ile the annual Memorial Day recognition for the service of veterans is still a few days away, one Catonsville World War II veteran got a special acknowledgment for his service last weekend when he traveled to Washington, D.C. to complete an Honor Flight.
Jack Shelton, 94, spent May 16 with more than 20 other World War II veterans, touring the national monuments and commemorating their shared experience in the Second World War.
Although Shelton had seen some of the highlights of the trip in the past, like the National World War II Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, Saturday’s visit was one to remember, he said.
A native of Oklahoma, he went into the service at age 21. The Army veteran served in a tank destroyer unit in Europe, from 1942 to 1946.
“It was just another day’s work to me,” Shelton said of the Army basic training, which involved hiking through difficult terrain loaded with pounds of gear. In better shape than most of the men he met in training because of a childhood spent working on farms, he said he found himself offering to carry other men’s equipment when fellow soldiers struggled to continue.
After spending some time at Fort Dix, in New Jersey, Shelton shipped out with the tank destroyer unit to Scotland and England to await orders for his next move.
In June of 1944, three days after D-Day, he and his battalion landed on the beaches of Normandy.
For three weeks, he and his fellow soldiers were confined to trenches and foxholes, unable to get their tanks over the beach’s large embankments until material came in to reinforce the vehicles.
He carried a metal-clad Bible in his chest pocket over his heart, at all times during combat, he said, but thankfully, it never proved necessary.
He said he never thought he was directly shot at. Not given to long narratives about his experiences, he said he did help a cow birth a stillborn calf while camped out in the apple orchards around Normandy, something he felt more suited for than anything.
In 1946, he came back home to the United States. After struggling to find work in Oklahoma, he spent some time in California working with an Army friend. After meeting his wife, Janet, in Florida, the pair eventually moved north to Catonsville to care for his wife’s mother.
For his Honor Flight, Shelton wore his dog tags and his World War II veteran’s hat, filled with service ribbons marking various accomplishments, and even one for good behavior.
Honor Flight Capital Region provides World War II veterans who live in Maryland, northern Virginia and the District of Columbia with trips to see the memorial and experience a special day of honor and remembrance
On Saturday, he started off at the St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. with a friend from Catonsville United Methodist Church, Dave Heymann, who accompanied him on the trip. At that central meeting point, he joined more than 20 other veterans and volunteers and boarded a tour bus.
Guided by a police escort — Shelton’s favorite part of the trip — the group journeyed to the World War II Memorial, where the group of veterans attended a special service held in their honor.
After the World War II memorial, the group headed to Arlington National Cemetery, where they got a front-row seat to the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
“I enjoyed the changing of the guard more than anything else,” Shelton said.
With no Korean War veterans on his bus, the group swapped the Korean War Veterans Memorial for a stop at the Lincoln Memorial.
While many of the veterans on the trip were too tired at that point to get off the bus and tour the grounds, Shelton said he couldn’t wait to walk around the iconic memorial.
He was having too much fun to feel tired. “I enjoyed it so much I didn’t even think about it so much,” he said.