Guest Writer – John Sumwalt; A Soldier Waits for God



Guest writer, John Sumwalt, shares a heartfelt telling of his father’s service during WWII. The story of anxious waiting was shared by thousands of Americans during that time. Please enjoy John’s story.



                                A Soldier Waits for God

                                             John Sumwalt


My father, Leonard Sumwalt, spent four long years of his young life waiting – waiting for World War II to end so he could come home to the farm. He dreamed during that interminable wait about milking cows, planting corn, putting up June hay, picking black berries and his mother’s fried chicken.


Dad was drafted Aug. 5, 1941, at the age of 24. He was discharged June 24, 1945, at the age of 28 – three months shy of his 29th birthday. It was a long wait.


He was a praying man and he must have prayed and prayed for that war to end. Perhaps he heard the chaplain preach on the Isaiah text “God … works for those who wait for him.” Is. 64:4


After landing in England, Dad’s 178th Artillery Battalion was ordered to North Africa where they participated in the “Tunisia Campaign.” That ultimately led to the surrender of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps.


Dad was training to be a barber when he was drafted so he continued to practice his profession in the desert.


He wrote home in the winter of 1942, “Dear Mother and all, Boy, you ought to see my barber shop! The frame is made out of boards and I have a mosquito net around it. The barber chair is made out of a seat from a German truck. I have running water from a tank made out of a gas tank with a hose attached. So I have a modern shop right in the wilds of Africa. I give lots of hot olive-oil treatment for dry scalp and dry hair. It is something the boys need right now. Their hair is in bad shape.”


Steven C. Jeffcoat of the South Carolina Military Museum wrote “After the victory in Africa, the 178th battalion lent its firepower to the invasion of Sicily – ‘Operation Husky.’ On Sept. 3, 1943, the 178th – in support of the British 8th Army’s crossing of the Messina Straits – had the honor of firing the first shots into mainland Europe. Thereafter the Battalion followed the U.S. 5th Army to Salerno, Italy. Moving northwards, the 178th helped capture Naples and soon found itself facing the formidable and heavily fortified ‘Gustav Line.’


“Stretching across the entirety of central Italy, the Gustav Line protected Rome and was extremely well-defended. Now attached to the French Expeditionary Corps, the 178th fired thousands of shells at enemy positions but with little progress. After a winter stalemate the Allies finally broke through after a ferocious seven-day assault. During the Battle of Monte Cassino the battalion again shelled enemy positions as Allied infantry poured through the gaps.”


I remember Dad telling about that battle and the horrors he saw there in the aftermath. Bombers destroyed the ancient monastery founded by Benedict of Nursia in AD 529, and eventually routed the Germans – but at the enormous cost of 55,000 allied casualties. It was one of the most important battles of World War II, leading to the fall of Rome and the end of Italian resistance.


Dad didn’t see combat, serving mostly as a barber and a cook. He would grin when he told about the morning a general called him in to compliment him on his donuts. And he loved to tell about the day the captain asked for volunteers to repair a phone line in a combat zone. He and three others dodged sniper fire to restore an essential communication link.


The other story Dad was fond of telling was about a trip to Rome in which he served as the driver for a lieutenant and his wife who were on their honeymoon. He spoke with wonder about seeing the Vatican and the Coliseum.


Near the end of the war, after the German forces in Italy formally surrendered May 3, 1945, Dad wrote home, “Yesterday and today were big days here for the Italians. They were doing lots of celebrating. Church bells rang most all last night and again this morning. There was lots of shouting and lots of green, red and white flares going up. It was pretty. Well, I can hardly wait until I can get on my way home. Won’t be much longer I guess if nothing happens.”


I remember sitting with Dad on the porch at the farm house just north of Loyd, Wisconsin, with a tape recorder. It was 50 years later when he was 79 as he told the whole saga of his four years in the war. There was a faraway look in his eyes as he described seeing 10,000 men lined up to board the ship to England. And he remembered the plane ride home from Italy to Brazil and then on to Miami. He said he caught a train to Madison, Wisconsin, and then a bus to Richland Center, Wisconsin. And that he walked and hitchhiked the 13 miles from there to the farm.


Dad’s mother, Nellie, saw him from the kitchen window and soon she, his dad, Archie, his brother, Donald, and his sister, Ruth, had their arms around him. They were jumping up and down with him in the driveway. They had all been waiting – that aching, longing, praying-every-moment kind of waiting that seems like it will never end.


When the telling was finished Dad heaved a great sigh of relief and said, “It was quite an ordeal!”



John Sumwalt, of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, is a retired United Methodist Pastor and the author of 9 books for CSS Publishing Company. He writes a weekly spiritual column for several Wisconsin Newspapers., 414-339-0676.


Photo captions:

Photo # 1) Leonard Sumwalt was drafted in 1941 and served 4 yrs in North Africa & Italy in World War II.


Photo# 2) Leonard Sumwalt with one of his 7 grandchildren in 1988, 47 yrs after he was drafted into World War II.



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About the Author

Joe Campolo Jr.

Joe Campolo, Jr. is an award winning author, poet and public speaker. A Vietnam War Veteran, Joe writes and speaks about the war and many other topics. See the "Author Page" of this website for more information on Joe. Guest writers on Joe's blogs will have a short bio with each article. Select blogs by category and enjoy the many other articles available here. Joe's popular books are available thru Amazon, this website, and many other on-line book stores.


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