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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
J. Wilborn
Posts: 31
(2/8/01 4:06:36 pm)
The old man attempted to mask his strangled sob with
coughing sounds. All around him
there were delicate feminine sniffles--tissues dabbed at
eyes--many age worn and
liver-spotted hands covered quivering mouths, to keep the
sounds of weeping, contained.
The assembled listeners were sitting close enough to one
another that any attempts to hide
feelings that morning, would have proved futile--some simply
wept, unashamedly as they
listened raptly to the speaker.
It was Tuesday morning, the 7th of November 2000. It was
the weekly meeting of the Sun
City Arizona Lions Club Branch #79. In commemoration of the
upcoming Veterans Day, the
guest speaker was asked to give a talk. He had presented
the same talk to the Greater
Phoenix Press Club on July 4th--it was highly acclaimed by
all in attendance. The speaker
had confided to me, that had he of not been able to deliver
the talk, his wife Fay was
prepared to read it for the members of the Press Club. God
Bless him, he come through like
a champion--like a Marine--like the former Marine he is--now
seventy four years old but then
a young Marine, still in his teens, watching the flag
raisings on Iwo Jima--.
The year before when he wrote his story I called a friend
named Steve Wilson from the
Arizona Republic and arranged an introduction. All parties
being mid-westeners, there was
immediate rapport established--a nice feature article in the
Republic and later I sent a copy
of the story to Tom Brokaw of NBC Nightly News. Mr. Brokaw
answered back personally and
told us how important those stories about WWII were--he had
just finished his best selling
I have read the story more times than once--it was a story
about people and places I knew
as a boy--it had an interest for me--Edgewood, Iowa where he
had graduated in 1943--I
had been born in Edgewood in 1933. Small farming community
of less than five hundred
souls, so I knew many of the same people that he did. When
I was a high school senior I
went to live with his in-laws. Fay was their only living
child--they were my legal guardians
and in 1951, would sign the papers giving me their
permission to join the Navy at seventeen.
Yes, I had read the story many times--yes, there were
tie-ins--probably though, above all
else, he is such a good man--a good friend--just a saintly
His name is Frank Densmore--I’ve never called him that--just
Denny--the same as his wife Fay
calls him--they were married in 1945--when I address mail to
him, seems strange writing Frank
Densmore. For many years in and around Dixon, Illinois he
was Doctor Frank--the very skilled
and competent veterinarian for more than thirty years.
Denny told me once he had every
intention of being a farmer as his father had been--until
the severity of his war wounds
changed his life and his plans.
The man standing behind the podium was in control of his
emotions and most certainly in
control of the listeners. Breakfast had been served to the
festive group--good natured
banterings among friends--business was
conducted--assignments for fund raisings activities
completed, prayers offered and the pledge to the colors. I
suppose there were members in
the group who had read or been told Denny’s story before,
however when the Chaplain
had introduced him, respectful silence prevailed from that
point on.
Yes, I had read the story--I had been thrilled by it--there
were some points about the invasion
I had actually asked him about. Denny is a humorous
person--quiet, but humorous. I recall
him telling our group at breakfast one morning that one time
when he was at Fay’s parents
house and in the typical Marine fashion in the messhall
“pass the f*****g butter”!!!! Yes, his
Dear Wife Fay documentated the casual event--’mortified’,
was the word she used. Yes, I
had read the story, but to have simply read a story and then
have it told as Denny told it to
us old folks Tuesday morning, is like nothing I can compare
it with.
Even though Fay’s back was to me, I could sense her concern
as Denny spoke--he grasped
the podium tightly--his pleasant voice did not seem to be
anything but
conversational--perhaps when he began, I noted a tightness
to his features--a far-away look
rather than eye contact for different sections of the
I followed Denny’s narrative much as I recalled reading it
from his story. Everything seemed
right-on-the-money--there were a few halting chuckles and
smiles as he would relate
something typical military--like to say “yup, been
there--done that--they treat us all the
same”. Pangs of sadness began when Denny spoke of
Fay--parting--unknown future--the
world at war and love must wait. Blue silver heads of the
ladies could be seen
nodding--they knew--they had not been spared and they could
recall though it was more
than fifty-five years--the old men listened--every now and
then a slight nod of the head and
a look to a nearby friend for assurance of that’s how it
was. Denny spoke of coming home
to Iowa on boot leave--the train getting flood-stranded in
Nebraska for a week of a
fourteen day foulough--I mused in my mind at that moment
“and did it rain on your parade
As Denny spoke, an errie silence fell over the group. It
was a large room--it was actually a
clubhouse for an upscale retirement center--very plush and
nice. There were the sniffles first,
then the throat clearing, and finally the open sobs as he
talked. Occasionally other people,
not of our group, would venture nearby. Some talking and
laughing but they too seemed to
sense the foreboding environment and would scurry off.
