Capt Leonard R Shifflette U.S. Marine Corps (Ret) (1948-1970)
Capt Leonard R Shifflette
U.S. Marine Corps (Ret)
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PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MARINE CORPS?
I was born on January 15, 1930, in Lebanon County, Pa. and grew up on a Virginia farm our family sharecropped for the owner. Life on a sharecropper farm was basically just a living. You had a house, a garden, and you worked the land. The family received half of the crops that are grown on the farm, such as hay, wheat, and corn (just a general farm). We had pigs, poultry (for food), cows for milk and butter, and a large garden. We had food to eat, a place live, some clothing, but very little money with no opportunity to attend a higher level of education (college).
There was our grandfather, grandmother, two uncles, one aunt, our parents, and seventeen grandchildren living on the farm. The boys helped work on the farm, of course without any pay; so one can see times were not very good during the depression years and during WW II. We didn’t have electricity or a telephone until 1947 and never had indoor plumbing!
I am the oldest of seven children and after graduating from Dayton High School, Dayton, Va., in June 1948, I decided farming wasn’t going to be my life and figured it was time for me to go on my own so my father and mother would have one less child to care for. On June 25, 1948, I joined the United States Marine Corps in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I was sworn in at DHRS Richmond, Virginia and sent to Parris Island, South Carolina, arriving there the following day. There weren’t enough recruits to form a platoon so we were billeted in a casual barracks until enough recruits arrived to form a full platoon. I was assigned to the Second Recruit Battalion Platoon 110. At that time boot camp was only eight weeks.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
Boot camp wasn’t difficult for me. I was in great physical shape having worked on a farm every day Then there were the good things; I was issued two pairs of shoes, more clothing than I had ever seen, plus great food to eat–especially all the different varieties! I gained 15 pounds as I only weighed 110 when I enlisted.
I graduated from basic on the September 15, 1948 and after a ten-day leave, I was assigned to the Casual Company at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, for further orders. I was also promoted to the rank of PFC. A couple of weeks later I was transferred to Headquarters Company, Service Battalion, MCS Quantico, Virginia for duty as a general clerk. I was assigned as a general clerk (administration). I was given that MOS because I had taken some business courses in high school. I didn’t really want to work in an office but all through my 20 plus years in the Corps I really didn’t have a choice. There were some great exceptions to office work, however.
At the end of December I was assigned TAD (temporary additional duty) to the Freedom Train as an extra guard while it was in Washington, D.C. The idea for the Freedom Train was to reawaken Americans to their taken-for-granted principles of liberty in the post-war years. Top Marines were selected to guard the train and its famous documents.
All of us who were TAD were given an opportunity to be reassigned for duty at Marine Barracks in Washington, DC (8th & I). I jumped at the chance and was assigned to a guard company December 30, 1948.
At that time many WW II veterans buried in foreign ground were brought back home to be re-interned at Arlington Cemetery. It was our duty to do the best we could for the loved ones of these fallen heroes! I was honored to be part of their burial! On Friday evenings I participated in “Sun Set Parade,” as well as standing guard duty at the barracks.
In May 1949 the barracks 1st.Sgt. informed me that since I enlisted for three years and had been in the states for one year, I was eligible for an overseas assignment. My choices were Guantanamo Bay Cuba or China. I chose China.
When I arrived in Pearl Harbor (Camp Catlin) in June 1949, I was told all Marines were leaving from China and would that I would be assigned to Marine Barracks Naval Operating Base Subic Bay, Philippines Islands. My only duties were as a security guard, something I preferred over office work. Then the Korean War started on June 25, 1950.
North Korean forces attacked all along the 38th parallel, pushing South Korean Forces and their American advisors all the way back to Seoul and eventually to Pusan, the most southern end of the Korans Peninsula. I expected to go but since I was an Admin Clerk and not infantry, I was told I wouldn’t be going. So began my campaign to get into the war.
Lt.Col. Robert M. Hannah, our CO and Navy Cross recipient, had been a Wake Island defender who spent all of WW II as a POW. I reported to him each week asking for a transfer to Korea and he told me he couldn’t since I wasn’t infantry (0311 MOS.) I informed him that I would be back each week asking for this transfer until he was tired of seeing me.
After many weeks of me showing up in his office, he told me if I would agree to change my MOS to 0311, he would approve my request for duty in Korea. There was one hitch, however: my enlistment ended on June 24, 1951 and even with President Truman extending all Marines for a one-year period, I decided to reenlisted on December 1, 1950 for six years. “How about that President Truman — you gave me one year and I raised you five more.” In April 1951, I was promoted to Corporal with the MOS 0311 and received orders to the 1st Marine Division in Korea.
