been landmarks for him.

Grandpa Shumway helped to liberate a half dozen French villages--with people who live there now who are our close friends. His legend lives on in Normandy and every time his life story is told again. In the English language, the word souvenir is a noun that means to bring home a keepsake, a token of sentimental value. But in French, the irregular verb, se souvenir, means to remember. Grandpa brought home a lifelong souvenir from the war, but losing sight caused him to remember how to live an abundant life. He considered himself blessed. If you saw him, you would never have forgotten his light-filled face. He is my favorite veteran because he causes me to remember how to live with joy and faith--no matter what happens.

Happy Veteran's Day Grandpa. You will be remembered always!

His Story of Normandy as told in his own words......


I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah on November 27, 1921. When the USA entered WW2 in 1941, I was 20 years old. After graduating from college and wanting to go to medical school, I joined the army instead. Everyone wanted to be part of the war effort.

On June 6, 1944, I was a 2nd Lt, and an infantry platoon leader in the First Army Division, 18th Regiment, Company B. My unit was assigned to land on Omaha Beach, in the section called "Easy Red", in the second wave. We rushed down the ramp of the LCI 9landing craft) into water about knee deep and ran up to the beach to re-assemble there. There were dead bodies floating in the water and many on the beach. Some tanks had been hit by artillery. The confusion on the beach made it impossible for me to get my bearings. Death and wreckage were everywhere. German mortar shells were still hitting the beach. The noise from the planes, boats, artillery explosions and gunfire was almost unbearable.

2016 on Utah Beach, Normandy
There was a red-headed fellow with a very white face looking up at me in a kneeling position beach. I stepped back from the sight, and was given a push by a man kneeling on the ground behind me. He yelled, "Do you want to get us both killed?" He was in the process of disarming a land mine. I gestured and muttered something about the red-headed fellow in front of me. The soldier exclaimed, "Don't worry about him. He's dead. Just watch where you put your feet." I then came out of my daze, and was very alert to everything around me.

Before we went over the top of the hill, I looked back and contemplated the scene before me. Hundreds of ships and boats were circling in the Channel. LDI's and LST's were landing men and tanks. Planes were soaring overhead, big shells bursting on land and sea, and the beach covered with men and machines. I thought of the millions of dollars and thousands of lives being spent to wage war and the tragic cost and horror of it all. At the top of the hill. we had to cross a minefield, after which we dug in for a counterattack that never came.

For the next several weeks led my platoon, moving forward during the day and digging foxholes for the night. It was very tedious fighting from hedgerow to hedgerow. After about six weeks, we dug in and held the line.

Le Tronquay, France, the French village,  where Grandpa helped to liberate. The mayor Patricia Gady Duquesne, who helps to remember the veterans who died and fought in her village. There is a plaque in the center of the town that shows Grandpa as the "esteemed citizen of the village."

Finally, our unit was relieved from the front lines and allowed to rest for a few days. I was able to take my first shower since D-Day. It was wonderful! One day after I was relieved, the man who replaced me in my foxhole was killed during a counterattack. At that time and following several other close call encounters with death, I felt that my Heavenly Father had blessed me and spared my life for a reason.

Le Tronquay, France where the people of the village still remember the veterans who fought in their village. Each year a picnic, ceremony, and festivities are planned in most towns in Normandy to remember the men who fought and died in these villages.
On July 27, 1944, a few miles to the west of St. Lo, my life changed forever. I was walking on a narrow sunken road bordered with hedgerows, about one meter behind the tank. Suddenly a horrible explosion occurred, which I learned later was due to an anti-tank mine. Immediately everything went black. I thought, "Something has happened to me and I don't know what. But I will be okay in a second." There was a steady, strong current of air hitting my face, chest, and legs. I seemed to hang suspended.

