My APG Story: Jessie J. Shanks Sr.

Retired Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jessie J. Shanks Sr. of Aberdeen first joined the Aberdeen Proving Ground community 65 years ago during the Korean War, Dec. 16, 1952.

Retired Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jessie J. Shanks Sr. of Aberdeen first joined the Aberdeen Proving community 65 years ago during the Korean War, Dec. 16, 1952.

Like so many others who came to call this area home, Jessie J. Shanks never heard of Aberdeen Proving Ground until he was assigned here. Shanks grew up in the 1930s in the small farming town of Shubuta, Mississippi. His family owned “20 or more” acres of fertile land on which they grew watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, pickles, corn and other produce and kept hogs and milking cows. He attended an elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse.

“We had one teacher and a pot belly stove,” Shanks said, recalling that the students, who ranged in age from 5 to 16, would collect wood for the stove.

Shanks said his family prized education. At age 22, he had graduated high school and junior college and was nearing his bachelor’s degree in business management when he was drafted for the Korean War. About six months later he reported for a physical at Jackson, Mississippi where he enlisted in the Army Ordnance Corps.

When he was later assigned to APG, “It was the first time I ever heard of the place,” Shanks said.

Jessie Shanks is promoted to Chief Warrant Officer 2 in this 1968 photo with his wife, Roswitha Shanks, and his commander. | Courtesy Photo

He arrived on a train from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Dec. 16, 1952.

“It was cold,” he said. “I remember visiting the commissary, the PX and the chapel that first day. It was a different chapel then, over in the 2400 [block] area. There were a lot of wooden barracks and a whole lot of Soldiers.”

Shanks took basic and advanced individual training at APG before leaving for a brief stop at the Atlanta Depot in Georgia and then to Camp Stoneman, the former Army staging area for the Pacific Theater of Operations in Pittsburg, California. From there, he moved on to a two-year assignment in Japan. He was assigned to the 94th Heavy Equipment Company, an engineer unit in Heosha, Japan near Yokohama.

Shanks was intrigued by and grew to love the Japanese people, their foods and their quaint customs.

“I thought it was heaven on earth, he said.

He went on to serve in Germany, where he met his wife, at Fort Devens, Massachusetts and then back to APG over the next eight years. He had met his wife at APG and during this time two of his children were born in Germany, one was born in Massachusetts and the youngest was born at APG.

“That’s when Kirk [U.S. Army Health Clinic] was a full hospital,” he said. “My youngest was born right here. Back then, there were busses to bring you on post and busses and taxis to take you anywhere. You really didn’t need a car. “

In 1968, Shanks applied for warrant officer. At that time there was no Ordnance warrant officer course so he took the OC&S basic officer course. During this time, he and his family lived in the Bayside Housing Area. Shanks subsequently did two tours in Vietnam. Before retiring in 1972, Shanks planted his roots here and brought a home.

“No other place felt like home,” he said, adding that he and his wife had plenty of friends in the community they thought of as family. He’s proud to share that he served with Gen. Johnnie E. Wilson, an African American lieutenant in 1967 who eventually served as the Chief of Ordnance and commanded the U.S. Army Materiel Command.

Still Shanks loved the Army and it was a bittersweet parting, he said.

“The Army was good to me. I really didn’t want to get out, but it was time to go.”

To this day he still visits the Mississippi house he grew up in; it’s still in the family, he said.

A family member painted this portrait from a photo of retired Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jessie J. Shanks Sr. while he was still on active duty at Aberdeen Proving Ground. | Courtesy Photo

“But APG was good for me; I stayed here for the job opportunities and because it was home for my family.”

Shanks retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2003.

At age 86, Shanks has 65 years in the APG community and he’s been a member of the chapel’s Protestant service for more than 40. He’s still active in chapel programs and as a volunteer on post and in the local community. In 1975, the Swan Creek Masonic Study Club was renamed the Jessie J. Shanks Sr. Lodge #137 in his honor.

He said he feels he still has much to do for others.

“My dad died at 92 and my mom lived to be 98,” he said. “I still have lots left to do. I love it here and it feels good to have been a part of the history of this installation.”

 

By Yvonne Johnson, APG News