The Words in Her Book – Part 7
At first light the next morning I used my field glass to inspect the cliffs of the short mountain opposite us to the west. I had a hunch. at one point yesterday I took mental note that those cliffs seemed full of pock marks and what if the enemy were hiding maybe shooting from some of those holes. now the position of the sun created shadows that accentuated those holes. they were obviously caves. fairly deep caves not just places where the birds has made nests. sonofabitch I said to myself, the enemy had to be up there knocking us down like wooden ducks at the carnival. right then either luck or providence allowed me to see a few white flashes at the exact moment I focused on one particular cave. quickly, in less than a second, looking toward the open beach without the field glass I saw where those rounds impacted the waterline and about ten yards of beach. also, though faint, I was able to hear the sound that corresponded to that machinegun. I figured they must have had some kind of muzzle on that thing and being in the cave probably helped to obscure the sound. That also explained why we couldn’t figure out where the deadly strafing on the beach was coming from (shrouded in shadows) and why we couldn’t hear it. it was all coming from above us on our extreme left flank where we hadn’t imagined the enemy could be hiding and shooting at us.
I passed this information along and helped target four of these caves. Soon we had two 37mm guns trained on the targets, taking them out. I felt good that my luck would save lives but angry that someone hadn’t figured this out sooner.
Not surprisingly, later in the morning our particular position being so far forward and our guns that were punishing the hell out of them, our posirtion was the first in our area to receive enemy mortar fire. from one exploding shell, several small fragments lodged in my left elbow. then a few minutes later, air burst shells exploded above us. pellets pounded the ground all around us, but none of us were hit. one pellet, about three-eighths of an inch in diameter, split my rifle stock and got lodged inside. I didn’t used to cuss. this bloody elbow pain and close call inspired some chouice words.
After that we were pulled back into reserve again, and the next frontline assignment was on Hill 382, one of the highest hills on Iwo Jima and part of the enemy’s main line of defense that ran across the island. Hill 382 and two other landmarks, the so-called Amphitheater and Turkey Knob, formed a complex of enemy defenses that we had named the “Meat Grinder.” we climbed the side of the Hill 382 in the dark.
The last day and half has been like a flash and eternity together. I will have I am sure nightmares from what I’ve seen. it has been and is a living nightmare. I know I shouldn’t predict it because grandfather you said my quiet mind would make it happen. several times very nearly vomited from what I have seen and heard and smelled. had to force food down for strength. Somebody brought fresh fruit from off shore and that helped. also writing the words in this book keeps the fear away. I cried last night for no reason. I recite scripture every chance I get. I don’t know if out loud or in my head. probably both as I woke myself up quoting the lords prayer out loud and Mongomery telling me to shut up. I lost McDonald today. won’t say how. I won’t ever speak of it except to say we could not find all of his body only maybe half. I know his fiancé’s name. It’s Marie. A pretty name I have always liked. I have his loved one letter. thank God I was able to recover it. and I will add a note to it. I pray the worst is behind us.
The following day, an enemy artillery shell exploded only a few feet away from corporal Jennings as he was momentarily hunkered down in another crater created by a previous artillery blast. While the crater he was crouching in preserved his life, shielding him from the worst of the blast, the combination of the awful explosion‘s shockwave and the terrible noise of the bomb’s impact, like the strike of a mighty thunderbolt, caused a seventy percent hearing loss in one ear and a partial loss of hearing in the other ear. Both ears bled. He heard a steady ringing for several weeks, especially in the most affected ear.
The injury made him of no further use to the military. The battle of Iwo Jima raged for more than four more weeks, the marines gaining more inches, feet and yards on a daily basis. The island was declared to be in the full control of the marines on March 26.
Corporal Jennings was on his way back to the States within ten days of his war-ending injury. On the first leg of the journey home, he was taken on an aging hospital ship out of theater to a hospital in Hawaii. The two day voyage was fairly comfortable as the vessel was a retired cruise ship hastily converted into a floating infirmary for the not-critically-injured, after being donated to the Navy in the months following Pearl Harbor.
During those two days, and the few weeks he remained in hospital in Hawaii before being sent home, he was almost always either writing in his book or clutching it. Once the pages of one hardback journal were filled with his thoughts and reflections, he acquired a new book and continued to write.