Shanholtz WWII Military Police Escort Guard
As the area’s leading sweeper salesman for many decades, Julian Shanholtz never knew where his travels would take him.
“At times I didn’t know exactly where I was,” said Shanholtz, who logged over 180,000 miles in his career and sold over 1,000 vacuum cleaners between Hedgesville, W.Va., and Bedford County. The same could likely be said for his stint in the United States Army where he accepted orders from commanding officers and went and did as he was told.
One of nine children born to Frank and Elizabeth (Klauvhn) Shanholtz, the Buck Valley native grew up accustomed to a life of taking orders. With a leg problem leaving his father unable to do much manual labor on the family’s Negro Mountain Road farm, the Shanholtz siblings spent much of their time doing the chores and keeping the farm afloat.
“My dad was a pretty good mechanic, but of course you’ll never go hungry if you have a farm,” said Shanholtz, 92.
“Us boys were up at daybreak many mornings. My dad couldn’t do much except for ride the equipment, so it was up to us boys to get things done.”
His solid work ethic and good Christian upbringing would prove useful over the years, including at the age of 22 when he was drafted into the Army as infantry for the 80th Division. “I knew I had no choice in the matter,” Shanholtz recently said from the kitchen of his 3436 Buck Valley Road home in Union Township.
He noted by that time an older brother had already been sent to England as part of the Allied Forces movement during World War II. Later, another brother would find himself travelling overseas, while a prior injury to Julian’s right eye would leave him to serve his country between October 1942 and April 1945 right here in the United States.
“At night I could see perfect, but during the daylight hours I couldn’t see at all,” said Shanholtz. Meanwhile, the military had other thoughts on how to solve the problem. They would propose removing Julian’s right eye in order to save his left. An idea he was strongly opposed to, Shanholtz refused.
“I went there with two eyes, and I was going to leave with two eyes,” he exclaimed.
As a result, Shanholtz would spend his time shuttling German and Italian prisoners of war across the United States to various camps as a military police escort guard. Many of his duties, however, would keep him based in Camp Forrest near Tullahoma, Tenn., where he used his remaining “good eye” to keep a close watch over the former soldiers.
Believed to be the first internment camp in the nation, over 800 alien civilians were housed at Camp Forrest from January to November 1942. History indicates Camp Forrest officially became a prisoner of war camp on May 12, 1942. Around that same period of time, 24,000 prisoners of war were under the watchful eye of Shanholtz and other guards at Camp Forrest.
Sitting atop a watch tower, Shanholtz said his main job was to make sure no one made it in or out of the camp’s fence line. He said it was “pretty tough” to see what was going on below while the floodlights bathed every inch of camp with light.
“No one got past me on my watch,” he noted. “If you let one get away, it would be your life.”
Even though most of the men under his watchful eye were German soldiers who had been captured by American forces, Shanholtz said he still felt a sense of sorrow for the men. The prisoners were housed six to eight in a single-living quarter or hut. By day, they performed various jobs such as picking cotton or working in a fertilizer plant.
“They worked hard,” he said. “They did more on an eight-hour shift than a civilian did on two eight-hour shifts.”
Instructed not to speak or correspond with the prisoners, Shanholtz still found himself learning much about the men he oversaw. One prisoner, a former ranking officer for the German army, shared his story about how he came to America and for the first time exposed Shanholtz to the term “propaganda.”
Shanholtz said the prisoner told him propaganda consisted of “lies right out of the pit of hell.” One such lie was that the war movement had wiped out every town across America.
The man said while he was still a German officer he had orders to kill a group of American prisoners but allowed them to escape because he was tired of the killing. One of those American prisoners was a fellow Mason, who in return agreed to take the German officer to the states where he would eventually meet Shanholtz as a prisoner of war.
Now in Tennessee, the man vowed to keep Shanholtz warm with a supply of firewood as well as safe from the Nazi prisoners. Shanholtz said to this day he often wonders who the man was or where his life took him.
“A lot of the prisoners were just beautiful people,” he recalled. Many of them had family and friends living in the United States who were allowed to visit the camp in a designated area watched by guards. Shanholtz said he was struck by the fact the departing visitors would wave to relatives using a side-to-side motion as they walked backwards for as far as the eye could see.
Unlike some of the soldiers who used the prisoner transports as an opportunity to drink and carouse with women, Shanholtz said he preferred penning letters to family back home as well as friends of mutual friends.
“ I remember when a friend of mine called up all of the women in the area to go dancing at the Rainbow Inn,” said Julian, who added even though he was 2,000 miles away from home on a prisoner transport in North Dakota he was just as close to God as he ever was. “I don’t go to beer joints.”
Shanholtz’s wife of 67 years, Velda Louise (Shipley), would be one of his pen pals. The couple became acquainted when Louise dated Julian’s younger brother. Years later they would marry and bear three sons, Mark, Allen and Dean, and a daughter, Darlene Harr.
“I always heard that the Shipley women were good cooks,” jests Shanholtz after learning firsthand the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
Shanholtz would receive a “farm dispatch” relieving him of his duties with the United States Army on Friday, April 13, 1945. He would ignore the superstitious connotation surrounding the day and proceed home where he found his father bedridden from a stroke. Eventually, Shanholtz would take over ownership of the homeplace and the farm he and Louise currently occupy at the intersection of Shultz and Buck Valley roads.
Having only given up farming last year, Shanholtz still remains active in the local community and in his church. He still gets the occasional call or visit from individuals looking to invest in a good quality sweeper. Nowadays, however, he prefers a good cup of tea by his wife’s side while soaking up the sun’s rays on the front porch, leaving any travels into the unknown to the younger generation.