Barnegat Nonagenarian Recounts Marine Adventures in World War II Memoir

By ERIC ENGLUND | Aug 15, 2018

Walk into the study of Barnegat Township resident Walter Augustyniak’s home and you’ll likely be intrigued by a black, cylindrical object sitting on his desk.

It’s a Norden bombsight, a relic from his days as a munitions and ordnance specialist with the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. Augustyniak discusses that and much more in his recently self-published book, Adventures of a Young Marine in WW II.

Augustyniak, who turns 94 next month, grew up outside of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “It was in coal mining country,” he said. “That’s where a lot of the kids wound up working during the Depression.”

Shortly after graduating high school at age 16 in 1941, Augustyniak enlisted in the Marines. “My mother did not want me in the coal mines,” he recalled. “I had an older brother who nearly got killed there, so that was that.”

As a Marine Corps member, he was fascinated by the scientific/technical aspects of warfare. “I loved physics in high school,” said Augustyniak. Part of his job was servicing the bombsight, which he said was a forerunner to the more complex technology of today.

“It was true analog computer,” he said. “It had very complex internal machinery, all manufactured with great precision, and consisted of many gear wheels and ball bearings. It contained a small internal telescope geared to look forward, and a system of electric motors and gyroscopes that moved the telescope, so that a single point on the ground looked stationary in the crosshairs imbedded in the telescope.”

He said a monitor in the bombsight kept the moving telescope locked in on the ground. On the way to the target, the bombardier would dial an estimate for airspeed altitude and the aerodynamic number of the particular bombs to be dropped. Augustyniak said the bombs were typically dropped automatically by the bombsight.

“Right next to the eyepiece that looked into the telescope lay a long, narrow horizontal window. It displayed two indices that automatically moved toward each other along a single track. The bombardier could briefly interrupt his sighting into the telescope and take a quick peek at the approaching indices. This would give him an estimate as to how soon the bombs would be released. When the indices finally came in contact, the bombs were automatically released from the bomb bays.”

Augustyniak said he did most of his work in the Pacific theater. “I was active with the Tarawa campaign, which was the first American offensive in that critical central Pacific region,” he said.

He said his book was the product of many years of writing magazine articles and newspaper columns, some of which have appeared in The SandPaper. He is also a voracious reader, and his study has numerous shelves containing books about World War II and aviation history.

He recalled how when he was in school at a Virginia Navy base training to be a bombsight technician, activities were “highly secret.”

“New types of weaponry were constantly being tested there,” Augustyniak said. “The school for studying the Norden bombsight was especially shrouded in secrecy. Once we left the classroom, we were strictly forbidden to talk about anything we learned in the classrooms. Discussions were not tolerated in the barracks or anywhere outside the classroom. This rule was strictly enforced.”

All Marines go to Parris Island, S.C., for basic training, or boot camp. “Without let-up, you were put to the test each and every day,” Augustyniak wrote. “I found that physical strength need not be the major factor for survival. I had not been endowed with a muscular build and had not played any major sports in high school. I classified myself as pretty soft when it came to most physical challenges. But here’s the clincher. I didn’t have a problem meeting the extreme physical demands imposed on us. I had the determination right from the first day.”

In November 1943 the Marines overtook the Tawara chain. The largest island was Betio, where the first wave of Marines hit the beaches, suffering small casualties.

“The second wave did not fare so well,” Augustyniak recalled. “These boats required 4 to 5 feet of water in order to successfully navigate. “Because available tide information for these islands was grossly incorrect, none of the boats made their way to the beaches, with most becoming hung up on submerged coral reefs. They proved easy targets for the enemy shore batteries. Here, Marine casualties ran high. It went until noon Nov. 23 when enemy resistance on Tarwara and Makin were declared over. It was a hard-fought battle.”

In May 1944 Augustyniak began his voyage home, first stopping at Pearl Harbor and then San Francisco.

“The mood of anticipation increased daily as we drew nearer and nearer to the American coastline,” he wrote. “What would life be like back in the civilized world? Surely, there should be no traces of malaria, filariasis or body consuming fungus here in the States, right? Are those big holidays still being celebrated? We had just spent two Christmases and two Easters far from home. Would we continue to have powdered eggs for breakfast, dehydrated potatoes and mutton for dinner? Is there still such a thing as a nice juicy steak?”

Before being discharged from the Marines in November 1945, the then 21-year-old serviceman was considering re-enlisting, but someone told him an emphatic no. That was his sweetheart, Gertude “Neshie” Pezzner, whom he married in 1946. They were wed 66 years until she passed away in 2012.

And right before discharge, her cousin, Calvin Pezzner, answered Augustyniak’s query about a steak dinner. Pezzner, a chief cook and mess officer, gave him “the biggest, most delicious steak I ever had, or would ever have.”

After leaving the Marines, Augustyniak wanted to stay in the aviation field, and went to work for Lockheed International. In 1953, he started working at Bell Labs in Berkeley Heights as an accelerator specialist, working with radiation physics, retiring in 1986. Shortly after that, he moved into the newly opened Pheasant Run adult community in Barnegat.

“One key to living long is staying active,” he said. “Not too long ago, I used to jog and ride a bicycle a lot. I still have a stationary bike. I’m also a bladder cancer survivor, so I feel very fortunate and grateful to still be alive and well.”

His book can be purchased at aerbook.com/maker/productcard-3905757-4093.html.

ericenglund@thesandpaper.net

 

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