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In Loving Tribute

James D. Jackson

Co L, 382 Infantry Regiment

96th Infantry Division

U.S. Army

MIA 11 May 1945 Okinawa

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w  James Dowell Jackson’s Story

as told by Raymond Baird

James Dowell Jackson was born in Marshall County, Oklahoma on 18 January 1919. He was raised to be a cowhand but did attend school, where his later writings revealed that he developed good penmanship together with a pretty good grasp of spelling, grammar, and punctuation. When he was in his teens, Destiny took a hand, to paraphrase Bogart’s character in “Casablanca.” By the time he was coming of age, the Depression had struck the country full force and he left home hunting for work.

Jobs for cowhands were scarce to nonexistent in the heart of the Dust Bowl, no matter how talented, young, and strong you were, and many unemployed cowboys in north Texas and western Oklahoma resorted to riding the “grub line” – riding from one ranch to another, looking for work, certainly not expecting to find steady work but hoping to be asked to spend the night and eat supper and breakfast before moving on.

During those years, low cattle prices and the catastrophic drought reached historic proportions. Conditions got so bad that in the early ‘30’s and again in the later years of the decade, the Government bought cattle and killed them because there simply was not enough grass or feed to maintain the herds.

When Jackson got an opportunity to go to work for the Santa Fe Railroad alongside his father on a track gang out of Clovis, New Mexico, he jumped at the chance. It wasn’t his ideal preference but it offered steady work and a regular paycheck (and later a small Christmas stipend after he was drafted; the railroad continued a small degree of financial support for his family until his children reached maturity.)

Shortly thereafter (at age 22), with his now-improved prospects, he married Opal Mae Thompson, another Oklahoman whom he had been courting. The birth of their first child, a girl, followed in fairly short order. When he was drafted, he had settled n Clovis, New Mexico, having left his birthplace in Oklahoma a good while earlier.

For the first time in his adult life, all seemed to be going pretty well but for a second time fate intervened. At the age of 25, he was drafted and reported to Camp Hood, Texas. If Army training made any distinct impression on him while he was there or at Fort Bliss, it was rarely mentioned in his regular, near-religious correspondence with his wife.

He did mention going on bivouac and K.P. duty but dryly noted that “You made a good K.P. out of me at home. Ha. Ha.” Mostly he wrote of his daughters (by that time his second daughter had been born but he had not seen her yet and his letters were filled with questions).

Click photo for larger image

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This photograph of James has an arcade photo in the left corner of him and his bride Opal Mae.  In the Background are his spur and a Navajo blanket preferred in those days as saddle blankets . This one is from Two Gray HIlls Trading Post in New Mexico

He also passed along what he had heard from and about other members of his extended family. His ranching roots showed up even here, as on one occasion he recorded that he had gone to a rodeo while in El Paso but groused that it was not as good as he was used to.

Completing his training at Ft Bliss he received advanced training at Ft. Ord California, and jungle training for a month in Oahu, Hawaii. Then his troop ship sailed with convoy to the sweltering tropical island of Saipan in the Marianas. There he took another month of advanced training.

His next stop was Okinawa where he joined his Army outfit; the Deadeyes of the 96th Division in late April, 1945.

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The men in his new battalion had been pulled off the lines for a rest near the Kadena Airstrip just north of Naha on the west coast.

He was a replacement and so he was indoctrinated by those men who had been in combat. The division was called into position to enter the battle on May 9th and moved up to the front in borrowed foxholes replacing the 7th Division.

On May 11th a large 10th Army offensive began all across the line complete with massive artillery salvos, blanketed mortar and machine gun fire, and pinpointed shelling from ships in the harbor.

When artillery lifted aircraft followed up with rocket fire at designated targets and riflemen pushed off all across the line. Japanese troops had hundreds of men in caves and tunnels waiting and vectored cross firing machine guns ready to meet them.

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A, B and C rifle companies of the 382nd regiment were in center of the line and met savage resistance. With coordinated fire support they penetrated Japanese positions and took Zebra Hill on their way to attacking another hill; Dick Baker.

