When Delbert Sharrett rides in a red 2013 Camaro convertible Monday as grand marshal of Middletown’s Memorial Day Parade, there will be a smile on his face and a heaviness to his heart.
Throughout the parade route, the 95-year-old World War II veteran will be thinking about his shipmate, Clyde Nichols, who introduced Sharrett to his future wife and who was buried at sea in a submarine during Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
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Sharrett and his wife, Lillie Mae, were married for 65 years until her death in 2010. They have have three children: two daughters, Jane and Phyllis and one son, Clyde, named in honor of Nichols.
“He didn’t get the chance to come home,” Sharrett said softly over lunch at KJ’s Restaurant in Germantown. “It’s very, very sad. This will be my way to honor him.”
The two were shipmates in California until Nichols asked to be assigned to a submarine because of the added pay.
Sharrett always remembers his wife, whom he calls “a beautiful lady,” and realizes without Nichols’ introduction, the family portrait would look much different.
In fact, most of Sharrett’s life could have been rewritten if any of his “close calls” had been changed.
In 1941, Sharrett, then a junior at Washington Court House High School, enlisted in the U.S. Navy so he wouldn’t have to finish school. He served a few weeks in Michigan, patrolling a lake shore with a rifle and no ammunition.
He needed “more action” so he told his commander, “I want a ship.”
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Now, 78 years later, he said with a smile, “That was a big mistake on my part.”
Sharrett was shipped to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 2, 1941, five days before the attack.
On that day, Sharrett was aboard the USS Sea Gull about 80 miles from Pearl Harbor. They were practicing what Sharrett called “war games,” meaning they shot blank torpedoes at targets, retrieved them, and scored their accuracy.
Sharrett, eating breakfast on that December morning, remembers a radio announcement urging the sailors to “take cover because Pearl Harbor was bombed.” The world changed forever when more than 2,400 Americans were killed.
As his ship entered the harbor, he couldn’t believe the devastation done by the surprise attack. Near the harbor, Sharrett’s ship was issued a “challenge,” and when the commander was unable to respond, the ship nearly was attacked by Americans.
Later, the ship’s captain said he came a few seconds from sending torpedoes at Sharrett’s ship.
Sharrett and an entire fleet of vessels could have been wiped out when he accidentally dropped a shell he was loading.
“God pushed me to my knees and I caught the shell,” he said.
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After the war, Sharrett returned to Washington Court House and finished his senior year. He then planned to enroll in Ohio State’s veterinarian program, but his wife got pregnant with their first child. So the family moved to Middletown, Sharrett applied at Armco Steel and started working later that afternoon. He retired from there in 1978, 30 years and 20 days later.
Memorial Day Parade Chair Jeri Lewis said there are “many reasons” why Sharrett was selected grand marshal. She said a new generation is growing up and they don’t get an opportunity to meet a Pearl Harbor survivor.
“He has a lot of wisdom and some great stories,” she said. “But most importantly is his love for the military and our country. He knew many that lost their lives that day and he admittedly will tell you he doesn’t understand why he survived. Memorial Day is a day we remember those we have lost, but will never forget. We have to visit the past. Especially lives lost at war so we can appreciate the life we get to live today.”
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