His thoughts filtered back to those horrifying times in what seemed an eternity when he carried the fight to the Japanese in World War II.
Armed to the teeth, Staff Sgt. J.T. Nolen of Conway was the embodiment of America’s military might when he and thousands of other military personnel waged relentless war against the Japanese in the Pacific Theater of war.
On this Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2012, Nolen, a quiet, reserved and gentile man, has come to terms with the cruelty and brutality of war, remembering the frightening times when he and his fellow Army buddies splashed into the waters of the Pacific Ocean, scrambling ashore on island after island in hopes of disgorging the Japanese from their strongholds.
The records show that Sgt. Nolen performed in extraordinary fashion, landing on island beaches 14 times, pushing himself ahead in the throes of murderous onslaughts by Japanese forces, never once giving thought to his own welfare. Fortunately, he emerged unharmed, suffering only a deafness caused by the incessant, loud reports of heavy artillery.
“I came pretty close one time when an American plane swooped down on me and a buddy of mine only to realize at the last moment that we weren’t the enemy,” Nolen said during an interview in the kitchen of his home along Rooster Road in Conway’s eastern limits.
A fortnight ago, Nolen and hundreds of World War II veterans visited the handsome World War II memorial in Washington, D. C., thanks to beneficence of the Honor Flight Network which was established to honor America’s veterans for their sacrifices in wartime.
Nolen was apprised of the fact that of all the wars in recent memory it was World War II that truly threatened U. S. existence as a nation. Today some 900 World War II veterans are dying each day.
“We had a wonderful time in Washington; the World War II Memorial is beautiful,” he said.
Nolen was a youngster living along Highway 36 in Faulkner County when he was summoned by the draft to serve in the U.S. Army. “I was never away from home before when I got the call,” he said. His first stop was Camp Robinson. He moved on to other campsites until his orders sent him to Fort Lewis in Washington. “I don’t know why, but they sent me to Australia by way of New York through the Panama Canal. I was on board ship for 43 days.”
It wasn‘t long before he was summoned to New Guinea. Here he was to experience his first combat with the Japanese after he reached the beach in his landing craft. He quickly learned that the Japanese were a foe to be reckoned with. He was to become involved on island ventures in the days, months and years ahead.
“The Japanese had been in those islands since the 1930’s; they had built fortifications and pillboxes (gun emplacements of concrete and steel). It was almost impossible to get them out of those places. The islands were coral reefs, actually. When we maneuvered our LST boats close to land, we were under fire from Japanese on land and from the Zeros in the sky. It was rough.”
The question arose as to how he was able to emerge without hardly as scratch. “I had a momma and daddy praying for me every day,” he smiled.
His wife of 64 years interjected to reveal some of the problems her husband had incurred during his service. “His hearing suffers a lot because of the noise of the artillery,” she said. ‘And there are other things, like sleepless nights and dreams. He would never talk about his military life. He wouldn’t watch war movies. It was like it never happened, It’s only been in recent years that he has been able to talk a little bit about the war,” she said.
Nolen agrees that some of the fighting in the Pacific was the most horrifying of World War II. In one instance, he remembered, about 500 Japanese soldiers were killed in a gasoline explosion in a cave during action to force them out of their hiding places.
Nolen found it difficult to relate stories of the intense fighting when he carried the action to the enemy during times of stress, barking orders on a phone he held to one ear and yelling instructions to his troops. The carnage in the fighting was incredible in its scope, he indicated.
Then it was over. U. S. atomic bombs flattened the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forcing the emperor of Japan to surrender. Nolen was on his way home.
He took up a pedestrian way of life, working at several places, including carpentry jobs, the atomic plants in Russellville, the University of Arkansas Medical Center in Little Rock, the Nabholz Construction Company and others before he settled down to a bucolic endeavor.
He became a cattle farmer on the more than 200 acres he acquired. That’s where you will find him today ensconced with his cattle.
When asked who took care of the cattle, he replied without hesitation, “I do. Not bad for a 94 year old fellow,” he smiled.