JOSEPH F. SHANKLE
Major | Field Artillery
Joseph Fay Shankle was born February 29, 1928 in Boston, Massachusetts into a small family of unique acheivements. His father Clarence "Dutch" was an Army pilot who served as an aviation instructor on various airfields during the First World War. He was one of the first pilots to test bombing targets at sea in 1921 whent he 1st Provisional Air Brigade sank the Ostfriesland off of the East Coast. He remained a regular army instructor with the 26th "Yankee" Division Aviation Unit in the Massachusetts National Guard. In addition to being a pilot, he held ratings in airship pilot, balloon observer, and aeronautical observer. Dutch's wife Joan was truly unique for her time. She became an accomplished race pilot, record setter, and the first woman to acquire a pilot's license in Massachusetts. In October 1929, Dutch needed to ferry new Douglas O-2 aircraft from California to Boston. Joan flew him to March Field and then back east, becoming the first woman to fly solo from the Pacific coast to the Atlantic coast. She was also the first woman to fly solo from Boston to Miami.
The family moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma when Dutch was transferred there. A year later, after Dutch resigned, they moved to Arizona and built an airstrip on their property. Joseph generally accompanied them on their flights and had his own log book and flying equipment. From 1929 to 1941, Joan accumulated 2,300 flying hours. She and Dutch divorced just before he returned to the service for WWII. Five years later, Joseph was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy about a year after the end of the war. He graduated with the class of 1950, but not without his share of infractions. Lt. Shankle returned to his old home at Fort Sill, this time as the assisstant executive and then executive officer with C Battery, 18th Field Artillery Battalion. In the spring of 1951, he received orders for Korea and quickly found himself with the responsibility of forward observer.
Upon his arrival to the Korean peninsula, Joe was assigned to B Battery, 64th Field Artillery Battalion, 25th Division. He served as a forward observer for the next two months attached to the Division's 35th Infantry Regiment. Perhaps his most significant action of the war occured only a month after his arrival in country. Most would probably consider him to be green, but that month of combat was enough for the young lieutenant to become familiar with the sitation in Korea. F Company, 35th Infantry received orders to take Hill 329, later nicknamed Skeleton Hill, under the command of Captain Sam Holliday. Many men under Holliday's command were as fresh as Joe - men who had been civilians weeks ago were now in charge of leading their men forward in an assault. Captain Holliday worked closely with Joe and remembers him affectionately today. For the assault of Hill 329, Lt. Shankle fought immediately alongside Holliday as his forward observer.
Shankle called in artillery fire on the objective, covering the hill in black puffs of smoke within minutes. The 155mm shells sprayed dirt and debris over the top of the hill, and through the remaining haze it didn't appear that anything would be left up there. Holliday knew this was not the case and was cautious when ordering his company forward. 1st platoon, with Lt. Paul Clawson commanding, would move up a ridge on the right until they hit resistance, and 3d platoon on the left. The men of 1st platoon walked along the ridge comfortable as Shankle maintained artillery support. They had not run into resistance yet, but 1st platoon was dealing with small arms action to their left. Holliday told Shankle to hold the artillery support and the battalion continued to advance slowly. The relative peace would not last for long.
Small arms fire opened up on the left ridge, indicating 3d platoon was in action. Sporadic enemy mortars began to pepper 1st platoon's position. A volley of shells zipped into Holliday's position. By the sound he could tell they were friendly 105mm shells. He called battalion immediately to halt the fire, and Shankle called artillery directly the cease fire. By chance, no one was wounded. Holliday collected himself and worked his way through 1st platoon. He became less pleased when he found the men were not moving up because the platoon leader, Lt. Clawson, had been killed. Lt. Shankle took command on Clawson's platoon and Holliday reorganized the men and tried to reach 2d platoon following behind. They had lost contact, however, and it was up to 1st and 3d to take the hill.
Capt. Holliday yelled at his men to take the hill and keep firing. As the men of the 1st Battalion reached the hill, Chinese soldiers began darting out of their camouflaged holes. The hollering and shooting increased as the GIs started to mingle with the enemy holding the hill. As the battalion appeared to be taking the hill, volleys of stick grenades began flying up over the side and rolling into the men of the 35th. They countered this stream of grenades with their own for nearly ten minutes with no rifle fire until Holliday ordered the men to advance for a second time.
As the men reached the crest of the hill, the ranks were becoming thin from the previous exchange of grenades and continuing rifle and machine gun fire. The two platoons had an opportunity to secure the hill while the Chinese were still disoriented and Holliday ordered a third assault to push to the other side of the hill. "I had hardly started when something hit my left elbow so hard it spun me halfway around. My arm went dead. I dropped to my knees to check what had happened. I felt no pain, but I could not move the fingers of my left hand and my forearm was numb. I heard Lieutenant Shankle, my forward observer who had been by my side from the beginning, yell, “They’ve got the Captain. Let’s get them. Over the top for the Captain!” He ran among the men of the 1st Platoon and then he ran over toward the 3rd Platoon, ordering them over the top. When I got to my feet everyone was moving and firing. The first men moved over the top and I followed them. Every ridge on the other side seemed to be covered with Chinese running. My men were firing at them. As more of my soldiers came over the top, they moved down far enough to have some protection" (1).
After the attack calmed down, Holliday gave instruction for which zone each platoon would defend, anticipating a counterattack. The 2d platoon joined them shortly in the eerie silence following the battle. It began to drizzle and exhausting was starting to set in through the ranks. There were enough foxholes for the men to settle in. A few were discovered to have human bones with ragged remnants of clothing. So the name Skeleton Hill was struck. The drizzle picked up into a rain as the men removed Chinese bodies from the foxholes they would sleep in that night.
Shankle and Holliday were both wounded before the action was over, Holliday having the worst of it - a bullet through his right hand and a left arm peppered with shrapnel and strangely, paralyzed. Shankle was lightly wounded by shrapnel, likely from the bombardment of grenades earlier that day that had also hit Holliday alongside him. For his action in taking over 1st platoon and leading the men over the hill, Lt. Shankle was awarded the Silver Star. A few other members of the unit distinguished themselves during the battle, including Lt. Clawson who received a posthumous Distinguished Service Cross.
"Clarence E. "Dutch" Shankle." Davis-Monthan Airfield Register Website. Davis-Monthan Airfield Register Website, 21 Nov. 2006. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
"Joan Fay Shankle." Davis-Monthan Airfield Register Website. Davis-Monthan Airfield Register Website, 29 Oct. 2007. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
(1) Holliday, Sam. "Sam Holliday - Memoirs." Korean War Educator. Korean War Educator, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.
A very special thanks to Sam Holliday for sharing his memories and answering my emails.