(Archive - Week of March 5, 2005)

World War II veteran Herman Shirley's autobiography (seen below) is the first in a series that I plan to publish in my web site. It is estimated that we are losing 1,500 World War II veterans each day, more than 100 of those in Florida daily. We all have a life story that should be told before it is too late. If you would like to write your autobiography, I would consider it an honor to run it for a week on the front page of my web site, and then it will be filed on the Previous Articles page for years to come for family, friends and the world to read. 

Your autobiography must be emailed to me at noahbelew@earthlink.net and it will be published without editing. You can also mail up to four pictures to me at P.O. Box 816, Gulf Breeze, FL 32562. After your pictures are scanned, they will be mailed back to you. If you could send the pictures via email attachment, that would be better.

It is with great happiness that I have been authorized to publish the following autobiography of Herman Robert Shirley on the front page of my web site. Herman Robert Shirley is one of The Few. The Proud. He is a former United States Marine, and he is part of the Greatest Generation.

Marine Herman and I have many things in common, and one of them is that we both served in the same First Marine Division during World War II, and in the same Marine Company - B-1-1, but not always at the same time. Unfortunately, I have not had the honor of meeting Herman, perhaps it's not too late. Mr. Shirley is about a half-dozen years older than me; that makes him a frontrunner and pathfinder of the Roaring '20s.

This is the life story of a great American Marine war hero, right down to the nitty-gritty, and it was written in his own words that he typed and sent to me via email. How many other men can do that at age 85? He is a survivor, and he is just getting warmed up for another decade. I was fortunate to have three older, biological brothers, and I have also been blessed to have tens of thousands of U.S. Marine Corps brothers and sisters.

Once a Marine, always a Marine.

Autobiography of

Herman Robert Shirley

I was born on Dec. 2, 1919 in Waxahachie, Texas to Thomas and Girthia Shirley. I was the second born of seven siblings and all are still living, except Carvin the first born who  died in Melbourne, Australia in 1994 where he lived since World War II. We lived in Waxahachie until third-born L.B. came along. My father was in the paving business, so we moved quite often.

We moved to Palestine, Texas in 1922 and we were living there in 1923 when Mildred, the fourth born, arrived. We then moved to Houston and lived there until 1925, then we moved to Oneonta, Ala., which is about 40 miles north of Birmingham. We traveled there in a Dodge touring car, and it was a long trip in those days.

My grandfather Shirley gave, or sold, my father a plot of land seven miles from Oneonta. My father opened a coal mine that did real good. Dad needed more miners, and they needed a place to live, so dad gave them our house. We moved into a tent in the woods, which was not a good place for a mother and four small children to live. That lasted until my grandparents came (in a Buggy), had a talk with my dad and then we moved to Oneonta.

Mother and Father, I'm on my father's lap, L.B. on Mother's lap, Carvin in between. Waxahachie, TX - 1921

Carvin and I went to a two-room country school till we moved to town. L.B. started to school, and I remember it being very cold. We would stop at my grandparents place to get warn. My grandfather ran a general merchandise store, always an interesting place to be.

When the Great Depression came, coal mines closed. So we moved back to the country to farm. Dad bought a syrup mill to make molasses when the cane was ripe. It was interesting. We boys were getting old enough to work on the farm. Dad did try running a filling station in Altoona, but that was a failure.

All this caused my parents to split. Mother went to live in Birmingham with Edward, the seventh born. It was hard for us losing our mother. It wasn't long before dad met a woman with three small children, and the woman with children moved in to help with house keeping and cooking. It was not too long before they were married.

A coal mining company bought our land and mineral rights. So my father bought 280 acres in Jackson County, close to Henager, Ala. The place had five small houses on it and all the family lived in one house except, Carvin and me—we lived in the old peacock house over by the barn with two mules, three horses, and a couple of cows. I always had to milk the cows.

We lived there a couple of years, then dad bought a 160 acre place close to Ida, Ala. It was so close to the Alabama and Georgia line that our post office was in Rising Fawn, Ga. Carvin and L.B. left and went to Birmingham to be with mother. Shortly after that the girls left. I was the only one left with my father.

