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.