COMMERCE — JD Linsteadt is a survivor.
He’s survived a kamikaze attack, sharks, explosions, bullets, a shipwreck, car wrecks, he’s been run over, been blinded, paralyzed and even left for dead in a body bag. Through it all he credits his faith in God with bringing him out alive.
“I guess God wasn't through with me,” he said. "I have to credit having parents that prayed for me everyday."
Linsteadt enlisted in the US Navy at the age of 17 in 1944. "I didn't wait to be drafted; I wanted to do my part,” he explained. “In August 1944 I went on board the (USS) Nevada at Long Beach.”
The Nevada, with Linsteadt on board, sailed to Hawaii, the Philippines, and then the Gilbert and Marshall Islands.
“I was a lookout on the bridge and in the crow's nest. I watched for planes, ships and subs. In the Philippines we shelled cities along the coast of Luzon and Mindanao,” Linsteadt recalled. “After that we went to the Marianas to an island called Mog Mog to be refitted for the invasion of Iwo Jima. We restocked food, supplies and ammo.”
Linsteadt’s ship arrived at Iwo Jima on Feb. 16, 1945. “For 19 days we bombarded them preparing for the invasion,” Linsteadt said. “They transferred me to a troop ship since I was trained in amphibious assault. I was to go in on the third wave, blue beach.”
Linsteadt was designated as the gate operator for an amphibious assault craft — nicknamed a duck. Unarmed, and without a life vest, he said he was unprepared for what would happen next.
“We were going in. We were about a thousand yards from the shore when eight-inch Japanese shells opened up on us. The shell came straight down and exploded inside the craft. As far as I know, of the 32 men onboard, I was the only survivor. The next thing I remember was I was in the water. There were body parts everywhere and the water was blood red,” Linsteadt explained while moving his arms in front of him as if pushing something out of the way. “I had to swim through the bodies and through the sharks; they were having a feeding frenzy from the blood. I swam through bodies, arms, torsos and the sharks all the way to the beach — though the sharks didn't really bother me; they were busy with the dead.”
Linsteadt didn't come through the explosion unscathed. “Thinking about it, I guess that's when my ears started ringing the first time. I still hear the bells, whistles and crickets in my ears every day,” he said.
His wife, Emma Jean, interrupts to add the physical effects are not all he still endures. “He has nightmares. He starts kicking like he's trying to get away from something; and I'll have to wake him up, ‘You’re running again.’”
Linsteadt said he reached shore in the middle of a battle, unarmed and without food or water. “It was real bad on the beach. There were dead bodies everywhere and the corpsmen were really working hard. I found a tank that had been knocked out and dug under it. The beach was knee-deep sand so it was easy to dig in, but it was a bad place to be. You’d hear ‘em scream; they'd cry, holler for the corpsmen, ‘medic.’ Through it all I feel like the Lord really helped me,” Linsteadt said.
Linsteadt still has the map of Iwo Jima he was issued for the invasion, and he spreads it out on his kitchen table. “The government wants it, but I earned it and it's going to stay with my family.”
He points on the map to the beach where he dug in and then moves his finger to where the Japanese gunners were holed up on Mount Suribachi.
“I’d lay under that tractor and look up at Mount Suribachi and see the shells. I was under that tank and saw when they raised that famous flag, though it really didn't mean much to me — they were still fighting. I was under there for three days and nights when finally a landing craft came in, and I saw my opportunity. I ran out on the beach and got in it and went back to the Nevada.”
Linsteadt said the Nevada sailed to Ulithi where the sailors were granted shore leave and the ship was refitted for the invasion of Okinawa.
“We got shore leave. They gave us three warm beers; since I didn't drink I got up on a stump and auctioned mine off. With the money I went and bought my first wristwatch,” he explained. “Then we got our orders to go to Okinawa. We began to shell on March 26; I'm at the bridge. We had field glasses looking at everything. Lot of times they'd drive iron pilings in the water to keep you from the beach. That lasted 89 days — we shelled it around the east coast. Naha was the capitol and we destroyed it. We were hit four times by shore batteries. They were all above the water line, but the whole ship shook when one hit. It would rock back and forth.”
Linsteadt again was moved to the amphibious assault force and was assigned to land the 7th Infantry at Hagushi. “We landed the army on the beach; there were no casualties.”
According to Linsteadt the army advanced to the north end of the island with small conflicts. Then they went south and hit the Shuri line. That, he said, was when the real battle started.
“They began to send kamikazes at us: 300 of them came in one wave. I'm on the bridge when ‘general quarters’ sounded. My general quarters station is turret 3. What happened was a Japanese plane carrying a 500-pound bomb was coming at us. I left the bridge. As I went down the ladder, the ship went into a hard port turn. The plane missed the bridge and hit the starboard afterdeck. It blew me 10 feet, up against the smoke stack — from that I'm rated deaf in my right ear and blind in my left eye. It took me a few minutes to figure out what happened and where I was at. Shrapnel had penetrated my clothes, and I had bloody spots all over my body. There were 11 killed and 41 wounded. I went on to turret 3. When I got down here, the lieutenant asked a corpsman to look at me and he said I was able to help so they asked me to help with the wounded.”
Linsteadt breaks down for a moment and tears fill his eyes and he talks about the battle he’s still fighting with his own government for recognition of his service. “I have pain from that every day. From this I've been trying to get a purple heart, but it's so hard to keep fighting the establishment. I've asked the government people so many times to help me. I’ve asked the guy in Rockwall and the lady in Sulphur Springs. I’ve sent them all of all my paperwork, but they won't return my calls. I think about just letting it go, but I want my kids to have it.”
After the battle for Okinawa, the Nevada joined the victorious American fleet in sailing on to Tokyo harbor as the Japanese command surrendered. “We left Tokyo and went to the China Sea and Hong Kong. The war wasn’t over just yet. We shelled Hong Kong and then sailed for Guam and then the war was over.”
With the end of hostilities, Linsteadt was transferred to an aircraft carrier, the USS Bairoko. But his greatest personal battle remained in front of him.
Read more of
JD Linsteadt's story tomorrow:
LEFT FOR DEAD
COMMERCE — JD Linsteadt is a survivor.
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