HolyCoast: A Special Veteran's Day Message

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Special Veteran's Day Message

I posted some of this on a previous Memorial Day, but I thought today would be a good time to re-run it:

It is on this day we honor the sacrifices of those who have served our country in our military services.  One of those decorated veterans was my father-in-law, Roy Jennings, who came home from France after WWII with two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, plus lifelong problems thanks to the trench foot that put him out of the war and the head wound that probably should have killed him.  Roy passed away on December 2nd, 2008, at the age of 83.

The battle in which he was wounded was the subject of a History Channel episode of "Shootout!", and Roy was interviewed on camera for the show.  I've excerpted the portion of the show that talks about the Battle of Vezon, France, and the moment in which he was wounded. What's still amazing to me is that all this happened when he was only 19 years old, barely older than my own son.  Please take a few minutes and watch this, and then read the follow-up information below the video:


The show did not go into what happened after that fateful night in Vezon, France, but Roy put that in his own words in an article I typed up for him some years ago. He later wrote a privately-published book about his experiences as a soldier.

 Here's the rest of the story:
The next morning the forward observation post counted more than thirty dead soldiers being loaded into the German ambulances. As for me, at the time I got back to the Regimental Aid station, the doctors gathered around; inspected the wound and came to two conclusions; one it was a glancing hit, the other it was a clear penetration into the frontal lobes. Both agreed if number two were true I should be dead. It was here at the location of this august body that I was presented my Purple Heart Award.

Bets were made and placed in an envelope which was tied to my shirt button hole for safe travel to the base hospital at Verdun, where the true winner could be established.

Along the way I was checked and injected with Morphine so I was pretty relaxed when we arrived at the receiving area. Immediately I was rushed into X-Ray and a series of pictures were taken from various angles, then back out to join the long lines of occupied gurneys awaiting their turn of attention. As I was being wheeled into the big operating room (six stations in action), I was pulled back out to X-Ray for more photos and then returned to the operating room. Here I was placed in the hands of the most gorgeous Red Headed Girl I had ever seen. She tenderly strapped my arm to a splint, inserted a needle and lovingly held my hand instructing me to count backwards starting at one hundred. I was fuzzy from Morphine but I couldn't take my eye off that vision in a nurses uniform. I think it made it down to ninety three and awoke in a small ward with my bullet on a 3x3 gauze pad on the night stand. It seems somewhere along the line I had asked that it be saved. Looking at it I agreed it must have been a ricochet as it was badly smashed with the copper jacket missing, and had the jacket remained intact if indeed it had one, any hunter could assure you it undoubtedly would have exited out through the top of the skull.

The Chaplain had made the trip back from the front to Verdun to visit his boys and the others among the early wounded. I had maintained rather good Sunday attendance back at Indiantown Gap as a continuation of my Sundays as a civilian in Huntington Park, California. He was interested in the removed bullet and wondered what I intended to do with it. When I explained I intended to convert it into a watch fob or a unit to be hung on the chain of a tie claps, he laughed and agreed either would work. He left with both of us feeling the future held great possibilities.

When I was being discharged from the hospital I was carrying the bullet in my pants watch pocket for safekeeping. The pants were new hospital issue as my combat ones were gone. As I was leaving, and Officer looked at my pant legs which were rather short and said I would have to go back and be issued a larger pair. The whole activity was under extreme pressure as the truck was in the act of leaving the hospital parking lot at that moment. The long and the short of it was, my pant legs were now long enough but I was short one combat souvenir that was irreplaceable.

I was being returned to the front although totally night blind in the injured eye. The feeling at that time was, keep as many trained troops in action as possible. I was placed on night guard duty as others took part in patrol actions. This restricted duty was considered quite reasonable even though I was so night blind and vision restricted form the swelling there was no way I could distinguish friend from foe by observation. Everything was left to challenge, sign and countersign; it was a nervous time for all concerned.

My next combat patrol was our first daylight action some days later. I had my old job back as a member of the point along with Max Ellison, Jim Thayer, and some other fellow where we formed up behind Lt. Max Lewis.

A short while later Lt. Lewis was put out of action as a result of multiple shrapnel wounds. he never returned.

As for me, the bullet had entered through the skull 1/4 inch to the outside of the eye socket and had to be extracted out through the point of entry. So those number two theory doctors won their bets! The shock of the entry turned the eyeball to "the consistency of a boiled egg", the words of a later doctor. Another said on inspection "this eye in this condition is in no medical shape to see at this time".

It is true it has given me trouble through various operations but I still have two eyes to see with, for which I am eternally grateful.
The damage that was done to the frontal lobe of his brain did cause him some problems late in life as he developed a seizure disorder that was being caused by old scar tissue. However, it was not debilitating and he could usually tell when a problem was coming.

There are lots of stories like his out there and I encourage you to join me in honoring those who have served us so well.

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