With Veterans Day around the corner, it is important to recognize why we put up extra American flags, why some businesses and schools close, and why there are parades and other such celebrations. Nov. 11 is a day “to honor America’s veterans for their patronism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good,” according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website.
Equally important is recognizing each veteran’s story.
Larry Schwartz is a World War II U.S. Navy vet.
Born in 1925, Schwartz grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia with his parents, Abraham and Betty, along with his three brothers, two of whom served in the Korean War, and one who also served in WWII. Schwartz says, “Our parents weren’t too happy about that.”
When he was “tiny,” Schwartz describes, “I was in the car with my mom, and I see sailors alongside the road, and my mom says, ‘They’re a bunch of drunken sailors.’ So I became one.”
Schwartz joined the Navy at the height of the war in 1943. He spent six and a half weeks at boot camp, and was then assigned to the USS Arkansas battleship. His first trip was to Europe, and he experienced three North Atlantic trips to Ireland.
Schwartz was involved in the Invasion of Normandy, the Invasion of South France, and then he transferred to the Pacific Fleet for Iwo Jima, “which was only supposed to be a 72-hour operation,” Schwartz notes.
“I was there when we put our flag on Suribach, which was our target,” Schwartz states.
I asked Schwartz if he ever got injured. He describes a moment when he did not “take cover” while shots were being fired from his ship to land. He got a few cracked teeth, a broken watch, and some facial hair burned off. “I had a helmet on, otherwise I would have lost this hair too,” touching his hand to his head.
Adjusting his hearing aids numerous times, leaning closer to hear my questions, Schwartz also lost his hearing.
With about 2,000 men onboard, Schwartz says the USS Arkansas “was a very big ship.”
“There were twelve, 12-inch main battery guns–each projectile heavier than a Volkswagen, so you get the idea,” Schwartz adds. He describes the battleship as “a floating arsenal of guns.”
“The ship was never directly hit,” Schwartz says, “Just some incidental damage from flying debris.”
Schwartz lived below the battle dressing station, which is where the injured received emergency medical attention. Schwartz discusses a time when a nearby ship, on its way to the beach, dropped off some of the wounded onto the USS Arkansas. “Our doctors did three amputations in twenty minutes,” he states.
Schwartz spent three years in the Navy, which he says “was enough.” Throughout his service, Schwartz went back to the U.S. five times for rehabilitation. He saw Ireland, England, Scotland, France, Italy, Sicily, Algeria, Panama, Hawaii, Ulithi, and Iwo Jima.
Normandy, the biggest invasion, Schwartz says, “was a sight beyond comprehension.”
I asked Schwartz what more he can tell me about the war. With much behind his eyes, he leans forward toward his walker in front of him, “You know Natalie,” opening the compartment of his walker, “I’m going to show you my bio so you can get a little picture of what’s going on.”
I read the last paragraph of Schwartz’s biography, which is recently published.
In agreement with his words, I nod my head.
There is nothing good about war. You are out there to get the enemy. Beyond that, what is to speak about?
Schwartz saw men walking around with missing arms and missing legs. He mutters, “I could tell you about the floating bodies.” Schwartz does not continue.
At 90 years old, Schwartz is known as a jokester in the retirement community where he now lives. When he is feeling well, he likes to be funny. “I have a sarcastic wit,” Schwartz says. As far as talking about his time in the service, Schwartz chooses “to remember the happy times.”