Shelley Spicer was born before World War II in Seaford, Delaware. He is one of four male siblings, and they all served during World War II. Shelley enlisted into the Navy. After he was discharged from the war, he traveled back home to the east coast on a plane, and then got a train ticket back to Seaford.
In this interview, Shelley Spicer speaks about working with rationing as a kid, hearing about Pearl Harbor with his family on the radio. He also discusses his expedited enlistment into the Navy, missing graduation, the Dupont Plant, his high school baseball game with German POWs, the GI Bill, and his life and career after the war.
Missing Graduation to Join the Navy
So the day of my graduation in Seaford, I had to go join the Navy that day. That was my birthday and—my birthday was the next day, and I had graduation. So I thought, well, I had to go to Baltimore. I went to Baltimore on a bus, and I worked on joining the Navy that day, and they knew that. They swore me in about five o’clock. So then I thought now I’ll work on seeing if I can get back to Seaford that night for graduation. So I went to the officer guy that was running the whole show, and I told him who I was, and I told him my problem, and he said, “Son, now you said you want to join the Navy, and you’re going to be sworn in in a few minutes. So if you’re going to be sworn in tonight, you’ve got to be sworn in tonight.” He said, “You’re not going anywhere tonight, you’re going to be right here.” I thought to myself I’m gonna remember this guy’s name, and some time we might cross paths, and I’ll have to tell him because I didn’t have much power then so what I said didn’t mean nothing. So, I didn’t go home. I missed my graduation. My mother, and my brothers and sister was there, and they had a chair for me, but I wasn’t in it. So that’s the way it went. But, of course, I did graduate.
I wasn’t happy. No, I wasn’t, but I knew I had to get in the Navy. If I was gonna join the Navy, I didn’t want to go—my brother Jennings was older than I, and he went in the infantry and I knew what he went through and I knew where he went. After he finished his basic, he went right on a boat, on a ship, and to Europe he went. I thought, well, I don’t want to be on the ground fighting so I decided I would be in the Navy.
German POW Baseball Game
We had a superintendent in school. He was real conscious of sports, and he wanted us to be able to play sports in our senior year, our junior and senior year. A lot of these guys, they were coaches. They were gone. They were already in the service. So he was the superintendent of the school so he saw that we still had sports in other towns. We had a tough time getting there. We had to furnish our own transportation if it was an away game, and the tires were terrible to get. They were rationed car tires. So some of us boys had cheap cars. I didn’t, but we had cheap cars, and, of course we didn’t have no money because we were going to school. We bought cheap cars, and tires weren’t that slick. But we loaded up in these cars, about three cars, and go—we took probably about ten or eleven men, or boys, in our broken down cars and stuff like that, and we made it there. And when we got there, there was just a little booth at where we entered, and it was almost one man maybe two was able to get into it in case it rained. The fence was just a minor fence. The Germans wasn’t a lot of problem. So they had worked on playing baseball a little bit. They knew a little something about it because our superintendent of schools had talked with someone up there to start with, and I think he got somebody to go in there and kinda train them a little bit. So anyhow, we went in, and we played baseball with them, and it was kind of funny. I mean they couldn’t speak English, and we couldn’t speak German so we used sign language. But we made it, and they enjoyed it. They got more out of it because they didn’t know a thing about it when they got there, and so they enjoyed it. We played them, and, of course, we were better than they were, but we had training. But it was okay. We couldn’t make too much conversation, but we tried to explain something to them by using our hands or whatever. So it was okay.
So then what happened was the war was over, and we had all these boys flying these planes, these freight planes we called them, they hauled freight after the war to Germany and everywhere else. Well, they got discharged, these boys flying them, and they had all these planes, and they started selling them cheap, to buy from the boys that had been flying them. They had so many of them, they didn’t need them. So three or four would get together and buy one of these planes. It was three in our case, and we could buy a ticket on their plane and fly us from the West Coast to the East Coast. This was going on every day, and I was like “can this happen?” And he said, “oh, yeah, it can happen, it will happen,” he said, “It is happening.” I didn’t know it was so I said, “Okay, write me a letter,” and I put it in.
