Just Call Him Shirly

My daddy’s name was Robert Shirly Bond. My friends called him “Mr. Bond”, and I called him “Daddy”, so I guess I never thought much about his first and middle names until I was older and realized how rare his middle name was for a man. Everyone in my small hometown called him Shirly, and no one seemed to think it was odd. But as I got older, I became aware that for a man, Shirly was not a common name…well, in fact, I had never heard of any other man with the name. I asked him why his mother chose that name.  He said he was not sure, but his and his older brother’s name, Beverly, were used as male names in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Like Ashley, Dana, Leslie, and Vivian, Shirley and Beverly were once considered male names.

Names are interesting because there is usually a story as to why the parents choose the one, or possibly two or three name combinations to describe their child. My daddy said his name was fine until Shirley Temple was born in 1928. He also would say with a smile that he could really relate to Johnny Cash’s 1969 number one hit song, “A Boy Named Sue” written by Shel Silverstein.

After a little research, I learned that “Shirley” originated as a surname which was derived from the Old English words, shire or scīr, and lēah, a clearing or meadow. It seems that there was an early English assembly of freeman who gathered for community discussions and to administer justice. This surname references this process and/or the space where it took place.

Why did my grandmother select two uncommon names for her first two children, both sons? Mary Jewel Stonecipher Bond was unique! Jewel was a music teacher. She taught in Magnolia, Arkansas after she graduated from Magnolia A & M, then she married William Fuller Bond on Christmas day in 1917. She began teaching voice, piano, and organ lessons at the Methodist church as well as in her home in Haynesville, Louisiana. Jewel played the organ and piano for several churches and schools in Haynesville as a substitute, but she was the pianist and organist for the Haynesville Methodist Protestant Church, later the Methodist Episcopal Church for 32 years. Fuller gave her the first baby grand piano in Claiborne Parish. He ordered it from Chicago for her birthday about the time they moved into the big house on the corner of Gantt Street around 1925.

But I have gone too far ahead…looking back in the 1910’s Fuller also graduated from Magnolia A & M with a degree in agriculture and business. He taught business and agriculture in Magnolia, Arkansas as well as in Haynesville and Norton Shop in Louisiana. Fuller left education to go in business with A. O. Norton, and together they owned a hardware and furniture store called Haynesville Hardware and Furniture. On November 30, 1921, my daddy, Robert Shirly Bond, was born in a small home on Gantt Street in Haynesville, Louisiana. He was Fuller and Jewel’s second child. They had six children: Beverly Earl Bond, Robert Shirly Bond, Mary Jewel Bond Corbell, Martha Jean Bond Craig, and twins, Sandra Ilene Bond Winn and William Fuller Bond II (Pully).

Jewel, or Mammaw as we called her, always had biscuit dough made ready to roll out for her delicious biscuits. Every morning Mammaw cooked Shirly’s favorite meal of bacon, eggs, biscuits, and sometimes pancakes with sausage. If she was having one of those harried mornings as all mothers do, she would just have the hot homemade biscuits with gravy. Many mornings Shirly would punch a hole in his biscuit with his finger, then pour melted butter and syrup filling the hole to overflowing. Another loved meal in the Bond home was fried chicken, fresh green beans, mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, and of course, biscuits and gravy. There was always a dessert of apple pie or lemon pie, strawberry pie or chocolate pie, or chocolate cake with caramel icing. And pecan pie was Shirly’s favorite. When the children came home from school, they would have cold biscuits and fresh green onions, and a typical dinner would be leftovers or something like Welch Rarebit (cheese sauce) and crackers.

The children spent their free time outside playing games like shinny, a game with a ball or puck that you hit with a stick on roller skates. Hide and seek with all of the visiting relatives and neighborhood friends was also a favorite. Having cousins in town from Murfreesboro, Arkansas – Claiborne, Sunshine, Saxon, and Jack – was always a treat! Some of the friends in the neighborhood were Norton, Merril, Bobby, Sidney, Myrtis and Ralph, and they would play into the night under the stark street lights throwing rocks at bats.

