Small town parades are the best because they are informal and intimate. The crowd is spread out, and there are lots of enthusiastic kids who don’t have to be held up to see. Our Red Cross participated in the Lehigh Acres Parade. I drove the Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV), that big red truck that looks like an ambulance. “Scrubby Bear” walked from side to side giving “high fives” to elementary school kids and posing for pictures with them.
Also, having the chance connect with someone when visiting a town (even to a near-by town) makes travel much more rewarding. Our float theme is “Supporting Our Military.” There were a few vets on the float, but George Krumenaker, a World War II veteran, felt he was smarter not to spend all that time in the sun. He rode with me in the ERV, we arrived to get ready for the eleven o’clock parade at nine, and there was plenty of time to chat.
George was a Chief Quartermaster piloting LST 351 (landing ship, tank) at Sicily, Anzio, Salerno, and in the second wave at Utah Beach on Normandy. He was also present at Bizerte, Tunisia prior to the invasion of Sicily.
Movies made me erroneously think an LST was one of those little boats that took soldiers onto the beach. His LST was about 100 yards long, had a Navy crew of around 90 to 100 and took six of those small boats, “LCVPs,” and a battalion of soldiers. Sailing across the Channel each time, it later brought tanks, trucks and supplies, and served as a hospital ship evacuating the wounded.
He said while waiting two months at Bizerte, bombers came precisely at midnight every night so his nerves made it impossible to sleep before then. He could see the bombers in the search lights; he could see them open their bomb bays; he could see the bombs fall.
He called LST 351 a “lucky ship.” In Sicily, he was ordered to pull out just before a shell from a twenty inch railroad-bourn cannon hit where they had been beached. At Anzio, his captain had a pipe-frame tower built on the bridge so he could get up higher to see better. But then during the battle, the captain was afraid to be up there and wanted George to do it – he refused.
They were beached a full day to unload, and had to catch the tide just right or would have to remain another day, all the time under enemy artillery shelling and aircraft strafing. All they had was a three inch gun, so most of the Navy crew was frustrated because they had no way to fight back; they were just sitting targets. He told of following some other crew under the three inch gun at Utah Beach to get protection from bullets and shrapnel. He felt someone kicking and pushing to force him in further to make more room. He turned, and it was his captain.
Not in battle, but just coming into Naples, he witnessed the March 1944 eruption of Mount Vesuvius and described the ash column, the lightning, the lava flow and the trees and houses going up in a “pfft” as it hit them.
It is too bad these stories are being lost as that generation passes on, but what a privilege to hear them!