After arriving in Korea in June of 1951, I was sent to the 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division and assigned to A Company, 1st Battalion 7th Marines. I reported to A Company’s first sergeant, Tech Sgt James R. Skinner, just as the company was moving north to engage the enemy. He told me to report to the 3rd Platoon, 3rd Squad as the fire team leader. When I told him I had no combat experience and since there were two reserve corporals already assigned, I suggested the one currently filling the role of fire team leader was better suited. He blasted back, “You are the team leader. End of discussion.” The corporal that was the fire team leader wasn’t very pleased with this arrangement.
The area we operated in was called the Punchbowl where the Battle of Bloody Ridge took place from August-September 1951 followed by the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge from September-October 1951. .
In November I was ordered to report to the Battalion Adjutant because by MOS was changed back to 0141 Admin Clerk. I put up a fuss but was told that the “needs of the Marine Corps outweighs everything else.” I became the Battalion Adjutant’s clerk and was promoted to Sgt.
In December of 1951, I was ordered to depart Korea. I tried to extend my tour as a 0311, but was not allowed to, then I asked for duty in Japan and again was told no, so as the last resort I requested duty back to Subic Bay. The Personnel Officer told me there would be no other assignment except returning to the states as I had been overseas long enough.
My new assignment was to Retraining Command, Camp Allen Norfolk VA. This was a brig for Navy and Marine prisoners with less than four years confinement. I wasn’t really delighted about this assignment, but I had no choice but to carry out my orders. At first I was assigned to the guard company working inside the fence (compound) until I was promoted to the rank for Staff Sgt. in June 1952 and reassigned NCO of Administrative Section.
In May of 1953, I heard HQMC was looking for administrative personnel at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Richmond, VA. I applied, was accepted and was transferred in June. I stayed in Harrisonburg until July of 1954 and was reassigned to be the NCO in Charge of a two-man sub-station in Roanoke, VA. During my tour of duty in Roanoke, I met my wife. We married on December 3, 1955.
I was transferred to Camp Lejuene NC in June 1956 where I was assigned as Admin Clerk for the 2nd Service Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. Shortly after I arrived I requested an early discharge to attend college, completing over 8 years in the Corps. My request was approved and I was discharged on September 8,1956.
I attended Madison College (now James Madison University) in Harrisonburg, VA. Before long we discovered the GI Bill–our source of income–was not enough for my family. I left school and moved to Roanoke so I could find a job to support my wife and daughter. I also joined the 5th Engineer Company in the Marine Corps.
Occasionally I would have lunch with my old buddies from the Roanoke recruiting sub-station. The conversation would eventually end up with when I was going to reenlist. My answer was always the same: when I receive orders to be stationed back at the sub-station in Roanoke. I knew this would never happen and that it would also make them stop asking me to reenlist.
Defying my understanding of how the Marine Corps works, my request was approved to once again be a recruiter in Roanoke. I got a discharge from the USMCR and reenlisted for active duty May 21, 1958. Later I was reassigned as the Admin Chief at the Main Station in Richmond until June 1961 when I received orders to report to Force Troops, Fleet Marine Force Atlantic (FMFLant), Camp Lejeune, NC where, in December 1958, I was promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant. My new assignment was the Classification NCO until I assumed the duties as NCOIC of Force Troops Clerical School at Montford Point, CLNC.
In April 1963 I received orders to report to the I & I 3rd Comm Co Force Troops, FMF, USMCR Rochester, NY, as the Admin Chief. While stationed in Rochester, NY, I attended college (night school) and complete many college courses, plus any and all MCI (Marine Corps Institute) courses in my field.
With the Vietnam War warming up, the Marine Corps CMC requested SNCOs to submit applications for selection as a Warrant Officer or a Second Lieutenant. I submitted my request and in May 1966, I was selected for promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. There were approximately 2,500 Staff NCO’s selected for either 2nd Lt or WO.
A month later I received orders indicating I had been selected 2nd Lt. with a duty assignment of personnel officer at Camp Hansen, Okinawa. Since 3FSR was short of administrative personnel, I reported to Camp Sukiran as the Admin Chief of H&S Co Maintenance Battalion. Camp Sukiran was renamed to Camp Foster in the fall of 1966.
