Frank Wawrynovic: Invasion altered life of Osceola Mills native

June 6, 2004November 8, 2007 

Frank Wawrynovic knew how his tour of duty with the U.S. Army's 29th Division was going to end.

Oh, he didn't know the specifics, down to hours and minutes and an exact coordinate on a map, but his gut instinct told the Osceola Mills native that wherever this invasion of Europe ended, he wouldn't be there to witness it.

"I just figured I'd either be killed or wounded," said Wawrynovic, who was a Ranger in the 115th Battalion.

Virtually every man who crowded into the landing craft that headed for the Normandy beaches 60 years ago today felt the same way. They knew the odds, knew how lucky they would have to be to survive.

Yet, they went.

"I can't describe it," said Wawrynovic during a conversation in the kitchen of his Clearfield home one morning last week. "You were scared, but you were so involved in what you were doing. You just did what you had to do instinctively. You were concentrating on what was happening there."

The 115th hit Omaha Beach right behind the 116th, which was the first unit to land. If you've studied the history of the D-Day invasion, you know that the 116th was the unit that included the contingent of soldiers from Bedford, Va. That town lost 22 sons that day, 19 of them on the beach.

Wawrynovic's mission as a forward scout was to get to the high ground beyond the beach, beyond the horrific carnage in the surf and on the sand.

"Get off the beach, that's what we had to do," Wawrynovic continued. "You just get caught up in the action, and other things don't seem to matter. You really don't have time to get scared. But some guys just couldn't take it. They just stayed there on the beach, and that was it."

Just getting off the beach was no guarantee of safe passage. There were acres of hell ahead of the men who climbed the bluffs to the high ground. Ahead of them lay the hedgerows, where the fighting was done at close quarters, across sunken roads, and in once pastoral meadows and orchards where bloated corpses of cattle and horses added to the horrific landscape.

It was there, 12 days after D-Day, that Wawrynovic's war ended.

As the advance scout, he was far ahead of his unit, moving along a hedgerow when he narrowly missed being hit by machine-gun fire. But though he was unscathed, he was also pinned down, unable to move without exposing himself to that same gun. Eventually, another soldier ran toward him and was killed, falling toward Wawryn ovic.

Wawrynovic broke from his cover and tried to escape over the hedgerow, but the German gunner was alert and hit Wawrynovic three times -- twice in his feet and once in his stomach -- before he could get over the hedgerow to safety.

There, his story took a life-altering turn.

The battalion surgeon, Dr. Elmer Norval Carter, and two medics, all of whom were wearing the Red Cross symbol identifying them as noncombatants, came to Wawrynovic's aid. All three were killed in the process. Wawrynovic later crawled to safety after dark and was shipped back to England to begin recuperating from his wounds.

Wawrynovic and Carter's son met several years ago, and since then, Walter Carter has written a book -- "No Greater Love, No Greater Sacrifice" -- about his father's war experiences, based on 150 letters he had written to his wife during the war. Walter Carter recently visited Wawrynovic in Clearfield.

Once he returned home from the war, Wawrynovic attended Penn State, where he obtained both bachelor's and master's degrees in forestry and wildlife management. He formed his own company, which cleared and maintained rights of way for power lines and pipelines. He and his wife, Stella, who was an Army nurse during the war, have been extremely generous with donations and scholarships in memory of their three children, none of whom lived to adulthood.

"It had nothing to do with the war," she said.

Her husband, who is now 87, has returned to Normandy at least four times since that day in 1944 when his instincts proved right.

"Anyone who made it all the way through the war without being hit or killed was very lucky," he said. "Very few of the men in the original 29th (Division) made it all the way through the war."

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