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Friends remember Scales as patriot
J. Shelton Scales is shown at left wearing a hat indicating his service during the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.
Thursday, May 29, 2014
By GINNY WRAY - Bulletin Staff Writer
J. Shelton Scales was remembered Wednesday as a Marine commander at Iwo Jima, a successful businessman who was active in the community, and a good friend.
“I don’t know that you can say anything more than that ... he was a great patriot and a good man,” said Col. Greg Eanes, U.S. Air Force (retired), of Penhook.
Eanes and others remembered Scales the day after he died at King’s Grant Retirement Community at age 97.
Eanes and Scales had given talks on the military and history together, and Eanes had visited him at King’s Grant.
“He was a citizen soldier, a warrior who hated war,” Eanes said.
Scales “made four of the most horrific beach landings in the Pacific (during World War II),” Eanes said. The Feb. 19, 1945, landing at Iwo Jima was the worst and the one he talked about the most, Eanes said.
Scales was a battalion commander who led about 900 men in battle on that island. Nearly 7,000 U.S. servicemen were killed in the 36-day assault before the Americans prevailed and seized the island from the Japanese.
Retired Brig. Gen. Robert O. Petty of Bassett talked Wednesday about the danger at Iwo Jima that Scales endured. Petty went there in 1954-55 to work on an air traffic control tower and even then, a decade after the war ended, there still were live ammunition and mines throughout the small island.
During the war, the Japanese had miners build tunnels on the island and troops moved through them, not visible from the surface, Petty said.
“You’re moving along and all of a sudden guys pop up behind you and start shooting at you,” he said. “It was a very dangerous, dirty invasion.”
People react to such experiences in different ways, Petty said.
“Shelton made it through pretty well,” he said, adding that Scales was “even-tempered and knew the value of what he was doing.”
Scales’ job involved taking care of his men, so “casualties I’m sure were very personal to him. He knew these people well. It probably shocked him terribly, but it’s such a tribute to his strength that he continued his mission and to be part of a winning team,” Petty said.
“Iwo was so bloody for the Marines,” Eanes said. He added that Scales never sugar-coated his accounts of wartime.
“He would say, ‘Anybody who has seen it like I’ve seen it would know what a waste it is’ — people, energy, resources. Just a total waste,” Eanes said, adding that he was sure Scales was talking about the troops. “When you see them in uniform, they’re just children.”
As Petty put it: “He (Scales) told it the way it was. It would send chills up and down my back.”
Eanes said both he and Scales felt obligated to talk about their experiences.
“We owe it to the memory of those who served to remember why they sacrificed,” Eanes added.
He recalled Scales describing his feelings before the planned invasion of Japan, an invasion that was averted when the atomic bomb was dropped on that country and Japan surrendered. If the Allies had invaded, Eanes said, 1 million casualties were expected. Scales feared he would be one of them, Eanes recalled.
“He knew if they went in, he was going to die. He felt his luck had run out,” Eanes said, adding that fatigue may have played a role in Scales’ feeling.
“He came to grips with it. You put your job first, focus on your responsibilities, give your soul to God and stay focused on your job,” Eanes said.
Scales came home as a “citizen soldier who turned his sword into a plowshare. We can’t forget that. ... In postwar life, they were given extra time where their buddies weren’t” so when the servicemen came home, they helped build their communities, Eanes said.
“That’s a lesson I like to put to young folks now. Emulate the greatest generation” by putting the leadership, experience, discipline and mission focus learned in the military to work to benefit the community, Eanes said.
Scales did that through numerous civic groups as well as Patrick Henry Community College. Kris Landrum, public relations and marketing manager there, met him when she joined PHCC in 1985. He had just made a contribution to the PHCC Foundation.
“He has been a part of PHCC ever since,” she said, whether he was teaching an adjunct history course, talking to students about Iwo Jima, attending events, serving on boards or “telling our story. He’s been a Patriot (the PHCC mascot) through and through.”
Scales, Eanes said, “was a happy individual when I knew him. He was never bitter. He was positive about life in general.”
King’s Grant Chaplain Paul Johnson, who got to know Scales at the retirement community, said he craved the positive.
“Shelton had been through so much responsibility during his military career. He didn’t minimize the meaning of life as he grew older, but he wanted to laugh; he wanted humor in his life,” Johnson said.
That is the friend several people recalled Wednesday. Paul Shivley and James Rogers both spoke of Scales as a storyteller and a jokester who could fill the hours of a road trip with his yarns, experiences and humor. The three were in the Marine Corps League together.
Shivley’s first encounter with Scales was when he worked for Burch Hodges Stone Inc. insurance company. Shivley had just opened the second McDonald’s restaurant in the area, and a car had burned in the new parking lot.
“The owner was one of Shelton’s clients,” so Shivley called and asked what the insurance company would do to repair the damage. “He (Scales) said, ‘Nothing.’ I said, ‘I beg your pardon,’ and he said, ‘Nothing.’ He said it was an act of God,” Shivley recalled. “We went around and around” about it.
Eventually, the matter was resolved and the two men became friends.
Scales talked a lot about his experiences in the military, especially at Iwo Jima, Shivley said.
“His history there was quite something else,” Shivley added. And as Scales got older, “he would talk about how the world was so brutal and we don’t need wars.”
It wasn’t that he regretted his military service, Shivley said. “No, I think he was proud of his service.”
Rogers noted that Scales’ memory always was sharp. “He had a lot of tales and jokes he could tell you,” Rogers said. “I saw him Monday and he knew who I was. He was telling me stories then” even though he was ill.
“I’m going to miss him. He’s just a fine person, a good upstanding citizen, very patriotic ... a good, good person,” Rogers added.
“He was one of the most admired and respected people I’ve ever known, and he will be greatly missed,” Petty added.