Ralph Shear: Invincible Infantryman
by Mike Price
September 2001-- “Surviving war has nothing to do
with being a good
or bad soldier,” Ralph Shear says. “It’s all a matter of luck.”
Shear ought to know. He was an
infantryman who fought
in five major
European battles, starting on D-Day.
“We were the third wave to hit
Omaha Beach, and
when the Coast Guardsman bringing us to shore saw all the bodies in the
tried to let us off too far out,” Shear recalls.
“We threatened to blow his head off
if he didn’t take us closer, so he did and we jumped into
water up to our knees.
“Nobody knew what was going
on. I was 20 years old
and scared to death. Omaha Beach was the worst of the landing spots because the Germans
were entrenched on top of the cliffs and were zeroed in on us, picking us
off like flies.”
Shear managed to survive by hunkering
behind a seawall.
The son of a
Brooklyn tailor, he’d been trained to be a navigator in the
Corps. But Uncle Sam needed more grunts than navigators, so he was sent to the
front lines of the big invasion as a replacement soldier.
After D-Day, Shear was assigned to the
Division. He fought his second battle at St-Lo, then hooked up with
Patton’s Third Army.
“We rode across France on the
top of tanks,” he
says. “And when we ran into opposition, we eliminated it.”
What might sound glamorous,
“It was so bad, guys shot
their toes off to get
out,” he says. “The only way out was to get wounded, captured or caught.”
Any one of those things might have
happened to Shear
at various times. Once, during a driving rain, a 155 mm shell landed
five or ten feet
from him but just stuck in the mud without exploding. Another time, he
to fetch more mortar ammo and unknowingly ran right through a
there was the time he was sent to fix a severed communication line and
by German artillery.
“I ran zig-zagging back with
shells popping all
around me,” he says.
At Bastogne, his company was decimated.
see the first few guys killed, it’s horrific,” he
admits. “But you see it, say ‘thank
God it’s not me’ and move on.”
Remarkably, he kept moving on, and the
tide of the
“On January 30, 1945, my wife
gave birth to my first
son,” he says, “but I was occupied at Venlo taking Holland back from the Germans.”
He was also with the group that stumbled
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where Anne Frank had lost her life.
“Nobody ever told us
things like this existed
and when we sent back the information to headquarters, the guys didn’t understand what
talking about,” he says. “Twenty or thirty thousand
bodies were stacked up like cordwood, and the live ones looked
like the living dead.”
After more than ten months of combat,
finally shipped home – so he could start preparing for the invasion of Japan.
“Some people criticize Harry
Truman for dropping
the bomb,” Shear says. “But he saved my ass.”
Shear had a bad case of shell shock
after the war,
but he fought through it just as he’d fought his way through
Central Europe. He found work as
butcher and eventually became the owner of a meat market in Yonkers. Now,
78 and retired, living peacefully in Boca Raton’s Century Village.
with the Jewish War Veterans, he volunteers a lot of time with disabled
taking them fishing, or to the movies, or on some other outings.
“My wartime experience gave me
a love of country
and love of liberty because there’s no place on Earth as free
as our country,” he says.
“But the memories of war never leave you. They become part of
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