After a couple years I left with a friend named Able. We had enough money to ride the train from Valley Head, Ala. to Attala, Ala., then we had to walk the other 45 miles. The weather was very cold. We walked all night, and all we had to eat were some peanuts. We got to my Grandparents Getts place about the middle of the afternoon. I stayed a couple of days there, before going to Birmingham. Able got home sick, so grandfather bought him a bus ticket to go back home.

Once in Birmingham, I got a job at a Bar-B-Q place hopping running boards of cars. Taking orders was an easy job, but didn't pay much. I got some tips and something to eat. I worked there until I got a job with Western Union delivering Telegrams. I enjoyed that job, but it was hard and dangerous.

My brother, Carvin Shirley

My brother Carvin, who worked for Dewberry Engraving Co., broke his arm. He joined the U.S. Marines, which would be finalized when his arm was well. He got Dewberry to give me his job, and I thought I was in high cotton with the best paying job I had ever held. I liked the work and soon became the evening foreman. I stayed until Dec. 7 (Pearl Harbor), 1941.

I was a bit gung ho, so I went to join the U.S. Marines and was told that since I had a D-I draft card, I could join only if I got the Draft Board to change my card. The draft board said I needed to get my mother to sign an affidavit saying that she was not depending on me for support. I did, and was in the Marines on Dec. 16, 1941.

I was in Parris Island, S.C. on Dec. 18 ready to take whatever I had coming in boot camp. The platoon that I was assigned had about half from Ohio and half from Alabama, which was a good mixture. It was cold and damp, we lived in two-men tents, and it was hard on most of us. The injections we got were one of the most dreaded things—always a sore arm.

If you wanted a bed buddy, just drop your rifle or have a dirty rifle, or call it a gun. We were only allowed to call it a Rifle or a Piece. In the command, Order Arms, we were expected to make a noise slapping your rifle even in the cold. If we did not, we would be ordered to get down and slap the ground after stacking arms. We learned quickly that you should never volunteer for anything like a truck driver. If you did, your truck might be a wheelbarrow.

We did a lot of training at the rifle range, and if you got Maggie Draws a.k.a. Red Flag, you would get Hell from the instructor, Maggie Draws was when you missed the whole target. The training lasted about three months.

Birmingham, Ala. April 1942
Lft - Rt: Carvin, Buddy, L.B., and me

When we were through training at Parris Island, we were shipped to New River, N.C. (now Camp Lejeune) where they were forming the First Marine Division. My brother Carvin was in the Seventh Marine Regiment at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was coming to New River when he learned that I was coming there. He pulled a few strings and got me in the 7th Regiment, but while he was doing that he was transferred to A-1-1 (First Regiment). After more strings were pulled, I was assigned to First Regiment - B-I-I.

After settling down in New River we did lots of training and made one practice landing at Chesapeake Bay. About five and half months after going through boot camp and training at New River, we were trained. We were ready to leave New River, N.C. on a train heading for the West Coast. I do not know just what part of the First Regiment was on the train when we arrived in San Francisco about the middle of June 1942. We boarded the USS Barnett, and left there on June 22, 1942 headed for New Zealand and arriving there about July 11.

We did not have much liberty in New Zealand, but we did some hiking. It was winter, cold and damp, raining most of time. The ships had to be unloaded and reloaded for combat, and since the dock workers were on strike, the Marines had to do it. It rained so much, the docks were littered with the things such as Cornflakes that we were to eat later. We left New Zealand on July 22, and were supposed to make a practice landing on the island of Koro in the Fijis, but due to the coral, we did not.

After leaving the Fijis we were told we were going to Guadalcanal and Tulagi, and there would be opposition. The First Marine Division consisted of 956 Officers and 18,146 enlisted men.

We did land on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942 in Higgings boats armed with the 03 Springfield Bolt Action Rifle and the water cooled machine gun; but no opposition. If there were any combat Japs on the Island, they took to the jungle. After landing we went on patrol trying to find anyone or anything. But on the beach where they were unloading the ships, the Jap airplanes had already started bombing the ships. So the ships all left without unloading all the supplies we needed. On the second day we ran into a bombed truck with two wounded Jap workers. We left them there and that was all we saw until a few days later when we ran across a couple dead Japs who had starved to death. They were so dried up till the flies didn't bother them. We did find a hut that had some rice and Sake.

