In Remembrance of Frank J. Wawrynovic by Walter F. Carter
Eulogy for Frank J. Wawrynovic (May 26, 1917 – February 9, 2005)
by Walter Ford Carter
February 12, 2005
Frank Wawrynovic is one of the most inspirational men in my life. When you met him, you might not have sensed that behind his unpretentious appearance was a life of courageous triumph over extraordinary challenges of adversity, hardship, and pain, and a life of generous sharing of the rewards of his effort.
It was a pleasure to be with Frank. Kindly and courteous by nature, he honored you with his focused attention. His friendly smile and glistening hazel eyes conveyed warmth and good humor. His gentleness was so unlike the warrior he once had to be. When he spoke, he expressed his thoughts deliberately and precisely, in a rich and deep voice reflecting careful consideration. Having thought much about life, he was modest, yet justly proud of his accomplishments. Accepting of his sorrows, he was grateful for his joys. But to me Frank is very special because his story intertwines with mine at a crucial juncture.
Frank was born in 1917, one of six children of Polish immigrants in Osceola Mills, a small town in the coal mining region of central Pennsylvania. As a young boy during the Great Depression, Frank helped put food on the table by hunting and fishing. After graduating from high school in 1935, he worked for a year with the Civilian Conservation Corps building roads, dams, and bridges. For the next seven years he mined coal, lying on his back in cold, narrow underground seams, chipping away at the black mineral overhead while water dripped down upon him. Shortly after America’s entry into World War II, he was drafted into the Army. There he trained strenuously for nearly two years in England and Scotland with the 29th Infantry Division and its elite Ranger Battalion to be part of the spearhead of the liberation of Europe.
On 6 June 1944, the day that the U.S. and its allies turned the tide of history against Nazism, Frank landed on Omaha Beach in France with C Company, First Battalion, 115th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. He scrambled quickly across the casualty-strewn beach and up the mined bluff to reach the high ground. For the push inland against deadly German defenses, Frank’s hunting skills, his hardening from physical labor, and his rigorous Ranger training qualified him for risky assignments. As a forward scout, he probed ahead of the American line to detect the enemy position or to eliminate a hidden gunner. Seeing the many casualties around him, he came to realize that the only way out was to be either killed or wounded.
On June 17, Frank was moving through an orchard separating the Americans, poised to advance, and the Germans, waiting unseen beyond the thick earthen wall of the Norman hedgerow at the far end of the field. He was hit by a sudden burst of hostile fire. He crawled back toward the American line and called out for help. The chief medical officer of Frank’s battalion, wearing the red cross markings of a noncombatant, led two medical aid men beyond the American line to rescue Frank. After the battalion surgeon examined Frank’s wounds, an enemy soldier, hidden in the woods off to one side, shot down the three rescuers. A short while later, after Frank had crawled further back to the American line, other soldiers pulled him to safety.
Removed from combat by severe bullet wounds in both feet and his stomach, and having been awarded the Army’s Bronze Star medal, Frank endured more than a year and a half of convalescence in military hospitals. After being discharged from the Army with a permanent disability, and while continuing to recuperate from his wounds, he made use of the G.I. Bill to attend Penn State College (now Penn State University). There Frank earned degrees in forestry and wildlife management. He married Stella Jedrziewski, who was also a hometown child of Polish immigrants and a veteran of World War II, where she served as an Army nurse. The Wawrynovics had three children, but none survived beyond an early age.
Despite the cumulative setbacks from the Great Depression, the war, and the devastating loss of their children, Frank and Stella kept going. They formed a company in Clearfield, Pennsylvania: Utilities Forestry Services. This company clears and maintains cross-country rights-of-way for power lines, pipelines, and the like. The Wawrynovics engaged in vigorous, productive work, enjoyed their life together, reaped rewards from their labor, and shared their bounty with others.
Frank and Stella have always been mindful of those afflicted by misfortune, of those with limited opportunity, and of those who had helped them along their way. Over the years, they have donated significant amounts to many causes. So that others may avoid the fates of their children, they have funded medical research at Penn State in the diseases that caused their children’s deaths. To acknowledge the contributions of their employees to their business success, they made generous gifts to their workers and retired staff or their widows. To give deserving and needy youngsters help that they would have appreciated in their own early years, they paid for many scholarships for college tuitions. They have also supported their church, hometown cemetery, library, fire department, and memorials to soldiers who served in our wars. And they have not called attention to themselves for their generosity.
To honor the memory of his fellow soldiers who died in the Normandy campaign, some of whom were his close friends, Frank wrote an eloquent account of his experience there, a paper entitled A Soldier Remembers Normandy. His article was published in the November 1991 issue of the 29th Division Association’s newsletter, with a dedication to the battalion surgeon and the two medics who accompanied and died with him. Excerpts from that article were subsequently reprinted in a book by Gerald Astor, June 6 1944: Voices of D-Day.
This is where Frank’s life and mine met. I was looking for information about the Normandy campaign of World War II, in order to learn more about the circumstances of my father’s death. My father had been an Army doctor in that battle, and I knew that he had been killed by an enemy sniper while trying to rescue a wounded soldier. In early 1997 I came across Gerald Astor’s book, and read its excerpts from Frank’s article. Frank had written that the battalion surgeon who was killed while trying to rescue him was Captain Carter, my father. That is how I leaned the details of my father’s death.
From that book, I was able to contact Frank. We became friends by phone and by mail. Later in that year we went together to France, and Frank showed me the place in Normandy where he was wounded and my father was killed. He helped me put together the story of my father. He also helped me pass it on to the next generation, as my wife and two children were with us on this trip. Later, Frank and Stella made a substantial donation to the medical scholarship fund that had been established in my father’s name by his colleagues after the war, and which still exists to aid medical students at the Marshall University School of Medicine in my home town, Huntington, West Virginia.
In his article about his war experience Frank had written, “These men had answered my call for help and died on account of me. About this I will always feel very sad and very humble. This shadow will always be with me. To them, I owe a debt that can never be repaid.”
In view of Frank’s resilience, his productive and generous life, and his help to me in reconnecting with and memorializing my father, I consider Frank’s debt more than repaid. I also regard my friendship with him to be one of the great satisfactions of my life. I hope that others may also learn from, and be inspired by, his example.
Walter Ford Carter is the son of E. Norval Carter, Captain, M.C., 29th Division, who was killed in action on June 17, 1944 in Normandy, and who was posthumously awarded the Army’s Silver Star medal. This eulogy is adapted from Walter’s book, with co-author Terry Golway, No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love: A Son’s Journey to Normandy (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004). Walter lives at 177 Homer Street, Newton Center, MA 02459. This book is available in bookstores and is described on the website, www.walterfordcarter.com.
Frank wrote poems about his his WW II experience. View these undated reflections in the D-Day Poetry section of the Normandy Allies website.
Read more about Frank and his wife, Stella, here.
Sgt. Frank J. Wawrynovic, Company C, First Battalion, 115th Regiment, 29th Division
Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Clearfield, PA, 1917-2005