How much do you know about the military service of your family members? Do you wonder about the events that shaped their lives? How can you honor their sacrifice? In the next few weeks we have several opportunities to consider their part in preserving our country’s freedom: Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Independence Day.
Like most World War II veterans, my dad didn’t talk much of his war experiences. When he passed away five years ago, all that remained of his military service were his sailor pants, some photos, his discharge papers, and a couple of paragraphs in his personal history outlining basic events.
I wanted to know more and started digging into the records on Fold3.com to see what I could find. I knew that he served on the USS Antietam so I began my search there. Entering his name into the database, I found three hits in the muster roll for Bobby G. Shults. When I clicked on one of them, I was asked if I wanted to create a memorial for him. I was intrigued with the prospects and proceeded to enter his entry date of service and discharge date. Fold3.com automatically generated a memorial page with pictures of the US Flag at that time, the US Navy Seal, the insignia for a Seaman, and an image of a rifle representing World War II.
I uploaded his discharge certificate and papers, all the photos that I had, and voila, his memorial page was taking shape. I wanted to add his full name, Bobby Gene Shults, to his record and was pleased to see that I could add a source and document image providing the proof. I set a photo for his profile and added this story to his memorial detailing the events from his personal history.
Bobby Gene Shults enlisted in the United States Navy, on 12 March 1945, four days before his 18th birthday. Still in his senior year of high school, he had completed enough of his school work that he could graduate early and enter the conflict known as World War II.
Bob entered active service on 27 April 1945 and was sent to boot camp at the Naval Recruit Training Unit in Memphis, Tennessee for six weeks, then on to Norman, Oklahoma for training at the Naval Air Technical Training Center. Toward the end of his training as an aviation machinist, he contracted scarlet fever and spent three weeks in the hospital. He told of receiving 52 shots of penicillin in the rump over a week’s time.
Bob remembered that when the bombs were dropped on Japan in August of 1945, he was back in the hospital with pneumonia. He completed the course at Norman, Oklahoma then was sent to Jacksonville, Florida for Naval Air Gunner School.
Upon completing his training, Bob headed west to the Coronado Naval Air Station in San Diego, California to await his assignment to a ship. That came two weeks later. His new assignment: the USS Antietam, an aircraft carrier already headed for Shanghai, China. Bob boarded a destroyer that would catch the 7th fleet in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Along with his new shipmates, he was transferred via boatswain chair to his new home.
Bob spent the next eight months as part of the deck crew getting planes ready for take-off and landing. The Antietam docked in Tsingtao and Shanghai, China. The sailors were allowed to go ashore and explore with the stipulation to stay away from certain areas and to always have two or more men together. Bob remembered the Chinese being so hungry, they would surround the ships in their sampans and use nets to pick up garbage the sailors threw overboard.
By the time Bob was ready for discharge, he was dropped off at Guam and put on another destroyer headed back to the states. The ship caught the edge of a hurricane and the strong winds sent the ship rolling about twenty degrees off vertical each direction.
Many of the sailors suffered from seasickness and Bob was glad when they finally reached San Francisco. He was discharged at Camp Shoemaker, California and hitched a ride home to Sanger, California.
I spent about an hour and a half creating a memorial of my dad’s military service on Fold3.com. I think he would be pleased to know that he is included in their growing collection of military memorials. I like having all of his military photos, documents, and story in one place.
Memorial Page for Bobby Gene Shults on Fold3.com
I treasure my only memory of Dad formally being honored as a veteran. We were attending a July 4th celebration and he proudly stood with other veterans as the US Navy anthem played. It helped me gain a greater understanding of the camaraderie among these men and their love of country. Dad entered the war fully expecting to be engaged in the Pacific front. Although Japan surrendered before he saw any fighting, his service of one year, four months, and eight days shaped him in a way that probably only he knew. Making a memorial of his military service is my way of remembering and honoring this definitive era of his life.
How can you honor the military service of your loved one? Here are three ideas:
Create a memorial on Fold3.com.
Fold3.com is a subscription based website, but has a basic free membership that allows you to access some free records and create your own memorial pages. It does offer a free 7 day trial, so you could search military records like mad, attach them to your memorial, and then be done. The premium membership gives you access to all of their historical images and if you are an Ancestry.com member, you can subscribe for half price.
Upload a story and photo to FamilySearch.org.
This website is free and there is no limit to the number of stories and photos you can upload. The Family Tree is collaborative so everyone will be able to view your memorial. Haven’t joined yet? Go to familysearch.org to start your free account. I’ve added all of my dad’s military photos and documents to his tree. Although they don’t appear together like his memorial on Fold3.com, they are available to all.
Devote an area in your home to display photos, medals, or any other military memorabilia.
I reviewed Passed and Present by Allison Gilbert, a wonderful book full of ways to remember our loved ones. Here is her suggestion for the month of November (Veteran’s Day) but I think it’s applicable at this time of year also.
Use wartime memorabilia to honor loved ones who served. Pins, military papers, journals, and diaries all bolster reflection. Even if these materials have been displayed in your home for a long time, take advantage of the holiday to discuss their significance.
I have this photo of my Dad hanging in my home. It’s the only one of him in his flight gear and I love the reminder that he served his country willingly and honorably.
How do you honor the military service of your loved one? Remember it doesn’t have to be fancy to be meaningful. Best of luck in your family history endeavors!