WWII Sailors Reunited

 What are the odds? WWII sailors reunited
Newspaper story reunites two sailors who share 70-year-old memory

By CHRISTINE L. PRATTStaff Writer Published: November 16, 2015 4:00AM

WOOSTER -- For years Larry McLaughlin has been telling friends and family about the time when, en route to the Mediterranean on a Navy destroyer, he watched a man overboard wave and drift out of sight into the darkness.

On Wednesday he heard the same story, read from the pages of The Daily Record in an account recalled by veteran Ira Shelton, who was on the same ship at the same time and had seen his friend washed away by a wave in the midst of a storm.

The two men met Saturday morning at West View Healthy Living in Wooster, where McLaughlin has resided for the last two years and where he heard the name of Ira Shelton roll off the tongue of memory enhancement specialist Sunny Wells, who reads the newspaper to him daily and initiated the process of bringing the two men together.

Waiting for Shelton's arrival, McLaughlin said he served in the U.S. Navy 1946-1949. "I wanted to join the Marine Corp," he said, quick to add his future was changed by his brother, who spent his own years of service in the Marines in the South Pacific during World War II.

Originally from Braintree, Mass., McLaughlin boarded the U.S.S. Eugene Greene in November 1947 for its maiden voyage to the Mediterranean. Shelton was also aboard, and it was during that trip sailor Guy Hoover was washed overboard and lost during a storm.

Shelton saw it. McLaughlin aided in the search. Both men remain saddened by his loss.

Surrounded by three of his five children, McLaughlin anxiously waited for Shelton, who eventually emerged into the parlor asking, "Are there any sailors in the bunch?"

McLaughlin answered in the affirmative, pointing to a hardbound book of photos onto which was printed the image of a younger him in uniform.

"You weren't that nice looking?" Shelton continued to jest, as he laid his hand on McLaughlin's forehead and drawing a simple response of, "Yes, I am."

They shared their memories of that fateful night nearly 70 years ago.

McLaughlin's son David flipped through photos as the two older men talked. As the discussion turned to the loose captain's gig Hoover and others had been called onto deck to fix during the storm, he produced a photo of the still dangling boat which had battered and damaged the side of the ship.

"Ya. That's the same picture I have," Shelton said, drawing gasps of disbelief from the McLaughlin clan.

Shelton shared the story of how, many years later, he came to meet Hoover's family, sharing photos of the lost man's son and granddaughter. He also read a letter, which he claims was filled with lies, written by the captain to Hoover's widow in the wake of his death.

From the Hoover experience, the two men continued to talk about their time in service, with new topics often introduced by Shelton, starting, "Do you remember ..."

They discussed the various ports they visited, a chance meeting with Pope Pius XII in Rome, a Christmas dinner in Naples. "I remember it was pretty joyful," McLaughlin said. "I enjoyed the trips."

McLaughlin said he learned to ski in the Alps. Shelton, pointing at McLauglin's picture of the Leaning Tower said it was in Pisa he had his first taste of pizza.

The men also discussed how fate brought both of them to Wooster.

McLaughlin had traveled the area and chose to settle in Wooster to further his career, selling corrugated boxes. Rubbermaid was his top customer.

Shelton came to the area with his brother, with whom he initially got a job at International Paper and then Rubbermaid. "I packed some of the boxes you sold." He too, demonstrating his technique, became a salesman, traveling door to door peddling Fuller Brushes.

Both men were overwhelmed by the circumstances that brought them together.

"This whole thing is an amazing feat. I can't comprehend how it came about," said McLaughlin.

His daughter, Linda Snyder simply stated what all in the room were thinking. "What are the odds."

Wells, who also joined the group and was held captive by the men's stories, explained that once McLaughlin told her he shared a past with Shelton she said, "You have to meet him."

"I just think it's wonderful," she said. "It's unreal. It's emotional. I fought back tears I don't know how many times. We all did."  

Reporter Christine Pratt can be reached at 330-674-5676 or cpratt@the-daily-record.com. She's @drnewsgirl on Twitter.