The Jap Navy was much stronger than ours so they had control of the waters, landing troops at will. Washing Machine Charlie made his nightly visit just to harass the men by keeping them awake and in the bomb shelter.

On August 21, the Japs attacked the Marines of G-I-I on the west side of the Tenaru River. It was a hard fight, and when it was over the Marines had 34 killed and 75 wounded. The Japs lost all of their force about 7 or 8 hundred. In the morning our B-I-I, who were in reserve, went up river and crossed over to patrol the battle area. We never saw so many dead. We lost one man in B-I-I, but never knew if it was enemy or friendly fire. As the fight was taking place on the river front, the Jap Navy were sending 14-inch star shells over where we were and shook the island as if there was an Earthquake. The airfield was also hit with heavy gunfire, crippling most all the airplanes. This was not the only time the Jap Navy shelled our area.

On Sept. 17, B-I-I went on patrol up the Lunga River. Capt. Williams in charge was ordered to stay in the jungle, but it was so thick he decided to go up the riverbed, which at this time of year was almost dry. Everything was fine until a Jap machine gun opened on the leading platoon pining them down. Our platoon leader led us up the left side of the river trying to spot the machine gun nest. When we got to where we thought it was coming from, all hell broke loose and we were pinned down.

The Lt. asked for three volunteers to go up a trail to see where the fire was coming from, Debele and Secor jumped up to go. The Lt. looked at me and gave me a sign to hit the trail. I was third in line going up the trail just behind Debel and Secor when they got hit and fell. Why I didn't get it, I'll never know. By that time the ones pinned down in the riverbed were able to get out. When we got to our area, there was 29 men missing, 10 men did get back; and that left 19 dead.

Pistol Pete was a menace to all in our area. He would let go as many as 6 rounds a day; some wondered where the big gun came from, some thought it was coming from a beached troop transport.

On Oct 24, we were bombed by as many as 24 bombers. I could hear them falling and hear them hit, but none real close.

By the last of December, and with all the reinforcements and everything under control, except the Malaria that was taking its toll on all Marine outfits, we left Guadalcanal for Australia and were finally going to the big city of Melbourne.

We arrived in Melbourne, Australia in mid Jan. 1943. The Melbourne Cricket Ground Stadium would be our home for about 3 month. Melbourne was the most beautiful, friendliest, and biggest city I'd ever been in.

Transportation was good, the Tram Track came close by and town was in walking distance. After a short time the 1st Marine Regiment had a parade before a large crowd who were proud we were there.

Our new home was all right. We had electric, hot and cold water, good meals, liberty, sick bay and hospital where I stayed a couple of days with an ear infection.

If you wanted a good cup of coffee away from the base with a meal, you would have to go to the Red Cross. We did learn to like hot tea.

When we left the Cricket Grounds we went to Dandeone, about 20 mile from Melbourne. The transportation was good, but the camp was newly built and had a lot of rain and mud.

We did some field training and other things that would get us fit for another campaign.

Carvin's bride to be and her folks gave us a going away party when they found out that we were about to leave.

On Sept. 19, 1943 we left Australia for Goodenough Island in the New Guinea group for further training and preparation for the landing at Cape Gloster.

We landed at Cape Gloster on Dec. 25, 1943 on LST. I was still a runner for Message Center so I was not involved in anything except Communications. I've never seen so much rain and mud—even tractors got stuck. We did have hammocks with a water shed and a mosquito net on it.

It took almost as long on Cape Gloster to defeat the Japs as it did on Guadalcanal, because there was so much jungle, mud, rain, hills and streams of water.

General Dougout Doug visited in the last part of April. We knew then that the fighting was over when he showed up. We left Cape Gloster on May 4, 1944 going to Pavuvu Island, part of the Solomon group about 70 miles from Guadalcanal.

Pavuvu was an island of coconuts, mosquitoes, rain, mud and rats. A place that would require lots of cleaning up. Matter of fact, the Marines did clean up about 100 acres of coconuts. I was in the communications now, the telephone section, so my hooks were good for climbing coconut trees and knocking coconuts from the trees.

We lived in 6-men tents with dirt floors and no electric or running water. Brother Carvin got to go home from there, I was glad, but I would miss him since he was a Mess Sergeant, he would see that I got something that others didn't get.

