Schweitzer: Memories from War World II
NEW LONDON – Mention Leonard Schweitzer’s name at New London Nursing and Rehabilitation Center and many immediately say, “Oh, he has great stories!”
Getting the chance to sit down with Schweitzer was a privilege, to say the least. He began his story of World War II when he started basic training in 1944, in Fannon, Texas. From there, he went to San Francisco and took a ship to the 77th infantry division, third platoon, third squad in Leyte.
“When we arrived in Leyte, we had to help rescue nurses in the hospital that had been captured by the Japanese. We took the hospital back over and nurses came running out. I had one jump in my foxhole and stay there for about a day,” Schweitzer remembered.
Schweitzer sat quietly for a moment, gathering his thoughts, then continued his story. “The night before we invaded Okinawa, the landing craft pulled up beside our ship. The waves were crashing so badly that it made it difficult to board the landing craft. I ended up getting my knee caught in the rope ladder and I was flipped underneath the landing craft, I wasn’t the only one, several us had that happen to us. They pulled me out and we boarded the craft and made it ashore in Okinawa,” Schweitzer said.
He smiles a little at the memory and then brightens up when he remembers his buddy’s name from the war. “Joe Studdard from Alabama, he was a good friend of mine during the war,” he said.
He then begins talking about the invasion. “We started at the end of the island, we had to stay low to the ground. We kept losing troops at we went, the gunfire was intense. The second day, we went forward and we had to really watch what we were doing. I was a sharp-shooter, I had to pick off enemies and if you heard the ‘ping’ of the helmet, you knew you got them.
“On the fourth day, the enemy began picking off our snipers, I took four bullets to the hip and two in the knee. They were firing pretty strong. They called a tank to come pick me up, but the first two were destroyed before they could. I was hit at seven in the morning, and needed covered. Since it had been raining, the tanks caused massive grooves in the mud and I rolled into one of the grooves it created,” Schweitzer said, then grows quiet for a minute as the memory forms in his mind.
“It was getting late in the afternoon and I saw a tank coming towards me, it drove over me, they had to pull me up through the bottom. I could hear the bullets hitting the side of the tank, my friend, Joe Studdard, was hit five minutes before me,” remembers Schweitzer.
“They cleaned me up enough inside the tank so I could stay in the tents. Then they eventually flew me to Guam. I was there for a short period of time, then moved to Hawaii, then finally Palm Springs, Calif. There, I had surgery and was put in a body cast. I was in bed for two months before they could use an old wooden wheelchair to get me around,” Schweitzer said, and then smiles a little because he remembers a man named Bernstein who liked “to get special stuff to eat, and was loud.”
Schweitzer then talked about being in a body cast for seven months. “They had these little doors by my hip and my knee so they could drain the wounds. Those wounds drained for about four years. All in all, I was in the hospital for over a year and a half. I was finally taken to Battle Creek, Mich., where I was discharged. I had been married before I went in, and had a little boy while I was away, but when my wife visited me, she didn’t even recognize me.
“Many wives, fathers, mothers,
etc. didn’t remember their sons, husbands, because of how sickly they were. The war really took a toll on them.”
As he sits quietly for a moment, the feeling of the war really sits in – what some of these men gave up for our country. He then mentions another memory before he moves on to talk about his book. “Before we went to Leyte, we would swim off the ship near New Guinea. The water was so clear, you could see all the way to the bottom. There was a shark; I swear it could eat two whole men in one bite. After that shark, there wasn’t much swimming in the water,” he says, then laughs.
Schweitzer then tells how he was mentioned in a book called, “Operation Iceberg: The Invasion and Conquest of Okinawa in World War II,” by Gerald Astor. His cousin ordered the book in large print for him and this book tells about his experience and the experience of the other boys and people involved in this battle.
“I ordered a few more books and gave some to my grandchildren, to the public library in New London and to New London High School,” Schweitzer said. He really wanted to share his experience with others and enjoys talking about his days in the war.
One final memory from Schweitzer was, “the most beautiful fireworks of your life was the ammunition exploding in the air before we reached shore.”