Navy readied Shaver for life on the move
Betty and Gary Shaver will have been married 27 years Sept. 19, and they have flown the flag at their Washington Street home for as long as they have been married.
Ten years ago, they put up a flag pole when they installed a deck. They found out the hard way the headstones from the nearby cemetery don’t block the northwestern wind too well and they came home to find the flagpole bent over, with Old Glory flying upside down. Gary fixed it right away, and then he figured out how to make it storm-proof, but you’ll have to ask him how he did it because it’s proprietary information.
Gary and Betty fly their flag every day in honor of Betty’s father, Herman Sendelbach, and Gary’s father, Clarence Basil Shaver.
Clarence was born in 1924 as the oldest son of 10 children born in a coal mining town that no longer exists, Hot Coals, W.Va. Clarence’s father, Samuel a veteran who fought in Europe during World War I, and his wife of 50 years, Lacy Snow, made sure their children took pride in this great country.
Most of his father’s siblings worked in the coal mines of West Virginia and attended school until the eighth grade; Clarence kept going until the 11th grade.
Hot Coals was a company town, built and owned by the coal company, which also meant all of the town’s goods and services were owned and controlled by the company. The employees were given what they needed to survive, but not much more than that.
To ensure the company always had a supply of workers, they paid them with script, money that could only be used to purchase items in Hot Coals.
This was a common practice among many of the coal companies and the towns associated with them.
Clarence’s experiences in Hot Coals greatly affected his decisions later in his life. He did not want to end up in a similar situation with his family.
Clarence enlisted in the Navy when World War II broke out, and he worked in the mess hall at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in nearby Blacksburg, Va., while waiting for deployment.
While attending church in the small town of Lester’s Gate,Va., he met a pretty, young woman named Christine McMahan. His deployment in late 1943 landed him on the aircraft carrier, the USS Wasp, in the South Pacific Ocean. He was a gas jockey for one of the
fastest planes in the Pacific Theater, the Corsair.
Clarence witnessed several battles with the Japanese aboard the Wasp, and he referred to them as “controlled chaos.” The Japanese Zero bombers would try to shoot down the Corsairs before they took off the flight deck, so it was up to Clarence and the rest of the crew to make sure they had at least 100 feet of clear flight path. The flight deck was controlled by men waving specific flags that communicated with the pilots and the crew as to which planes were in line to take off.
With only 800 feet of flat steel to take off and land 100 or more Corsairs, one had to keep on top of things or a propeller would take you out of the war sooner than the enemy would.
He wrote many letters back home, both to his family and to Christine, including pictures of himself with a U.S. flag in the background.
One letter told about a famous crew-member who was on board the Wasp, none other than Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s son. Clarence got to meet him and said he was a “pretty good kid for a president’s son.”
Dec. 12, 1945, with the war over for four months, Clarence finally made it back to the East Coast. Rather than go home to West Virginia, he decided to pay another visit to Christine in Blacksburg, and to see whether he could make a go of it again at VPI.
He knew right away Christine was the woman for him, and they were married Feb. 11, 1946, fewer than two months after he came back home.
The VPI mess hall wasn’t steady work, and Clarence knew he had to get his career going to support a family, so they packed their belongings into one suitcase and, with $50 in their pockets, they took the bus to Baltimore to try their luck there.
Jobs were few and the pay was small, though, so they came back to Blacksburg.
He was scared and frustrated, but he knew he didn’t want to go back to West Virginia and work in the coal mines. Then, as luck would have it, his aunt
AnnaLee called in July 1948 to tell him “they were hiring in Findlay.”
The couple took the bus to Findlay, where both found work at the Autolite spark plug plant in Fostoria.
Clarence and Christine bought their first house in 1955 using the new GI land grant program.
Once they had their home, they started flying their flag. Clarence flew it in honor of his country and his Navy war buddies, and in honor of his younger brother, Sam, who served in the Army during WW II, Korea and Vietnam.
He flew it on a stick in the early days, sometimes hanging from their porch, but once they bought the house, they put up a flag pole and that is where Old Glory resided for the next 45 years.
Clarence and Christine raised their two sons, Jeff and Gary, in that house.
In 1988, after 40 years at Autolite, Clarence retired. Poor health kept Christine from getting her 30-year pin there, and she retired after 27 years.
Family vacations involved going back home to Peterstown, W.Va. (Hot Coals was a ghost town by then), Christiansburg and Nashville, always by car, with a few more suitcases and a few more dollars in their pockets.
He never once thought about an ocean cruise; the Navy had cured him of that notion.
Christine died due to complications from heart disease in 1998. While he was mourning her death, he started going through some old letters and postcards from his Navy days. He found a letter from an old friend of the family named Delora, who used to live near Hot Coals.
A flood of 50-plus years of memories went rushing through his mind that afternoon. The smell of coal, the sound of Corsairs, and the sight of the young Irish woman he met in church, the one he married and loved for more than 50 years. He thought long and hard about it, and with his late wife’s blessing, he searched for Delora and found her living in California.
Clarence and Delora exchanged letters and phone calls and, in 2000, at age 76, he packed the suitcase and drove cross country by himself to meet up with her. He has been there ever since.
Clarence comes back to Fostoria once or twice a year for family reunions and to celebrate the holidays. At age 89, this Navy veteran now reluctantly (and thankfully for Gary and Jeff) relies upon pilots to get him to and from California rather than drive nearly 5,000 miles round trip.
For some of us, the fear of the unknown is worse than the contentment of the familiar. Perhaps one of the gifts the Navy provided Clarence was the confidence to pack your fears in a suitcase, scrounge around for $50, and embrace the excitement of the unknown.
That is certainly a common theme for this week’s star behind the stripes.
John Schupp is an assistant professor of chemistry at Tiffin University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.