War stories WW II vet grateful to have made it home

November 2015 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, People
Bill and Pat Sharrar

Bill and Pat Sharrar

By Kristine Thomas

Mount Angel resident Bill Sharrar knows how lucky he is to have returned home after serving in the U.S. Navy from 1940-45  during World War II.

All he does to remind himself of that fact is feel the shrapnel in his head and neck. Sharrar was on the USS Ralph Talbot in the Guadalcanal when his ship was attacked by the Japanese on Aug. 9, 1942.

“I first got hit by shrapnel in the line of duty,” he said. “My leg was cut and I was standing in line at the dressing station when I decided to leave because the wound wasn’t that bad. I walked out the door and a man followed me and we took a direct hit. He didn’t live and I felt like I had gone blind.”

The shrapnel in his neck from that night is a powerful reminder.

“If that man hadn’t followed me out, I wouldn’t have lived,” Sharrar said, adding he still thinks about the man who lost his life, knowing he owes him his life.

Guadalcanal wasn’t his first action. Sharrar was in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. It was a Sunday, he recalled, and he was on deck for the morning ceremonies.

“When I saw the Japanese plans flying in a straight formation looking like black sausages with red meatballs, the first thing I thought it was a mock attack by the Marines,” he said, “until they started shooting.”

As the men on his ship, the USS Bagley, began to scramble to fire back, they realized the man with the keys to the ammunition locker was on shore. Bill picked up a heavy object and broke the lock off. Working on a gun crew, he handled the expended shell casings after the guns were fired.

Since he couldn’t find any gloves, he handled the casings with his bare-hands, dropping them quickly, once almost hitting a crewman below.

Serving on destroyers for almost five years, he said he got through the tough times because he didn’t have a choice.

“I couldn’t just leave,” he said. “My faith was part of how I did it. I would say the rosary a lot.”

Sharrar said the men and women who served in World War II are “broken people. We saw enough. We saw more than enough.”

What helped him heal and move on with his life, he said, was talking about his experience.

“I think the reason a lot of guys have troubles after they go to war is they keep it all inside and don’t talk about it,” he said. “They need to talk about it.”

Looking through a cedar chest, he has articles and letters from his service and medals, including a Purple Heart.

“When you are out there where you see the action, you don’t know if you are going to survive,” he said.

He knows he’s one of the lucky ones.

Now a retired creamery worker, he and his wife Pat have been married 66 years. Laughing, they both said Bill’s mom spied Pat at church and is the one who coordinated their meeting. They married  May 7, 1949. They have seven children, six daughters and a son.

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