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Monday, August 31, 2009

Okinawa Remembered

Some memories, long repressed, never die. This 85 year old World War II veteran is dealing with long ago horrors that he was able to suppress for many years. The bloody battle of Okinawa, with many civilian and service casualties, is coming back to haunt him.

Extensive quote for educational purposes:

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.

"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," .





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