Jack Shamblin was a fresh-faced 18-year-old in 1945 when he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. He soon became part of the occupation forces at an airbase near Frankfurt, Germany.
As a base MP and guard for German prisoners at Keslterbach, the young Oklahoman would learn deep lessons about the duality of man and the destruction of war. Walking along streets with buildings in rubble, and through the Dachau concentration camp, he shuddered at the atrocities.
“What got me, was that steel building they gassed them in … told them people they were going to delouse them, and then shot that poison gas in there … you could see the scratch marks on that steel door,” Shamblin said. “How could people be that evil and wicked? But they were … That got me.”
As a guard, Shamblin would get to know several German POWs during his nine months in Germany. He said he felt that many of the German people were good, and unaware of the horrors taking place around them. But they knew the Americans were coming to end the war.
“I talked to a lot of the POWs, and one of them said ‘I look up in the sky when the Air Force was bombing Germany … and everywhere you look the sky was full.’ He said ‘I knew then the war was over with.’ I thought about that … They paid a high price, Germany did, but they’ve built the country back now so it’s one of the richest nations in the world.”
At his home near Roland with his wife of 69 years, Lily, the 90-year-old veteran looks back on his life with gratitude for being born in the United States and becoming a member of the Cherokee Nation through his mother’s lineage.
Shamblin and several other members of the Cherokee Nation were recently flown to Washington, D.C., as part of the fourth annual Cherokee Warrior Flight. In addition to several fellow World War II, Korea, and Vietnam veterans, joining him on the Warrior Flight was his grandson, Zack Wheeler, to visit the grave of a war hero at Arlington National Cemetery.
Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler, Zack Wheeler’s brother and Jack Shamblin’s grandson, was killed in combat Oct. 22, 2015, during an operation in Hawijah, Iraq, with Kurdish allies to storm a prison and save about 70 prisoners being held by Islamic State fighters. Authorities felt the prisoners were in jeopardy of imminent execution, and it was thought many of them were crucial for Iraqi operation intelligence. The heavily decorated U.S. Delta Force soldier was 39 when he was shot, becoming the first U.S. military casualty in Iraq since 2011. His fourth son, David Paul Wheeler, had just been born that summer.
Speaking to media prior to the service in 2015, Zack Wheeler said his brother exemplified bravery and he considered him the “best soldier in the world.” Many his family felt he was “Superman.” His grandfather fondly recalls taking the Wheeler brothers fishing, and what he can only explain as “supernatural” event the Saturday morning after Josh Wheeler was killed. Shamblin said he was taping a news feature on Wheeler when something happened.
“Seven o’clock in the morning I heard the front door slam … and in my TV you could see somebody go upstairs. I saw this soldier in camouflage walk up that step. I thought, ‘Who in the world would be coming Saturday morning, a soldier, to see me?'” Shamblin said.
He turned off the TV, walked upstairs and looked all the way through the house. He asked his wife, who was sitting in a chair reading, if she saw someone. She hadn’t seen anyone.
“Then I got shook. I figured it was Josh,” Shamblin said. “I’ve heard about people coming back and visiting them … I thought about that a whole lot.”
Shamblin, who retired from Georgia-Pacific Dixie Plant after 42 years, comes from a long line of men and women who have served in the military. Just two and three generations behind him were Civil War veterans — grandfather Andrew Jackson Shamblin, a Confederate captured at the Battle of Vicksburg, and great-grandfather Capt. James Womack, a Confederate chaplain.
Ted Shamblin, Jack’s older brother, as well as three cousins, were in World War II. One of this three daughters was an Army helicopter technician serving in South Korea. In all, Jack and Lily Shamblin have 25 great grandchildren and a great-great grandchild on the way.
“It’s amazing what we’ve seen in our lifetime,” Lily Shamblin said.