Calvin W. Shifley
Posted Jan. 29, 2017
Calvin Shifley received his induction notice in August 1944 when he was 19 years old. On November 9, 1944 he left the rural Bucyrus, Ohio, farm where he, his parents, and his five siblings had farmed during the Great Depression. After reporting to Fort Hayes in Columbus Ohio, he left by train for Camp Atterbury, Indiana where soon thereafter, and in typical army fashion, he and the other draftees were put on a train with no idea where they were headed. After several days, they arrived at Camp Wheeler in Georgia for 15 weeks of basic training.
When the Battle of the Bulge began in December 1944, their basic training was cut short so that they could leave to support the troops in the European theater. After a brief visit home he was off to Fort Mead, Maryland, to be issued supplies for overseas duty and then sent to New York City for deployment.
To minimize the risks of being seen by German Atlantic patrols, the Liberty Ship he was on (and the other 62 ships in the convoy) left New York in darkness. The Liberty Ship he was on carried 2, 500 men in its hold.
Fortunately, the convoy was not attacked during its 13-day voyage.
Unfortunately, that didn't mean the trip was uneventful. The wartime security procedures of sailing without lights led to a collision between two of the ships in the convoy, killing three men. They were buried at sea. The troops on Shifley's ship had to deal with the typical but largely overlooked challenges many troops faced when going to the European theater - severe seasickness (because of the numerous storms they encountered on their way), boredom, social isolation, and food poisoning.
Three days out from Europe, both the risk and the utter devastation of the war became everyday realities. As they came close to Europe, the men began wearing their life jackets because of German navel activity in the area and the risk of mines. Arriving in Le Havre, France, they saw the carcasses of seemingly countless sunken ships that still remained from the Normandy invasion. At Le Havre, the men of the convoy waited for the smaller transport ships to bring them to shore, or at least most of the way to shore. From there many of the men in his convey were next transported in ''forty-and-eight" boxcars to Rennes to be assigned to their units.
At Rennes early one day thousands of men were marched to a huge field, where each man stood waiting to hear his name (via loudspeaker) and the unit to which he was being assigned. Each man would then leave to join his unit. Since there were thousands of men, this process of calling out names took hours. Eventually, late in the afternoon, there were two men left standing in the field, one of them being Calvin. Wondering what was going on, he saw a Half Track come zipping toward him with an individual inside barking out the question, "Are you Private Calvin Shifley?" That's when he was told he has been assigned to the 106th Reconnaissance Troop. (The troop had been decimated by the Battle of the Bulge and needed replacements. Of the 143 men in the troop that began the battle, 28 men were left at the end.)
Shortly thereafter, in a bit fortuitous timing, the troop commander was in need of a driver. For some unknown reason, perhaps because his record showed that he had driven a milk delivery route back in Ohio, he was one of several individuals told to ''try out" to be the driver. With the unsolicited advice from a previous driver candidate to "keep on going no matter what," Calvin's test began. The armored car weighed tons and during the test the troop commander and the gunner were up in the turret. The test course had hills, trees, and mud.
Seeing his first muddy area and remembering the advice to keep going, he floored the vehicle. The timely acceleration and the shear mass of the vehicle propelled them, bouncing and shaking, through the mud. Overall, it was a rough ride, especially for those in the turret, but Calvin got the job!
Being a driver was handy at times. It allowed Calvin to see the German cities of Bonn, Koln, Heidelberg, Mossburg, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and Wetzlar. Of course, all the cities showed the ravages of war.
The end of the war came when Calvin was in Eupen, Belgium, and he witnessed a big parade held to celebrate the war's end. And, with war's end, the army's needs changed. He was briefly transferred to the 3rd Armored Division and then promoted to Sargent and transferred to the Constabulary Unit, to help police their assigned areas of Germany.
Given their visibility, the members of the constabulary always faced the risk of reprisal from former German soldiers and any diversion was welcome.
Occasionally the men of the unit would shoot deer for the mess hall cook to make into venison stew (a welcome change of menu). The men would also occasionally have some pop~ corn, which they heated using the small K Rations stove.
Of course, any furlough was welcome and Calvin's took him to Berne, Lucerne, and Geneva in Switzerland. But the best thing was getting to go back home. Calvin was discharged on August 24, 1946 - after an 11-day voyage back to the United States and a trip to Fort Meade, Maryland. From there he took a bus to Washington, DC, and boarded a train to Crestline, Ohio. Arriving at 3 am, he was able to call home and wake his brothers and convince them to pick him up at the station.
He continues to live in Bucyrus, Ohio. He and his wife, Velda, have three sons and five grandchildren.