Washougal veteran recounts World War II experiences

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Ken Shold sits outside his home in Washougal on Friday, Nov. 1. He's holding a photo of himself that was taken in the 1940s when Shold was serving in the United States Army during World War II. (Doug Flanagan/Post-Record)

Asked about his most vivid memories from World War II, Ken Shold, a 96-year-old Washougal veteran, tilts his head back, closes his eyes and stays silent for a moment before responding.

Foxholes. Of all things, he remembers the foxholes — and the hardships they could present.

According to Shold, soldiers were forced to make a choice: Should they spend valuable time digging a hole deep enough to get into a good sleeping position with adequate cover or should they dig a shallow hole and run the risk of being seen by enemy forces?

“There was always that conflict of safety against exposure,” Shold said.

There were other problems as well. Sometimes, on a rainy or snowy day, a freshly dug foxhole would be half-filled with water by the time a soldier was ready to lie in it.

“But everybody else (was enduring the same conditions), so you could always tolerate it, because it wasn’t just you,” Shold said. “All of my buddies and I were in the same shape.”

Shold didn’t set out to become an expert on foxholes by his mid-20s. He didn’t plan to join the United States Army, or serve under the command of the famed general George Patton during World War II. He just wanted to pursue a career in the science field.

But like a lot of other young men in the early 1940s, Shold was forced to put his ambitions on hold when he was called upon to serve his country.

“In a way,” he said, “there was no alternative. The war had been going on, and we knew it wasn’t over yet.”

Shold, who grew up in Port Townsend, Washington, joined the U.S. Army through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program when he was a student at the University of Washington (UW) in 1943.

“Of course, at that time we were trying to do anything we could to stay out of the Army and get our university education,” he said. “I didn’t volunteer, really, but I wanted to get my education, and (joining the ROTC) was one way of getting it, so that’s what I did. The education was more of a goal than fighting the war. If you wanted to stay in school and stay out of the draft, you had to be in advanced ROTC. In order to get into the advanced (ROTC), you had to be a member of the Army reserve corp.”

Shold’s reserve unit was called to active duty in April 1944 and sent to basic training at Camp McQuaide in Santa Cruz County, California. Shold, an artillery officer, then went to Pasadena Junior College in Pasadena, California, for a specialized training assignment before returning to UW, where he continued his studies for about six months.

From there, Shold went to an infantry school at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he received a commission of second lieutenant, and then to Camp Breckenridge in Morganfield, Kentucky. He moved on to Camp McCoy in Monroe County, Wisconsin, joined the 76th Division and was part of the 304th Regiment that was deployed to Europe on Nov. 23, 1944, via the SS Brazil, which arrived in Southampton, England, on Dec. 4, 1944.

Upon landing on foreign soil, Shold didn’t quite know what to think. He had no idea of how good of a soldier he could be or what emotions he would feel about participating in a war.

And he knew that he was going to have to get used to the idea of watching a lot of his friends die.

“I was a tender, 21-year-old kid. I didn’t know how I was going to react to death,” Shold said. “When the first of our units got killed, I had to take one of his dog tags and turn it into the first sergeant. I found out it didn’t bother me. That was a test to see how I would react. I had to test myself.”

The 304th Regiment participated in the Battle of the Bulge in eastern Belgium, northeast France and Luxembourg; the Battle of the Rhineland in western Germany; and the Battle of Central Germany. Shold received battle stars for his performance in all three of the skirmishes.

As a platoon leader, Shold was responsible for organizing and leading troops during battle. He didn’t sustain a serious injury during the war, although he experienced plenty of “close calls every day.”

“I had to take a bunch of trips to protect the supply line. I got into a foxhole and I was smoking a cigar, and every time I threw smoke out I got machine gun fire after me. I had to quit that,” he said. “Anytime anybody wanted to surrender, you had to take them back close to the combat area, and Germans were shooting at you. There were a lot of times like that, but I escaped everything. People said I was a coward (because) I didn’t get shot, but I always told my buddies, ‘When you go into combat, keep your head down and don’t try to be a hero.'”

Shold fought through some other challenges, though. He woke up one morning with a serious case of body lice. He once went six weeks without changing his clothes. And he didn’t exactly have the healthiest diet.

“Mostly, I lived on chocolate bars,” he said. laughing at the memory. “And wieners and beans.”

After a truce was reached on May 9, 1945, Shold stayed in Germany to help rebuild schools that had been reconfigured to serve as hospitals during the war. On March 26, 1946, he set sail for Camp Beal in Yuba County, California, where he spent the next few months training new Army recruits before being discharged and returning to UW to finish his studies.

After grading from UW with a chemistry degree, Shold returned to Port Townsend and accepted a position at the Crown Zellerbach pulp and paper company. In 1960 he transferred to the company’s Camas location, where he worked for the next 37 years.

“I liked that, most of the time, I was my own boss,” said Shold, who retired as a superintendent of the mill’s craft division. “The pay was good, too.”

Shold and his second wife, Ruth Ann, lived in Washougal with their blended family.

“We have eight kids in the family,” said Gayle Ann Jarvie, Shold’s stepdaughter. “He came in and raised all eight of us kids like we were his own. He just did a great job of making us feel like we were loved and part of the family. He loved us all unconditionally, and that has made a world of difference in our family. We were a mixed family and didn’t really even know it.”

Ruth Ann suffered a brain aneurysm in 1978 and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She died in 2001.

“I used to like to fish a lot, but after (Ruth Ann) had her surgery, I was pretty much tied down with her,” Shold said. “But we went everywhere. I got a car with a wheelchair lift on it. We drove to Alaska. One year we went on an airplane to Florida to go to Disney World. We went to New Orleans a couple times.”

Shold, who lives with Jarvie on 20th Street in Washougal, is in good health, although he says he has trouble remembering things every once in a while, and his failing eyesight won’t allow him to fill out his beloved crossword puzzles anymore.

However, “he’s famous for watching ‘Jeopardy’ every day,” Jarvie said. “Everybody knows that.”

“I usually know the answers, but it takes me longer (than the contestants) to get them out,” Shold said. “It’s still fun to watch, though.”

Through life’s ups and downs, Shold “always had a positive attitude,” according to Jarvie.

“When I was a kid, I’d be upset about something, and he would always say to me, ‘Tomorrow’s another day. Tomorrow will be different. It’s not going to be like it is today,'” Jarvie says. “I’ve always remembered that — if something’s going on that’s not good, I get a new fresh start the next day. All of us kids have a high respect for him. He taught every one of us (to have) a good work ethic.”