CWO John Coleman Shields
41st Div., 162nd Infantry, Bandmaster
Died 6 December, 1943
-- Phyllis "Chickie" Shields Berry --
W.W.II was not his first war. My father joined the Army in April of 1917,
just a few days before our Nation was fully involved in W.W. I. He was only
14 1/2 years old. So anxious was he to get into the big "show," that he lied
about his age to the draft board. He was assigned to the 83rd Field Artillery
Army Band. Most of his enlistment was spent stateside, but in Nov. 1918, just
a few days before the signing of the Armistice, his Unit arrived in Brest
France. They were the official bodyguards to President Wilson during his
visit to Brest. Upon my father's return to the United States, he reenlisted
for another 2 years, and by the time his second enlistment was up he had
attained the rank of Staff Sergeant and assistant Band Director. He was just
18 years old.
For the next 20 years, he pursued a professional musical career. He was
director of the Douglas County Concert Band, and taught at Heinline Music
Conservatory in Roseburg, OR. He played in the Portland Symphony Orchestra
and many of the popular theaters and clubs in the Portland area. He was
director of the Portland Police Auxiliary Drum and Bugle Corps, and taught a
Hills Military Academy for Boys. In the mid 30's, a friend, General George
White of the Oregon National Guard, asked him to join the Guard and recruit
as many of his professional musician friends as he could. The General wanted
a really fine Army Band, and he got it.
On Sept. 16,1940, the ONG, now part of the 41st Div. was called into Federal
service. They were sent to the Pacific in Feb. 1942, arriving in Australia 40
days later, then on to New Guinea in April of 1943.
I've been told that the Army didn't quite know what to do with their
regimental Bands during combat. I believe that my father was made a Provost
Marshall, in charge of guarding prisoners and field headquarters. They were
in New Guinea for several months during the spring and summer of 1943, during
which time they engaged the enemy from Buna to Salamaua, one battle lasting
76 continuous days in the terrible jungle conditions. The men of the 41st
Div. 162 Inf. Band were involved in combat, earning the Combat Infantrymen's
The jungle was as formidable an enemy as the Japanese. Poisonous snakes,
carnivorous insects, disease, dysentery and the smoldering jungle heat were
their constant companions.
After the victory at Salamaua, the 41st Div. was sent back to Australia for
retraining, resupplying and rest. While on a 2 week furlough, my father
became very depressed and was admitted to the 118th General Hospital in
Sydney in a psychotic state. After three days, it was decided to board him to
the US for treatment, but before it could be accomplished, he took his own
life. He had become a psychological causality of war. He was 42 years old.
I was a child of three when my daddy left for Australia, and five when he
died there. I have no real memories of him, only imagined ones fashioned from
old faded photographs. My mother and grandmother could not speak of him
without becoming very emotional, so they just said nothing. Later when I
started asking questions, my mother would say "your father was a wonderfully
talented musician who loved you very much." After that she would "cloud up"
and turn away. I soon stopped asking the questions that brought her so much
pain. Since joining AWON, I have begun to ask the questions that I have
needed to know the answers to for half a century. I have received detailed
information from the NPRC. I have found the courage to talk to my Aunt and
Uncle about my father. The man I did not now, and therefore could not grieve
for, is coming to life for me. I have found out that he intended to adopt my
half sister Betty Ann. He was called away before it could be accomplished. He
was a loving and devoted son. In his letters to his mother, it is clear that
he thought of himself as the family patriarch. His father had been an invalid
and had died, and as eldest son he had assumed much of the family
responsibilities at a young age.
My Aunt told me that he "loved all people" A former 41st Div. Band member
told me that he treated his men with great respect, calling them "fine
musicians and gentlemen." He encouraged them to call him "Jack."
As a child, I was not told the truth about my father's suicide. My mother
thought it best to protect me. In 1973, I found out quite by accident that he
did not die of malaria as I had been told. It was painful to learn the facts
of his death, but it strengthened my resolve to try to contact the men he
spent his last days on earth with, the "Gentlemen of the 41st Div.,162 Inf.
After years of not knowing how to start, and with the help of AWON and the
Internet, I have made contact. I have corresponded with, and met former band
members who not only knew him, but considered him to be a close friend. One
even sent a picture of me at the age of three, taken at Ft. Lewis, WA, before
they were sent overseas. I have attended the 41st Div. Bands reunions, and
have been welcomed with open arms by it's members and their wives. I continue
to have a wonderful and affectionate relationship with several of the men who
knew my father well. It has been so much more than I ever hoped for, or
dreamed possible. My heart will be ever grateful to these fine men for their
service and sacrifice.
I've always missed my father very much. The hole in my heart has never been
filled with the love only a daddy can give. I wish I had known him.
" I Love You Daddy "