World War II
Medals Ribbons - Point System, Victory Medal , American Campaign, Asiatic Pacific Phillipines Lilberation Bronze Star, S/M Combat Insigna Pin, Good Conduct Medal
Naval Submariner - a torpedoman
Torpedo - A self-propelled explosive projectile weapon above or below the water surface, propelled underwater toward a target and designed to detonate upon contact with or in proximity to a selected enemy target.
Torpedoman's duties - performs organizational and intermediate level maintenance of underwater ordinance. Handles torpedos and anti-submarine rockets launched from surface ships. Operates and maintains test equipment, launching/firing systems and stowage facilities associated with underwater ordinance. Prepares underwater ordinance for launching
Frank Stanley Grupa was born in Dunkirk at Brooks Memorial Hospital on May 31, 1924. His parents were Stanley and Constance (Pryll) Grupa. The family was at that time living on 317 Bucknor St. in Dunkirk. Frank being raised Roman Catholic attended St. Hedwig's grade school. Before class students attended Mass, and looking at the altar, one would see Frank dressed in his alter boy uniform. Frank recalled being an altar boy attending many funerals and weddings as were needed. He also stated in those days the official language of an alter boy responding was in Latin.
Most Catholic school students would have to wait until their second year of school and many classes before receiving their first Holy Communion. This was not the case for Frank. Frank had a few months before first Holy Communion day before coming down with phenomia. Fearing his early, untimely death the doctors and priest recommended that Frank receive his first communion along with his last rights. With a lot of prayers answered Frank's health changed for the better. A few months later Frank had the chance to receive his first second Communion with his class.
As a young boy growing up there weren't a lot of places for kids to find things to do. Frank did have a few friends. They were Hank Krystofiak, Stanley Korzenski and Hank Bajdos, who in those days, found fun on a pond near Franklin Street. In the winter, this pond turned itself into an ice-skating rink. When the pond and the ice rink weren't exciting, the group found a fun time off Route 60 and King Street at a place called the Round House. Here the boys would jump up on the coal cars knocking off coal that was loose on the top to fall along the train. These would fall for the boys to later pick up the coal and place it in burlap bags to be taken home to help mose those freezing cold Dunkirk evenings a bit warmer.
Frank recalls a method used to get more coal, knowing during the daytime or during very snowy days the trains always slowed down to almost a stop while going through the city. A system was found to make picking up coal a lot more rewarding. You would get a can of grease and coat about 100 feet of train tracks on track, the train would hit the greased section and start spinning going nowhere. The engineer, then in order to move, had to come to a complete stop and put his train in reverse. They went back a couple thousand yards to build up momentum and then went. This gave the boys the advantage. Grupa didn't feel bad about it because in the summer months coal was scattered all over the tracks. He was always trying to stay one step ahead of the railroad. The boys managed to complete their missions. Frank on a few occassions had been caught which ended up being detained by the railroad detective who took him home to his parent's house?
Summer months shifted these four boys to working on the farms in the area. The famous four, Hank Krystofiak, Stanley Kozenski, Hank Bajdos and Grupa would make their summer fortunes on the farm. Frank stated that if you were good and fast you could make up to 5 cents a quart for picking currents and beans were bringing in 1 1/2 cents a pound.
At school, Grupa was your average student, not really excelling in sports. Frank did enjoy playing basketball, baseball and track.
It was April 1942 and instead of being drafted by the U.S. Army on his 18th birthday he decided it was a good idea to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He loved the water over being on land, so the Navy was his only choice. He decided to enlist and before he knew it he was at the Dunkirk train station with his first official U.S. Naval orders to report to boot camp in Great Lakes near Chicago. Navy boot camp was 12 weeks at that time being trained in numerous naval duties but still not certain what his naval duties will bring in the near future.
The U.S. Navy felt that submarine duty would be in the best interest for them and Frank. Frank held the upper hand in this decision because submarine duty in the navy was a volunteer choice. With this decision being made, Grupa had in his possession new Naval orders to report to Newport News, this is where he will be trained for his new assignment as a submariner. While in submarine school he showed the Navy that his speciality was in handling torpedos. Grupa would complete submarine school at the Newport News Torpedo Station learning every aspect of the torpedo.
