I have interviewed numerous veterans over the years and taped those conversations; over the next few months I’ll be posting some excerpts from those tapes. The first one is a story of faith and survival.
JD Linsteadt has survived Kamikaze attack, bombs, ship wreck, car wreck; he swam through a shark frenzy, been run over, blinded, paralyzed and even left for dead in a body bag. Through it all he credits his faith in God with bringing him through alive.
He lives in rural Hunt County in northeast Texas near Commerce.
“I guess God wasn’t through with me. I have to credit having parents that prayed for me every day.”
Linsteadt, an ordained minister of the United Pentecostal Church, enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17 in early 1944 during the height of World War II. “I didn’t wait to be drafted: I wanted to do my part. In August 1944 I went on board the (USS) Nevada at Long Beach.”
The Nevada, with Linsteadt on board, sailed to Hawaii, the Philippines, the Gilbert Islands and then to the Marshall Islands as part of America’s naval campaign to liberate Japanese captured territory.
“I was a lookout on the bridge and in the crow’s nest. I watched for planes, ships and subs. In the Philippines we sailed 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.”
The Nevada arrived at Iwo Jima on February 16, 1945. “For 19 days we bombarded them, preparing for 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 a gate operator for an amphibious assault craft. Unarmed, and without a life vest, he said he was unprepared for what happened next.
“We were going in. We were about a thousand yards from the shore when 8-inch Japanese shells opened up on us.” Linsteadt’s craft was hit.
“The shell came straight down and exploded inside the craft,” he said. “As far as I know, of the 32 men aboard, 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 says with his eyes closed while moving his arms in front of himself: mimicking pushing something out of his way. “ I had to swim through 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 unscathed. “Thinking about it, I guess that’s when my ears started ringing the first time.” More than 65 years later, Linsteadt says, “I still hear the bells, whistles and crickets in my ears every day.”
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 reached shore in the midst of the 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!’ ‘Water!’ ‘Mother!’ Through it all, I feel like the Lord really helped me,” he recalled.
Linsteadt still has his invasion map of Iwo Jima that he was issued before going into battle. He spreads it out on his kitchen table — it’s yellowed with age and tattered on the edges but still shows the invasion route. “The government wants it, but I earned it and it’s going to stay with my family,” he says.
He points on the map t where he dug in on the beach — then his finger traces a path to where 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 when they raised that famous flag — though it really didn’t mean much to me —they were till fighting. I was under there for three days and nights when finally a landing craft came in, I saw my opportunity. I ran out on the beach and got in it and went back to the Nevada.”
“We go shore leave. They gave us three warm beers; since I didn’t drink, I got on a stump and auctioned mine off. With the money I went and bought my first wristwatch,” he said.
“We got our orders to go to Okinawa. We begin to shell on March 26: I’m at the bridge.
“We had field glasses, looking at everything. Lots 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 (the hits) were all above the water line, but the whole ship shook when one hit. It would rock back and forth.”
Linsteadt was again 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.”
The Army and Marines advanced to the north end of the island with small conflicts. Then the troops hit the “Shuri” line. That was when, Linsteadt said, the battle got hot.
“They began to send Kamikazes (suicide planes) 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,” Linsteadt explained. “What happened was a Japanese plane, carrying a 500-pound bomb was coming at us. I left the bridge (heading for turret 3). 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 moments to figure out what happened and where I was at. Shrapnel had penetrated my clothes and I 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. I still feel the pain in my body from that everyday.”
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 (Japanese holdouts) at Hong Kong and then sailed for Guam and then the war was over.”
With the end of hostilities, Linsteadt was transferred to an experimental jet aircraft carrier; the USS Bairoko. But his greatest personal battle remained in front of him.
With the end of World War II JD Linsteadt had developed a reputation as a survivor.
When JD —he has an initial name — was 6 years old, while riding his tricycle, a car hit him. Old newspaper clippings reveal that Linsteadt was dragged 50 feet while his tricycle’s handlebar went through his cheek. “It went in my mouth and came out the jaw. I still have the scar,” Linsteadt says, pointing to a jagged line on his right cheek. “But I don’t remember much else of it.”
The end of the war had seen JD as the sole survivor of a 32-man landing craft that was blown up by a Japanese shell off Iwo Jima and a Kamikaze attack that killed 11 of his shipmates near Okinawa; but his greatest challenge lay ahead of him.
