THOMAS R. SHAY
YEOMAN 2nd CLASS
THOMAS R. SHAY
WORLD WAR II VETERAN
World War II Navy veteran Tom Shay passed away on June 10, 2011, in Gainesville. Tom served on two ships during the war: the fleet oiler USS Housatonic (AO-35), which saw duty in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and then on attack cargo ship USS Tolland (AKA-64), which served in the Pacific.
In a 2008 oral history conducted by the University of Florida’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Tom recalled a relatively unknown incident of Japanese sabotage. While loading supplies at Hilo on the big island of Hawaii in preparation for the Iwo invasion, the fire alarm went off on the Tolland’s sister ship, USS Leo, which was moored across the dock. “So part of our fire crew went over there to assist, and they found out that the Japanese sympathizers in Hawaii had taken wooden matches and wrapped them with sandpaper with a rubber band and stuffed them in everything: equipment, pallets, and just as luck would have it, there was enough rolling to cause the fire. Then we had to unload our stuff. . . . [Our capacity] was maybe 10,000 tons. We had to unload everything.” Due to this delay, the Tolland had to make up time crossing the Pacific carrying Marines from the 5th Division.
On February 19, 1945, which happened to be Tom’s 21st birthday, the Tolland transported regiments of the 5th Marines to the beaches of Iwo Jima. The Tolland was assigned to amphibious Squadron 16, which carried 22 landing craft.
One of Tom’s interesting war stories was about the Marines’ War Dog platoons. The Tolland carried 12 cages of male Doberman Pinschers to find Japanese hiding in caves, but these attack dogs were trained not to bark. The Dobermans could detect a human scent up to one-half mile away.
Tom recalled one of the Marine dog handlers telling him en route to Iwo: “Tom, I need you to do me a favor. I got a new corn broom, and when I take my dog out on a chain, swat him in the face. . . . Beat him with a corn broom. We’ve got to toughen him up.” Stupefied, Tom Shay, Yeoman 2nd Class, hesitantly responded, “If that chain breaks, I’m going right over the side.”
On February 23, 1945, from the deck of the Tolland, Tom watched the first and then the second more iconic flag raising on Mount Suribachi. Six months later, also from the deck of his ship anchored in Tokyo Bay, Tom watched the formal Japanese surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri on September 2.
After the war, Tom worked as a communications engineer for many years at the Kennedy Space Center helping NASA with the Apollo moon launches and later the Space Shuttle program.
North Central Florida veterans will miss Tom Shay, an eyewitness to history.
Tom and daughter Karen at Books-A-Million August 15-16, 2009. The Patriotic & Historical Alliance of North Central Florida held an event to commemorate VJ Day and the dropping of the two atomic bombs. Tom witnessed the signing of the surrender of Japan and spent about six hours at Hiroshima, the site of the dropping of the first atomic bomb August 6, 1945
By: Diane Fischler
On February 19, 2009 the Iwo Trio held a luncheon at McAlister's to celebrate 64th anniversary of the first landings on Iwo Jima. From L to R is Clif Cormier (USMC), Clair Chaffin (USMC), Tom Shay (USN) and
Bob Gasche (USMC)
Lou Tyler and Tom at the Iwo Trio Luncheon held at the Atrium February 1, 2011
Click on photo to read a letter, Tom sent to his mother after touring Hiroshima for six hours in 1945.