MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - His daughter calls him her father and her hero. She supports him by accompanying him to his favorite hobby, military balls. He’s 99 years young and is WMBF News’ November veteran we’re honoring.
"I love the Marines and I still love them,” retired Major John Shea said during the 243rd birthday celebration of the Marine Corps.
He and dozens of other of Marines and their families were celebrating with dinner, dancing and honoring Marine traditions.
One of those traditions is the oldest Marine gets the first piece of cake. 99-year-old Shea has been that Marine for a while now.
He jokingly said that’s why he loves attending at least one military ball a year.
Shea was born June 16, 1919. He joined the Marines in 1939 after hitchhiking to and from Florida with a friend, looking for a job. He was unsuccessful and thought he’d join the Army like his brother.
“I walked into the Army’s recruiting station and they said 'we’re not taking anybody. Have you tried the Marines?’” Shea said he went to the Marine office but had to get his father to sign-off for him to join.
At first, he said his father didn’t want another son in the military. But, he eventually agreed and Shea became a Marine. Shea was in the Marine Corps. For 27 years and four months, he said.
He said he started as a bugler and worked his way up, becoming a major when he retired. He spent a lot of his time in planes as the crew chief. He served in World War II and the Korean War.
Shea shared some of his memories with WMBF News, including two close calls under enemy fire and a stalled plane engine. He survived both and was married with children. His daughter, Ann, accompanied him to Wednesday’s Marine Corps Ball.
He’s a well-known veteran with Marine Corps League Little River Det, #1432. He hopes to keep getting the first of cake there every year.
In 2019, he plans to kick-off his 100th birthday by jumping out of a plane because ‘it’s something to do!’