I was going to get discharged, and it turned out I did. So, I got lined up in this group, three guys were flying this plane, and it was a freight plane, and they flew it every—one day they flew it East, the next day they flew it back to the West, back and forth. And there’s more than one of these going on so that’s what I hooked into. So we left. I bought the ticket, and we met in Oakland, California airfield, and at a certain time, five o’clock in the afternoon, I got aboard, and the first thing we had to do was fly through the mountains. These planes would not fly high enough to get over the mountains, you had to fly through them. That was the rough part for me in my head. But when we took off, it was getting dark and the first thing we were going to do was hit the mountain. And then we had a landing point on the other side of the mountain. I forgot the name of the city or town or what it was. But then we just, we were going this way and that way up and down a little bit—course you could only go so high. You couldn’t go very high in them because they were freight planes, but anyhow we made the other side of the mountains.
That night we landed in some city, I don’t know where it was, but it was dark then. We were on level ground then. We were past the mountains so they knew what they were doing. But anyhow, we stop and eat and we take off, and I remember being in Chicago, in Pittsburgh in this plane, in and out, in and out, get something to eat, go to the John, all that stuff. So we got to the East Coast on a Sunday night about 8:30, and it was dark. And I saw, when you looked out the window, we could see all these cars. They looked like cars, automobiles, the lights going. I said, “Can we take some of them?” They were all everywhere, people were coming back from the beach, and it was dark. He said, “There’s people coming back from the beach here, went to the beach the night before, and they’re coming home.” So that’s what that was. Shortly after, we landed, and it was in a city, but I forgot which one it was now. It was just west of New York City so it was in New Jersey. So anyhow, I got off the plane and got a cab to the railroad station.
And there was three of those ships, they were built up here in south of Philadelphia, I forgot the name of the city, but they built a lot of ships up there, and the three of these ships that I was on, they were all the same, minesweepers. We would sweep up a place, an area, so our big ships could roll in, and make sure no mines were there to blow up these ships. We had equipment to cut their cables off, and then we’d fire our guns on them until they exploded. So that’s how we cleaned up the places where the ships would have to come, in deep water. And so, we would clean up an area and then they could come on and use them, a certain area. And if they needed more, then we’d go and do another sweep, back and forth, but there was three of them and they were really getting to where they need a lot of repair, and don’t you know they rebuilt those things, the three of them, and they gave them away after they rebuilt them to an island off of China. Now I’ve forgotten the name of that little island, it was a country itself.
I think that—I think you got it. Taiwan.
German Invasion in Europe
We thought there were going to be a lot of German planes during this invasion. And this invasion went on for a day or two, it was so many people and so many ships and stuff. But the Germans didn’t feel like that was the real landing place, and they wanted to keep their equipment on standby, because they thought we were going probably just–this is a false place to invade, see, so they kept their equipment off and that gave us a chance to get in. So when they found out we were for sure, for real, then they came with the big stuff. But we were pretty solid too by then. We had tanks, all kinds of tanks in there and the only thing was the bombers were bad. They had built these concrete rooms, and they had put guns in it so they could shoot machine guns, it was so they could shoot out toward the water and they killed a lot of our boys landing. But what happened to them after a period of time, we had destroyers and by the way I was on a destroyer and I got a cap somewhere around here. I don’t know where it is, but I got a cap with a destroyer on it, but anyhow, they had these machine guns and our boys were landing, and man, so many of them got killed, the blood in the ocean turned red, I mean the water, from blood. A lot of them got killed, a lot of them.
Of course there’s rationing. Gas rationing, food rationing. As a kid, I worked in a store taking all these coupons for food and I had to figure all that out when I worked. It was a local grocery store and I guess you folks haven’t seen rationing stamps back then. It’d be nice to have them, I don’t have any anymore. Everything called for rationing. It was a little ticket, you got them from some ration board and you could buy—some of them were for meats, some of them for canned goods, some for all different things in the store. If you sold a can of beans, you have food in the canned goods tickets and you pull out one ticket for about one can of beans maybe, I don’t remember now. But I dealt with that kind of thing the whole time I worked there.