Stamford Iwo Jima survivor visits Normandy at age 98. ‘(It) was very emotional’


For Stamford’s Charlie Guinta, having participated in the fiercely fought World War II Battle of Iwo Jima in the South Pacific, wasn’t enough; 77 years later he had to visit the site of an even bigger battle 10,000 miles away, the Allies D- Day invasion of Normandy, France, in June of 1944

“I thought about going for years and finally got to do it in April with two of my three sons and their wives,” Guinta, 98, said recently while basking in the sun at Cummings Beach in Stamford. “Visiting Omaha and Utah beaches where the invasion took place and the cemetery where about 9,000 of those killed in the invasion was very emotional.”

Little did Guinta know that he would be honored at the cemetery following a cruise on the River Seine from Paris to Rouen, the capital of the Region of Normandy. During the cruise, the cruise director asked if there were any World War II veterans among the 150 people aboard since they planned to place a wreath on the D-Day monument in the cemetery. When Guinta was the only one to raise his hand, the director asked him to lay the wreath. He agreed and did so when the group reached the cemetery.

“They treated my dad like he was a rock star,” his son, Steven, said.

Pvt. Charlie Guinta and the 20,000 US Marines and Army troops who landed on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima were far more important than rock stars. By the time the five-week battle was over — most of the American forces were told the battle would last about three days — more than 7,000 American marines (including five from Stamford), 719 Navy personnel and 41 Army troops (including one from Stamford) had been killed and about 20,000 others from the American invasion force had been wounded in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.

Guinta was part of an Army signal corps battalion, which included 13 Stamford men, that installed telephone and other communication lines, which it did on Iwo Jima shortly after the Marines landed.

“There were still Japanese holed up in caves, and island still wasn’t secure, but I didn’t see much action,” Guinta recalled.

Guinta and other members of his battalion had to sleep in caves and holes and were vulnerable to nighttime attacks by the Japanese.

Another Stamfordite who was with the second wave of Marines to land on Iwo Jima, David McKeithen, had harsh memories of Iwo Jima following the American invasion.

“After a while you began to live like a barbarian. You don’t sleep that much and don’t shave,” McKeithan, who became one of Stamford’s first Black police officers, was quoted as saying in Tony Pavia’s riveting book “An American Town Goes To War” about Stamford WW II veterans’ experiences. “Sometimes there were dead bodies all around you and it doesn’t even affect you. At first you’re scared, but after a while you get numb.”

McKeithan, who joined the Army in 1940, a year before the United States entered the war, was eventually commissioned a second lieutenant but resigned the commission when he learned that as a Black officer he could not serve overseas where the fighting was going on.

Guinta spent 31 days on Iwo Jima and watched the historic raising by Marines of a US flag on Mount Suribachi, where hundreds of Japanese forces were holed up. The unit shipped out in April for the American-held island of Saipan, where Guinta and the The rest of his unit were to prepare for an invasion of Japan. While they were en route, the Japanese surrendered, ending World War II.

The war had ended, but they had to remain on Saipan for five months because American military personnel were heading home by ship.

“I did nothing special except serve my country,” Guinta said. “Many military did a lot more than I did and saw more action and paid the ultimate price.” They included three members of his Signal Corps battalion, along with the six men from Stamford.

Returning to Stamford in February 1946, Guinta was reunited with his high school sweetheart Jane Larson and they were married Feb. 15, 1946 at St. Maurice Church in Stamford. Eager to begin a business career, Guinta studied accounting and other business courses at Pace University in Rye, NY after which he began a 40-year relationship with Waldenbooks in Stamford, rising from accountant to vice president and chief financial officer by the time he retired in 1990. During the beginning of that period, Guinta found time to pursue a passion for sports writing by covering baseball and football games for the Advocate, as he had done while he was sports editor of the Stamford High School paper, the Siren.

“Even though I didn’t get paid, I loved doing it even when the teams were playing out of town,” he said. In some ways, he was joining his father, Sandy, who was a linotype operator for the Advocate for 40 years, and his brother, also named Sandy, who spent 55 years as a compositor in the Advocate press room.

His father was deaf and mute, while his mother could talk but not hear, so Charlie learned sign language at age 6 and served as a translator between them and his younger brothers in their Glenbrook home.

Guinta looks much younger than his 98 years (he’ll be 99 in December). Among other organizations, he’s been a member of the Board of Directors of Ferguson Library, Junior Achievement and the United Way. In recognition of his civic achievements, Guinta was named Citizen of the Year in 1992 and Man of the Year by the venerable State Street Debating Society. For 11 years he also coached his sons and their teams in Stamford’s Little League. Guinta tennis played at the Italian Center, the Newfield Club and elsewhere until a hip injury cut short his tennis career when he was in his early 90s. Looking for a new aerobic sport, he found one in swimming. Since taking swimming lessons at the Tully Center seven years ago, Guinta can be seen in the Tully pool three or four times a week, doing eight laps of the breast stroke, a commendable distance for swimmers half his age.

Proving anew that there’s no slowing Charlie Guinta down (“I don’t want to get old” is his frequent refrain) he plans to fly to London alone in mid-April, and board the Cunard Line ship the Queen Mary April 30 in New York for a seven-night voyage to Southampton.

“I’m taking this cruise because the Glenn Miller Orchestra will be playing every night, The band became famous during World War II and I’ve always loved it,” he said, reminiscing about seeing the original band play at Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, NY, in 1941. “I was there with my girlfriend Jane to dance and listen to the band and have loved it ever since.”

He fell in love with Jane, too. Charlie Guinta, a veteran for the ages and a Stamford treasure.

Jack Cavanaugh is a Stamford native and resident. He is a longtime journalist whose last newspaper stop was as a sportswriter and feature writer at The New York Times. He previously had been a news reporter for ABC News and CBS News, Reuters, UPI, the New Haven Register and the Providence Journal. He is the author of six books and taught at Fairfield University and the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.



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