I was commissioned a 2nd Lt. on July 15, 1966 and became the Assistant Regimental Adjutant. I was sent TAD to Yokosuka, Japan, for the Registered Publications School. When I returned to Okinawa I was made the Regimental Personnel Officer and Registered Publications Officer with a Top Secret Clearance. I also received orders promoting me to GySgt (E-7) September 1966 even though I was an officer and also selected for WO1. On the same orders was my commission to 2nd Lt.
As the Regimental Personnel Officer I also traveled to Danang (Red Beach) and Chu Lai, Vietnam where we had units.
In July 1967, to Marine Barracks as the Liaison Officer of the U. S. Naval Hospital Philadelphia. This was a sub-unit that held the records for all personnel that were hospitalized and for assisting in the health and comfort of all the Marines that were there in the hospital. I was promoted to 1st Lt. in October 1967.
I was reassigned as the Barracks Adjutant in July 1968. Colonel Victor A. Kleber, Jr was the CO. I had a staff of over 25 Administrative Clerks to process the records of fewer than 2,000 Officers and Marines, many who were retired medically and/or transferred back to duty. I was promoted to the rank of Captain in October 1969.
In September 1969, I was the Platoon Commander for the commissioning of the USS John S. McCain, Jr. Guided Missile Destroyer (DDG-36).
In early 1970, since I had completed more than 20 years and was 40 years of age, my wife thought I should retire and look for a second career before I got too much older. I agreed and April 1, 1970, I retired from the Marine Corps. When asked if I wanted a retirement parade, I said no. I didn’t want Marines to stand in formation on a Saturday just to see me retire. Instead, I slipped off the base as a retired Marine.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ACTIONS WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
Shortly after arriving in Korea in June 1951, I was sent to the 7th Marine Regiment 1st Marine Division. They had been operating in central Korea and the day I arrived they were packing up and moving north to engage the enemy. I was assigned to Company A, 3rd Platoon as the fire team leader of the 3rd Squad. This was somewhat disconcerting since I had never been in combat yet I was now in charge of a squad of men.
This was also the monsoon season and on our march north, we were drenched and ankle deep in water and boot-sucking slippery mud. For three day the regiment moved through central Korea pushing the CCF (Chinese) and NKPA (North Koreans) back north up through the Hwachon Reservoir (Yangu, and Chunchon) area. We were in support of the 2nd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment on the ridgeline occupied with North Koreans heavily armed with automatic weapons and mortars. This ridgeline was named the “Brown Line.” The commanding generals named each MLR (mainline of resistance) as ground was secured such as, Brown, Kansas, Hays lines and so forth.
The battle waged back and forth until the middle of July, when our division was pulled off line in the Yangu area for special training before being moved back on line in late August and early September. On September 9, our regiment was assigned Objective Able and Baker on hills 673 and 749.
At 03:00 on September 11, we launched our attack from the Hays Line through a narrow valley, across a tributary of the Soyang River and then uphill towards Hills 680 and 673 with Hill 749 as a further objective. Supporting the regiment was the 1st Tank Battalion with artillery support from the 11th Marines. Third Battalion 7th Marines moved forward to capture Hill 680 but despite extensive preparatory artillery fire, their advance was halted with the North Korean defenders firing interlocking fire from their bunkers. By the end of the day 3/7 Marines were forced to dig in some 300 feet south of the summit. First Battalion 7th Marines (1/7 Marines), tasked with capturing Hill 673, faced such strong opposition from the well-protected North Korean bunkers it was forced to stop short of their objective.
Hill 673 was finally taken and around midnight on September 12. Our battalion was relieved by the 1st Marines and we were sent in a mini-reserve behind the MLR. On the night of September 15, the 5th Marine Regiment moved forward to relieve the 1st Marines and continue the assault on the Kanmubong Ridge.
For days the battle lines went back and forth but it wasn’t until September 21 did the major fighting end with us having secured our objectives.
Following the conclusion of the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge to the west, our forces were consolidated and the line of hills north of the Punchbowl formed part of the new frontline, now named the Minnesota Line. However the North Koreans continued to probe our lines and place direct fire on our positions resulting in numerous casualties.
In November I was called off the front lines and sent to the battalion rear to take up administrative duties. I wanted to stay with my infantry buddies but it was not to be.
The area we were operating in was very mountainous and empty and the weather was extremely cold in the winter months; especially living in the open with no protection while living in a foxhole or bunker. Winter clothing did help some, but the wind out of Siberia didn’t help. Living and working in the battalion with only a small oil heater, which didn’t keep our office area very warm, trying to type with cold fingers was very difficult. The Battalion Adjutant did provide me with two hand warmers (filled with lighter fluid). I kept them in my field jacket pockets and would warm my hands and type like hell until I had to repeat the process. I still have those hand warmers. In the summer it was extremely hot, but we survived!
