Friday, August 28, 2009

World War II veteran can finally open up about horrific battle- "Death was all over the place"

John Landry, 85, in the kitchen of his Thetford Township home, Landry fought for the NAVY in WWII as a top turret gunner and as a ground soldier in the battle of Okinawa in Japan. Landry has never talked about his experiences during the battle of Okinawa until recently, when he decided he wanted to tell his story "I didn't talk about the war because I didn't want people to hear about it, " Landry said.

This is very inspiring to me. How often do we see these old guys in Walmart and Sears and many other places barly getting along. We, and I forget that they were young strong men at one time, and the stories they must have to tell. I am very pround of our past heros, but for them we may not be here. I found this on Facebook, and wanted to share it with all of you.

THETFORD TWP., Michigan -- He wasn't even supposed to be there.

John Landry never spoke about the island, the scattered bodies, the smell of death -- but six decades later, nightmares of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II woke him up from his sleep soaked in sweat.

"They were things I could never talk about, but it's time I told it like it was," said Landry, 85, whose buried memories began haunting him after he saw scenes of the Iraq war on television.

"I don't want to leave this world and take it with me."

The most gruesome chapter of the veteran's life happened in the Battle of Okinawa -- the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific theater of the war.

It was a small mistake that landed him there.

If only he hadn't broken the U.S. Navy's dress code.

After getting in a scuffle because he was wearing his Navy cap the wrong way one day, Landry faced a choice: Get shipped to the Pacific or face military jail and a possible dishonorable discharge.

"I could've spent the rest of my career in San Diego drinking iced drinks," the blue-gray-eyed vet mused, sitting in his Thetford Township home near medals that include two Purple Hearts.

Instead, the upstate New York native who had returned to the U.S. after flying 32 air missions in England, returned to a war he thought he was finished fighting.

It was 1944 and the then-18-year-old top turret gunner was perched at a bar in San Diego where he was to spend the rest of his service teaching gunnery. That's when someone behind him brusquely pushed down his hat.

A teenage Landry, who had had a couple of drinks, sharply swung his body around, knocking the shore patrolman who had corrected Landry's hat position to match West Coast Navy codes.

"The next thing I knew I was in a patrol wagon being sent to the brig (the Navy jail)," Landry recalled.

Facing a severe charge of assaulting a shore patrolman, Landry went back to war to clear his record.

"I would have been court-martialed," said Landry, who stayed three days in the military jail. "I couldn't disgrace my family like that."

So he found himself on a cargo ship among a group of other sailors "who had also gotten into some trouble."

And that's how the Navy first class petty officer ended up on Okinawa Island in southwestern Japan in 1945, fighting in one of the fiercest battles of the war.

"The things that went on on that island are things you never forget," Landry said. "Death was all over the place."

Except for a long time, Landry did manage to push down those memories.

Only recently have the long-blocked scenes started to come back to life.

He can suddenly see mothers clutching babies and leaping off cliffs into the water. He can see the natives fleeing into caves engulfed by fire minutes later from grenades.

"What got me was these people were trying to get away from us, and it was their island," he said. "I hadn't seen the destruction we were doing from the air. Now I'm on land and I'm seeing the bodies, the kids. I could smell burning flesh, which is something if you ever got near it, you never forget."

The ferocity of fighting in the 82-day-long bitter battle from March to June 1945 caused among the highest casualties of any WWII engagement, earning it the nickname "Typhoon of Steel."

Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed or wounded or attempted suicide.

Had he followed the rules, his last war memory would have stayed in Europe.

He would have continued to tell his family the only part he has always told -- about the roughly eight months he spent performing air missions for the British Coastal Command.

And how he served in the same squadron as Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. -- President John F. Kennedy's brother who died in a plane crash. How he ate dinner next to and walked the town with the sociable pilot.

"I was very proud to have known him, whether his brother was president or not," Landry said.

But about five years ago, Landry was reminded of the untold stories when he was combing his hair and a sliver of what he believes was shrapnel from Okinawa fell from his head.

"He'd tell us about his flying days, but he never talked about Okinawa," said his wife, Patricia. "I think he wants to get it out in the open. The World War II veterans are dying off, and their stories are getting lost."

Landry, who spent much of civilian life as a construction heavy equipment operator, joined the Navy "because I liked the navy-blue suit" and was drawn to romantic sailor tales.

The father of five sons said Okinawa scenes have started coming back in bits and pieces, many times through nightmares.

"I'm lost and I can't get to where I want to be," he said of his dreams. "I think it's because I don't want to do what I have to do. I don't want to wake up in a foxhole or in the dirt."

He has finally began sharing with his family the details he had intentionally forgotten.

"I've been through what I've been through, and I changed because of it. I just want them to hear it," he said. "But I'm so lucky. I've got my mind, a beautiful wife and a beautiful life. I wouldn't change anything."

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