Last week: Harold Shockley’s military service takes him around the world and brings new adventures.
It was 1945 when Hamilton resident Harold Shockley Sr. left active duty with the Army Air Corps just after V-J Day. He had served two years during World War II as a gun-turret operator on a B-29 Superfortress. The native Texan (who will be 92 on Nov. 15) enrolled in Texas A&M and earned an engineering degree, along with his 2nd lieutenant’s commission (he later completed his master’s degree there). He went back into active service with the U.S. Air Force in 1950 — just in time for the Korean War.
It was also in 1950 when he married. Her name was Virginia Faye Newman, and she was dating his cousin when he met her. On this particular day, the cousin was busy, so Shockley took her to the movies. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I took her to the picture show, and I got to hold her hand,” he said.
Maybe she didn’t realize it at the time, but she would soon be a career military wife who would end up traveling the world over with her husband and children. Sometimes, however, she would have to stay behind, as she did when he went to train as a navigator at Ellington Field in Houston shortly after they married.
Shockley was then assigned to Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, spending two years there. He is considered a Korean War veteran because as a navigator, he flew on KB-29 refueling tanker planes supporting B-50 bombers coming out of Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso. Shockley and the crew would spend three months TDY (Temporary Duty) in Alaska and then three months TDY on Guam, on standby status. He never did see in any action in Korea, but he was ready.
Meanwhile, the Cold War was picking up steam, and the Vietnam War was just around the corner.
Shockley returned to Austin, where he was assigned to the CINCPAC (Commander in Chief, Pacific Command) leader — Sen. John McCain’s father, Admiral John McCain Jr. His family came along for the two-year tour in Hawaii, where he worked for the admiral on his joint staff.
Along with the good times, there were those separations. Straight from Hawaii, Shockley went for a year’s tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969. He was stationed in Cam Ranh Bay, then Phan Rang with the 21st Engineering Squadron.
Shockley served as the base civil engineer, responsible for the workers who covered everything from construction and maintenance for the base, to runways, buildings, roadways, bridges and more. By now, he was a lieutenant colonel. Although he did no fighting, there was plenty of shelling at night by the Viet Cong.
“We’d wake up some nights to the boom-boom of incoming rounds of ammunition,” he said. “We’d go under our beds because the mattress would protect us some.”
He did get a small interlude with his wife when she met him in Bangkok, Thailand, during his R&R.
Returning stateside, he was assigned as commander to the 557th Red Horse Squadron (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers) at Elgin AFB for a time in Florida, before being assigned — with his family — to the Panama Canal zone, where he spent several years.
Other locations Shockley served included one of the remotest – Thule, Greenland, where he was a navigator offloading supplies on “Fletcher’s Island” (T3) during the Cold War. Fletcher’s Island, a so-called “floating ice island,” or drift station, was a frigid environment in which to live.
“It was so cold in our barracks there was a thin coat of ice on the baseboards,” Shockley said. They also slept fully clothed.
When not on T-3, he was stationed with his family in Torbay, in Newfoundland Canada. “It was cold. We had about 270 inches of snow that year,” Shockley said. When he and his wife attended special events, the “ladies would change from galoshes to heels,” he added.
In all, Shockley served 26 years in the military, retiring in 1974 as a lieutenant colonel to his Hamilton ranch he purchased previously. He started a land surveying business in Hamilton and still runs it to this day. He has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Next August, he and Virginia will celebrate their 70th anniversary. They had four children, including two boys, one of whom was adopted while Shockley served a stint in Washington. Sadly, his other son died. He also has about 10 grandchildren and tons of great-grandchildren, so many he can’t recall for sure.
He is grateful to his wife for standing by his side during his military service. “I was certainly lucky and glad to have her with me,” he said.
And, he's happy with his service.
“I think I’ve had an exciting life,” Shockley said. “I feel like I contributed as much as I could.”