We had a houseboy by the name of Kim (it seems half the people in Korea are named Kim). He was small, but a hard worker of 10 years old. We fed, clothed, and paid him for doing our housework. When we did meet those who were moving out of our area due to a combat situation, we would share some of what we had especially with the children; mostly candy, chewing gum, or C-Rations, because they had little or nothing.
For our action in the Battle of the Punchbowl, the 1st Marine Division was awarded its third Presidential Unit Citation of the war for its actions during the periods from 21-26 April, 16 May-30 June and 11-25 September 1951.
We lost 69 men killed in action and another 575 wounded. The ROK Army had 122 KIA with 466 WIA. Over 10,000 were KIA and WIA.
The Korean Demilitarized Zone separating the North and South Korea now runs along the line of hills we captured in September 1951.
War is about survival. People are trying to kill you and in turn, you are trying to kill them. Every emotion one can imagine is felt during combat: fear of being killed and elation for not being killed. Then there is the fact you are away from home in a hostile place that is cold, hot, smelly, barren, and just plain different. So is experiencing war life-changing? You bet it was!
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
I really liked the duty at Marine Barracks 8th and I because it is and was the show post of the Corps. I took great pride in showing up at whatever the detail in a uniform that well tailored, spotless and with everything that was supposed to shinning to a high luster.
My second favorite was recruiting duty (Admin) in Richmond, VA and later reassigned to recruit in my home town in Harrisonburg, VA. Six year of dealing with the public in an effort to recruit young men and women for the Marine Corps was a rewarding job I valued greatly.
I didn’t really have a dislike for any duty station that I was assigned,but probably the duty at the Naval Prison (Camp Allen) in Norfolk, VA., would be the least liked. I did get promoted to Staff Sgt. there, so that was good!
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
Being selected a 2nd Lt. at the age of 36, with 16 years in the Corps. And, retiring with the rank of Captain completing 22 years service.
When I was stationed at the MB NB Philly I had the honor of meeting Commandants Gen. Wallace M. Greene, Gen. Leonard F. Chapman, Jr., and Ass’t Commandant Lew Walt, and VA State John Warner.
After being commissioned I served many great commanding officers such as Col. Stan D. Lowe, Col. Victor A. Kleber, Jr.. Col. Kermitt C. Shelley. Photo shows Col. Shelly and Col. Low during a transfer of command at 3FSR, 3rd Marine Division in Okinawa in 1967.
IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.
Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal with four stars, Korean Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, PUC, and others.
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
I am authorized to wear the Rifle Expert Badge for 3rd award, and the Pistol Expert Badge for 2nd award.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
There are several that come to mind. First is Sgt. Major James R. Skinner USMC (Ret). When I reported to A Company, 1st Battalion 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division during the Korean War, he was a Tech Sgt and First Shirt (1st.Sgt.) of the company. He was a poster picture Marine, even though he was in a combat situation. He backed me when the reserve Marine Corporal complained that I was to be the fire team leader. I liked that. After we retired, he and I were great comrades. I use to visit him at his home in Jacksonville, NC, and we would always eat a steak at a local restaurant. Great Marine!
The second is General Leonard F. Chapman, Jr. He was CO of Force Troops, FMF, Camp Lejuene, NC and I was the Classification NCO and he impressed me of being the presence of a True Marine. He encourage me to request independent duty (Recruiting, which I had already served for two tours) but was assigned to the I-I Staff, Rochester, NY. That is where I was selected for 2nd Lt., I was the Admin Chief.
I had the pleasure of seeing him again when he was the Commandant of the Marine Corps. I was his escort officer when he visited the Naval Hospital Philadelphia. We were in the office of the hospital CO, Colonel Kleber and the two were seated drinking coffee. His aide and I were of course standing in a relaxed parade rest. General Chapman kept looking at me and said, “I know you and do you know why?” I said, “I believe I do.” He said, “When I came to work each day you were the first Marine I saw in the morning and when I left the office you were the last one I saw at night.” He then looked at me approvingly and said, “You have come a long way from Staff Sergeant to First Lieutenant .” The general is shaking my hand in the photo as his driver and Col. Kleber look on.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
The only thing that comes to mind is when I was at Subic Bay as my enlistment was almost completed, three years from 25 June 1948, and President Truman imposed a one year extension due to the Police Action in Korea, and I reenlisted for six years rather than taking his one year extension.
