Not many U.S. Navy ships served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of World War II.
The Battleship USS Nevada, the only battleship to get underway during the attack on the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, was one of them. And Paul Shaerer of Plainfield was one of her proud 2,000-member crew.
Born in Clayton, N.J., Shaerer entered the service in June of 1943 as a selective volunteer following his graduation from high school.
“I knew as a youth that something had to be done,” he recalled of his decision to enlist.
When asked why he chose the Navy he replied, “Three meals a day and a bed to sleep in!”
Following his boot camp in Bainbridge, Md., Shaerer traveled to Boston and reported for duty as a seaman on the USS Nevada, where he was assigned as a loader for the 20 mm guns. It would be his home for the next three years.
The USS Nevada was on Atlantic Convoy duty at the time, accompanying and protecting supply ships going back and forth from New York to England.
“We were in the center and there were 50 to 60 ships all around us,” Shaerer said. “We made that trip four times. And then we stayed in the English Channel at Normandy.”
It was April of 1944 and the Allied ships were getting in position to support the D-day landing.
The Nevada went up and down the Normandy coastline shooting its 14-inch shells inland to support the landing forces. The shells traveled 14 miles inland, accurately hitting the German shore defenses.
After its work in Normandy, the USS Nevada headed for the Mediterranean Sea to support Allied landings at Toulon in Southern France. She served from Aug. 15 to Sept. 25, 1944, and was instrumental in helping bring down the heavily armed coastal fortress used by the Germans.
After having some of her guns replaced in New York, the Nevada traveled westward toward the Pacific theater, passing through the Panama Canal.
The Nevada reached its destination of Iwo Jima on Feb. 16, 1945, and prepared for the pre-landing bombardment.
Shaerer recalled, “We got in so close (to the island) once or twice during our bombardment that we got word that the 14-inch shells were hitting the beach sand, projecting over the island, and going into the water on the other side. So we backed up and raised our guns a little bit.”
By March 24, 1945, the Nevada had joined Task Force 54 and moved into place to provide fire-support for the Marines’ landing on the island of Okinawa. On March 25, the crew awakened to discover a brand new horror — the emergence of the Japanese Kamikazes. Seven of them attacked the Task Force and one of them successfully crashed into the Nevada’s deck.
“It was coming directly toward the bridge,” Shaerer recalled. “Some of our guns knocked off its left wing, which turned it away from the bridge and down the side of the ship to the back where a group of Marines were firing 20 mm guns.”
In the ensuing crash 11 men were killed and 49 were wounded.
“When we got back out at sea, the Chaplain had the body bags of the sailors and we dropped them into the sea,” he said.
Among the bodies that were buried at sea was the Kamikaze pilot who had crashed his plane into the ship.
“They did damage, but (in the end) it didn’t work,” Shaerer said.
The Nevada survived the Pacific War and returned to the United States in 1946. Shaerer was discharged and returned to New Jersey where he enrolled in college at Glassboro State Teacher’s College (now Rowan University) and became a middle school teacher. After a few years of teaching he went back to school to get his principal’s license and served as a New Jersey school principal for 30 years, before retiring in the mid-80’s.
Shaerer met his wife, Jean Watson, with whom he has been married for 63 years, in church after he returned from the war. They got married in 1949 and were blessed with two children: Gregg and Donna Jean. Since then, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren have been added to the family.
The couple spent 20 years of retirement living in Ocala, Fla., before moving to Plainfield to be closer to their daughter.
Reflecting back on his war years, Shaerer concluded, “It was rough. I was away from home for three Thanksgivings and Christmases. But it was worth it. I was helping to save a lot of lives.”
Shaerer has the distinction of being one of the veterans on Indy’s First Honor Flight last September.
— Ronald P. May, USN (Ret.), is Founder of “Your Life-Your Story.” He helps veterans share and preserve the stories of their military service. For more information or to tell your story, contact May by calling 435-7636 or by e-mailing to firstname.lastname@example.org.