Ninety years ago, the roar of the last gun fell silent in what was called “the war to end all wars” with signing of an armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
The day was originally declared Armistice Day for those who fought in the first world war, but was later expanded and now is celebrated as the Veterans’ Day for all soldiers.
Ninety six-year-old Herbert N. Jennings of Plymouth recalls looking into the sky from a field hospital on the island of Saipan in 1945: “The sky black with planes, all guarding this one, the one that was carrying the bomb into Japan.”
Jennings is a World War II Navy veteran who served aboard the LSM 106 (land ship medium) that ushered troops from their naval transports to shore during many of America’s island-hopping campaigns across the Pacific.
“We start heading in and the big ships in back fired over top of us. My job was to make sure the land craft got back of the beach. We’d hit it hard, so the soldiers don’t have to swim, you don’t want that,” said Jennings. The former sailor said he would often help to get the ship off the shore after dropping off troops and help load the wounded.
Jennings joined the Navy with the consent of his father in 1929 at the age of 16. He served two years and was then drafted back into service in the summer of 1943.
Jennings was wounded in combat as his ship was heading into shore. “Heavy seas and we were being shelled,” said Jennings, who was blown from the gun deck of his ship and into the shipwell.
Jennings was shipped to the field hospital in Saipan with serious back injuries where he witnessed the Enola Gay passing overhead, carrying the first atomic bomb to the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
“When I got there they told me ‘they want to send you home’ but I wanted to get back to my ship,” said Jennings. The wounded sailor took the advice of a friend and went to the local airfield where he hitchhiked a ride with an air crew.