Figure that is why I stayed in the Corps and retired. Good going President Truman!
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?
When I retired from the Marine Corps in May 1970, I began looking for a job. Since I had worked in Administration most of my Marine Corps career I felt that maybe banking would be compatible. First place I tried was the First National Bank in Roanoke, VA. I met with the Assistant Personnel Officer, Tom Smallwood, who told me since I didn’t have a college degree I would never be an officer of their bank. I marched across the street to the Colonial American Bank to see the Personnel Officer. He read my resume and said when do you want to start? He told me they hired people with experience like I had and I was hired as a Management Trainee.
I was assigned to one of their branches to learn branch operations and making loans. During this training period, the vice president was admitted to the hospital and left me to run the branch. I had only been with the bank a little more than three months, but was running his branch and making loans.
I was made manager of a newly constructed branch but when I asked the president of the bank would there be a pay raise he said no, since I was making more than their vice presidents due to my salary and my Marine Corps retirement. Stunned, I gave them a two-week notice and resigned in 1973 after working for the bank for over three years.
Over the course of the next 19 years I worked for Fidelity National Bank of Lynchburg, VA, in Roanoke, Rockingham National Bank in Harrisonburg, VA, Dominion Bank Shares, and Dominion Bank. In January 1992 at age 62 I retired after 22 years as a banker.
There is one highly satisfying moment in my banking career that had a karmic twist. Remember Tom Smallwood of First National Exchange Bank of Roanoke who said I would never work for his bank because I didn’t have a college degree? Our bank was purchased by First National Exchange Bank of Roanoke and became Dominion Bankshares, Inc. After the purchase and merger the AVP, Tom Smallwood, Assistant Personnel Officer, came to our bank to meet all the officers. There was a dinner held at the Country Club for this purpose. My boss was introducing our officers to Tom and when my turn came I told my boss “that no introductions were necessary.” He asked did I know Tom and I told him yes, “that Tom told me years ago I would never be an officer their bank.” Funny thing is that I was then a VP and he was still an AVP. Need to watch what one says!
Since I no longer work for a paycheck, I turned to volunteer work, especially as a tutor of math for 2nd and 3rd grade elementary children having problems. Our oldest daughter was a 2nd then 3rd grade teacher and I would go work with some of her class and to this day, I am still tutoring math in the 3rd grade. I also do other community projects.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I have been President of A/1/7 Marine Corps Association – Korea 1950-1953 for 14 years. I am also President of the Marines of Subic Bay, RPI 1947?1952. Both are veteran groups that hold an annual reunion each year and we will continue as long as there is at least two or more Marines that muster.
My other memberships are the First Marine Division Association and USMC Mustang Association.
Also, I have lunch once a month with a group of Marines that I served with during my time in the Corps.
Just being with comrades that I had walked the trails, shared a foxhole, and went on liberty with is an enjoyment to say the least. I also attend the annual Marine Corps Birthday each year with fellow Marines!
I also rang the bell for the Salvation Army for over 20 years.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
I feel I am still a Marine and present myself as one each day. I am proud to have served my time in Corps and I would never, ever let myself not be a Marine! I am a Marine and I will always will be one!
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE MARINE CORPS?
The best way to be a Marine is to do what those who are appointed over you ask you to do and to keep your nose clean.
Continue learning through higher education is one way to improve oneself and to be recognized as one that is trying to be a better Marine. I completed almost 2 1/2 years of college while in the Corps, completed all the MCI Courses in my field, plus the Basic Officer’s Course. I read 4 to 5 books a month, especially book concerning the military about our Corps in all the wars that we have participated and other military books. Education is something one must keep doing to achieve success!
Also, physical fitness is something else that is necessary. I continue to work out with weights, do pushups, setups, and walk between 3 to 5 miles a day. I was 143 pounds when I retired in 1970 and today I weigh in the area of 145. Physical fitness to me is what keeps me looking like a Marine and I will continue to do so as long as I am able. My advice to others is to do the same.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
Togetherweserved.com has helped me remember our Corps and the comrades with whom I served with for over 20 years.
The ease of navigating the site, connecting with old buddies and meeting new people, providing a clear, defined format for documenting our military career for other Marines to read and to show our relatives what we did in the military makes it a very meaningful experience.
Truly it has been an experience and pleasure being a member of this website. Thank you TWS.
Captain Leonard R. “Shifty” Shifflette U. S. Marine Corps (Retired)