A year after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, dragging the United States into World War II, George Sheldon, who grew up in Haverhill, Mass., joined the Army and eventually ended up in an amphibious brigade.
“At 18 I was a private in Company C, 534th Engineering Boat and Shore Regiment, 4th Brigade, U.S. Army,” the 87-year-old Punta Gorda resident, who lives in Sterling House, a senior living facility explained. “We operated landing craft that brought troops and supplies from ship to the invasion beach.”
His unit ended up training for war along Florida’s Atlantic beach at Carabelle in 1942.
“We operated LCVPs, better known as ‘Higgins’ Boats” made out of plywood, and LCMs, steel built landing craft, that could carry tanks ashore and were a little larger,” Sheldon said. “I was sent to diesel mechanic’s school and became a mechanic and gunner aboard an LCM.
“We were training at Camp Gordon Johnston near Carabelle. We practiced landing on Dove Island, a little spot of sand, off shore. We were taking the 36th Infantry Division from Texas ashore,” he recalled.
“I remember looking at the beach when we were about to land and seeing what I thought were pieces of rope all over the shore. When the 36th got on the beach they found that the rope I saw were rattlesnakes,” Sheldon said. “The island was infested with rattlesnakes. Needless to say, that kinda slowed up our landing operation.”
Things got more serious when his unit reached San Francisco. They shipped to Brisbane, Australia aboard the largest American luxury liner at the time dubbed USS West Point. Two weeks later they were in Sidney, Australia.
“An old salt told me when I got aboard ship, “Get the top bunk,’” Sheldon recalls almost 70 years later. “ In our room the bunks were stacked five high. Everybody on board was seasick and being on the top bunk was a good place to be on the trip over.’
He and his buddies were busting to go to war. By this time Allied forces were taking the fight to the Japanese. But Sheldon and men in his unit were destined to become barge builders for a time.
Gen. MacArthur was screaming for transport barges that were in short supply. Their unit had taken a 10-day course in welding and riveting at a Kaiser Aluminum shipbuilding operation back in the States before they shipped over.
“We spent the next year building 150-long steel barges that were 50 feet wide and could carry massive quantities of supplies ashore on enemy beaches,” he said. “I drove hot rivets with a big air gun that was like a giant hammer.”
Eventually his unit moved on from barge building and followed MacArthur and the American forces to New Guinea delivering troops and equipment to the landing beaches as Allied forces continued their drive east.
“It was my unit that took Gen. MacArthur ashore at Leyte Beach in the Philippines. He came ashore three or four times from one of our LCVPs. We didn’t understand why at the time, but we later learned they were taking movies and pictures of him returning to the Philippines and he wanted the landing to look just right,” Sheldon said.
He had met the general just by chance for a moment one morning some months earlier in Brisbane.
“It was 6 a.m. and I was walking down the street when I saw this army staff car parked at the curb and a sergeant standing beside it. I walked up to the sergeant and asked him what he was doing,” Sheldon said.
“’I’m waiting for the boss,’ the sergeant replied.
“A moment later, Gen. MacArthur appeared in uniform with all that fruit salad on the bill of his hat. He had taken up the entire top floor of the Lennon Hotel in Brisbane where he was staying,” the former soldier said.
“’Good morning men,’ the general said to us as he got into his staff car.
“Good morning, General,’ I very dutifully replied. That was the extent of my conversation with the commanding American army general in the South Pacific during World War II.
“Our unit moved on to the invasion of Lingayen Gulf on the southern end of the island of Luzon. We brought the 25th Infantry Division ashore there,” Sheldon said. “When the Japanese took Luzon, earlier in the war, their fleet sailed into Lingayen Gulf and attacked the Philippine main island.”
From there Sheldon’s unit moved on to Manila. The capital city was in shambles when the 534th arrived with their landing craft filled with troops and supplies.
“We found street after street of devastated buildings in Manila. On every street there were piles of dead bodies everywhere,” he said.
The Japanese had done their best to kill the civilian population of the capital city and level the place before vacating the city in a futile attempt to escape the island before Allied forces moved in. What the Japanese didn’t level American artillery did. There was little left standing in the once beautiful city and tens of thousands the population were killed in the fighting.
It was late in the war and MacArthur and Allied forces were taking the fight closer and closer to the Japanese home islands.
“We got orders to put our LCMs aboard an LST (Landing Ship Tank) because we were headed for the invasion of Japan. On the way the task force went through a typhoon that lasted several days,” Sheldon said.
“The LST would go up on a wave and come down and you’d swear to God the ship was gonna break into pieces,” he said. “To ride out a typhoon in an LST, I can’t think of anything worse.”
But Sheldon did and so did many of the Allied forces headed for the Japanese home islands.
“We were almost to Japan and word came down to the troops that we had dropped an Atomic Bomb on them. As a result there might be some peace negotiations. A couple of days later they dropped another Atomic Bomb on Japan and the Japanese surrendered. World War II was over,” he said.
Instead of becoming an invasion force they became occupation troops.
“We were sent to Nagoya, Japan where the Japanese had a big aircraft building there,” he said. “Every time we went out in the street the Japanese would bow to us.”
A few moths later Sheldon had collected enough points to come home. He arrived in Seattle, Wash. and hopped a troop train across the country for Boston and eventually back to Manchester, New Hampshire where he grew up.
An uncle with connections advised him to try and join the Manchester Police Department as a beat cop. He took the test along with 100 other guys and was one of the half-dozen selected.
“I pounded a beat for six years in Manchester. Then I took a state exam to become a state trooper, vehicle inspector or liquor inspector. I ended up as a member of the New Hampshire Liquor Commission,” the old soldier said. “I stayed there for 29 years until I retired in 2007 as Assistant Chief of the Liquor Division.”
His wife, Alberta, died in 2005 and his two grown sons were doing their own thing. Sheldon decided to move to Punta Gorda to be near his older son, Wayne, who had moved here with his family. His younger son, Gary, still lives in New Hampshire with his family.
Name: George Sheldon
D.O.B: 19 April 1923
Hometown: Haverhill, Mass.
Current: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: December 1942
Discharged: 24 January 1946
Unit: 534th Engineering and Shore Regiment of the 4th Brigade
Commendations: Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Theatre Ribbon
Married: Alberta (deceased)
Children: Wayne and Gary
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Friday, August 13, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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