WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A member of the Greatest Generation says he wanted to join the Marine Corps, but he was two pounds underweight.
Kenny Schumaker said he is thankful he ended up the Navy because so many Marines lost their lives in WWII.
He came close to doing the same, as the Japanese sent kamikazes to take out warships, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Schumaker’s son, Grant, has spent so much time finding newspaper and magazine articles, even video of that fateful day.
Schumaker said he is glad they kept track of all the history, so people will truly understand the sacrifice made by so many, who never made it home.
“I got drafted,” WWII Veteran Kenny Schumaker said.
After boot camp, that he says he really enjoyed, Schumaker was back in Wichita strolling Douglas.
“We probably were going somewhere to drink some beer or something,” Schumaker said.
Life in the service changed quickly for the young sailor.
“It all just came back to me,” Schumaker said.
In no time, he was aboard a carrier, the USS Ommaney Bay and they were taking shell fire.
“They were missing us about a block or two from our ship,” Schumaker said.
He said the Japanese battleship was less than 20 miles, from his carrier.
“Looked like big torpedoes flying through the air,” Schumaker said.
He said they could see the shells hit the water.
“It happens so much, you just don’t have much chance to think about it,” Schumaker said.
Their enemy would quickly change tactics, from firing the biggest guns on the ocean to suicidal pilots in flight.
“I see all this here blowing up and I think of my ship blowing up,” Schumaker said.
In photos from that fateful day, you can see the kamikaze coming in, diving on the elevator shaft, as the bombers were trained to do.
“It just picked me up and slammed me up against the bulkhead and knocked me dizzy and crazy,” Schumaker said.
He said he remembers that blast like it was yesterday.
“It was just like a volcano blowing up, and all the oil and stuff was spewing up, setting ammunition boxes off, on the bulkhead,” Schumaker said.
He said he was in the right place at the right time.
“That kamikaze hit just right behind where I was stationed,” Schumaker said.
He was set to be at that duty station just 12 minutes after impact, and everyone on his watch station was killed.
“People were on fire, burning alive,” Schumaker said.
Schumaker was on the back deck.
“Everyone was just running around trying to get off the ship,” Schumaker said.
He had to go the entire length of the carrier, and he saw so much despair along the way.
“So many of them were hurt, crying, wanting help, and you couldn’t do nothing for them,” Schumaker said.
He said in all the chaos he never even heard the abandon ship call, but he had already made up his mind, he was getting off the sinking ship.
“That’s where I jumped off the ship,” Schumaker said.
He said he will never understand how he made it off alive.
“I just took off across the ocean, swimming hard,” Schumaker said.
The young sailor was scooped up by a nearby U.S. boat.
“I felt safe then, I wasn’t scared then,” Schumaker said.
He said he had no idea, at the time, he had suffered a serious concussion.
“Seems like a lot of this stuff, I couldn’t remember after we were hit,” Schumaker said.
He said in addition to memory loss, he still suffers excruciating headaches, and he often goes back to that fateful day.
“I still have nightmares and stuff that happen,” Schumaker said. “I can still see the people screaming and hollering.”
He said he often thinks about the many shipmates they lost.
“That’s where we got sunk at, going up to Luzon,” Schumaker said.
He said he is thankful to be a member of the Greatest Generation and to be able to share all they endured.
“I was just always glad that I did my part, to save my country,” Schumaker said.
The sailors rescued were sent to the destroyer USS Twiggs, but they ran out of room so Schumaker and some others were moved to the USS West Virginia.
Just a few days later, the destroyer was hit by a kamikaze, so Schumaker had narrowly escaped death again.