Merriell ("Snafu") Shelton grew up in rural Louisiana. He'd spent some of his early years in a Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps camp.
Snafu was Cajun and had a heavy accent. Before the war, he was a gambler. After the war, he married ("Miss Gladys"), had two sons and worked on air conditioners. He was in his early twenties, during the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa, and became a close buddy of Eugene ("Sledgehammer") Sledge.
This photograph, from the papers of Dr. Sledge at Auburn University Libraries, depicts Snafu (on the left) in 1983. He is with Sledge (on the right) and Paul Wright (in the middle).
Although they came from very different backgrounds, Sledge and Snafu Shelton were close during their months together at Peleliu and Okinawa. In Iain C. Martin's book, The Greatest U.S. Marine Corps Stories Ever Told, Sledge describes their foxhole relationship:
You developed a "close personal" relationship with a sniper, because you could only cringe in your foxhole with your buddy, and my buddy was Snafu Shelton, who was from the swamps of Louisiana. Snafu could cuss a blue streak, and conversation under fire resulted in a very fascinating juxtaposition of emotions - The Lord's Prayer and Twenty-third Psalm on my part, and "G_ _ D _ _ _ you son-of-a-b_ _ _ _," on Snafu's part. (Martin, page 141.)
When Japanese soldiers infiltrated American lines at night, Snafu and Sledge were on their own against an enemy determined to kill as many Marines as possible:
Snafu and I never let a Jap get into our foxhole because of our alertness, but it happened many times in neighboring foxholes, and we lost some fine buddies this way. All night, bursts of firing along the lines indicated where these desperate struggles took place, while shells screamed and whistled back and forth overhead. (Martin, page 142.)
Snafu and Sledge took turns sleeping - best they could - in their foxholes. They, like everyone else, had to be extremely quiet so as not to give away their position. When it was time to switch guard duty, the retiring Marine would quietly whisper his buddy's name to awaken him.
One night, decades later, Jeanne Sledge wondered if she could wake-up her husband in the same manner. When she quietly whispered "Sledgehammer!" into his ear, he instantly awakened (move the video forward, to 8:19) - just like he did when it was Snafu who did the whispering.
Snafu was a veteran of the battle for Cape Gloucester, when he first met Sledge, and the newcomer was grateful for it. Sledge (as he wrote) "felt more secure around veterans. They knew what to expect." (Sledge, With the Old Breed, page 51.) They also knew what not to do - like removing combat boots just because of wet and hurting feet:
After the war, Snafu returned to Louisiana. Rod Dreher provides more information about his later years:
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 ... 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.
. . .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 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.
After Sledge published With the Old Breed, in 1981, he and Snafu reconnected. And ... when Snafu died - in 1993 - his old friend, Sledgehammer, was one of his pallbearers.
Photo online, courtesy Eugene Sledge Collection, Auburn University Libraries.
Description of the photo, at Auburn University, is as follows:
Shown here are Eugene B. Sledge (right) with Merriell A. "Snafu" Shelton (left) and Paul Wright (middle) at a 1st Marine Division reunion in 1983 in Milwauke, Wisconsin. All three men were Marine Corps combat infantrymen in World War II. They fought the Japanese in the Pacific at Peleliu and Okinawa with the 1st Marine Division.
Sledge and Snafu were buddies in the mortar platoon of Company K, 3rd Battlion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Sledge wrote a book about his combat experience called With The Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa.
Publisher: Auburn University Libraries
Excerpted passage from Rod Dreher at Beliefnet.com