Veteran's History Project - Paul F. Sheaman
Paul F. Sheaman
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is one of many American Veteran accounts published in The Sidney Sun-Telegraph. The writer, who is from Sidney, is conducting the interviews as part of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project.
Paul Sheaman got quite an introduction to the real world as seen by the U.S. Army.
Here's a young man from just west of small-town Wyoming, fresh out of high school, and now, recently contacted by the Selective Service System.
The letter gave the instructions of what, where, when and how. The "why" part wasn't so necessary to explain. The country was at war. In a fairly short time, he and others in the area were transported by bus to Fort Logan, Colo., and soon, on to Fort Warren, Wyo., for Basic Training.
Then, new people were mostly called "trainees," among other things. They were marched in various formations to the barber shop, to the central clothing issue point, to administrative offices, even to pick up litter in the company area.
When conducting drill and ceremonies, if one couldn't figure out which was the left foot, he got to carry a rock in his right hand until the light came on. After a while, the individualism left and teamwork appeared. Some who may have been called "knuckleheads" caught on.
It seemed pretty cool to march as a unit of 50 men. A local celebration was coming up and the entire company of recruits was going to march for the fans of Frontier Days!
The company commander and drill sergeants had to get the men ready. Lots of practice and be sure you are perfect! Highly shined shoes, pressed uniforms, everyone, on the same page. They were hoping to march in the parade, on the street, a company of 200 young warriors in three long lines.
It turned out they marched in the big rodeo arena, on the dirt. They did fine. They actually performed a spoke maneuver/formation where 65 of the men were formed up shoulder to shoulder, left to right. On the command "Forward, March," the spoke moved.
The man at the hub "Pvt. Sheaman" barely moved, pivoting to his left, while the line marched in a circular direction. If Pvt. Sheaman moved too quickly, the guys on the far end would have to run their butts off just to keep up! They got through it! Here, they ate the best they had eaten for weeks.
Back to the training piece. Toward the end of basic training, when the young men are just about "soldiers," they will have marched several long road marches, dug foxholes, set up a camp for bivouac, etc. They are also put through a live-fire exercise. This is at an open, fixed site.
It is a linear field that has barbed wire criss-crossed at about fifteen inches above ground. There are dips in the terrain. Hopefully, it'll be muddy. The trainees are at one end and will have to low-crawl the distance. They will be wearing their go-to-war stuff: helmets, load bearing equipment, boots, and rifles.
The trainers will be firing live machine guns over them (not at them, just over them.) Pre-placed concussion grenades will be going off nearby. There's lots of yelling. It's real-life training. The drill sergeants have prepared the men for this. As the first several ranks made their way through everything went well. They made it from one end to the next. Then, a young man panicked and stood up. He was shot. "Cease fire!" He had to be extracted, med-evacted, but the training went on. (The guy lived.)
After eight weeks of training, basic training was over. It was time to move on. Pvt. Sheaman and some others were to take a train to a spot in Pennsylvania where they were issued different clothing.
He could type and knew how an office ought to run. He was issued khaki's, mosquito netting and stuff some of his peers weren't issued. He compared notes with others who were issued cold weather gear, others not issued much at all. Hmmm ...
In the middle of the night, they loaded another train and in a couple of days, found themselves at the port near New Orleans. They were directed to pack up all their gear they had just been issued. It would be sent back to Pennsylvania.
Pvt. Sheaman is soon aboard a troop ship headed for Trinidad in the British West Indies. His unit he is assigned to is the 161st Quartermaster Depot Company.
Their work is to manage a large warehousing operation at the southeast end of the Caribbean. Here, cargo ships bring products shipped from the southern ports of the U.S. to Trinidad. The cargo bound for the war effort in Europe is off loaded. The goods include clothing, food – canned and fresh, ammunition, equipment, weapons, etc. The empty ships would return while other ships with greater capacity would pick up goods and take them on.
This kind of operation involved plenty of manual labor and detailed records keeping. It involved administrative chores as well. Pvt. Sheaman was assigned to be a supply clerk and worker in the warehouses (or depot).
For a few weeks, he and his company had to live in open areas because the people they were replacing had not left. On the second morning, as soldiers began their day, a large undetonated explosive was found near their sleeping area. It was lodged in the sand. It was carefully extracted and taken to a safer area and blown up.
One of the questions in these interviews is whether the subject used anything for " good luck?" So far, his luck was very, very good. He is assigned to a warm island for duty, no one is shooting at him, and is not killed within 48 hours. No need for a rabbit's foot.
One job was to ensure the security of the operation. Some of Pvt. Sheaman's work involved censuring all outgoing mail. Soldiers were not to disclose their location. He found that many soldiers were very creative in passing along information they shouldn't have sent. He got very handy with the razor blade, taking out classified information.
Pvt. Sheaman quickly learned the "ropes" of the job and progressed to being a company clerk, and on up the various ranks. Toward the end of his time there, he was promoted to Master Sergeant! (Hoo-aah!)
He was charged with tracking all the soldiers in the command. There were some soldiers there who were disgruntled because they were not on the front, closer to the point of the spear. Other soldiers found out that there were party places off base. Some had to receive medical treatment for the partying they had done. Other soldiers thought they had found their true love and wanted to marry them then and there.
One soldier was unable to read and write. Msgt. Sheaman helped the man keep in touch with his family by writing the letters for him and reading them when others wrote. Keeping track of all was like herding cats.
Sheaman served here nearly 30 months. Eleanor Roosevelt paid the unit a visit at one point, and he was selected to be one of those to dine with the First Lady.
Finally, the company was due to rotate out and return to the U.S. Had he volunteered for a little clerical job, he could have flown back to the U.S. As it was, his unit rode back via troop ship and went to the harbor at New York City. This was a sweet gift for any deploying soldier, seeing the Statue of Liberty.
Finally, Sheaman out-processed. He worked in the oilfields around Lusk, Wyo., for a time. He enrolled in college at Chadron State College. He used the GI Bill to pay for college. Classes rolled along.
In September 1950, he was in his third year. He received a phone call from his sister in Wyoming. She told him he was being involuntarily re-called to Active Duty for service in the Army.
In no time at all, he was at Fort Sheridan, Ill., to work in a finance section in support of operations in the Korean War build up. They found out they didn't have the need for more help so he and other Master sergeants were sent on to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He was passed from command to command since most units already had enough Master Sergeants.
A young Captain – Cpt. Miller – heard about this soldier and met with him. He was named to be the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of a newly formed Leadership School. He was to form a cadre of instructors, develop a program of instruction for NCO leadership development and for Drill Sergeant Training. Officer development came later as well. He had to identify and secure facilities to conduct the training in and obtain necessary manuals (FM 22-5) and training aids. Once all the pieces were in place, classes commenced.
If ever there was a position made for a soldier this was it. He mastered his duties and initiated the training as charged. The call-up lasted for just short of a year and he was released back to the civilian world.
Sheaman earned his degree from Chadron State and was a teacher for almost 40 years – nearly all of it in Sidney.
Great job, Msgt. Paul Sheaman! Thank you for your service!