Tec. Sgt. William (Bill) G. Shoop was 18 when he was drafted into the Army in 1943. His life experiences were few up to that point. He and his sister grew up in Spencer, South Dakota. His family owned and ran the local grocery store, where his duties covered everything from stocking shelves to candling the eggs.
After he graduated from high school he received his draft notice. He left Spencer to report to Fort Benning, Georgia, for boot camp. From there he went to Camp Livingston and then Camp Polk, both in Louisiana, for more training. He started in the 86th Infantry Division but because he knew how to type he was transferred to the 97th Signal Battalion. Trained as a teletype machine operator, his group of operators were given messages to be typed and sent throughout the war areas. They never knew what the messages said because they were in code.
His battalion left New York City bound for England. On the way they found that their ship was going in circles, and they thought this was strange. They soon found out that a US destroyer ahead of them had spotted a German submarine in their path. The destroyer radioed their ship to stay back until it was safe.
Once in England they were given a brief leave. Since he had a little time to explore, he traveled to London and saw what devastation the bombs caused to the countryside, to the city and to the people. Leaving England, his battalion went to France, Belgium and Germany.
In Belgium, they participated in one the greatest land battles of WWII, the Battle of the Bulge. His battalion was in the 9th army. One night, his group had set up camp in an old barn. Not long afterwards, they heard buzzing from outside. They knew it had to be “Buzz Bombs” flying in. Buzz bombs, also called the Doodlebug or flying bombs, were an early pulsejet-powered cruise missile. Though limited in range and accuracy, Buzz Bombs could do significant damage. The men in Bill’s group went outside to watch where these flying bombs were landing. There was a blackout, so the only light was from the stars and moon. All lights were to be off or blocked in homes and on vehicles. But they noticed someone wasn’t following the order. A car was coming toward them with its lights on. The men saw the car lights shining off their barn… and they were not the only ones. A moment later, a German airplane shot the barn. His group went back to gather up what supplies were still good. Bill found that the spot where he would have been sleeping was covered with holes from the German plane’s ammunition.
Shortly after the war in Europe ended, the 97th Battalion was sent to Nuremberg, Germany, for the trial of major war criminals. The Nuremberg trials were from Nov. 20, 1945, to Oct. 1, 1946. The battalion was taken to the same stadium that Adolf Hitler had his troops housed in during the war. Bill sometimes explored the area when he had free time. He went to a concentration camp where he saw piles of bones from the children and adults killed at these camps. Bill couldn’t understand how these criminal acts were carried out by soldiers who believed their violent actions were for the common good.
This affected him in many ways, then and now. That experience shaped how he saw his life and the value of all human life.
His work at Nuremberg was to type whatever was given to him and send it to Washington and London. The information focused on the trial and court proceedings. When he wasn’t needed to type he was able to sit in on the trials. He felt that this was an amazing opportunity. Since the trials were conducted in four languages (English, French, German and Russian) he would be given a headset that he could dial in one of the four languages and hear the trial instantaneously in the language he dialed on his headset. This was a huge step for technology of that time.
Bill found the trials to be more than just interesting. He was seeing first-hand history being challenged and changed. The trials were giving new meaning to how war should be conducted as well as how the war crimes of WWII would be handled. Even though the rules had not been made prior to the war the men standing trial at Nuremberg would be held up to these new rules. Following orders was no longer an accepted excuse. Bill found himself listening intently to what everyone had to say and he was very impressed with Robert Jackson, the chief American prosecutor. He had been an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court before being appointed to the Nuremberg trials. Bill thought Jackson’s words to the court were wise and held a strong conviction.
Before Bill was drafted he felt he only had an idea of his own beliefs. By the time the war was over his beliefs became more certain and tangible in his own mind. From the bombings to the gas chambers his thoughts and beliefs were forever changed and would point him in a new direction for his life.
He was discharged in March of 1946. He served in the battles and campaigns of Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge), Rhineland and Central Europe. He received the American Theater Service medal, European African Middle Eastern Service medal, Meritorious Unit award and Good Conduct medal.
After his discharge he decided to go back to school to become a minister. He used the GI bill to attend Drake University. He wanted to make a difference in the world and hoped he could be a positive change.
While he was at Drake studying for the ministry, he met Mary Jean. They were married on July 29, 1949. After graduation they moved to Buffalo, New York, where he served as minister of the Richmond Avenue Christian church. Their two children, Gary and Penny were born in Buffalo. After six years Bill was asked to become the associate minister at the Country Club Christian church in Kansas City. Two years later he was given the opportunity to continue his ministry studies in Scotland. He earned his PH.D. at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Bill and his family enjoyed the experiences and the people of Scotland. Returning to the United States, Bill served as minister of First Christian Church in Saint Joseph, Missouri. After 14 years they moved to Saint Louis. He retired from Webster Grove Christian church in 1990. Shortly after retiring Bill and Mary Jean moved back to Independence.
He is thankful for his time in the military. It helped him see the world in a different way as well as put him on a path that he has never regretted. His life has been in ministry and his belief is that when you can make positive changes in your own life, you will end up being a positive change for the world.
Miriam Alexander compiles stories from veterans from around the area at the Truman Memorial Building. If you are interested in helping a veteran tell his or her story, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 816-686-7733.