We did get the Bob Hope Show, and without him, it was still good. And I remember getting beer once. We also got some movies sometimes.

After much training and a practice landing at Guadalcanal we were ready to go to Peleliu. We left Pavuvu Sept. 8 with reinforced First Marine Division of 28,484 men. D-day was Sept 15. The landing was well organized with the First Regiment in LSTs to be landing first in landing craft to be DUKW's.

While the battleships, the cruisers, the planes, and the rockets were pounding the island, we were still on ships having a last meal—for some, it was steak and eggs. You could see the rockets going through the air, and the smoke where the shells were landing. We were thinking that after this pounding we would have a walk-through on this island.

Upon landing, Chesty Puller's First Regiment landed on the left side of the landing area, then the Fifth Regiment, then the Seventh Regiment, I was in communication HQ company so we landed next. Those landing first were still on the beach all bogged down because of the enemy fire. When we landed, there were dead American Marines everywhere, even in the water. You had to get in a hole or behind something.

The Marines did start to move and by dark we had moved about a 100 yards from the edge of the water. We spent the night beside a disable Jap tank and a half Jap body for company. The next day we moved forward to a block house, and in getting there we went through a tank trap, which was a ditch about 6-feet deep and 18-feet across. Lots of dead U.S. Marines were in ditches, you could hardly walk without stepping on them.

The block house had been hit with a 16-inch shell that left a hole big enough to throw a barrel through. The First Battalion set up their HQ there, and also used it as a place to treat the wounded where many of my friends died. We also set up the telephone switchboard there, the place was littered with bits of broken concrete. In cleaning a place for the switchboard I felt something soft, I held it up…it was a hand.

I was instructed to lay a phone line to one of the companies that were on the front line, and did so. When I installed the phone, you could tell the line was cut. In tracing the line back, I found that a mortar shell had landed on it. I had to splice the line but using common sense I got in a ditch. Sure enough, another landed where it did before.

Heavy fighting went on for at least two more weeks, Chesty Puller's first Regiment had the most casualties 1st Bn. 71% 2nd 56%, 3rd 55%, Capt. Everett Pope of C-I-I received the Medal of Honor, total casualties were 1,121 killed, 5,142 wounded, 73 missing.

On Oct. 1, the outfit I was in left Peleliu aboard a President Lines ship for San Diego. After a few days there we were able to get a furlough with orders to report to the Marine Corps Barracks in New Port News, Va.

My folk were glad to see me, and I was glad to be with my loving family. But knowing the war was not over, my family and I wondered what could be in store in the future.

Myself and Charlie Loeschorn of Lake Land, Fla. on my left.

In reporting to the Marine Corps Barracks, I found out that they were looking for a Marine Private, First Class who had a clean record to go to sea duty. So I applied for it, and was accepted. About a week later they found out I had a Communication Warrant. I was told that I would be sent to Camp Lejeune, N.C. for further training.

The day I left was a sad day for me and millions more, because FDR had died. On arriving at Camp Lejeune it certainly was a changed place, brick buildings all over the place, a lot going on, movies, boxing, and golfing. An old buddy, Lewis, was the Pro there. So that was the first place I played golf.

It was not long after some training and lessons on how to jump off a ship, pull your pants off, tie knots in the legs, and use them for a life saver. And it was not long till we were on our way across the states by train to Camp Pendleton to get ready for a trip across to invade mainland Japan, which was not something to smile about.

But we had a president who was a lot smarter than he looked. He had the Atomic bomb dropped on Japan. After two of them were dropped, the war was over for me. So, I was discharged from the Marines, and headed to home in Birmingham, Ala.

Carvin and myself

On arriving home I was greeted by my loving family and was glad to be there. After a week or so I asked Dewberry Engraving Co. for my old job, but was told that it was their policy to hire the men back with the condition that the government pays part of my wages. I told them to jump in lake.

I got a job with the Birmingham Electric Co. to run a street car and as a bus driver. I worked there until my brother, Buddy, was released from the Navy. He wanted to go into the service station business. He and I made an allotment to mother while we were in the service. She saved it all and gave it to us. So we went into that business, which we sold later and bought a trucking rig and did some trucking. That was something that neither of us liked, so we sold it.

