WWII Navy Veteran Recalls D-Day Invasion and Island Hopping
by U.S. Navy Max Lonzanida, Hampton Roads Naval Museum
September 1, 2019
Julius Shoulars is 94, and resides in a cozy second floor apartment in a Virginia Beach retirement community.
During an oral history interview, he recounted his service in the US Navy as a coxswain during WWII with the 7th Naval Beach Battalion during the D-Day invasion. He later went island hopping in the Pacific aboard an attack transport; and returned to Norfolk after serving in both theaters of war.
May 28, 2019 - Sitting in the comfort of his apartment in Virginia Beach ... Julius Shoulars, a 94 year old U.S. Navy veteran, recalls his service during World War II that included the D-Day invasion and island hopping in the Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Max Lonzanida, Hampton Roads Naval Museum)
He started off with “well, I got a letter from Uncle Sam saying to report to Richmond.” It was 1943, and the Maury High School graduate reported for screening.
While seated in a room with other recruits, he recalled that “they asked for 30 volunteers for the Navy and I raised my hand. In the Navy, you get three square meals, a clean bed to sleep in and water to take a shower each day.” Training took him to Camp Sampson, New York and Camp Bradford, Virginia. Bradford was on the Chesapeake Bay, and he recalled mustering at the commandeered Nansemond Hotel in the Ocean View section of Norfolk.
At Bradford, “we were assigned to an experimental outfit called a Naval Beach Battalion. We were issued paratrooper boots, Army jackets, Army pants, Army helmets, and Navy underwear.”
His parents resided in Norfolk, and he visited often. With a smile, he recalled that a friend of his had joined the Army, and left his girlfriend, Ruby back in Norfolk. He was instructed not to talk to her; “but by hell I did, you had to be a fool not to.” This blossomed into a relationship that endured.
By January 1944, they crossed the Atlantic. In England, he recounted “you know the phrase over here, over paid and over sexed; I think somebody made that up.”
At the “end of May 1944, we were transported to ships taking part in the invasion. We headed out on the 6th aboard anything that would float, even fishing boats from England.” On the morning of June 6th, 1944 at H-hour, troops hit the “blood red” beaches of Normandy, in an operation that liberated Europe.
While crossing the English Channel he recalled that “some of the men were happy, some were anxious, some were sad, some were scared to death. I felt it was going to happen, and there was nothing I could do, so why cry or be joyful; just take it.”
His unit was attached to the 29th Infantry Division, who took Omaha Beach on June 6-7, 1944. Nearly a month was spent there directing landing craft, clearing obstacles, moving supplies, and clearing and burying the dead; a solemn task he recalled with tears in his eyes.
His unit headed stateside, and a period of leave was spent in Norfolk with his parents and girlfriend, before joining the crew of the newly commissioned USS Karnes (APA-175) on the West Coast.
He served 18 months on the Karnes, “island hopping” in the Pacific for a total of 76,750 miles. This took him to Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guam, Tinian, Okinawa, Eniwetok Atoll, Ulithi, Subic Bay and Lingayen Gulf, Philippines among other ports of call while transporting cargo, evacuating the wounded, and transporting service members.
After the Japanese surrendered, the Karnes made its way back to San Francisco. He boarded a train back to Norfolk and was discharged. One of the first things he did was get married, and “eat a 30-cent hamburger at Doumars.”
Doumars on Monticello Avenue was where he first met Ruby. They didn’t want to get married during the war, for fear of making Ruby a widow. They got married upon his return home and spent 66 years together before she passed in 2013.
As for the friend who instructed him not to talk to her, Julius recalled ... “Well, me and him never spoke again.”