Donald Shedd stood in his Wallingford kitchen and pointed to a bright red baseball cap he planned to wear in Washington, D.C. "That’s my hat," said Shedd proudly. "First Marine Division, Guadalcanal."
Shedd was able to commemorate Veteran’s Day a bit early this year. The World War II veteran traveled to Washington, D.C., on Saturday with the Honor Flight Network, an organization that flies veterans to the nation’s capital to visit memorials that honor their military service.
Shedd’s son Brad, a Vietnam veteran, went with him.
Military service runs deep in Shedd’s family. His father served in World War I and both of his brothers served with him in World War II.
The 93-year-old made his way slowly to a back closet where his Marine uniform still hangs. The green woolen jacket was carefully protected in plastic.
“I can pretty near pull it around, but not quite," he admitted with a smile.
“That’s a Purple Heart," said Shedd, explaining the various medals and ribbons that chronicle his military service – service that began in 1942, when all three Shedd brothers enlisted together in the Marine Corps.
"I was 19,” said Shedd, “Paul was 18 and Bob was 20. We wanted to enlist just after Pearl Harbor in '41, but Paul was only 17, so we enlisted in '42."
The brothers trained and shipped out for the Pacific together, eventually landing in Guadalcanal, the largest of the Solomon Islands.
Having grown up in Rutland, Donald Shedd said he remembers being surprised by all the coconut trees, but said day-to-day, war was about following orders, setting up camps and going on patrols.
“I carried a rifle and I was an infantryman,” said Shedd. “And that’s what you’re taught in the Marines. Forget your mother; forget your girlfriend. I didn’t have one, luckily,” he said with a chuckle. “And your rifle, that’s your wife and mother. Your rifle.”
When asked how he handled fear, Shedd wasn’t sure. “I often think of that,” he admitted. “I was never scared, you know? You just did you job and hoped that maybe someday you’d get home.”
Shedd said he doesn’t recall ever feeling like he wouldn’t make it. But there were some close calls.
“One time on New Britain [Island], we had a patrol go out and see what was going on and we came to a brook. The Japs started firing,” said Shedd. “So the guys all jumped into a pool and I had my B.A.R. – my Browning Automatic Rifle – and I just stood back and was aiming up at where they [the Japanese] were. And I could see bullets coming right at me – boom, boom, boom."
“My brother Paul, he was wounded on Guadalcanal. Bob was wounded on New Britain. He was shot right here,” said Shedd, pointing to his chest. “He was lucky to make it."
Donald Shedd was wounded on Peleliu, struck by shrapnel from an anti-tank gun. The island of Peleliu was the scene of ferocious Japanese resistance in September, 1944, and there were many U.S. losses before the Americans were finally able to secure the island.
Shedd said he watched good friends die. He grabbed his wallet and began pulling out credit cards and photos until he found what he was looking for: a faded Catholic mass card from the funeral of Norbert Rowan.
“He was killed on Peleliu," said Shedd. "September 17, 1944. I saw him. The priest was there giving him his last rights. He was one of the fellas we used to go on liberty with and play cards with."
"One of those close fellas," added Shedd quietly, "and I saw him die."
He continued: "And this other fella, Cheney, on New Britain, he was shot right through the helmet. Just like that. I helped carry him down the hill there.”
The Shedd brothers were luckier. Despite their wounds, all three came home, got married and had families.
Donald points to a handmade quilt that hangs on the wall, a 60th wedding anniversary present from his two children and grandchildren.
Shedd’s wife Jean died in 2009; his brothers are gone too. Paging through a tattered scrapbook of World War II mementos, Shedd acknowledged there are few left who were there.
He looked down at the small card that commemorates Norbert Rowan’s funeral and carefully put it back in his wallet. “I thought sometimes, 'Why do you keep carrying it?' But if you carry it for 70 years, it’s hard not to.”