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Remembering Pearl Harbor

A day that changed lives

December 06, 2010|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com

Editor's note: Sixty-nine years ago, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, marking the beginning of the United States’ involvement in World War II. Today, The Herald-Mail presents the memories of three local men who served in the Navy during that war.

Charles “Mac” McCleary was only 16 when Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
He said he heard the news with some friends while they were eating at the former Corner Grill at the intersection of Main and Potomac streets in Waynesboro, Pa.
“The owner of the place said ‘shut up and listen to this,’” the 86-year-old McCleary said. “He turned the radio up. Chills went down my spine.”
Like many other young men his age, McCleary anxiously waited to reach the age when he could join the Navy to fight the Japanese in the Pacific.
McCleary said his parents wouldn’t give their consent until he turned 17. It was then that he dropped out of Waynesboro High School and enlisted on Sept. 29, 1942.
Seaman McCleary initially was sent to Europe and served aboard the USS Shubrick, a destroyer that participated in the Allied landings at Sicily, Normandy and Southern France. When the war in Europe ended, the Shubrick was redeployed to the Pacific.
The Shubrick was about 25 miles from Okinawa when radar picked up a swarm of Japanese kamikazes heading for the American fleet.
“We put on our helmets and started firing on them,” McCleary said. “We shot down two and the third one got us.”
McCleary said he was on the port side of the ship when the plane slammed into the starboard hull.
“We were in a turn when we got hit and lost power,” he said. “We just kept going in a circle and stopped.”
McCleary said the hole in the ship was patched up on Okinawa to allow the Shubrick to return to the United States for further repairs. The sailors were given 40 days of leave.
He said they thought they would have to return to the Pacific to participate in the invasion of the Japanese Islands, but the Americans dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war.
“It was necessary,” McCleary said of then-President Harry S. Truman’s decision to use atomic weapons. “It saved a lot of lives. A lot of Japanese were killed. But that’s the way it was.”

Calvin Sheeler, 84
Hagerstown resident Calvin Sheeler said he was playing basketball behind a friend’s house on North Street when he heard about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“My friend’s mother came out and said Pearl Harbor was bombed,” said Sheeler, who was a 16-year-old sophomore at Hagerstown High School at the time. “For an instant, everyone just looked at each other. We just scattered and went home ... In the back of my mind, I was thinking I was going to get drafted.”
Sheeler said he joined the Navy at age 17 after getting his mother’s consent.
“The Navy for some reason appealed to me and I was glad I joined the Navy,” he said. “I didn’t like that idea of wallowing around in the mud in the Army or Marines.”
Seaman 1st Class Sheeler was assigned to the USS Yokes, a high-speed destroyer that neutralized obstacles in the water to clear the way for landing craft. The Yokes also transported Navy frogmen who performed underwater demolition missions and escorted supply ships from Hawaii to Okinawa.
“There were an awful lot of kamikazes,” Sheeler said of the fighting at Okinawa. “I spent my 19th birthday assigned to a 5-inch gun. It seemed like you wouldn’t get secured after one raid when another one would start. They were really throwing it at us.”
He said that after Okinawa fell to Allied forces, the Yokes was assigned to participate in the invasion of Japan.
“I’m glad the bombs were dropped,” Sheeler said of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “I wouldn’t be here today. It saved a lot of lives.”
Sheeler said he was discharged from the Navy in 1946 and graduated a year later from Hagerstown High School. About 100 of his classmates were World War II veterans.

Albert Salter, 84
Petty Officer 1st Class Albert Salter said he remembers the continual waves of kamikazes that attacked U.S. ships during the Battle of Okinawa.
“We were under constant attack,” he said. “I am very lucky to be here.”
Originally trained as a radar specialist after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Salter was assigned to the USS Elmore, an attack transport that was loaded with landing craft to ferry troops to the front lines.
Salter, who lives in Hagerstown, said he was a helmsman at Okinawa, meaning he went ashore with the soldiers, then turned the landing craft around to pick up more men.
“We would draw straws to see who would go to shore,” he said. “I drew the one for Okinawa.”
Salter said one of his most tragic memories of the war was in January 1945, when the Allies carried out the Lingayen Gulf landings in the Philippine Islands.
He said the Elmore experienced boiler trouble and had to be replaced by the USS DuPage.
As the DuPage engaged in the battle, a kamikaze slammed into the bridge. Salter said the impact was in the exact spot that he would have been standing had the Elmore stayed in its original position.
“They lost 38 people,” Salter said tearfully. “That’s why you come home thinking, ‘why was I so lucky?’ You say, ‘Why me?’ over and over again. These are the stories that redevelop in your later years.”
Salter said he has visited World War II battlefields in the Pacific and in Europe. He gets choked up talking about seeing the U.S. and Japanese flags flying side by side over the cemeteries that mark the final resting place of the war dead.
“I still get emotional,” Salter said. “You understand the wonderful reasons for peace.”

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