Shirly’s childhood was wonderful.  He grew up surrounded by lots of family and friends, and though there was unrest around the globe, in this small Louisiana town there was peace and comfort. Unfortunately, the turmoil would find its way to Haynesville too. While attending Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Shirly took ROTC just as his dad had done in college. He came back home to work in his daddy’s store for a year when World War II began. Shirly went in the first draft when they started taking 18-year-olds. First, he went to the replacement depot in Alexandria, Louisiana for a few days, then he was sent to the 79th Division in Virginia for basic training for about three months. He quickly became a platoon sergeant in an infantry company. He suggested this was probably because of his ROTC training, but he was thrown in with older soldiers.

From division maneuvers in Camp Blanding, Florida, Shirly was sent to officer training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. There they reviewed records and watched the soldiers closely. Shirly had done well in college math, so he was selected to go to field artillery training. They were looking for officer material to expand the military quickly. He received his commission of 2nd Lt. and was sent to the 6th Armored Division upon graduation. At Camp Cook, California, his training consisted of field problems or simulations of war-time activity as they were watched and graded. One of the training activities was “shoot the moon” where you had to find your exact location using the stars and moon.

When Shirly returned to California after his first furlough, he was told that they were preparing for overseas shipment, and they went through battlefield problems while they waited for the orders. The orders came for the whole division to move from California to a staging area in New Jersey via train. Once in New Jersey, they reassembled as a division and shipped to England. They were continuing training while in England, so when they were sent to the staging area for the invasion of France, they thought they were going on another training maneuver.

Shirly served under General Patton in the 128th Armored Field Artillery Battalion in the 6th Division. The invasion of Normandy began on June 6, 1944, and Shirly was in France on Jun.e 18, 1944. His battery crossed the channel in one night, and his first sight of France was the morning they unloaded on shore at Normandy. Invasion forces had the beaches secured, but the Germans were bombing from air and also firing artillery. They landed above Caen, France and turned West. Shirly’s division was the first complete armored division to make the invasion. Once the division was assembled in an area on the coast without much opposition, they began to get targets to fire on by using map data. Individuals were sent forward, then squads, then platoons to the front lines, gradually becoming more organized. Next company (foot soldiers) and batteries (M7’s field artillery pieces) went forward, and then the division was organized. Two to three divisions formed a task force. Shirly’s squad was called a forward observer squad. He was the head of the squad and went first. They sent back firing data. This was where his math skills were used. Once Shirly found a target, he would figure data for guns to fire on the target. As his squad moved forward, they would be assigned to motorized infantry.

The 6th Division stayed in the area and built-up for the Normandy breakout about one and one half to two months later. Shirly’s unit attacked South and West. They went to the Atlantic Ocean and contained the Cherbourg Peninsula. Immediately they turned South and were given orders to liberate seaports on the West Coast of France. The seaports were contained; Lorient was one of the seaports that Shirly was involved with containing. Some days they may not travel 1,000 yards and other days they would travel 10 miles.

They traveled to the outskirts of Brest, France, near a naval base that was fully occupied with Germans. They went on to liberate Brest on the West Coast of France and cleared all German activity in Brest Peninsula. Once they cleared an area, they turned roads and towns over to the infantry divisions to secure the land. Then they swept across France to the south of Paris and headed for Frankfurt, Germany, fighting all the way. They reached an area west of Frankfurt, south of the river, where the Germans made a counter attack in the Ardennes Mountains and Forest. The Germans captured Bastogne, Belgium. Shirly’s division rushed to the area south of Bastogne. A parachute division was in the process of liberating Bastogne when the 6th Division arrived. The Germans were cut off and surrendered.

