They should do a mini series from the book Flyboys after this.
Well, Snafu Shelton is more than mentioned in Sledge’s (terrific, brutal) book; he’s woven throughout it. When I read “With the Old Breed” a few years back, it was difficult to wrap my mind around the idea that the Marine who committed and endured the savagery of the Pacific campaign was our neighbor, Mr. Merriell. But he was. He lived with his sweet wife, Miss Gladys, and his two sons in a little brick house on Highway 61, a mile or so away. He was an air conditioner repairman and installer; you can see a scar on the ceiling of my mom and dad’s living room ceiling where Snafu accidentally put his foot through the sheetrock when he was putting in the ducts in our place. His younger son and I played baseball together in the summer leagues. We’d see Snafu at the games, but he kept to himself. He was short and stocky, and had a hard, hard face. He smoked filterless cigarettes, I remember that, and that he loved to gamble. But mostly, he was this distant, mysterious man.
I remember my Dad telling me once that Mr. Merriell had seen some hellacious fighting in the Second World War, but I don’t think any of us really knew what that meant until Sledge’s book came out. My uncle took a role in bringing Sledge and Snafu together for a reunion, which took place around his table.
It was a revelation to me to read in Sledge’s book what, exactly, the quiet, hard man who lived in the little brick house down the road had done early in his life. He was a ruthless killer, which is only to say that he was a brave, effective soldier in a terrible war that he didn’t choose. Reading the Sledge memoir, I wondered how in the world a man can come through that kind of hell, and have anything like a normal life. I guess Snafu did, but I really don’t know. He was our neighbor, but a loner. You never know about people, do you?
He died a long time ago, as did Miss Gladys, and his older son Floyd, a talented teenage ballplayer who’d gotten mixed up in drugs. His younger son Allen — my old playmate — survives, I think, but I don’t know where he moved off to. In a dark and bizarre coda to the tale, Snafu’s old house on Highway 61 was later inhabited by the infamous Derrick Todd Lee, who was living there while he was carrying out his serial murders.