2016 near Marigny, France where Smith Shumway was blinded when he was 22 years old
There was a deafening sound that just kept ringing, and it seemed as if it would never stop. Finally, however, the strong current of air and the explosion died out. It started to get very weak all of a sudden, and I collapsed on the ground. It occurred to me that one of my legs might be blown off so I used my left hand, which later proved to be the only part of my body that wasn't hit, to feel my legs. My right thigh was bloody. My left kneed was bloody. My right hand, which had been holding my carbine, was just numb. It was all bloody, and whether it had some fingers missing or not, I neither knew or cared right then. My chest was starting to hurt. Feeling it with my left hand, I knew it was a bloody mess also. I couldn't see so I naturally felt my face. It was bloody also. I wondered had been stunned at first, but now the pain was engulfing me.

My aid man, Private Nonamaker, was standing by me then, and how he got to where I was so fast, I never knew. Someone asked why he didn't give me morphine. He replied that he couldn't give it to anyone with a head injury. He said, "How are you, Lieutenant? It's not so very bad. You'll be okay. It always seems worse than it really is. " He kept talking to me in this same manner all the time he was sprinkling sulfa power and dressing my wounds. The pain seemed lessened when the sulfa powder was administered. He was the best aid man I ever knew.

I guess I had lost a lot of blood by now because I suddenly became very cold, and asked for a blanket, which was immediately taken off the tank and thrown on me. The pain which had been getting worse stopped a little as my body started to get cold and my arms and legs became numb. I kept wondering why I didn't pass out, and I sincerely wished I would.

When my aid man was dressing my wounds, I remember thinking, "Golly, maybe I am going to die. Do I want to live? If I can take a deep breath without something breaking or blood rushing to fill my lungs, I'll be ok." When I found out that I
could still breathe well, I knew I wanted to live. I was filled with hope that I wouldn't die because I could still breath.

I remember spitting quite a bit when my aid man came up. There seemed to be fine gravel in my mouth. And after a few seconds of thought, I decided it was my teeth. It was very hard to say anything because there seemed to be a small hole for my mouth, and I couldn't breathe through my nose. My tongue and face were pretty badly swollen, what was left of them. I remember pleading, "Don't cover my mouth with a bandage, or I can't breathe."

When no one seemed to be around me, I said, "Somebody say something. Keep talking." The last thing I remember was calling out my concern about the landmines. Then oblivion came.

I woke up in a field hospital on the Normandy coast. The realization that I was permanently blind came slowly over the next few days. I asked the doctor, "Please tell me what chances there are of my left eye being all right?" (my right eye had already been declared inoperable). He hesitated, then said, "With my experience, I would say about one chance in fifty thousand." Then I knew he had been trying to let me have it slowly.

They told me my right eye would be removed, both legs cleaned out, with shrapnel removed from my chest, my chest sewed up, and my hand fixed.

I asked for some Mormon elders (from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) to come to visit me so I could receive a blessing before the operation. None were available so I asked for some olive oil. Due to wartime shortages, this request was impossible also. They brought me some mineral oil, and I anointed and blessed myself as best as I could. This brought me much needed peace of mind.

Near Marigny, France where Grandpa was blinded with Mitch Quiles, Elias and Hyrum

In addition to blindness, I had lost the right side of my chest, my calf and thigh muscles from one of my legs, and I had shrapnel over my entire body. Some of the shrapnel has been slowly working its way out of my body for over 50 years! I still occasionally get a painful boil on random parts of my body. When it pops, they invariably find a fine metal speck, like a grain of sand. To this day, I consistently trigger the airport devices.

Following the injury, I spent the next two years in a variety of hospitals and rehabilitation centers, recovering from my wounds and adapting to life as a blind person. In 1946, I was hired as a rehabilitation counselor in Baltimore, Maryland for the Maryland State Department of Education. In this capacity, I visited factories and demonstrated to both factory managers and blind people that a blind person could perform a particular task. Often the blind person was more difficult to convince than the factory manager!

H. Smith Shumway, at age 23, in Wyoming when he is back from the war. His hope and confidence never languished, at least for long. His mother taught him, he later said, "Believe in yourself, and the world will believe too." I don't think she would have ever estimated her influential words on her young son.
Once I had proven to all concerned that a blind person could do the job, I was then replaced by one of my blind clients and I went on to the next "opportunity." Over the course of the next several years, I qualified many jobs for my the blind. I was told that I was "leading the nation" every year for ten years, in terms of the number of jobs qualified by a blind rehabilitation counselor.

