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Some may say I am a "Stay at home Mom," but that is not even close. I am Eric's Wife. I have exhilarating strokes of genius, followed almost immediately by paralyzing pangs of self doubt and, for whatever reason, here is where I blog about it - warts and all. I serve a merciful God with a clumsy hand and at the end of each day I go to sleep thankful to be His servant and Eric's wife.

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On Memorial Day

May 26, 2008

My maternal Grandpa served in the Philippines in World War II. He came away with bullet wounds, soul wounds, and a desire to never again see any creature suffer.

Today is Memorial Day and I would like to share with you a bit about Grandpa’s war experience. This is a real treat, because it is not I who wrote this, but my dear Grandma. He first told her what he saw in the Philippines nearly forty years after it occurred. This is her account of what he told her, taken from her book “After the Darkness of Night Comes the Dawn”.

After we finished our meal, he pushed his plate back, looked very serious and spoke with a highly shaky voice, “I need to talk to you. I think I know now why I got the Silver Star.”

He began his story with Saturday, March 24, 1945, when they took the town of Santo Tomas and drove the enemy out. They had to go house to house, store to store, running all the Japanese out.

The Filipino people had fled to the hills after the Japanese came in. He said it gave him such a funny feeling going into those homes with his rifle. Not only was he afraid of running into Japanese soldiers, he felt he was invading these people’s privacy. Their homes were just as they left them, with pictures of their loved ones sitting around.

One Japanese soldier ran out of the house, and several Americans shot him. Jimmie said it was a gruesome thing to see. As he was going to the front of one house, several Japanese began running out the back.

He said, after capturing the town, they spent the night in the cemetery where Japanese soldiers were buried. One man dug a foxhole and struck a Japanese soldier’s body. It rained all night that night and they stood for hours in deep water. Of course, he never slept a wink.

On Sunday, after a restless night in the cemetery, they had a mission to accomplish. The sergeant revealed to them a few Japanese soldiers were nearby in the woods and had plans to take the town back. Their mission was to hold them back.

Jimmie was made to feel sick by one of the men he had to spend time with in the foxhole. He had been in the war for some time and had become hardened to it. He kept a pouch around his neck where he kept Japanese soldiers’ teeth that he pulled after they were dead. Jimmie said that the first time he saw him pull out the pliers and pull the teeth, it made him literally ill. He did not want to be with him on this mission.

There was a schoolyard next to the cemetery with swings and other evidence of a happier time when children played there. Jimmie sat down to eat his k-rations and a kitten that had spent the night with him stroked his legs. He shared his meal with the kitten and patted it a few times.

As he was talking he would choke up, tears rolled down his cheeks and he would have to regain his composure.

He said there were eighteen men on the mission, and they started out on foot away from the little town. They continued walking and came upon a bridge with a peaceful river below.

The battle started and soon after, the soldier with the Browning automatic was wounded. Jimmie said the Browning automatic drew a lot of fire as the Japanese soldiers wanted to take it out of commission first. The sergeant picked Jimmie to take over the weapon. Things were really getting rough, and the Japanese were gaining ground.

The Americans had artillery fire that came over them for support. A round was too close and caused what they call a tree burst because it caused the trees to flare. The men were down as low as they could get on their stomachs, but the artillery was getting too close to the ground and was not going over them. Jimmie said that, in short, it scares you to death. Confusion and fear had completely engulfed the men. They had to radio the artillery to raise it or they would kill their own men.

The battle was raging and the situation was not good. Jimmie told me that when Sergeant Price said it was time to go, it was already too late. The withdrawal plan was that the man with the Browning automatic would be in the middle and three men at a time on each side would drop back simultaneously, with rifle fire continuing until they were withdrawn. Jimmie was the last one as he had the Browning automatic and was spraying bullets back and forth until he ran out.

He threw his gun down as quickly as he could and was moving out. On the way out, Jimmie was wounded and two soldiers helped him back to safer ground. They helped him onto a litter and he said his Sergeant, Lieutenant, and Master Sergeant were there.*

His Lieutenant lit a cigarette, gave it to him, patted him on the shoulder and said, “Cummings, that was a job well done.”

