The Ship - All Hands - Decorations - Remembrance
One night, when I was six or seven years old, I was "helping" my Dad in his workshop: pounding old nails into scrap wood, sweeping up sawdust and so on. At some point that evening, I asked my Dad for a screwdriver. He handed me an old, wooden-handled, paint-spattered screwdriver, and said "This was mine when I was in the Navy."
I'm at a loss to explain why I've remembered that moment, but I have. It was one of the few times while I was growing up that my father mentioned his service in the Navy, in Enterprise. A few years later, he gave me a white sailor's cap, long since lost; over time I became aware that some of the older books on the shelves - The Big E, Then There Was One, The Grim Reapers - had something to do with his life.
My mother provided other insights: relating, for instance, how for many years after they first met, my father avoided violent movies, and could not look at his albums of Enterprise photos without shaking uncontrollably. Though I remember visiting Los Alamos during a family vacation, I don't remember one detail which she does: that my father wanted his children to view the atomic bomb exhibits, but refused to enter the museum himself.
In the mid-1980's, forty years after the war, he seemed a little more willing to talk about his experiences, but like many men of his generation, he never had a lot to say about it. Most of what I know about his time in the Navy, I know from letters and official records. Fortunately, he had a hard time throwing things out.
What follows is a short history of his time in the Navy, as well as links to transcripts of a number of documents related to his service.
James Willis Shepherd was born on October 29, 1919, to Ralph and Irmadel Shepherd. Ralph Shepherd had been commissioned as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army in 1917, and married Irmadel a few months before being shipped overseas, where he commanded a machine gun unit near Verdun. While he was growing up, my father's family moved several times - Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia - before finally settling down on Church Street, in Chillicothe, Ohio. After graduating from Arsenal Technical School in Indianapolis, he moved to Craig, Colorado, and worked for a newspaper there.
LIKES NEW POSITION - Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Shepherd, 411 Church St., recently received word from their son, Mr. James Shepherd, who left here recently to accept a position as printer-pressman with the Craig Empire Courier at Craig, Colo. Mr. Shepherd studied printing at the Arsenal Technical School in Indianapolis. He assumed his new duties last Tuesday and is very happy with his new work. (Newspaper clipping, no identifying marks)
In the summer of 1941, he registered with the Selective Service, receiving a card dated July 17, informing him that he was classified 1-A, and a letter a couple days later, drawing his attention to the entry requirements and service schools of the U.S. Naval Reserve. He had, however, apparently already made up his mind, as he started basic training less than two weeks later.
AT NAVAL SCHOOL - James Willis Shepherd, 21, son of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph W. Shepherd of 411 Church St., arrived at the Naval Training Station at Great Lakes, Ill, on July 29 to begin training as an apprentice seaman for the U.S. Navy. Shepherd will remain at Great Lakes for approximately six weeks, taking training in basic seamanship and naval procedure. Prior to enlistment, Shepherd was employed as pressman at the Craig Empire Courier. He graduated from Arsenal Technical School in Indianapolis in 1938. (Newspaper clipping, no identifying marks)
After completing basic training on September 13, he had a week's leave, and then entered the Aviation Ordnance School at the U.S. Naval Air Station at San Diego, California. California and the Navy seemed to agree with him.
Well Folks, Arrived O.K. Don't know what my address will be yet but will send it as soon as possible. Also a letter then. Start to school tomorrow (Mon.) Believe I'm going to like it here. 53 hr. liberties over the week end and the like. Not at all bad. (Letter, September 28, 1941)
He made Seaman 2/c ten days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Years later he would recall getting no sleep the night of December 7, as he and every other sailor and soldier on the west coast prepared for, as was then expected, an attack - maybe even invasion - by the Japanese Imperial Navy. The attack on the continental United States never came, and my father graduated from Aviation Ordnance School on January 24, 1942.
He was immediately transferred to VF-10 - Jimmy Flatley's "Grim Reapers" - then being formed around a nucleus of Lexington Air Group (VF-2) veterans. Air Group 10 was commissioned June 6, 1942 - the last day of the Battle of Midway - and in August transferred to the Naval Air Station at Barbers Point, just west of Pearl Harbor.
At this time, Air Group 10 was not yet assigned to a carrier. Three and a half weeks after their arrival, however, Enterprise, stripped of her air group and visibly scarred from three bomb hits received during the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, slipped into Pearl Harbor, for repair and refitting. Air Group 10 was Enterprise's new air group; my father was assigned to Big E's V-5 division. The ship's deck log indicates he first boarded Enterprise with 36 other men the evening of Thursday, October 8. After a short cruise on October 10-14, Enterprise re-entered Pearl Harbor, and then departed for the South Pacific on October 16.
Ten days later, she found herself in the fight of her life, just north of a malaria-infested cluster of islands known as Santa Cruz. Today, at the age of 22, many young men and women are finishing school, starting their careers, and are full of hope for the future. In 1942, at the age of 22, my father - and hundreds of other men in Enterprise and the other ships in her task force - faced his first experience in battle, and survived one of the most intense aerial assaults in history. There is little doubt in my mind that when he celebrated his 23rd birthday three days later, he was not the same man who had come aboard Enterprise just weeks before.
His letters home from that time give only the smallest hints of anything being out of the ordinary, of the tremendous fighting taking place around Guadalcanal at that time.
Dear Folks, Just got one of your V letters. Also, I've been celebrating my birthday the last couple of days. Got a couple of packages. One from the Gruelles and one from Mamaw. Also a bunch of cards from the torch-bearer class. Have you the new picture of Pepper yet? I certainly hope so as I like the little devil from what I've seen of his pictures.
Pass the word around to the folks to forget the Xmas presents this year as I'm definitely not going to send any myself. Not even so much as a Xmas card so far as I know.
Heard that Harold Heard is O.K. That really makes me feel good as I was afraid he'd gotten his some time ago. Reckon as how that's all for this time. Shall write more later. (Letter, November 18, 1942)
The identity of Harold Heard is an intriguing mystery. Between February 1941 and August 1942, a radioman-gunner named Harold Heard served in Enterprise's Bombing Squadron Six. Radioman Heard saw action in the early raids of the war, and with LT Joe Penland survived a night in a raft after they ditched their SBD, following the morning attack on the Japanese carriers at Midway. Following the battle of the Eastern Solomons in August 1942, Heard was transferred with most of the rest of Bombing Six to Efate (and shortly afterwards, to Guadalcanal), while Enterprise returned to Pearl Harbor where her battle damage was repaired ... and where my father joined her that October.
Was Bombing Six's radioman Heard the same Harold Heard that my father knew? To date, no conclusive evidence has surfaced. The muster rolls reveal one coincidence: VB-6's Harold Heard enlisted in Indianapolis, Indiana, where my father completed his secondary schooling. Heard enlisted in 1940, suggesting that he and my father were close in age. And certainly, by fall 1942 Heard's acquaintances could be forgiven for being "afraid he'd gotten his." Unfortunately, Heard passed away before I became aware of the possible relationship, and his family, while friendly and gracious, lack conclusive evidence as well.