WE MUST NOT FORGET

Discussion in 'Vietnam Stories: By John H. Wilborn' started by Guest, Feb 25, 2003.

  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    low2go
    J. Wilborn
    Posts: 31
    (2/8/01 4:06:36 pm)
    Reply WE MUST NOT FORGET
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    WE MUST NOT FORGET.
    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
    bookTHE GREATEST GENERATION.
    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
    person.
    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
    listeners.
    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
    today”?
    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
    Marines.
    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.