Charles William Shea was born in New York City on August 24, 1921. He grew up in the Bronx, and was known as “Red” from his red hair. According to his enlistment record he had completed three years of high school, and was employed as a “unskilled oiler of machinery” when he was drafted into the United States Army for World War II service on July 7, 1942, slightly more than a month before his 21st birthday.
Shea demonstrated leadership abilities, and by May 1944 was a Sergeant and squad leader in Company F, 2nd Battalion, 350th Infantry Regiment, 88th Infantry Division.
The 88th Infantry Division was the first all-draftee unit raised for the war. Their first action was in Italy in March 1944 when they relieved a British division in defensive duties. They went into the attack in May as the Allies began their push towards Rome.
On May 12, 1944 near Mount Damiano, Shea single-handedly attacked and destroyed three Nazi machine gun nests that stood in his unit’s way. His leadership was recognized soon after with a battlefield commission and promotion to Second Lieutenant.
About eight months later, Lieutenant Shea was decorated for that day with our Nation’s highest honor.
SHEA, CHARLES W.
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, Company F, 350th Infantry. 88th Infantry Division
Place and date: Near Mount Damiano, Italy, 12 May 1944. Entered service at: New York, N.Y. G.O. No.: 4, 12 January 1945
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, on 12 May 1944, near Mount Damiano, Italy. As 2d Lt. Shea and his company were advancing toward a hill occupied by the enemy, 3 enemy machineguns suddenly opened fire, inflicting heavy casualties upon the company and halting its advance. 2d Lt. Shea immediately moved forward to eliminate these machinegun nests in order to enable his company to continue its attack. The deadly hail of machinegun fire at first pinned him down, but, boldly continuing his advance, 2d Lt. Shea crept up to the first nest. Throwing several hand grenades, he forced the 4 enemy soldiers manning this position to surrender, and disarming them, he sent them to the rear. He then crawled to the second machinegun position, and after a short fire fight forced 2 more German soldiers to surrender. At this time, the third machinegun fired at him, and while deadly small arms fire pitted the earth around him, 2d Lt. Shea crawled toward the nest. Suddenly he stood up and rushed the emplacement and with well-directed fire from his rifle, he killed all 3 of the enemy machine gunners. 2d Lt. Shea’s display of personal valor was an inspiration to the officers and men of his company.
Shea survived the war and entered the New York Army National Guard in 1949, serving until he retired in 1972. In civilian life, he worked for the Veterans Administration/Department of Veterans Affairs. He passed away on April 7, 1994 and rests in peace at the Long Island National Cemetery, Farmingdale, New York.