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The Bell Tolls in Honor of the USS SHANGRI-LA and Her Heroes

By Sheri Webber

Veterans of USS SHANGRI-LA have adopted Jacksonville University NROTC in support of their shared mission to develop leaders. On the morning of Oct. 4, more than 200 veterans, guests, and Midshipmen conducted the 36th Annual USS Shangri-La (CV-38) Reunion and Memorial Remembrance, the first hosted on campus.

Captain Glen Leverette, Commanding Officer of the Jacksonville University (JU) NROTC unit, said, “The bell brought you here, but it is the bond that will keep you here.” The USS SHANGRI-LA (CV-38) Reunion Association, led by President Gary Clark, specifically chose JU as the final resting place for the carrier’s bell. An icon Leverette called “the heart and soul of any ship.”

A Unique History

USS Shangri-La (CV-38), Sept. 1945. PHOTO CREDIT: US Naval History & Heritage Command

The aircraft carrier USS Shangri-La was commissioned in September 15, 1944, with Captain James D. Barner in command. Her subsequent years in combat included Pearl Harbor, Okinawa, Tokyo, and others in the Asiatic-Pacific theater.

In the spring of 1960, she put to sea en route to her new homeport, Mayport, Florida. Between 1961 and 1970, SHANGRI-LA alternated between deployments to the Mediterranean and those in the western Atlantic, deploying from Mayport.

SHANGRI-LA earned two battle stars for her World War II service and three for service in the Vietnam War. On July 30, 1971, she was decommissioned and came to rest at the Atlantic Reserve Fleet Philadelphia.

But her bell stands proudly in JU’s Tillie K. Fowler Building where the USS SHANGRI-LA Reunion Group installed it on Sept. 6, 2017. Unearthed on a farm on Florida’s East Coast, more than 200 miles away from Mayport, the rusted half-ton bell began its journey of restoration. The bell represented new beginnings and rising from the ashes having been recast in the mid-1940’s after a fire destroyed the carrier’s original bell.

Today, it rang out in honor of the fallen and of the promise of future leaders as the reunion group continues to partner with JU.

An Unforgettable Moment

The balcony of JU’s Terry Concert Hall filled with JU NROTC Midshipmen, from first-years to those nearing graduation, all in attendance to honor the fallen service members of SHANGRI-LA. Among them, Nicholas James, a senior and economics major who hopes for assignment as a Surface Warfare Officer, and sophomore Julia Bruemmer, a chemistry major interested in becoming a Submarine Officer.

In an opening prayer, Tom Whitehead, acting chaplain of the reunion group, said, “The passing of more than 64 years has not diminished our gratitude for their sacrifice,” a sentiment carried throughout the program.

Leverette, whose 28-year career in the U.S. Navy included assignments to four carriers, welcomed the assembly, introducing himself as a fellow “seadog.” He recognized members of the group for their service and said, “You might have retired, but you haven’t stopped serving.”

The private ceremony included the reading of the names of the fallen, all connected by their bond as shipmates who served on SHANGRI-LA. Eugene Cernan, astronaut and Commander of the Apollo 17, was named among the fallen. He served aboard the carrier in 1958 and passed away in January 2017. Oliver Stamp (USMC) received a Silver Star on board and died during his tour of Vietnam in 1970. Also named was a father and son. Paul Schmidt, Sr., U.S. Army, served on board from 1948 to 1950 and passed away in August of last year. His son, aviator LTJG. Paul Schmidt, Jr., (USN) was lost at sea in 1983 while assigned to USS CARL VINSON.

Veterans and others adjourned to the Tillie K. Fowler Navy ROTC building on the north side of campus to conduct a ceremonial ringing of the famed and fully-restored bell.

An Inextricable Link

Jacksonville University is home to the longest standing NROTC in the region, beginning in 1971. JU has long been an avid supporter of men and women in uniform and proudly welcomes active duty, reservists, veterans, and dependents as students.

Designated as a Military Times Best for Vets Colleges in 2017, G.I. Jobs Military Friendly School, U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges for Veterans, and Military Advanced Education & Transition Top School for Military/Veteran Education, JU stands ready to assist those transitioning out of military service or seeking higher education. The University proudly offers one of the most military-friendly campuses in the U.S. and the greater Jacksonville area remains one of the most requested duty stations in the U.S. Navy.

For a more detailed history of the USS SHANGRI-LA, visit thoughtco.com. Visit Jacksonville University online for additional information about its Naval ROTC unit and programs.