KOSCIUSKO — Warsaw resident Paul Grossnickle was recognized as Veteran of the Month at the Kosciusko Commissioners meeting held Tuesday, April 3.
For over fifty years, Grossnickle was known in northern Indiana for providing the gift of vision through his optometry practice. Few patients, however, knew that their optometrist was once a 20-year-old fighter pilot in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
On Dec. 7, 1941, Grossnickle was a senior at Manchester High School, just beginning to consider his future options. On that day, life in America was changed when Franklin Roosevelt announced the declaration of war with Japan. Six months later, Grossnickle graduated from high school and enlisted in the Navy.
Grossnickle had his mind set on the coveted position of fighter pilot. His beginning flight training was in Fort Scott, Kansas. Grossnickle was taught that in order to win, anything goes because if you don’t win, you die. These initial days of training showed the fundamental differences between the American and Japanese war mentality; the Japanese were trained to die for their emperor, while American soldiers were trained to survive for their country.
From there, Grossnickle attended flight training in Iowa and Texas. He was sent to navigation and gunnery school in Corpus Christi, Texas. He remembers that flying became second nature, even more so than driving a car.
Grossnickle became acquainted with the real fighter planes at his station in Melbourne, Fla., where he was introduced to the Hellcat. The F6F Hellcat was a fighter plane with a 2000 horsepower engine and six 50-caliber machine guns. The Hellcat flew over 400 miles per hour. Grossnickle began flying this at the age of 20.
Grossnickle’s final stateside training occurred off of Chicago’s Navy Pier where he learned to make carrier landings. After completing his flight training and receiving his Gold Wings, he was sent on leave. During his leave, Grossnickle married his wife, Jane. As his short honeymoon came to an end, Grossnickle headed back to war.
After spending some time in Pearl Harbor, Grossnickle was sent to Guam. He soon became a carrier-based pilot in Halsey’s Third Fleet. Most of his flights were reconnaissance in preparation for a possible land invasion of Japan. These missions around the Japanese Islands lasted from the beginning of 1945 until the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945. Grossnickle feels that he might not be here today if it weren’t for Harry Truman making the decision to drop the atomic bombs.
Grossnickle went back to the U.S. and finished college. After several years, some pilots were called back to active duty in the Korean War. Because he had a family, Grossnickle did not wish to return to flying, so he resigned his commission as a pilot and became a Navy optometrist.
For Grossnickle, civilian life and a private optometry practice became his goal. He sent his resignation to the Bureau of Medicine every month, and after a year the Navy decided that he had served long enough and allowed him to leave. Grossnickle gave the Navy ten years of active duty. Through Navy reservists duty, he retired an Air Force Major.
The goal of having his own optometrist practice brought Grossnickle back to northern Indiana. In 1957, he opened his first office. After 55 years in the optometric profession, seven in the military and 48 in private practice, he retired from Grossnickle Eye Center at the age of 81.
Grossnickle has two sons, Dr. Steven (spouse Lori) Grossnickle and Dr. Bruce (spouse Jeanne) Grossnickle, both of Warsaw.
In 2014, Grossnickle and his sons were inducted into the Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation’s Entrepreneur and Innovation Hall of Fame. The KEDCo Hall of Fame recognizes companies and individuals for making a strong economy and providing jobs for residents in the county.
Grossnickle, whose nickname is “Gummy,” was described by his friend, Dan Widaman, Warsaw, as “One of the great competitors of all time, especially on the golf course.”
When asked if he would enlist in the Navy again if he could go back in time, Grossnickle responded, “Oh my, yes, certainly.”