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Story Archives: Picture with McArthur links soldier to history
|Picture with McArthur links soldier to history|
Tony Tuminello vividly remembers the day Gen. Douglas McArthur strode into the GI camp on the island of Leyte. It was October 22, 1944, just a couple of days after the Allied forces landed on the Philippines island and a couple of days before the Battle of the Bay of Leyte, which would release the island from Japanese control.
"I was taking a shower when this guy came by yelling, 'McArthur's here! McArthur's here!'" Tuminello said.
He quickly dressed and ran with the other soldiers to see the general who had vowed to one day come back to the islands that the Japanese had taken from the United States and Filipino forces in the spring of 1942.
Tuminello, who has lived in Winnsboro since 1990, said as a 21-year-old winch operator with the U.S. Army 619th Port Co. he was in awe of McArthur.
"He was a great, great man," Tuminello said.
Captured in time
McArthur knew the importance of good public relations, and a photographer traveled with him to document every step the general took. It was that day on Leyte that a photo was taken of McArthur and there, right behind him in the picture, is a thin, lanky young man from Louisiana with a head full of black hair.
"Gen. McArthur made his famous 'I shall return' arrival on the beach. I just happened to be standing by him when a newsman captured this picture," Tuminello said.
Fast-forward a couple of months and thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean to Chicago, to where Tuminello's sister sat in a movie theatre watching a newsreel. Suddenly her brother's grin flashed on the screen.
The image of young Sgt. Tony Tuminello with Gen. McArthur was used in a newsreel about World War II and the battles in the Pacific.
"Tony's sister in Chicago saw him and called their mother in Shreveport," said Billie Tuminello, Tony's wife. "It was common then to get news about the war from the newsreels at the movies because we didn't have television."
"His mother went to the old Saenger Theatre in Shreveport and when she saw him, she started screaming," Mrs. Tuminello said. "They had not heard from him and didn't know where he was."
"The projectionist stopped the newsreel and cut out a small clip (of me) and gave it to my mother. Somehow it got lost. A few years ago I ran across it and my daughter had this picture developed," Tuminello said.
Mrs. Tuminello said the piece of film was about the size of a postage stamp and when it was found they had it developed in Winnsboro.
From war to wedding
Tuminello was born in Belcher, La., on August 8, 1921. His father died when he was seven and his mother moved the family – Tony and his eight siblings – to Shreveport where she ran a grocery store to support the family.
Like so many young men ready to fight for their country, Tony enlisted when he was just 19.
Good with his hands and with a knack for machinery, Tuminello was responsible for unloading huge military ships. As a winch operator he maneuvered everything from Jeeps to food rations from ship to shore.
He spent 14 months as a winch operator, and according to his discharge papers, Tuminello's duties included, "Operating steam, electric and gasoline driven winches in loading and unloading ships. Inspected winch prior to operation. Checked levers, catheads, and pipe connectors, received directions for operating winches from signalman by means of hand signals. Lubricated moving parts and bearings."
Tuminello said he was aboard a U.S. ship in the Bay of Leyte when the famous battle was fought October 23-26, 1944.
The battle remains one of the greatest naval assaults in history and the one that broke the back of the Japanese military.
"We went with the equipment (aboard ship) in the bay. The guns were so loud we had to put our hands over our ears," Tuminello said.
After the smoke cleared and "the Japanese had been pushed back, when we landed I saw our guys shooting into a hole. No one came out. Then they shot flames into the hole and three Japanese came out on fire. Our guys put the fires out."
Taking Leyte from the Japanese was the first step in McArthur's push to reclaim Manila, the capital of the Philippines.
From Leyte, Tuminello said his unit pushed on into the island province of Luzon.
It was on July 5, 1945 that McArthur ann-ounced, "All the Philippines are now liberated."
Less than six months later, Tuminello was honorably discharged on December 29, 1945. He was listed as a noted marksman and his decorations included the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two Bronze Stars, the Philippines Liberation Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal and WWII Victory Medal.
After the war and back in Shreveport, Tuminello put his Army experience to work, not on heavy machinery, but automobiles. He was working at a gas station – and later owned and operated Crockett Street Service Station for 36 years – when a young lady caught his eye.
"I met him at the service station," said Mrs. Tuminello. "He asked me for my number and it was the last number put in his little black book!"
The couple married in 1956 that was 52 years ago, and had three children. Daughters Kathy Gehl of Winnsboro and Patricia Belin of Shepherdsville, Ky., and son Joseph Tuminello of Fort Collins, Colo. They have six grandchildren.
Still a survivor
Not only is Tuminello a survivor of WWII, he is a 22-year survivor of throat cancer, which took his voice and makes him breathe through his throat.
"The doctors told me he'd have about two good years," Mrs. Tuminello said, "and that was 20 years ago. It never slowed him down. But at first he was very frustrated at not being able to communicate."
Once he began using a "voice box" communication device, Tuminello said he never felt handicapped.
"If I couldn't walk or use my arms, that would be handicapped," he said.
Back in the 1990s Tuminello helped his daughter and her family when they opened the first McDonald's restaurant in Winnsboro.
"The kids (that worked there) just loved him," Mrs. Tuminello said.
While he was at the restaurant, she was cafeteria manager in Wiser and at Winnsboro Elementary schools.
More than 60 years have passed since Tony Tuminello stood close to one of the greatest generals in history.
But the picture of the two men documents more than a commander and soldier in a faraway Army camp on an obscure island in the Pacific.
It speaks of a history all too quickly passing from memory – a history of how the men (and women) of World War II gave up all that they knew and loved to save other peoples in other places from the maniacal madness of tyranny.
The U.S. military of 2008 hasn't really changed that much – Americans are still risking their own lives in the hope of bettering the lives of others.
On this Memorial Day, we can think about the folks like Tony Tuminello and be grateful for the sacrifices he made and the years he gave which led, ultimately, to the lives we have today.