A tribute to an aging veteran

By on November 13, 2019

It was a busy Veterans Day at the Winters Leadership Memorial and Veterans Plaza. Volunteers were preparing luminaries to be placed along the adjacent walking trail and lit up at dusk, while dozens of small American flags dotted the garden area, put there earlier in the day by students of Fulton Elementary School.

Amid all this bustle, an elderly man assisted by a walker shuffled up to the plaza. He was on a mission. Ninety-four-year-old Floyd Cammauf was there to see “his” brick for the first time. The brick was purchased by Cammauf’s nephew, Jerry Ulrich and his wife Ruth, and had just recently been added to the many bricks that already form the memorial plaza.

World War II veteran Floyd Cammauf came to see his brick on Nov. 11.

“Beautiful,” Cammauf said as he stared down at the beige brick that bore his name in black lettering. “I think it’s beautiful. Yes indeed.”

Seventy-five years ago, Cammauf, an Ephrata native, was in the United States Navy. Attached to the amphibious forces, he worked closely with U. S. Marines as they stormed Japanese beaches in the Pacific War.

“I was always attached to invasions,” he said. “Pontoons. We went in first during invasions because the coral reefs would not let LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) get into the beach to drop off tanks and supplies. So we used pontoons for bridges and you could make them as long as needed and as wide as you wanted to. That was my job.”

Based largely at Guam after that island was recaptured in 1944, Cammauf took part in invasions at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. On April 18, 1945, he was on the tiny island of Ie Shima, a few miles off Okinawa, when Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent Ernie Pyle was shot and killed by a Japanese sniper.

 Floyd Cammauf (right) with his nephew, Jerry Ulrich, at the Dick Winters Memorial.

“He had a premonition that he wasn’t going to come back,” Cammauf said. “Everybody was upset about it.”

He had a photograph of a marker erected at the site that read, “At this spot the 77th Infantry Division lost a buddy.”
Cammauf himself received a minor arm wound from shrapnel while working with Marines on Okinawa about two miles inland.

“During this part of the war, they didn’t need us on the shore anymore because the Japanese got smart and set up their defenses farther inland,” Cammauf said.
At first, Cammauf didn’t even know he’d been hit until he saw blood flowing out from under his shirt sleeve.

“I got hit but I didn’t really know it,” he said.

He got stitched up at an aid station where they kept him overnight. The next day, a naval ensign showed up with a box of Purple Heart medals to hand out to the wounded.

“He said ‘what’s your name?’ and I told him,” Cammauf said. “And he said to me, ‘I got your name here and I got your Purple Heart. I told him, ‘It ain’t nothing. They fixed it all up.’ He asked if I wanted the Purple Heart. So I asked if it pays anything extra and he said no, so I said, ‘Then keep the thing. I don’t want it.’”

Now he admits turning it down was a mistake.

Continuing a tradition begun on Veterans Day 2014, The Winters Leadership Memorial Committee, with the help of Boy Scout Crew 38, hosted a moving luminary tribute to those who died in combat while serving our country on Monday, Nov. 11. The Pioneer Fire Company also draped a large flag over the trail near the Winters statue.

“When it came time to sign up at the VA, the Purple Heart puts you up there pretty good,” he said.
Cammauf was overseas for three years and faced many dangers.

“Of all the things that happened over there, the worst was the Kamikazis, the suicide planes,” he recalled. “They were terrible. They sank a lot of our ships.”
In the summer of 1945, Cammauf was preparing for the invasion of the home islands of Japan, an event feared by many men in uniform given the well-known fanaticism of the Japanese soldiers.

“Then Truman dropped the bomb,” Cammauf said. “If he hadn’t, they told us we might have suffered half a million casualties. They were waiting for us.”

As he stood at the Veterans Plaza on Monday, lost in the past, his thoughts turned to a friend, Sam Leiphart who lived on adjacent Railroad Avenue, and who had died on Guadalcanal in 1942. While on a stopover on the island, Cammauf went in search of his friend’s grave.

Cammauf’s luminary bag in front of the Winters statue

“I went through the graves register and he wasn’t in,” he said. “So I had to walk the whole cemetery and you know where I found him? In the very last row.”

Today, the numbers of World War II veterans, once counted in millions, is dwindling down to a few thousand and continues to shrink by more than 100 per day. Cammauf is one of the few still around to experience such tributes and he was obviously very touched at now being memorialized at the plaza.
Turning to his nephew, Cammauf simply said, “Thank you.”

Larry Alexander is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review. He can be contacted at larry2851@yahoo.com. 

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