On the first of 1947, I decided to go to Houston, Texas as my brother L.B. was already there working for the railroad. The first thing I did was to apply for a job at Southern Engraving Company, and they hired me. I liked working there and met a young lady working there named Edith Sherwood. We started dating and in April we were married.

The company we worked for told us that one of us would have to quit, as it was their policy not to have a husband and wife working there. So we both quit. I worked at odd jobs, even a service station, until a customer asked me would I like a job with the railroad. Of course, I said sure. I started working for the Houston Belt & Terminal Railroad.

Edith holding one of the twins, me the other (children left- right: Lynda, Brenda, David)

After our marriage, our first child David was born on Jan. 10, 1948. Next child, a girl named Lynda, was born August 29, 1949; Brenda came Oct. 29, 1950; and twin girls Pat and Pam were born on Nov. 23, 1951. In less than 5 years, I had a house full, three little ones in diapers. Edith had a full-time job, and I think that I washed most of the diapers.

In working on the railroad, the first four years I was on extra board and then went regular on a night job. When my seniority allowed me I worked afternoons, I tried to stay on a job that could get overtime, even at that I could play golf two or three times a week. I liked working on the railroad.

My children all grew up and all went to collage, except Pam who joined the Navy Air Force. David is a Chemical Engineer, Lynda a R.N., and Brenda is a Math Teacher. Pat became a Deputy Sheriff, but is now a teacher. Pam stayed in the Navy about 18 years marring a Navy man who retired from the Navy, and is now a full-time teacher.

I have eight grandsons, two granddaughters, and two great grandsons; all are great and none have ever been in trouble and they are intelligent and loving. The mother of my two grandsons is a teacher and also her husband. I believe we have five teachers in the family.

My loving wife died April 12, 1995 after 48 years of marriage, I miss her.  My children all try to visit me often, or I get to visit them.

I retired from the railroad on May 1, 1981 and bought a place close to Huntsville Texas. I built a house on it and lived there until I knew I was to have several surgeries. We sold and moved to Pasadena, Texas. Lived there until I had both knees replaced, both ankles fused, a wrist replaced, back surgery, and surgery on the prostate.

Me and Ruby

After my wife passed away I wanted to move back to Huntsville. I knew Ruby Pipes who lived there, and she had a big house and rented rooms. So I got in touch with her and asked about a room. 

While here in Huntsville, I have been a volunteer at Huntsville Memorial Hospital, the Hearts Veterans Museum, at the Walker Country Senior Center where I was on the board of directors.

First Baptist Church Huntsville
Contact Person: Cathy Morris

I have been a member of the First Baptist Church 14 years, counting before going to Pasadena. I have been President of my Sunday school class for 10 years. Right now I'm Captain of two teams who go to the Walls Unit of the Texas Dept. of Correction to meet the people who are to come to pick up their love ones giving them information that they may use to keep the ones been released from coming back.

Our church celebrated our 160th birthday last year, the Walls Unit is two years younger.

The Marine Corps has a birthday party every year here, and they ask the oldest Marine attending the party to cut the cake. I've been able to cut the cake for the last four years—I've been the oldest.




The First Unit Patch

This is the 1st Division shoulder patch originally authorized for wear by members of units who were organic or attached to the division in its four landings in the Pacific War. It was the first unit patch to be authorized for wear in World War II and specifically commemorated the division's sacrifices and victory in the battle for Guadalcanal.

Before the 1st left Guadalcanal for Australia, there had been some discussion by the senior staff about uniforming the troops. It was determined that Marines might have to wear Army uniforms, which meant that they would lose their identity. Lieutenant Colonel Twining came up with the idea for a division patch. A number of different designs were devised by both, Lieutenant Colonel Twining and Captain Donald L. Dickson. The one which Twining prepared on the flight out of Guadalcanal was approved by Major General Alexander A. Vandegrift, the division commander.

General Twining recalled that he drew a diamond in his notebook and "in the middle of the diamond I doodled a numeral one ... [and] I sketched in the word 'Guadalcanal' down its length ... I got to thinking the whole operation had been under the Southern Cross, so I drew that in, too ... About an hour later I took the drawing up to the front of the aircraft to General Vandegrift. He said, 'Yes, that's it!' and wrote his initials, A.A.V., on the bottom of the notebook page."

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