The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
Service to Others and Allegiance to U.S.A.-One Nation Under God
By Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Publisher
Ray Shafer has returned home from WWII on December 19, 1945, after 3 years and 7 months a 22 year old. He fell in love and married within three months to Mary Frances Boyer, which he says is - "a perfect match for me." He farmed until 1955 and then found his life career in carpentry work.
His biggest project was restoring the Henderson County Covered Bridge between Gladstone and Oquawka, but he also rebuilt Dr. and Mrs. Lindo's home in Biggsville after fire had destroyed it, and he did a lot of restoration work on The Phelps House in Oquawka, to name just a few projects.
Ray and his wife were active members of the Presbyterian Church and they raised their three children Kathy, Brad and Mark in that church in Biggsville.
Ray is well known for his leadership in the Boy Scouts of America, and at 90, he is still a very busy Scoutmaster.
Ray became involved in scouting when his son wanted to join the Cub Scouts in 1965. Mary Frances became a den leader, and Ray joined the Council.
In 1967 Ray and Bill Leonard organize the Boy Scouts with 26 boys. He has brought 50 boys up through the ranks to Eagle Scout with his last one, Kevin Burgus of Stronghurst, who is presently in the U.S. Marine Corp.
Ray has taken the scouts on all their camp outings over the years and continues to do so.
"It's been a lot of meetings, a lot of camping, and a lot of out-of-the-pocket costs, but so wothwhile. In Kansas we traveled the 50 mile Santa Fe trail twice, where the wagon train went. There is a lot of history there and a lot of sites where the Indians fought," Ray said.
"We take the first 25 miles on Saturday morning and the second 25 miles on Sunday morning and come back on Monday."
Ray laughs, "I couldn't get any takers on the 100 mile hike there," which he says is another trail with a lot of history.
You can tell how much Ray enjoys the outdoors, teaching, and helping make things better. It's a strong drive to do his best, that has been instilled in him long ago. He puts everything into whatever he does and scouting is no exception.
"There's a lot of visitors at the campsites, and you meet a lot of people at a lot of camps."
Ray said it has been costly, but felt it so very worth while in shaping young boys to be strong and good young men. In 1970, he became a National Camp inspector and just retired off the camp visitation team a few years ago. The idea was to make sure kids were safe.
"I have always liked to hike so I would visit the camp sites and make sure the trails and locations were safe and that everything was set up right. If an unsafe tree needed cut, it would be taken care of."
Ray has been planning to retire and turn his job over to someone younger, but a scout will convince him to stay until they become an Eagle Scout.
"That's happened several times," he said. I plan to retire as Scoutmaster in 2014, my 50th year, unless some boytalks me into staying again," he laughs.
Working on his own in the carpentry business continues to keep him busy, but he's not doing the 10 hour days like he did when he worked with his boys.
He still misses Mary Francis terribly. "It's a hard blow when you lose the love of your life. She was hit with cancer in 2002 and passed at 57 years and 3 months.
"I've seen many blows throughout life, and they aren't easy. During WWII, the children you see lost and scattered around, get to you more than anything."
We waited in the outskirts of the cities, and then were sent in to flush out the enemy who were still hiding in places, usually as snipers in church steeples. We would also find them hiding in basements, and many times they were waiting for us, anxious to give up. They didn't want to be there anymore than we did, but that wasn't true for the young SS or the Gestpo who showed no mercy.
In a big sea port town in Belguim, there were high rise apartments. People were in and outside and children were playing.
"Our soldiers were going through buildings, looking up the stairs, etc when here came a bomb right in front of our eyes and lit right on on the buildings.
"We ran over there to see what we could do and there were people in shock, brothers and little boys screaming, one was pulling a wagon with his little brother in it.
A little girl who was about two or three, was coming up toward me and she reminded me of Helen, my little sister at home. She came to me with tears swelling up in her eyes and I picked her up and squeezed her to let her know someone cared. "Where's mummy?' I asked her. She understood that and pointed to a woman laying in the gutter who was bleeding but still was alive. She started crying, an so did I. I carried her over to a little park and a lady came over and reached out for her and she went to her. It must have been a relative.
"There were a lot of tears. A man crying carrying his grandson. It just gets to you!
"Locals and military would get out and do whatever we are suppose to do, but I often wonder about that little girl and what happened to her."
This seaport city in Belgium was a high-rise area and they were trying to bomb the ports, but not often would they hit anything. There was a bomb averaging every 3 minutes.
Another time when he was tranporting ammo in a convoy of 13 trucks bob-tailed together, they stopped to refresh their trucks with gas and new tires, etc. They were told to stay with their trucks, but they went in to the 24 hour transient mess hall to eat instead. They heard the familiar sound of the V1-bomb and looked up and saw it coming, headed right for them and the mess hall.
"We knew we were goners as it headed right for us, but it sputtered, gained some charge and lifted right up over us sputtering and took out all 13 of our trucks.
"Someone had said, there is no God, but I know there is!"
Ray said that most of the firing was 30 inches and up.
"I was glad I was short. I could run pretty low and I crawled most of the time. It was kill or be killed."
"How much those three years affected the rest of my life," Ray said, "but my wife Mary Frances made alot of difference with me. When we were first married I would hear the trains come through Stronghurst and their new diesel trains sounded just like those bombs coming and I would wake up in our upstairs apartment and think I was back in the war.
"She wouldn't let me go back to sleep. I would be scared to death and nervous and she would talk to me about better things, the future we would have together. It helped me alot.
Ray would often, throughout his life, have flashbacks but it got better over the years, but he's learned to be more aware of what is going on around him.
(to continue next week)