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US Navy Veteran Recalls D-Day Invasion and Island Hopping in the Pacific
Submitted by Max Lonzanida, Hampton Roads Naval Museum

DDayIH imageJulius Shoulars resides in a cozy second floor apartment at Westminster-Canterbury on the Bay in Virginia Beach. At 94 years old, he describes himself as a freshman there after moving in some six months ago. His apartment is adorned with mementoes of his service in the US Navy during WWII; including plaques, reunion books, and shadowboxes containing an American flag and his medals.

Over the course of three hours he recounted his service during the invasion of Normandy, France seventy-five years ago on June 6, 1944. He later detailed his time aboard the Haskell-Class Attack Transport USS Karnes (APA-175) that took him island hopping in the Pacific. His service ended when he returned to Norfolk, and to his then girlfriend (and later wife) Ruby and his parents; this is his story.

While looking at the tranquil waters of the Chesapeake Bay from his apartment, he started "well, I got a letter from Uncle Sam saying to report to Richmond.” It was 1943, and he had just graduated from Norfolk’s Maury High School. He reported without hesitation as did others during the time. After medical and aptitude tests, he recalled a moment seated in a room with other recruits.

"They asked for 30 volunteers for the Navy and I raised my hand. In the Navy, you get three square meals, a clean bed to sleep in and water to take a shower each day” His father served in the Navy during WWI shoveling coal on a battleship, and he followed those footsteps. With that commenced his transition to becoming a sailor. Training took him to Camp Sampson, New York and then to Camp Bradford on the grounds of what was eventually absorbed into Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base.

At Camp Bradford, "we were assigned to an experimental outfit called a Naval Beach Battalion. We were issued paratrooper boots, Army jackets, Army pants, Army helmets, and Navy underwear.” He remained at Bradford for some four weeks, practicing amphibious landings on the in the Chesapeake Bay.

He enjoyed his time near home and visited his parents as often as he could. With a smile, he recalled that a friend of his had joined the Army, and left his then girlfriend, Ruby in Norfolk. He was instructed not to talk to her; "but by hell I did, you had to be a fool not to.” This blossomed into a relationship, and they would correspond together throughout his service. His time at Camp Bradford was followed by advanced amphibious training in Florida where he recalled that "the mosquitoes at Fort Pierce were the largest I have ever seen.”

Further amphibious training took him to Maryland, where they practiced landing in Higgins boats amid snow covered beaches. By January 1944, his unit had crossed the Atlantic in a rough five-day trip to Scotland aboard the former Cunard White Star Liner, HMS Aquitania.

From there, he recalled the welcome they received in Scotland and in England, and recounted "you know the phrase over here, over paid and over sexed; I think somebody made that up.” Training with members of the 7th Beach Battalion at Slapton, England commenced with large scale practice landings from LSTs and transports, which honed his skill as a coxswain.

At the "end of May 1944, we were transported to ships taking part in the invasion. We headed out on the 6th aboard anything that would float, even fishing boats from England.” On the morning of June 6th, 1944 at H hour, troops started landing on the "blood red” beaches of Normandy in the largest amphibious invasion that would forever be remembered as D-Day, in an operation which eventually liberated Europe.

While crossing the English Channel he recalled that "some of the men were happy, some were anxious, some were sad, some were scared to death. I felt it was going to happen, and there was nothing I could do, so why cry or be joyful; just take it.”

His unit, the 7th US Naval Beach Battalion, was attached to the 29th Infantry Division which stormed ashore at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Julius went ashore on the 7th, and he recounted "there was so many wounded, the dead and debris on the beach, we just went across them on the boats. I saw it with my own eyes.”

It was at this time that his unit came under the command of then Lieutenant Sam Byrd. Byrd was a celebrity and appeared on Broadway during a record 1,151 appearances in Tobacco Road and later Of Mice and Men. When WWII broke out, he put his acting career on hold and eventually became the Beach Master of his unit.

His unit remained at Omaha Beach for three weeks, directing landing craft, clearing debris, obstacles, and clearing and eventually burying the deceased; a task that he will never forget. He recounted, in vivid detail the destruction that was encountered and the scores of surrendering German prisoners that were transported off the beach by his unit. His unit was relieved, and headed back to the US via the USS Wakefield, formerly the luxury ocean liner SS Manhattan. His unit was decommissioned; and after a period of leave, he reported to the West Coast to join the crew of the newly commissioned USS Karnes (APA-175).

He would spend 18 months on the Karnes, "island hopping” in the Pacific for a total of 76,750 miles. This took him to Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guam, Tinian, Okinawa, Eniwetok Atoll, Ulithi, Subic Bay and Lingayen Gulf, Philippines among other ports of call while transporting equipment, supplies, evacuating the wounded, and transporting service members.

"One day while sailing in the Pacific, we saw a floating mine. The order was given to man battle stations to blow it up. The 20mm and 40mm gun crews began firing, we spent 500 rounds of ammunition before hitting the mine and exploding it, I don’t know how we won the war with this level or marksmanship” he recalled with a smile.

The Karnes arrived at Sasebo, Japan in September 1945, landing a contingent as the occupying force. He recalled vividly how their units Beach Master, the actor Lt. Sam Byrd who was with them at Normandy, accepted the surrender of a Japanese seaplane base from an officer. His final trip aboard the Karnes commenced on December 22, 1945 and after 22 days at sea, they docked at San Francisco.

Julius was under the impression that he lacked enough points to be discharged but reported for out processing anyway. That was not the case. After waiting in line at Naval Station Treasure Island, he handed his orders to a sailor behind a desk and informed him that he was being discharged. He had a sense of elation knowing that he was headed back home to his parents and his girlfriend Ruby after 18 months away from home in the Pacific aboard the Karnes and after serving at Omaha Beach.

He boarded a train back to Virginia and then a bus back to Little Creek, where he was finally discharged after three days of out processing. He recalled that one of the first things he did was marry his then girlfriend, Ruby Cooke.

He circled back to complete the story of how they met, ironically at Doumars in Norfolk while eating a hamburger. She was a Norfolk native, and a friend of his had shipped off to join the Army; and gave him stern instructions not to talk to her. He ignored that, and their courtship blossomed during his training and during his leave after he arrived back home from the Normandy invasions.

They didn’t want to get married while he was away, for fear of making Ruby a widow. They did so after his discharge and were married for 66 years before she passed in 2013. As for the friend who instructed him not to talk to her, Julius recalled, "well, me and him never spoke again.”

 





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