Tears were streaming down his face as he talked. He kept repeating over and over, “I just did what they told me to do. I was just following orders. I was just following orders.”

After he was sent to the hospital in New Guinea, he had a lot of time to think. He realizes there were other battles he went through that were probably worse, but they were always on the move and he didn’t have time to think about them. This battle went over and over in his mind. He tried reading his New Testament and he prayed, but the memory was still with him.

He remembers being next to a Japanese soldier who was a prisoner of war. He was in a wire cage and was able to speak English, so Jimmie was able to talk to him, give him cigarettes and so forth. He realized this man was away from home also. This man had a family and wanted to be home with them also.

He doesn’t know when his memory left him, but I’m sure he was grateful when it did.

Here was this gentle farm boy who never wanted to hunt or fish because he didn’t want to kill anything. I thought of how, through all of our married life, he would not kill a mouse that ran across the floor or even swat a fly. He always said that they have just as much right to live as we do. This gentle lover of all creatures was given a gun, sent overseas, and told to kill humans.

When the horror of war was more than Jimmie could take, his mind blocked it out until such a time as he could handle it. Although he hates war, he tells me he knows cruel dictators have to be stopped. “It’s like seeing your neighbor beating his kids or another neighbor, or trying to come into your home to make your way of life unbearable.” He said he is proud of his country and wanted to keep it free. Maybe someday men will find a way to live in peace.

*Grandma wrote this a few years before Grandpa passed away. It was also written before he was able to bring himself to tell her about the two days he actually spent waiting for those soldiers to pull him off the battle field. That’s a story that she told me the last time I ever spoke with her. I wrote that one down and will share it another time.

7 responses to “On Memorial Day”

  1. Chris says:

    That is a good story! Thank you for sharing it.

  2. I’m so grateful for men like your Grandpa who have given up so much for us. Thank you for the meaningful reminder of the sacrifices that were/are made on our behalf.

  3. Sandra Dodd says:

    Several pieces of this story came together after Grandma had written this story. In fact it was at his funeral that we found out much of this story and others. Picking up with the story where he was the last man holding the Browning he would shoot until the last man of his unit was out. When he was finally able to get out as he was leaving he heard one of his friends screaming in pain. His friend had been shot while escaping and Grandpa ran back to get him. As he approached his friend grandpa was shot as well in the hip. He fell on top or near his friend and kept whispering to him to just keep quiet and he would get him out. But his friend was in so much pain he was out of his right mind. The Japanese approached the wounded soldiers, Grandpa played dead and the Japanese shot his friend in the head as Grandpa lay right next to him. He said he could hear them laughing and talking in a language he didn’t understand as they kicked the bodies (I guess to make sure they were dead) while gathering up bodies of soldiers and placing them in a pile. We do not know how long the Japanese stayed or camped at that sight or how long Grandpa had to play dead but we do know he lay among the dead for a few days until the Americans came back for the fallen soldiers. He was 19 years old and he blocked most of this out of his mind. It is somewhere here where his memory would pick back up with the two soldiers helping him up.
    I know that my father never talked about war stories it was something that he just didn’t share … but I do remember asking him about his thoughts of war… during the Vietnam era and he looked at me and said that he hated war but he would do it over again for his family and the privilege we have to live in this free country. He was very patriotic. I was totally clueless of the things my father had sacrificed. But I did have two sons that joined the military not because they couldn’t think of something better but because of the legacy their Grandfather gave them…. and to them it would be the most honorable thing they could do.

  4. Sandra Dodd says:

    P.S. I hope I give most of the information. I will call up on my brothers to fill in or correct any part my story. I have not unpacked the updated version of the book yet.

  5. Kevin says:

    Thank you for retelling this story. My eyes were not dry as I remembered the gentle man we knew as Grandpa. Hearing his story and listening to his voice tell it is sweet and comforting. What his eyes have seen and heart endured would not be wished on any man. If anything I can also see Nathan a little clearer too. An inextinguishable fire for justice for the marginalized and a compassion and hope that all may be at peace.

  6. Amy says:

    I really love reading your stuff. It’s great. -Amy

  7. Jenni says:

    This brought tears to my eyes. This world is just so hard.