What began as a Lafayette physician’s curiosity about his uncle’s service in World War II has developed into an extensive knowledge of the war’s Pacific Theatre, a portion of which will be available to visitors at the Logansport-Cass County Public Library Saturday.
For more than a decade, Dr. John C. Shively has been interviewing veterans, poring over research, traveling to national archives and making yearly trips to WWII battle sites in the Pacific. It’s all led to the publication of two books on the eastern portion of the war, with much of their content drawn from the personal experiences of Indiana veterans.
Shively will be signing books and giving a presentation on the subject that went from hobby to expertise at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Logansport-Cass County Library, 616 E. Broadway.
He recalls his interest first sparking on the topic in 1999 after reading two books: “The Greatest Generation” by Tom Brokaw, titled after the moniker given to those who lived during WWII, and “Flags of Our Fathers” by James Bradley, about the U.S. servicemen in the famous photograph raising an American flag in Iwo Jima in 1945.
Knowing his uncle, Jim Craig, served in the U.S. Marines during the battle of Iwo Jima but never hearing much about it from him, Shively decided to ask him about his experiences there.
“Immediately the stories started flowing out,” Shively said.
He spent the next few years recording talks with the former platoon commander and researching what would become the background to the recollections. In 2002, Shively traveled to Iwo Jima on the only day of the year Americans are allowed as dictated by a treaty between the U.S. and Japan.
Shively wrote it all down “with the intent it would only be for family.”
After lending it to a couple Marine friends who told him he should try to publish it however, he attempted just that. Shortly thereafter, “The Last Lieutenant: A Foxhole View of the Epic Battle for Iwo Jima” hit the shelves, published by Indiana University Press and later picked up by Penguin Group.
It didn’t stop there.
“The more I read, the more I found out about other people in Indiana, specifically prisoners of war,” Shively said.
He would hear about them too, recalling speaking with a colleague one day years ago who told him his uncle was a prisoner of war in the Bataan Death March, in which it is estimated that 60,000 to 80,000 American and Filipino POWs were forced by the Japanese Imperial Army to march much of the 80-mile trip to a prisoner camp in the Philippines.
More primary sources sprang up, followed by more research and more trips to the Pacific. Eventually Shively had interviewed a total of seven men and one woman from Indiana who all survived being prisoners of the Japanese while in the Philippines in the beginning of WWII. “Profiles in Survival: The Experiences of American POWs in the Philippines during World War II,” was published in 2011 by the Indiana Historical Society.
Shively said physically visiting the historical locations provides a heightened sense of appreciation for the subject matter.
“When I go visit these island battlefields, more than anything else, it’s just to be where these important battles took place, to walk on what is this hallowed ground to Marines,” he said.
All of it has led to a reputation that allows him to give presentations at venues across the state and serve as an escort for WWII tours to the Pacific.
“I’ve met some of the finest people I will ever know through my experience of studying the war,” Shively said. “It’s an experience that I can’t attach a monetary value to. It’s been a wonderful experience to study history. I don’t want these guys who went out there and fought and died to be forgotten. There is a lot Hoosiers can be proud of in terms of our contribution to the war.”
According to the latest data available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there were 498,944 veterans living in Indiana in September, with more than 3,500 living in Cass County. It is estimated that more than 28,000 WWII veterans were living in the state in September.
Cass County Veterans Services Officer Larry Lowry said events like the one Shively will be hosting Saturday are important to ensure service members’ contributions are not forgotten.
“This country was basically kept free by our servicemen and women and this is our way of making sure our younger people especially know some of the stories that happened,” Lowry said. “World War II is considered the greatest generation. These vets went through some really tough times. They gave everything just for our freedoms today. It’s important for us to be made aware of what happened.”
Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him: @PharosMAK
If you go: WHO: Dr. John C. Shively, author of "Profiles in Survival: The Experiences of American POWs in the Philippines during World War II" WHAT: Book signing and presentation about the Pacific Theatre of World War II WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday WHERE: Logansport-Cass County Public Library, 616 E. Broadway