Salute to Veterans
OCALA (FBW)—Disoriented, dehydrated and cold after hiding out near the Kasserine Pass in the mountains of North Africa for three days, U.S. Army Private Arch A. Shealey and some other soldiers waited for dark and finally made a break for it.
Snaking across a field littered with “dead” armored tanks, the men found a road, took a consensus on which way to go—and marched right into a barrage of enemy machine gun fire and flares overhead.
“We had walked into a German roadblock … and we could hear the phut, zip, zip, zip in the dirt beside us,” Shealey said. “I was so flat on my stomach, I was scooping up dirt with my hip pockets.”
It was the winter of 1943 and Shealey, a 22-year-old soldier from Kendrick, Fla., near Ocala, was captured as a prisoner of war—and would remain so for 27 months—in one of the most critical battles of World War II.
A member of the 17th Field Artillery Regiment, fighting against German General Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s Tenth German Panzier Division, Shealey remembers being surrounded and given orders from headquarters. “We were to get out, every man for himself, as best we could. We didn’t have any organization at all,” he said.
Thousands of American and British soldiers were captured in North Africa by the Germans in the days that followed. Approximately 130,000 WWII prisoners of war were interred in the European theater and Japan. A leadership change that installed U.S. Army General George S. Patton followed.
Shealey, 93, who has long since been repatriated from the camps and retired from his civilian job in America, remembers the exact moment he was captured. “It was quite an experience,” he recalled, when the machine gun fire finally paused.
“We lost two men. And finally one of the men … stood up and waved his hands and they quit firing and we surrendered. He probably saved our lives doing that. I hadn’t thought about him in a long time,” Shealey smiled.
It’s the anticipation of sharing things he hasn’t really thought about in 68 years that has him chuckling, Shealey told Florida Baptist Witness. Not really humorous, but looking back, he said he marvels at what all he’s been through and that God has sustained him.
Like many of the 16.1 million men and women who served in World War II, Shealey left loved ones behind—namely his mom and a girlfriend, Louise.
Months after he was captured, Shealey’s mom finally received news he was alive.
And almost at the same time, she accepted a package from the war department with his Bible. Carefully packed away in his bag and left in a tent piled with others when he went to the front—Shealey said the Bible was the only item returned.
It was his Bible that she cherished, he said.
Tattered and soiled in places, the Bible was likely run over by a truck before it was picked up and then mailed to Shealey’s mom by the war department. It sustained her—and Louise—along with the single page letters written on the small pieces of paper he was allowed while in captivity. And it was the thought of his mom having his Bible, sent all the way from North Africa, that gave him hope.
After capture, Shealey remembers being taken to a holding camp for prisoners. Hungry, weak and discouraged, he and the other men did their best to adjust to the region’s arid temperatures which went from cold at night to warm during the day.
“At night, we still had our helmets and we dug down about a foot into the dirt and would lay down in there, about 4-5 together, and the wind would go across the top of us so we could stay kind of warm at night,” Shealey said.
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