Lt. John Burroughs Shirley, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division
Born Dec 8, 1924, Santa Ana, California
I met John Shirley of Livermore, CA in April of 2004 when I purchased his book, I Remember, Stories of a Combat Infantryman in Italy, France, and Germany. The book is available on Amazon and is rated with 5 stars. This led to years of correspondence by email as I worked on my screenplay Patton’s Secret Mission, which John rated very highly. His feedback as a combat soldier, his encouragement, and his mentoring were a great inspiration to me.
He had suffered as tough an experience in combat as anyone, yet he came out of it with as healthy an attitude as possible. His first day of combat as a 19 year old replacement Sergeant with the 3rd Infantry Division was during the Anzio Breakout. The casualties were so high that this Assistant Squad Leader was within weeks Acting Platoon Leader. Later at the “Colmar Pocket” he got shot in the mouth by fragments of German 75mm tank fire, knocking out most of his teeth on one side. He was captured by the Germans and escaped by knocking out his captor. After 3 months of rehab in a hospital in England, he returned to his unit in Germany and soon received a battlefield commission to 2nd Lieutenant.
In a letter to answer some of my questions, John Shirley wrote:
I WAS DRAFTED. AND PROMOTED TO CORPORAL AFTER BASIC TRAINING, THEN MADE SERGEANT FOUR MONTHS LATER AND JOINED THE 3RD INF. DIVISION AS A SERGEANT REPLACEMENT. I WAS PROMOTED TO S/SGT TWO MONTHS AFTER REACHING ITALY, AND THEN WAS MADE A SGT FIRST CLASS ABOUT A MONTH AFTER LANDING IN THE SOUTHERN FRANCE INVASION. ABOUT A MONTH AFTER RETURNING TO MY REGIMENT AFTER SPENDING THREE MONTHS IN HOSPITALS FOLLOWING A WOUND, I WAS AWARDED A BATTLE FIELD PROMOTION TO 2ND LT. NEAR THE END OF WAR.
When I asked him about his wounds and decorations, he replied:
I WAS WOUNDED IN BENNWIHR FRANCE (COLMAR POCKET) ON DEC. 23, 1944. I RECEIVED THE PURPLE HEART, SILVER STAR, TWO BRONZE STARS, AND PARTICIPATED IN SIX CAMPAIGNS AND ONE INVASION. AFTER THE WOUND THAT DAY, I WAS CAPTURED AND THEN ESCAPED BY HITTING THE GERMAN CORPORAL BRINGING UP THE REAR OF OUR CAPTURED COLUMN OF ELEVEN MEN. SIX OF US WERE WOUNDED.
Unlike many battle-scarred WWII veterans, John Shirley is able to write and speak about these formative experiences without bitterness or self-pity. He rose above the combat experience to better himself. He writes openly about one mistake he made, accepting responsibility so as not to repeat it. After the war he became a veterinarian (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, DVM) and started his own clinic in Livermore, CA. He is active in veterans’ affairs, even serving as National President of the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division. He speaks about his experiences to high schools and various clubs and associations. He returns almost every summer to the places he fought in Europe to commemorate the various battles, proud to represent American veterans.
I couldn’t help admiring a man who plays golf, tennis, goes backpacking, has climbed many places in the Americas, also in Nepal, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in his seventies, and was an expert mountaineer and snow skier, activities that I have also enjoyed. He skied with a group of buddies in Western North America and all over Europe even into his mid-eighties.
In 2013 my wife Jilly and I made a trip driving from our home in Wisconsin to visit various people on the West Coast. The chance to meet John Shirley in person for the first time was a fulfilling experience. He showed us all around Livermore with great pride, and only gradually did it dawn on me that he had been active in local politics. Never in 9 years of correspondence did he mention the fact that he had been on the Planning Commission for 8 years and served two years as Mayor.
This man is a role model for all young people today. High achiever, yet modest; patriotic, yet never crows about it. He felt pity for the Germans he killed or wounded. He’s a warm, caring person with a great sense of humor. I’ve never heard him say an unkind word about anyone. Now 91 years old, his mind very sharp, John Shirley is the real deal—a genuine American Hero.
Hear him describe some of his wartime experiences in a brief video from 2013 (3 minutes with sound):