Hundreds of Deadeyes were wounded on that bloody day and many brave men were dropped in place.

It has been verified that Private James D Jackson of Oklahoma was there and never seen again.

 

 

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We could say quite truthfully that war is extremely wasteful and an ill-conceived manner of solving mankind’s problems: and we would be right. We could also be justified in defending our country and our way of life and history would also prove that too would be right.

But the consequence of this enormity is the suffering of those at home. Each death has profound and sad effect on a plethora of loved ones; parents, siblings, wives, children, sweethearts and generations yet to be.    (by William R Hill)

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  The men of the 96th Division became known as Deadeyes because of one scrappy officer who insisted on marksmanship and all the weeks on firing ranges; Brigadier General Claudius Easley
     
   
The piece that follows is the tribute “Until Someone Calls Name” by Raymond Baird, husband of the daughter of James D. Jackson.
Click image for a PDF copy to print or save.
   
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w  UNTIL SOMEONE CALLS MY NAME
A short story written in tribute to James D. Jackson
MIA 11 May 1945 Okinawa

by Raymond Baird

Then it began to happen again.

If Jackson had ever had anesthesia, he might have thought that this was sort of similar. Sort of like that incoherent flailing as you try to shake off the effects of the drugs and try to re-become yourself. You drift into conscious awareness, then in spite of all your clawing, you lose it, the cycle, like some toxic mental miasma, being completely outside your control.

Someone nearby was saying his name. He had experienced that same thing once before, too. “When was that?” he asked himself. In one of his lucid moments it came back to him. “Jackson, James D.” the voice had intoned in a somewhat mechanical, almost disinterested way, “Company C, 382nd Infantry. This report says he was hit by a sniper somewhere around here, when they were pinned down by a Nip machine gun on that ridge over there.” The voice continued, “No remains were found. Scatter out and see if you can find anything.” That was the last thing he could recall, and it was followed by the velvet darkness closing in again.

Until now. Disoriented, unconnected images swirled slowly in the syrup-like chaos that was his mind as he fought to wake up. Waiting on the ship before finally landing on the island. The smell of vomit on the landing craft. The constant low grumble of battle in the distance. Walking down to hire some of the local women to try to wash the foul stench from his uniform. Then the battle itself, his only battle; men yelling; men hit; men replaced; more yelling. Then a thump; Graves Registration’s fruitless search of the area; then nothing.

“The after-action report was filed by Lt. Doyle several days later and it says that PFC Jackson was a replacement and had been in the Company only five days….” said a male voice, different than the first one. “But the details are a bit sketchy and sometimes contradictory. I hope you understand. The only reason we have any records at all is because we won.”

“Are they talking about me? Why are they talking about me? Who is talking about me?” As his mind had cleared, his uncertainty had become focused, and his questions had become more coherent.

Another new voice, then several new voices. He became aware that he did not see them, he only heard them. Maybe he wasn’t even hearing them – he just seemed to know what they were saying. Whoever they were, they spoke in hushed tones, almost reverential. Suddenly he realized that several voices were female. “Women? Here? Where did they come from?”

A new male voice: “Every day when we take off from Futenma, one of the landmarks we use is that water tower on top of the knob you called Dick Baker. I see it almost every day.”

“Take off? So that guy’s a pilot? A water tower? There’s no water tower on Dick Baker.”

One of the female voices, a girl’s voice, inquisitive: “Mama?”

“How’d she get out here?”

Having gotten the adult’s attention, the girl continued, in that linear tone that children often show when they want to make sure they understand something they can’t infer, to make sure they have gotten their arms around a storyline: “Mama, your grandfather Jackson was killed here?”

A woman’s voice “That’s right.”

“Did you know your grandfather Jackson?”

“No, honey, he was killed long before I was born. In fact he was killed when your Grandmother was a baby and even she never got to see him.”

“My God, she’s talking about my baby daughter. That woman talking – that must be my granddaughter. And she says I am dead.” Like a wave, a sense of being overwhelmed swept over him, crested, crashed down, and swallowed him.

