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A Call to Honor
Written by Larry Roeder, Editor
2019-11-06

Sometimes there are no remembrances or banners, and as the years go by fewer who can share a story and some who will ever know.  Heroism in the face of battle was not uncommon for local members of the armed forces and the stories are many.  In honor of Veterans Day, 2019 we note the valor of one such person.

Petty Officer, Gunner's Mate 2/c Stanley

Wismer

 

            In June of 1943, the graduating class of the East Greenville High School took part in a special ceremony to unveil the School's Service Honor Roll.  The list contained the names of former students and graduates of the school who were in the armed forces at the time.  The United States was in the midst of World War II and this remembrance was a tribute to the local citizens who answered the call to serve their country.  Like most graduating classes of the period, the group contained young people who couldn't wait to take their place in the armed forces.

            Stanley Wismer was a member of that 1943 graduating class.  While a senior at East Greenville High School, he was co-captain of the football team.  The 1942 Black and Gold were reported to be the lightest, smallest, and most inexperienced team fielded by the school in years.  They only won one game that year, and only scored two touchdowns all season, but both events came against traditional rival Pennsburg High.  Wismer was an offensive and defensive lineman who saw most of his time playing the position of end on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

            He enlisted in the Navy after graduation and was whisked from the peaceful confines of the Upper Perkiomen Valley to the Great Lakes Naval Training School.  

The U.S.S. Laffey (DD724) was commissioned in 1944 and served in WWII, the

Korean Conflict, and the Cold War.

            After graduating boot camp with the highest honors, he attended gunner's school at Newport, Rhode Island.  He received advanced training at Washington, D.C.  Just one year after graduating from high school, he was part of the June 6, 1944 Normandy Invasion, known as D-Day.  Serving as a gunner aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Laffey, he was able to return home for a brief leave before shipping out for the Pacific Theater of Operations.

            Wismer was now a Petty Officer, and his service in the Pacific placed him at the invasion of Luzon and Leyte where General Douglas MacArther made his famous return.  After that, he would take part in one more major battle.  Operation Iceberg, as the invasion of Okinawa was known.  It would be the greatest assembling of a naval armada ever – more than 40 aircraft carriers, 18 battle ships, 200 destroyers, and hundreds of support ships.  Over 182,000 troops made up the assault force planned for Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945.

The U.S.S. Laffey, shown here after the ship was severely damaged during the

battle of Okinawa, shot down eight enemy planes and damaged six more before

they crashed on board. It was struck by two bombs and frequently strafed, the ship

continued to fight effectively until the last plane had been driven off.

 

            In mid-March, the American fleet gathered off Okinawa to begin the bombardment.  Destroyers and other vessels served radar picket duty.  This responsibility was one of the most dangerous, deadly, and unwanted duties at the time.  The ships were forced to remain at fixed stations to warn of approaching enemy aircraft and to direct carrier airplanes.  Even before the actual invasion, these vessels and their brave crews suffered many losses'

            The Laffey arrived off Okinawa during the night of March 24.  The ship was used in the pre-invasion bombardment, in close support of the initial landing, and in a variety of other assignments including radar picket duty.

            In early April the Japanese air force began using mass formations of hundreds of kamikaze aircraft.  They were called kikusui or 'floating chrysanthemum.'  These pilots used their flying skills to direct their aircraft on a suicide crash into their targets, maximizing the level of damage on their final attack.  Over 1,400 kamikaze flights were flown during the Okinawa campaign.  These deadly flights sank 30 American ships and damaged 164 others. 

            On April 16, 1945, while the Laffey was at Radar Station #1, Japanese planes launched a relentless attack on the destroyer.  The ship was hit with four bombs and five kamikaze aircraft during the onslaught.  Petty Officer Stanley Wismer was quick to man his 20-mm guns and begin firing upon the attackers.  The words on his Bronze Medal citation state that he maintained an accurate, steady stream of devastating fire against the enemy, blasting him into the sea before he could inflict damage on the Laffey.  Rapidly expending his ammunition as the attacks continued unabated, he rallied emergency ammunition passers and kept the guns supplied and firing until he was fatally struck down by shell fragments.

            In author John Wukovits' 2015 book Hell from the Heavens he writes about the epic story of the U.S.S. Laffey and World War II's greatest kamikaze attack.  In the book, Lt(jg) Joel Youngquist shared with Wukovits an account of the attack; "Enemy bullets clanged against the waist-high steel barrier that shielded Youngquist's 40 mm crew, but the 20mm gunners, under their petty officer, Gunner's Mate 2/c Stanley Wismer, co-captain of his high school football team, stood amidst the bullets without even that inadequate protection."

            The 82-day campaign claimed more lives than the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In all, over 170,000 deaths occurred from the battle.  Okinawa was secured on June 22, 1945.  Of the 68,000 American casualties, 16,000 were killed in action.

            Included in the more than 4,900 Sailors who died during the battle was the 20-year-old East Greenville High School graduate.


 

 

 

 

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