Linsteadt was reassigned to an aircraft carrier, the USS Bairoko.
“They put me in charge of the H-2 catapult,” he said, explaining that his crew was responsible for launching aircraft. “We had practice drilling and landing. I was on there for five months. I was 15 days from discharge on May 16, 1945, when a boy ran over me with a 15,000-pound airplane towing tractor.”
Linsteadt explained that his crew had been at flight quarters since 3 a.m. “Now, it’s 3 in the afternoon. We secured from flight quarters, and my crew remained on deck to get the H-2 ready for the next morning. It took us an hour to get everything oiled and fixed up. At 4 o’clock, sunbathing hour sounded.”
Linsteadt said that when the sunbathing hour sounded he stripped down and laid out on the deck and, being tired from a long day, he fell asleep, and slept for about 15 minutes. “This boy, unauthorized, climbed on a towing tractor — not knowing how to operate it,” Linsteadt says without emotion. “He had a key that fitted his locker, stuck it in the ignition and it started. This boy tried to kill it and broke the key off in the ignition. Not knowing how to operate it, he baled off and it proceeded down the flight deck, running over me from my feet to my head.”
Linsteadt said he woke up being dragged. “It drug me 10 feet down the flight deck into a 40 millimeter mount, and when I reached for a cable in the catwalk, everything went blank. I was unconscious for 28 days.”
The Naval medical records fill in the rest of the details — 18 broken bones, a crushed right hip and pelvis, severe internal damage, cracked skull, right leg cut to the bone, and a shaft from the tractor penetrated one side of his hip and exited the other. It took 20 men two hours to lift the towing tractor off him and the official report lists him with no pulse. “They pronounced me dead and put me in a body bag. It’s in my records,” he said. “They told my parents that they put me in a body bag and flew me to Balboa Naval Hospital (in San Diego); said I was laying on a gurney in the body bag when a nurse walked by and the body bag moved. She undone the bag, rushed me to emergency, saying ‘This man’s alive.’ And here I am. I still remember that nurse’s name; her name is Ruby Larue.”
When Linsteadt woke from his coma he thought he was a prisoner of the Japanese because he was blind and paralyzed. “They kept telling me stories, but I thought they had all the lights out. I was sure the Japanese had me and were trying to get information. What would you think? Can’t see, can’t move.”
Linsteadt says he was blind for nine months but regained his eyesight as the swelling went down. “I saw something move and told the nurse. She got the doctor, and he told me my eyes were dilating. My vision gradually returned, but bright light still really bothers me.”
He had enlisted in the Navy without finishing high school. While he was bedfast he finished his GED. “The lady with the Red Cross wrote all my lessons on transparency and shone them on the ceiling. That’s how I finished all my lessons and got my high school diploma,” he recalled. “The VA has been good to me, too.”
After being discharged, Linsteadt enrolled in a Bible college in Tupelo, Mississippi called Pentecostal Bible Institute. “I graduated with a Bachelor of Theology, went on to the University of Illinois and got a Bachelor of Arts in 1953. I got a Master’s of Education from North Texas in 1961 and received an honorary doctorate from Cyrus Bible College in 1999.”
While at PBI, Linsteadt said he attended class while paralyzed from the waist down. “The boys carried me to my room, to my classrooms. They were good to me,” he recalled. “One day they had prayer and a man — Floyd Newsom — had been real burdened for me. He went to the chapel and asked the boys to pray for me. That’s when I laid my crutches down and took my braces off. I haven’t used them since.”
Linsteadt’s faith from those experiences has led him to a life of service; he’s an ordained minister in the United Pentecostal Church. “I’ve established 11 churches, in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois and Texas. There’s no retirement. I still teach and preach. God’s given me a testimony, and I’ll tell it as long as I can.”
Linsteadt says the pain of his experiences stays with him. “Still, I have severe pain in my hips — every day, almost continuously,” he said, adding he still had four unset broken bones in his hand. “I was pulling weeds in the yard one day, and I felt something grab my pant leg. I pulled my pant leg up and pulled out a bone fragment (that had worked its way up).”
Linsteadt says he harbors no bitterness or regrets. “Through it all, the Lord really did help me.”