In December 1943, when World War II was raging around the globe, the family of Asa and Olive Shealy of Little Mountain got the bad news that their son, Bernard, had been killed in a tiny atoll in the Pacific Ocean called Tarawa.
His body was never recovered.
Worth, one of his cousins also from Little Mountain, had been missing since his ship was sunk by the Japanese in March 1942, in the Java Sea in the Pacific. His body, too, would never be recovered.
So Asa Shealy’s 20-year-old daughter, Eleanor, grief stricken, decided to let the world know about the Shealy brothers and cousins from the tiny town who were serving their country – all 19 of them.
“My brother was killed, and Worth was missing,” Eleanor Shealy Adeimy, now 90, said last week from her home in Laurinburg, N.C. “I thought somebody should do something for all those Shealy boys in the service.”
So she gathered their service pictures, wrote short bios for each and took them to The State newspaper, where her article was published on Dec. 17, 1944, under the headline: “19 Shealy Boys From Little Mountain In the Service.”
The story about the Shealy Boys resonated, not only because they all were brothers or cousins, but because the tiny hamlet had a population of about 150 people. And that didn’t take into account all the other boys from Little Mountain who had joined the service – all the Seases, Fricks, Mettses, Lindlers, Bolands and Eptings.
That meant that a very large percentage of the population of the little farming and railroad town north of Columbia was overseas fighting for their country.
“Old Dutch Forkers (as natives are called) have a history of obligation, of loyalty, of love for their country,” said Margaret Sease Jayroe, Little Mountain’s unofficial historian. “I don’t know about the new generation, but with the older folks their word was their bond. But even with that said, having so many Shealy boys, all of them related, who went off to war is unusual.”
‘Very large broods’
Shealy is far and away the most common name in Newberry County. It seems like every other person you meet is named Shealy or married a Shealy.
There is even the alternate spelling – Sheely.
“And they are kind of known for having very large broods,” said Ernest Shealy, the director of the Newberry County Museum.
It all started with the original settlers of the fertile farming region north of the confluence of the Saluda and Broad rivers. The area is called the Dutch Fork because those first settlers were German, or as they called themselves in their native language, Deutsch.
John Wendle Shealy, who was born in Wurttemburg, Germany, in 1746 and his wife, Anna Mary Epting, settled in the Little Mountain area with their parents in 1750 when the region was part of Berkeley County.
They got the Shealy ball rolling by having 13 children. Since then, large farming families have been the norm.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of Shealys in the county,” Ernest Shealy said. “But we’re all descended from them.”
The Shealy family history – a listing of all Shealy descendants – is in four volumes, each about two inches thick. Name after name after name.
It is tradition that the first five children in a family have one of the original Shealy names – such as John, Jacob, Henry, David, William, Catherine, Margaret or Mary. After that, the Shealeys get creative or give their offspring unique middle names, Ernest Shealy said.
“The problem is so many of us have the same name,” Ernest Shealy said.
For instance, one of his relatives gave their children middle names of the month they were born and other unique names.
“I’ve got an aunt Dorothy June and another aunt Ruby August,” Ernest Shealy said. “And I’ve got an uncle Pleasant and an uncle Happy.”
And the Shealys also have a history of patriotism and loyalty, which was hard to figure out in the old Ninety Six District, as the area was called, during the Revolutionary War.
“Many people in the Revolution served the English out of one door and the Patriots out of the other,” Jayroe said.
The monuments in Newberry’s Memorial Park list five Shealys from Newberry County killed in the Civil War, one in World War I and four in World War II. In addition to Bernard and Worth, the marker names James M. and Noah I. – a pair of Shealys from outside Little Mountain.
But having 19 Shealys from tiny Little Mountain was extraordinary, said Paul Shealy, the son of one of those 19. His father, Charles, served two years in the Army before the war then rejoined after Pearl Harbor and fought in the Philippines.
“It was their obligation,” he said. “Most of them volunteered.”
Missing on an atoll
Bernard Shealy also left the service, then rejoined the Marines when war broke out.
When he was killed on Tarawa, Bernard had been in the U.S. Marine Corps since 1935 and had been fighting in the Pacific with the 2nd Marine Division for a year during the Guadalcanal campaign.
At the time of his death, his wife, the former Anne Remmer of California, was pregnant with their son, Mike.
Bernard is believed to be buried or his body lost on or near the tiny, companion island of Tarawa, called Betio. More than 1,000 Marines died on Tarawa and Betio in the Gilbert Islands battle that was fought Nov. 20-23, 1943.
Tending to so many dead was difficult on an island as small as Betio. They were wrapped in ponchos and buried in shallow, sandy graves. Hundreds more had gone down in landing craft and were never recovered, floated out to sea or simply vanished.
Many more bodies were lost by the time grave registration teams arrived, as the small cemeteries that dotted the island were moved when U.S. bases there expanded.
Bernard, the brother of John Henry and Paul Shealy, was never found.
Paul Shealy, the only one of the 19 Shealy Boys still alive, said he joined the Navy to try to find his brother’s body.
“I enlisted when I was 17,” he said from his home in Hernando Beach, Fla. “I thought I could get close to where he died. I was in for 18 months during the war, but never hit Tarawa.”
‘Everybody had a cow’
Worth Shealy’s body also was never found. He joined the Navy in 1932 and was reported missing when his ship sank near the Philippines on March 1, 1942, less than three months after Pearl Harbor. He was an electrician.
His ship, the U.S.S. Pecos, an oil and gasoline refueling ship, was sunk in the battle of Java Sea in Southeast Asia. Fighter planes from the Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu attacked the ship and two other support vessels after they rescued survivors from the U.S.S. Langley, America’s first aircraft carrier made from a converted World War I war ship by adding a rudimentary flight deck.
Worth wasn’t declared dead until Dec. 15, 1945, after the war had ended.
But the rest of the Shealy Boys returned and took up their lives again where they left off with little fanfare.
“We gathered as individual families, but there was no parade or anything,” said Caroline Frick, 80, sister of Ray Shealy, one of the Shealy Boys. “It was just one of those things that you had to do for your country.”
Several of the Shealy Boys used the G.I. Bill, which paid for college for World II vets, to advance their education to become noted professionals.
Frank Wright Shealy, who died in 1991, entered the Medical University of South Carolina and worked at Self Memorial Hospital in Greenwood where he founded its anesthesiology department and became its first medical director.
Otis Lester, who passed away in July, earned a doctorate degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina and went to work for DuPont managing the development of new fibers. He served for 20 years as a trustee of Newberry College.
Luther Mack became a physician. He passed away in Quitman, Ga. in 1984.
But most of the Shealy Boys led unheralded lives. Many worked for SCE&G Parr hydroelectric plant and later at the McMeekin plant at Lake Murray.
Nearly all of them farmed on the side.
“It wasn’t too long ago that everybody had a cow,” Paul Shealy said.
And, of course, they had lots of children.
“They say there is a Shealy behind every bush here,” Ernest Shealy said. “And sometimes there’s two.”