The 6th Division then turned East to Berlin. They went through Belgium and over a small mountain range to the Eastern border of Germany. The division was stopped and sent back down South near Frankfurt where they waited and planned an attack. After preparing, the division crossed a river and captured a large German Airforce base south of Frankfurt. They moved on and captured Frankfurt. As the war was nearing the end, the Germans were deserting. Shirly and his pilot, Dan Cook, flew their plane over a concentration camp and saw the Germans fleeing. They landed in the middle of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp and were the first Americans to see the inside of the camp. They radioed back to their division and got medics there quickly. Shirly never talked much about the war, but for an American History class in the early 1980’s he described walking into the showers where people were taken to be gassed and seeing the claw marks on the walls.

The division was to go up the Rhine River turn due East to South of Berlin and reach a river that separated Poland from Germany. There they were to meet the Russian allies. Shirly and Dan got in the artillery spotter plane and flew across the river to the main highway where they landed beside the Russian column. Not looking much like an army, these ragged men, women, and boys had little equipment. This was the Russian forward of the main force. Shirly and Dan exchanged trinkets with the Russians, then got back in the plane and left quickly as they had disobeyed orders by flying over to meet the Russians. They were to only make eye contact with the Russian forces. After they got back, Shirly communicated with artillery headquarters that contact had been made. At this point, he remembers German troops were deserting and confused. Shirly and Dan saw the Germans going down the road single file, and they couldn’t tell anyone. Everyone was stopped. The 6th Division withdrew and the Russian Division withdrew so there would not be contact between the two armies and have accidental shootings. Hitler committed suicide in Berlin, just 35 miles from where they were.

Shirly and Dan had many missions and came close to death several times, but the most unusual near-death incident took place in the artillery spotter plane. They were flying behind enemy lines as they always did, and Shirly radioed the coordinates of a German airfield which had excellent protection. It also had guns set up for aircraft. The airfield was near a mountain range, so Shirly and Dan would use the range for protection, flying back and forth to get the coordinates. The last time they came out of the clouds, they felt a tremendous suction and began flying out of control. There was an explosion 20 yards behind them, and they were almost blown out of the air. The force from a blast is always in the front, and they felt the suction from the explosion. Another time Shirly and Dan were flying and as they came out of the clouds they flew so close to a German plane, all any of them could do was wave. Shirly won the Silver Star for bravery, three air medals and a battlefield ribbon from a Belgium town during the Battle of the Bulge.

Everyone in the army called Shirly by his first name, Robert. They were in a French home on Christmas Eve during the Battle of the Bulge when a knock came at the door. Some men at the door were looking for Shirly Bond. No one knew a “Shirly Bond”, but someone said that there was a “Bond” in the house. The two hooded men coming in from the bitter cold and snow wanted to see the “Bond”. Shirly looked up and saw two men coming towards him, their faces covered by the hoods. At first he did not know who they were, but when he looked closer, he realized that one was John Sydney Garrett and the other was Howard Bond from Haynesville. They had beer and a good time that night.

Shirly came home to Haynesville after the war. Years before Wadean Foster who was from Oklahoma and Texas had been at his home with his sister, Martha, when he was there on leave. Neither had been impressed, but this time home, Shirly had come to know Wadean’s father, Wade, and there was just something about her. Shirly asked Wadean for a date on March 15, 1947, and on April 1st he asked her to marry him. Of course neither sets of parents believed them because it was April Fool’s Day, but when they were still talking about it the next day, the parents finally realized they were serious. They married on April 15, 1947 in the Methodist parsonage, and Shirly died the month before they were to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary.

On my 16th birthday Robert Shirly Bond wrote a note to me, “No one can teach you to live ‘right’, you learn it on the job!” Shirly had definitely learned how to live right on the job, and his name was a good fit. Shirly was far from perfect, but he lived his life with great character, a kind and loving heart, and a strong sense of what was good and right.  Just as an assembly of freeman gathered in the origins of his name.

Having a few of his notes from his 30 years of teaching Sunday school, one sentence has stood out to me lately, “Without putting our faith in the life and teaching of Christ into action, what have we got?”

Thank you, Shirly.


4 thoughts on “Just Call Him Shirly

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