WWII Army medic recalls scaling cliff at Normandy
Cumberland Times News
CUMBERLAND — Kenneth Growden, 87, said Friday that he is happy to have survived mountain climbing training at Seneca Rocks in Pendleton County, W.Va., in 1943, and even more pleased to have made it through a similar climb as a medic at Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
“And I am honored to have been able to save the lives of some soldiers,” Growden said during an interview at Devlin Manor, shortly after watching once more the video “The Cliff Scaling Soldiers of West Virginia.”
Following the war, Growden worked for 38 years with Columbia Gas.
Growden and his wife, Colleen, now deceased, who raised their family in Ellerslie, made a shadow box with memorabilia from his military days.
“There are his dog tags, a piece of climbing rope, pitons, photos of him and his climbing certificate,” said his daughter Jean Dolinger of Altoona, Pa. After years of keeping the shadow box at her home, Dolinger contacted the U.S. Forest Service Discovery Center at Seneca Rocks about it and it is now displayed there.
Dolinger then learned that visitors to the Discovery Center can watch the 20-minute video about the two years when thousands of soldiers camped and maneuvered in that part of West Virginia.
“When I watched the video for the first time I picked my father out three times,” she said, pausing the show twice Friday to point out a young and fit Kenneth Growden.
“They started us out climbing low rocks, but then we worked our way up,” Growden said. “I was scared at first, but I got over it.”
“He has had post-traumatic stress disorder ever since the war,” Dolinger said.
“The VA works with me here and they are just wonderful,” Growden said.
“That’s Tezak,” Growden blurts when the video shows a young soldier with some climbing rope over his shoulder. “He died at Normandy.”
For years, according to Dolinger, Growden and other veterans would annually purchase flowers to put on the grave of Pfc. Rudolph Tezak at Normandy. “He (Growden) would be sent a photo of the flowers at the gravesite,” Dolinger said.
Then in the late 1990s, Kenneth and Colleen visited Europe, including Normandy. “I went right to the rocks we had climbed,” he said.
During the training at Seneca Rocks, ambulances would be stationed below the climbers. There were injuries and deaths. The top of Seneca Rocks is 900 feet above the surrounding landscape. Three soldiers drowned in the Blackwater River during maneuvers.
Some trainees thought the nearby Champe Rocks were more difficult to climb than Seneca Rocks, according to the video.
Some soldiers went to Pack Transport School, learning how to use mules as pack animals. Others worked with messenger pigeons as a way to relay messages. Most lived in two-man pup tents, even during the winter, described as a particularly bad one.
The Army described the maneuvers as very successful. The military presence ended in that part of West Virginia as the troops were sent to Europe. It was the largest military entourage in the Mountain State since the Civil War.