After gaining the personal self-confidence that I could hold a job and support a family, I proposed to my college sweetheart, Sarah Bagley. I asked, "If you'll sort the socks, read the mail, and drive the car, I will do the rest." She accepted, even though her parents tried to discourage her from marrying a blind person. Ironically, in later life, my father-in-law became blind himself, and I helped him adapt to his new circumstances.

Smith and Sarah Shumway's wedding on September 1, 1948. Sarah knew how to encourage and support Smith, allowing him to feel independent and confident. He did much the repair for the house, the plumbing, painting, retiling the bathroom, etc. Nothing ever deterred him.
We were married September 1, 1948 in the Salt Lake Mormon Temple. My wife and I had eight children--seven girls and one boy. I would always joke by telling people, "I have seven daughters, and every daughter has a brother." He would pause, and hear them audibly gasp, "Fourteen children?" With a smile and chuckle, he would then reply, "No, not fourteen. They all have the same brother."

Smith and Sarah, and thier seven daughters and one son.

1974--Smith and Sarah Shumway in Casper, Wyoming at the Lion's Blind Camp that he founded and ran for 40 years. 
Grandpa lived with us for close to seven years while we raised our children. He gave WW2 talks in the community, played games with the kids, listened to endless recitals, attended hundreds of games, gave magic shows for birthday parties and Cub Scouts, and was the all-round cheerleader for our kids and everybody else's children too. My son, Jonathan, told him the last time he saw him, "Grandpa, you were not only a grandpa. You are one of my best friends." And all his grandkids could say the same!
H. Smith Shumway died at the age of 89 on March 26, 2011.

The Story of The Big Red One By Mitch Quiles, from Volx, France.

The Big Red One was sent from Sicily to England to prepare for Operation Overlord or D-Day. Under the direction of Major General Clarence Ralph Huebner, they, along with the 29th Division, were responsible for the invasion at Omaha Beach. The resistance was fierce, and the Americans were on the verge of a catastrophe. The losses were immense--approximately a 95% casualty rate for the first officers hit on the beach. But the veterans of the North Africa and Sicily campaigns, mixed with new reinforcements, maintained their composure and forced open the Atlantic Wall, defended at Omaha Beach by Germany's 352nd Infantry Division. General Taylor, Commander of the 16th Infantry Regiment of the Big Red One, uttered the famous phrase to rally his troops, " There are only two types of soldiers on the beach--those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now get going up the hill."

On June 6, 1944, Lt. Shumway was part of the B Company, 1st Battalion, 18th Regiment. The 18th Regiment was supposed to hit the beach at 0930 hours, but because of the difficulties encountered by the 16th Regiment, their landing was delayed until about 1300 hours. During that time, the artillery from the naval warships was able to neutralize much of the German defenses, although German artillery continued to land on the beach as the 18th Infantry came ashore. This explains why the B Company suffered relatively few casualties on D-Day. On D-Day, the 1st Division lost 1, 744 men, while the 29th Division lost 2, 240.

Rapidly over the next six days, B Company pressed forward and liberated in succession Colleville-sur-mer, Formigny, Le Tronquay, La Commune, Caumont L-Evente, and La Vacquerie.

During the six weeks that B Company held its frontline position at La Vacquerie, B Company last ten of Lt. Shumway's comrades in arms. Following the six weeks at La Vacquerie, B Company was removed from the front lines for one week, about ten miles behind the lines at Bernesq. On July 27, the first day of the Breakout or Operation Cobra, the 1st Division liberated the towns of La Chapelle-en-Jugar and Marigny to the west of St. Lo. As they passed through this area, Lt. Shumway was seriously wounded by the blast of an anti-tank mine, triggered by a Sherman tanks attached to his B Company. He has been a living example from Omaha Beach until today, of the motto of the Big Red One: "Duty First."