With school being over, he had orders to Boston and report to the Navy's Frazier building. Grupa learned he will be waiting for the Navy to finish it's newest destroyer the USS Altair (AD11). Upon completion and aboard the USS Altair Frank was sailing to the British West Indies on his and the USS Altair (AD11) first shake down cruise.
Since Grupa enjoyed being a submariner and wanted to work with torpedos on a submarine, not a destroyer, he put in for a transfer. A few weeks later the new orders came in with Frank now heading for New London, Conn. Another submarine school now with orders after school to report to the USS Gilmore. A subtender is attached to a number of submarines and is in direct support of the subs. Frank, knowing that his wish is now closer, is headed for Pearl Harbor.
After arriving at Pearl Harbor with plenty of openings in submarine duty, he received his first orders for submarine duty on his first boat the USS Capitaine (SS336). A diesel sub where Frank saw action patroling enemy waterways. He next boarded with orders on the USS Steelhead (336) and his last boat was the USS Brill (SS330). Frank's submarine duties took him in enemy waters and friendly areas that covered Australia, Pearl Harbor, Phillipines and numerous trips to and from San Fransisco. While on many patrols, these subs were sent out to many known enemy shipping lanes just waiting that these enemy ships sail into their periscopes view.
The only time you had fresh water on the submarine was to drink and brush your teeth.
In my interview I needed to know what life was really like on one of those World War II submarines. While on vacations or going to my Marine Corps reunions and the chance comes up to tour any Naval ship or military base, I will stop and take the opportunity to see all I can. While in Hawaii, I toured the USS Bowfin and in Mobile, Alabama I toured the USS Drum, both World War II subs with my wife. I could not comprehend how so many men could live in such a small area with motors, machinery noise and heat all around you, knowing that the boat was underwater a couple hundred feet and along with the fact that someone else is trying to sink you.
But Frank's answer was swift. He loved it. It was the best time of his life. He claims he was treated well, ate like a king and loved the responsiblity. He also talked of how the crew acted as one all knowing when and what to do.
Frank Grupa is a hero. If you were to pass him on the street today and asked what do you think this man had seen and done in his life, I'm sure you wouldn't have a clue.
At 17 years old this hero leaves home, joins the Navy and before you know it he's a torpedo man. He sails the Pacific Ocean in harm's way sitting in this 300-plus-foot tube waiting to find the enemy or playing unlimited hours of cards. He does his duty with no official end in sight. When the war ends, Frank and his boat is tied up in safe U.S. waters on a Christmas Eve day in 1946.
The U.S. discharges Grupa on that Christmas Eve day. The Navy gave Frank $43.72 as his final active duty pay. In that $43.72 pay, the Navy gave him an extra $5.75 for travel pay back to New York. Along with loving submarine duty, the food, the crew, the travel and the additional $3.20 per month hazardous duty pay. Frank Grupa loved every day he served. No regrets. No complaints. Coming home from Sampson, he split a cab with three other sailors.
It cost him $4 to get to Buffalo. From Buffalo he hitchhiked to Dunkirk. Near Lackawanna, Frank saw a car stop and noticed a resident from Dunkirk. Frank jumped in and his next stop was Dunkirk.
He stopped home and and said, "Hello, I'm back." He turned around and walked to the Boot and Saddles Bar at the St. Francis Hotel on Central and Fourth Street. A few beers later took him to the Peanut Cafe where he met friends Ed Marek, Ed Rak and Nick Wolembak. Frank said they all drank 5-cent beers at Hedwigs. After all the celebration, he started his new life as an axe man for Asplunde Tree Service.
The Frank Grupas wrote our history books. As of this story, Frank is my 18th interview. I always think that my last one was the best.
He married Bernice (Schelling) on May 3, 1944, and has a son, Frank Jr. and grandchildren, Joe and Scott.
I hope the readers understand me and understand the great people we have who have served. I try to put myself back in the time and back in the place my story tellers lived. I cannot stress the importance of knowing any veteran who served and not taking every opportunity to learn about him or her.
Some of you will say they don't talk. That's not so. Some want to talk, some need to talk, so many have so much to say.
We are loosing around 1,000 World War II veterans a day, Korean veterans are now about 165 a day and Vietnam veterans are nearing 100 a day. All this information is out there just for the asking.
Guys like Frank Grupa who have served allow us to wake up each day a free person to raise our families the way we want to. Frank Grupa you are a local hero and for this we thank you.