Unintended footsteps: Grandson follows his grandfather
August 14, 2009
- Soldier mirrored grandfather's WWII AFRTS experience with his own Iraq AFN experience.
- Grandfather wrote'The Honorable Conquerors' and several other well-cited historical biographys.
- Grandson and grandfather were linked through reading, art, and preserving history via different medians.
- Thinks his time in service has made him a richer, more well-rounded person--will continue until he retires.
Spc. John Sheldon, who is from Pittsburgh, Pa., had not intended to join the Army; he certainly did not intend to become a public affairs specialist, and he did not intend to follow in his grandfathers footsteps. But that's exactly what he has done-in his own way.
Sheldon's story began with a dead end. He said he joined the Army Reserve because he had been out of high school for four years, was tired of going nowhere and tired of getting nothing accomplished. He also knew that through the reserve he could get the job he wanted, continue to live his civilian life, and get his college education paid for.
But what he wanted, a position as a graphic illustrator, was not the job he got.
"When I went to see the recruiter he gave me a list of (military occupational specialties) in my (home) area," Sheldon recalled. "He advised me not to get set on one MOS in case it wasn't open. (POA-broadcaster) was my second choice-looking back this was definitely the best choice."
Sheldon's parents were not in the military, but his grandfather was-avid readers have probably heard of him, and not known it. Sheldon's grandfather was Walter, or Walt, Sheldon.
Walt was in the Army at the end of WWII where he was a writer for the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service during the occupation of Japan. Later he was also in Korea for the Korean War, after which he went back to Japan as a civilian to continue working for AFTS there.
"He is best known for his nonfiction work-it started with detective novels to pay the bills," John said. "(His writings were) first hand, non-fiction accounts and interviews of the occupation of Japan, and history of Vietnam, the history of the Korea war, and other biographical and U.S. military history books. (His best known work) is the 'The Honorable Conquerors' and it is also the most referenced book about the occupation of Japan."
Other non-fiction work includes "Tigers in the Rice" 1969, "Hell or High Water" 1968, and "Tour of Duty" 1959.
But while his many historical books are well noted, it his "bill paying" books that helped garner him the most fame. He briefly served as a ghost writer for the "Ellery Queen" book series of '60s and '70s fame, and ghost wrote several other mystery novels including for actor-author George Kennedy. Walt also wrote numerous science fiction and detective-mystery books under pseudo names such as Shelly Walters when he wrote "The Dunes."
But the chip often lands close to the old block.
Not long after John finished broadcaster school for his military job, his unit deployed to Iraq during 2006-2007. When he arrived he found himself in the unique position of being assigned to the American Forces Network as a senior editor, anchor, and producer for a daily show-a similar position, in the offspring organization, to that which his grandfather served during Japan's occupation.
Although the two did not know each other well, John said his grandfather significantly influenced his life, and "it was not a consideration of mine when I selected the MOS but is one of the reasons I have decided to stick with it and continue to pursue it."
He said his time in Iraq and with AFN made him more aware of the importance of paying attention to detail and multi-tasking. He added that it was not only an educational experience but a personal growth experience.
"The general deployment...gave me a new appreciation for stress management and how to overcome stress in day to day life, or helping to deflect it so you don't have to experience it in the first place," John said.
He added that he "had a fantastic time the whole time I was (deployed)." At one point he was asked to film something on the request of Gen. Caldwell for the Iraqi media-not for the Army's release. They needed to use someone who was secure and had a clearance so that they wouldn't have to vet any mobile media to do it.
John said the shoot had to do with the Iraqi court system and they didn't want to risk any one's identity, get someone in trouble, or for someone to be assassinated for covering the procedures.
"So I got to wear civilian clothes in Iraq for two days and film some Iraqi court proceedings," he recalled. "And come back and give the tape over-they blurred out most of the faces before they released it. Virtually no one in theater gets to go to Iraq and wear civilian clothes and hang out for couple of days-I had a really unique experience."
His family has been supportive of what he is doing he said, and in fact it was while dating his wife that he realized his life wasn't going anywhere. He said he knew he needed to go back to school and do something with his life and that his wife is "kind of the reason I joined the Army. She seems to appreciate what I have done and am doing in the Army."
His grandfather Walt wasn't the only connection he had to the military though. His mother's father was in the Army during WWII in the Air corps during the Battle of the Bulge, and his mother's mother was a drill instructor for the Women's Air Corps.
John recently graduated with an 'associates in the sciences' in art and is pursing a career in graphic design-another similarity to his grandfather, though their chosen medians are different. John said that Walt was a very accomplished painter primarily with watercolor and he lived in an artists' colony in New Mexico for a few years.
He is currently on active orders to help out the 3-16th PAO, near his home, and just finished an illustration for the magazine it produces. He said that he can't imagine being without all the experiences he has gained over the last several years, and the friends he has made.
"It makes me a richer, more well-rounded person and I think about all sorts of things I never thought about before I joined the Army," he said. "I have 1,001 experiences I never would have had, and I have easily 100 friends on four different continents.
He said he will probably stay in the Army Reserve until he retires-whether he finally gets a job as a graphic design artist or not-because not only did he discover a hidden tie with his grandfather, he discovered something he likes to do.
"Part of (the reason I am still in the reserve) is that my dad gave me some advice about 10 years ago," John explained. "A little (proverb)-'find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life.' This is that job for me. Between this and art and graphic design-I couldn't imagine a better way to live. Often times in this (career field) rank matters less then ability. That is important to me, and I know to a lot of other people.
"Because of knowing the job and being extremely proficient at the job you get a lot of respect and you are given a lot of extra responsibility," he added. "In this (career field) your ability outshines your rank because you can't hide-you can't make excuses. You produce a good product or you can't-you can't fake it."