Denny recalled that it was Fay’s
birthday the day they hit the beach on Iwo Jima.
There is way too much to recall about the events and the
happenings--not only of the story
but from Denny’s talk. I lost my composure completely when
he related to us of coming off
the landing craft onto the beach at Iwo Jima--the black sand
being of such a nature that
an average weight man,would sink into up to the knees--the
combat marine with his pack,
ammo, grenades could not function unless he rid himself of
the cumbersome load. Denny
said he made that decision--he did not need that gear--all
he had to do as he progressed
slowly up though the hail of enemy fire was to replenish
what he used from the dead
marines bodies that littered the beach. He was wounded, but
not seriously, initally. It took
the Marines four days of bloody fighting and with heavy
losses to simply reach the base of
Mt. Surabachi. Denny’s lieutenant would volunteer Densmore
and two others comprising a
force of fifty to storm the side of the mount.
His voice was as strong and unwavering as when he had begun
to talk. The group was
faltering however--the pace could not be sustained. More
nose-blowing and sucking
snot--watching the flag raising both times--one forgotten,
the other immortalized for time
and eternity. Feeling the pride of Denny and also the group
when he described all the ships
out in the bay blowing their horns and whistles when they
spotted the flag being unfurled.
And the sadness of being reminded that of the six valiant
wariors who raised Old Glory, that
only three would survive the hell of battle. Denny spoke
how few times the enemy was
actually spotted--how he had been forced to take life, or to
have forfeited his own. How
he described the enemy as being as young and frightened as
he was. How he had
described one shooting match--much like a turkey shoot,
ducking, weaving, bobbing--until
he tired of the match and solved the dilemma with a well
tossed grenade.
As Denny spoke, there was a grudging respect for the
enemy--they were not the invincible
fighting man sometimes made out to be. They were just
men--their advantage had been
the preparation time. Japan had started preparing island
defenses more than half a
century earlier--Iwo Jima included--many times employing
slave labor to construct tunnels
and fortifications. Their weapons and tactics were inferior
to the American forces. Hand
grenades were overcharged with powder causing gross
ineffectivness or total malfunctions.
To arm the grenade, the device would have to be struck,
usually rapped on the helmet.
The smoke from the armed grenade could easily be
spotted--one time Denny shot a
Japanese solider at the exact moment of arming and it proved
devasting to the Japs
comrads nearby.
Denny’s delivery was still strong and vibrant--the listeners
however were like ‘punch-drunk’
fighters--old fighters, on the ropes. No longer were the
sentiments contained--open
weeping and twisting of kleenex and hankies--unabashed tears
no longer a random
spotting but very prevalent in the whole gathering.
Thirty five days into the battle --- the island of Iwo Jima
had been declared secured at thirty
days--the Marine General didn’t want so small an island to
be labelled a “Campaign” after
the thirty day limit --.
This night Denny’s existing group was ordered to the rear
several hundred yards for rest. So
very exhausted, they fell to the black sand to sleep--during
the night, the Japanese
counter-attacked the sleeping marines. Denny awoke and
grabbed his weapon at the
same moment one othe the Japanese grenades detonated near
his head. Had the small
projectile been loaded properly, the sharpnel would have
surely killed him--with an
overload of powder, the fragments were to small and
scattered to kill--it only maimed him.
He fell into the sand and stayed still--the bleeding from
neck and shoulder wounds were
mercifully congealed by the loose, pillowing lava sand.
Next morning a tank was sent to pick up the wounded. Denny
was evacuated out to a
hospital ship but it was already full so he went to a
regular ship of the line where he was
treated in their sickbay.
Would it ever end--so much sadness--so many tears. They all
knew he recovered and life
went on but they had to be told something good. The 12th of
April, 1945 Denny arrived in
Pearl Harbor--on the way to the hospital, he then heard the
announcment that President
Roosevelt had just died. More agonized moans-- more
tears. Finally on May 2nd 1945,
Dennys’ ship passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. He
remembered that date for it was his
19th birthday. A subdued cheer went up--a few happy souls,
clapping their hands--a smile
or two around a face full of tears. Another let down--Denny
was not able to talk--a piece of
the grenade sharpnel had cut the nerve to his vocal cord.
He of course recovered and
finally on the 12 of July, 1945 was discharged from the
On the fourth anniversiary of their first date, the 25 of
August 1945 Fay and Denny were wed.
Oh, for the sounds of bedlam--the tumult and the
shouting--to hell with the tears--you can
cry when you’re happy, the same as when you’re sad--it just
feels better is all.
The GI Bill would play a roll in the newlyweds plans and
Iowa State College would be the
site. It had been a day in the summer of 45, while hitchhiking to
enroll in college, church bells were ringing
in this little Iowa town proclaimed the wars end. Denny
said he cried that day.
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