The love never died
The words didn’t seem particularly poignant and neither did they seem indicative of an enduring love. But they were.
“I’m well as usual,” High Point’s Bill Shelton wrote in a letter to Maude Carraway, the young woman back in High Point whom he was going to marry. “Sure hope I hear from you tomorrow, if not, soon. Until the next. ... Love, Bill.”
Shelton wrote that abbreviated letter, called V-Mail, from an undisclosed campsite in the English countryside. It was dated June 5, 1944.
And it was the last letter the 21-year-old Carraway would receive from the man she was waiting on to come home. A few days later, Shelton, a paratrooper and communications specialist in the Fayetteville-based, U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, was dead.
Shelton was killed during the Allied invasion of Europe, which began June 6, 1944, 70 years ago today and has become known to history simply as D-Day. On that day, U.S. and Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, which had been fortified by the occupying soldiers of Nazi Germany.
Sometime later, news of Shelton’s death came home.
Carraway was volunteering at the local USO when her father, Bruce Carraway, a World War I veteran, delivered the news that she refused to believe.
“I became hysterical. I just couldn’t believe it. I hollered all the way home,” Carraway told me in 1994 as The High Point Enterprise was preparing for 50th-anniversary coverage of D-Day.
Shelton’s death was, of course, a shared loss. Shelton’s family lived on N. Hamilton Street. When the U.S. War Department notification came, Cleo Shelton, Bill’s sister-in-law, signed for the telegram amid the uncontrollable screams of Bill’s mother, Annie Shelton, family members recalled 20 years ago.
Shelton, in his mid-20s when he died, had been a football star at High Point Central High during the mid-1930s. He had been a paratrooper since early 1943 and had been involved in operations in Italy prior to transfer to England to prepare for the Normandy invasion. He had reached the rank of sergeant.
Carraway and Shelton had begun seeing each other in the spring of 1941. They had been going out with friends in High Point since those pre-war days and until Shelton began training with the 82nd Airborne. They also had begun planning for a life together after the war when Shelton returned.
But Shelton made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of his country, and his death was a shock that only time could erase. Such grief is neither easy for a young woman in love to bear nor quickly gotten over.
“I wouldn’t even look at any boy for two or three years,” Carraway said in 1994.
She slowly resumed a social life that included dating other men, even going steady with one military man for a short while. But she never married.
“I never did meet anybody else that I was interested in that much. He was my first and only love,” Carraway said of Shelton in 1994.
During a number of visits I had with Carraway after that Enterprise D-Day anniversary special, “Maudie,” as she told me to call her, talked of how she often thought of Shelton and the good life she was sure they would have had together. And when she spoke of him, a sparkle in her eyes revealed the feelings she still carried for him, even 50-plus years after his death. There was a depth of love and commitment all too uncommon today.
Maudie died in November of 1996. And she was buried in the Carraway family plot in Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery, just a ways down the hill from Bill Shelton’s grave.
The love indicative in those words penned on the eve of D-Day had endured.