A frontline soldier's perspective
By Matt Soper
Published Wednesday, November 11, 2015 11:00 am
Delta County Historical Society photo Norman Shetley holds the Bronze Star he was awarded for meritorious service and devotion to duty while under enemy fire.
Norman Shetley had just completed his first year of college at Western State in Gunnison when he received his draft notice in July 1943. Shetley trained in Texas, Ohio and Kentucky prior to landing in Marseille, France, in October 1944 with the 449th Armored Field Artillery of the 14th Armored Division.
After landing in Marseille, Shetley said his first night was spent in a bombed-out warehouse on the harbor. One evening, Shetley was driving a jeep near the harbor and noticed three French-Moroccan soldiers running toward the jeep. The soldiers were attempting to kill him and steal the jeep. Shetley said, "I hit the gas and rapidly shifted into second gear!" Shetley remembered his fellow soldiers saying, "Welcome to life on the frontlines."
Shetley spent seven months on the frontlines, participating in the Battles of the Ardennes-Alsace, Central Europe and the Rhineland. The winter of 1944-45 was one of the coldest in modern history. "We didn't have adequate footwear or cold weather-wear and I only had one shower the entire time I was on the front," Shetley recalled.
One night, Shetley and a couple of other soldiers were ordered to take a mile and a half of wire to a village just inside the Siegfried Line for the forward observer. Shetley ran the wire into a designated house and while he was inside, the Germans began shelling the area.
"The two other guys in the jeep got nervous when the artillery began shelling around us, so they drove off. I thought, 'What am I going to do?' I opted to run down the road. Shells began landing near me on the left, then the right, as I ran and I realized the Germans were zeroing in on me! I couldn't think why would they want to kill one little lone soldier using the artillery! There was a German zig-zag trench and I dove in. Another shell landed nearby and lifted me about a foot out of the trench! I played dead and the Germans moved on to other targets," Shetley recalled. This incident contributed to Shetley being awarded the Bronze Star.
Shetley went on to participate in the liberation of Moosburg and Hammelburg prisoners of war camps and was an early witness to view Dachau and Hitler's retreat, known as Eagle's Nest.
Shetley returned to Delta County after the war and became a teacher and later a jobs counselor with the Department of Labor.