Three years is a long time to be away from home, especially when that person is not yet 20 years old and part of those three years is spent in hell on earth.
That’s exactly what faced Baldwyn’s Jake Lindsey, a veteran of World War II. Lindsey who turned 95 in 2018, entered the United States Army on February 5, 1943 and was discharged February 18, 1946. Between those dates he never set foot back home, never saw family and friends.
While he was enlisted Lindsey served his country in various posts in the United States before ultimately being deployed first to New Caledonia, a small group of islands in the South Pacific about 800 miles east of Australia. He spent a year there before being sent to the Japanese island of Iwo Jima for eight months. The remainder of his service was spent in Okinawa, Japan.
“I was sworn in and when I came back, they swore me out,” Lindsey said. “That’s when I got to go home.”
Lindsey’s service and lack of leave can be attributed to the way leave was handled, he said. He was moved around frequently as a replacement for other soldiers who were taking furlough. In one year of service he was moved to eight different camps. Leave at posts was given on a seniority basis. Since he moved frequently, he was always one of the newest soldiers and had to go to the back of the line.
Intensity of Iwo Jima
Danger, death and the scars of war were inescapable for Lindsey while on Iwo Jima.
“That island was two miles wide and about four miles long, or about eight square miles of land, and there were twenty-something thousand Japanese killed there,” Lindsey said.
“When they sent us up on the north end (of the island), all we had was the clothes we had, our rifle, a box of flares and a box of grenades,” Lindsey said. While they did have a supply of food, Lindsey said drinking water was very limited. “We had one canteen of drinking water a day, and you did what you wanted to with it,” he said. “And I don’t know anybody who ever washed with it.”
That made part of Lindsey’s work on Iwo Jima even more challenging. When he wasn’t hiding in a foxhole, Lindsey was responsible for burying the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers, and there were a lot of them – more than 20,000 Japanese soldiers died on the island.
At 20 years old, whatever path Lindsey had been on prior to the war, he found himself face-to-face with the horrors of war. All this for a pay of $25 a month, or $35 a month while he was in combat.
During his eight months on Iwo Jima, there was a lengthy stretch where Lindsey and the men he served with had to fight in hot and rainy conditions. If battling the Japanese wasn’t enough of a challenge, the men had to battle the elements as well.
“I was in a fox hole for six or eight weeks,” Lindsey said. “They didn’t tell us to get in the foxhole; they ordered us. They said if we got out of that foxhole before daylight we only had a slim chance of ever making it back to the foxhole alive. They (the Japanese) shot at anything that moved on top of the ground.”
He said there were supposed to be four men assigned to a foxhole at a time, taking a quarter of a night each on watch. One night, though, one of his group was missing.
“Me and my buddy and the sergeant got in the hole,” Lindsey said. “We were one short. Then the sergeant left and went to another hole. That just left me and (the other soldier), and we had to stay up half a night each, and we had to shoot rifle flares every 30 minutes, all night long. You couldn’t get any sleep.”
He said there were times when it was so silent around them that any noise could give away the soldier’s position to the enemy. Unfortunately there was one soldier who snored.
“I got tired of that,” Lindsey said. “I got to bumping him in the ribs with my gun. He got mad, but I got aggravated because I believed he was going to get us killed.”
The sergeant finally moved the snorer.
Lindsey said he and his fellow soldiers fought the Japanese as best they could but didn’t know the advantage they had until later on.
“We didn’t know it, but that place (Iwo Jima) was hollow from one end to the other,” Lindsey said. “We knew they (the Japanese) would be shooting at us, but we couldn’t figure out where they were coming from.”
What Lindsey and others soon learned was there was a series of tunnels underground where the Japanese soldiers could move around, with some tunnels reaching five stories deep, he said.
“They could go from one end of the island to the other, and we would never see them,” he said. “They would be shooting you and killing you, but we didn’t know where they were.”
Souvenirs of war
Among the artifacts Lindsey brought back from the battle was a Japanese bayonet, ammunition shells, a brand new Japanese rifle and a used rifle he recovered from one of the tunnels. It was difficult to bring items back to the States, but Lindsey was able to get a permit for the items and ship them back in a box.
An item Lindsey has that still bears bloodstains and shrapnel holes is a Japanese flag Lindsey recovered from the helmet of a dead soldier.
“I buried the guy who was wearing it,” Lindsey said. “He was killed at night, and we found him the next morning.”
Lindsey said he tried everything he could to remove the blood stains, but to no avail.
Something else Lindsey brought back from the war is all too familiar for many who serve: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. More than 60 years after his service ended, he still suffers from nightmares.
Honored after 60 years
Lindsey served in the infantry, attached to the third marine division. At his discharge he was a Technician Sergeant, Fifth Grade. He served in the 967th Ordinance Heavy Automotive Company (he worked on tanks) and received medals for serving in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of Operations. He was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement in ground combat. However, due to a fire in an archive in Missouri, Lindsey didn’t know what his rank was and didn’t receive his medal until 2007.
“I didn’t know what rank I was until just a few years ago,” he said. “I was a sergeant. I thought I was a corporal; I knew I had gotten two stripes and a T. I didn’t know what the T was for.”
Sixty years is a long time to wait for an honor. Unfortunately for many soldiers, those delays meant awards came too late for them to have the personal satisfaction of knowing their service was honored.
For that, Lindsey knows he is lucky. He is also all too aware that he is in a rapidly declining number of men who served the United States during WW II. He said of those he knew while enlisted, not very many at all are still around.
“I’m getting toward being the last.”
Publisher’s note: Jake Lindsey passed away Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 at the age of 95.