Then there was silence, disturbed only by the sound of shoes on grit. He remembered the grit -- the sound of it under his boots, the feel of it in his clothes and on his skin and on his rifle, and the moldy smell of it when it was wet, which was most of the time. It was heavy with the almost physical smell of rotting plants, a smell so heavy that the breezes could not blow it away, and the unmistakable on-again—off-again pungency of a mixture of odors of decaying flesh, jellied gasoline, and cordite.

Pilot’s voice again: “Trees up ahead -- keep your eyes open for habu, everyone. We don’t want anyone to get bitten now, not today, not on our last day here.” A pause, “Look at this, girls. It’s a detonator from a 75 mm howitzer round. Amazing that you can tell what it is through all the corrosion 70 years later.” After they looked at it, he had them return it, laying it just off the trail, unwilling to take the artifact from the battle site.

Over the course of the next two and a half hours Jackson accompanied the family and the guide as they walked the ground where so many had died, as the guide filled them in with the few details he had been able to locate, placing them geographically in the battle as best he could. Then the tour was over. The girls, who had been uncharacteristically hushed throughout the morning, were eager to eat lunch. As sandwiches were brought out, the pilot told them not to dawdle, because the flight to Osaka was only four hours away and they still had to drop the car off. These comments were vaguely disconcerting to Jackson, though he wasn’t too sure why. In a break in the conversation he mused “They’re flying to Osaka.” That was an unforeseen development: the novelty (“kids flying….?”) and peculiarity (“…from Okinawa?” “…to Osaka? …that’s in Japan, isn’t it?”), reinforcing the growing conclusion that it had been a long time between this conversation and the last one he had been party to, and that much had happened in the interval. Then the mundane momentarily took precedence as the sandwiches, now having been handed out, were eaten and conversation temporarily subsided.

In a few minutes, the conversation resumed, but it was mostly a monologue now, punctuated by an occasional question from one of the girls. The girls’ mother related more details about her mother’s life and how it had been shaped indirectly by the events that took place here, 70 years earlier. She tried to put it in context by repeating the old butterfly wing adage, concluding, “the butterfly flapping its wings in Samoa didn’t ‘cause’ the tornado in Texas in any direct way that we can figure out, but it changed the initial conditions, and those conditions affected other things, which eventually allowed the tornado to form, when still other things happened.” Jackson had heard this before. “Was it in school?” He doubted it. Maybe in one of the endless bull sessions in the Santa Fe rail yard before he was drafted or in the barracks or on the troop ship. “The latter, most likely.” he thought. The girls’ questions and comments led Jackson to believe that they had a rudimentary understanding of the idea she was trying to put across – a pretty good understanding of it, in fact – but even though they had a good handle on it, it would be a long time before they grasped it fully, and, he thought, maybe he would have to think about it some more too.

The pilot re-focused Jackson’s attention on the immediate situation when he said, “OK, everyone, let’s load up.”

The mother’s ambivalence was evident in her voice. Ever organized and efficient, she oversaw the gathering up of the trash. But with her voice quavering, she asked the guide to take one more picture of her family overlooking the battlefield of long ago, now calm and peaceful in the noontime sun. There, in tears, her voice now breaking, she said goodbye to Jackson, the grandfather whom she had never met, and thanked him. “Your being here, in this place at that time, doing what you did, established the conditions that allowed my mother to become who and what she is, and that allowed me to become who and what I am, and that allowed me to have and to know these wonderful girls. I cannot ever thank you, and even if I could, I could not thank you enough.” She was unable to continue, and they got into the cars and drove away.

In only minutes, a change stole over Jackson. He could hear them less and less well. As the conversation became less distinct he felt, rather than saw, the opaque fog creeping back over him. The implication was finally clear. They were leaving, leaving and likely never to come back. “No!” he screamed soundlessly, “Don’t leave me alone. I don’t even know your names. For the love of God, don’t leave me here…all alone. You’re all I have. Without you….”

But it was no use. They passed beyond his reach. They never knew, and like before, he slipped into the dark seamless, patternless silence, until someone might again call his name.

 

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