The Millionth American
PAUL SHIMER JR  "The Millionth Yank"
As Published in the Southern Daily Echo,  25th. October 2000
An American Soldier who left these shores never to return is a poignant symbol of millions
of others who passed through Southampton.  Remembering the man in a million.
Today marks the 60th. Anniversary of the “Millionth Yank” to embark from Southampton
docks during the Second World War. Local historian, Jake Simpkin, looks back at the life
of Private Paul Shimer Jr, which left a legacy linking Southampton
and his home town in Pennsylvania.
In the months following D-Day to the end of WW2, three and a half million troops embarked from Southampton docks. Over two million of these were Americans bound for the European theatre of war. This amounted to around 60 per cent of all American troops and equipment shipped from British ports to the continent.

On the 25th. October 1944, Private Paul Shimer Jr, of the 15 Infantry, 3rd. Division, Seventh Army, stepped through the counting machine to become the millionth American soldier.

Sgt. Murray Ley of the 14th. Port Transportation Corps, pulled him out of the olive drab line and marched him to a makeshift stage, where he stood along side an assembly of top brass, including Col.Leo J. Meyer, US Army Commander of the Port, the Southern Railway Docks Marine Manager, and Southampton’s Mayor Rex Stranger.

A large sign was hung around his neck, announcing ‘The Millionth Yank’, and he went through the agony of making an impromptu speech.
Paul Shimer Jr. came from Chambersburg in Pennsylvania, where he lived with his wife, Marian, and three year old daughter, Patricia Ann. His parents lived in the nearby town of McConnellsburg, his home town.
Before joining the army he had been an assistant manager working for a chain store, J. C. Penney Company. He was typical of many young Americans who left their farms, small towns, and cities to fight the tyranny of fascism. Paul Shimer underwent basic training at Camp Walter, Texas, before crossing the Atlantic in an overcrowded troop ship to Britain in October 1944.

Many of the details of Paul Shimer’s army life were lost when a fire destroyed a US Records depot in 1970s.

Paul Simer Jr. shaking hands
with Town Mayor Rex Stranger. 
Photo. Southampton City
Heritage Collection
What we do know is that within hours of departing Southampton, shrugging off the ribbing of his buddies for becoming the millionth American soldier, Shimer arrived at Cherbourg.
From here he boarded the ‘Twentieth Century Flyer’, pride of the U.S. 729th Rail Operating Battalion, which by nightfall was well on its way to the front. Within days the ‘Millionth Yank’ and his company were engaging the Germans.
Promoted to Sergeant, Shimer was slightly wounded in combat on 27th. January 1945. His bravery resulted in him being decorated with the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for ‘meritorious achievement’.
Back home in McConnellsburg, his parents and siblings awaited news of both Paul, and his brother John, who was also a GI. By coincidence John Shimer was in Southampton, on the gang plank, only feet away from the ‘Two Millionth Yank’, who embarked for France 16th. January 1945.
John Shimer was wounded in action and still carries shrapnel in his body to this day. A third brother, Bill, also served in France. A fourth brother Jack later served in the Korean War.
At this time Southampton ranked as 4th. among the sixty U.S. Army Ports operating in the world. The US Army14 th. Major Port Transportation Corps arrived in Southampton in the summer of 1943 when they took over docks organisation. Their main role was to co-ordinate the shipment of American troops, military equipment and stores through the port. Their HQ was in the Civic Centre. Officers were billeted in the Polygon Hotel, and men at Blighmont Barracks, Millbrook Road.
They also had a hutted cap on Hoglands Park. 14 th Major Port were stationed in Southampton for over 3 years. In recognition of their service they were granted Freedom of the City, and in March 1946, before crowd lined streets, they marched through the historic Bargate with bayonets fixed and drums beating.
Sergeant Shimer lost his life on 14 April 1945, just 24 days from cessation of hostilities. He was killed by the blast of a shell, as he led his men against a fortified German hill. He had served in the US Army for just 51 weeks.
By a cruel twist of fate, Marian Shimer received the telegramme informing her of her husbands death about one hour after reading an article in the Chambersburg local newspaper, Public Opinion, that her husband had been the ‘Millionth Yank’ to embark from Southampton. The British Censor having only just passed the information to the USA.
In 1947 the Southampton war-time mayor, Rex Stranger, visited Chambersburg and McConnellsburg to meet the Shimer family. Rex Stranger and his wife wanted to do something to commemorate the death of the young man he had shaken hands with three years previously in Southampton docks. They decided to place £1000 in a trust fund for the daughter's education. The local citizens, not to be out done, raised $3000 for Rex Stranger to spend on worthy charities in England. They also gave him a large consignment of apples for Southampton schools.
Sergeant Shimer’s war grave is one of 10,000 situated at St. Avold in France. Paul Shimer was a member of St John’s Reform Church in Chambersburg.
Following Paul Shimer’s death, his wife Marian remarried and moved to South Carolina, where Patricia received a college education. 
Of Paul’s siblings, three sisters and one brother are remaining. They are John S. Shimer, Dorothy S. Demeter, Mary S. Duncan and Kathryn S. Ruggiero.
Kathryn Ruggiero, who lives in Chambersburg, said: “Upon the mayor learning that Paul was from McConnellsburg, he started coming to our home town in McConnellsburg every Memorial Day for years.
“He always brought a British wreath with him that he and my mother placed during the Memorial Day ceremonies at McConnellsburg. He and his wife Trudy were certainly lovely people. I think it is very honourable that my brother and all the Second World War veterans are being remembered in your article. As the US TV commentator, Tom Brokaw, said: ‘They are the best generation’.

Additional Information from Al Brown  
I was in Co. H, 30th, Inf.,3rd Inf. Div., WWII. Paul S. Shimer was in Co. K, 15th Inf., 3rd Inf. I read with great interest your article about Paul and did some research.
I make the following evaluation: I find Paul S. Shimer, Jr. listed in the 15th Infantry roster on Page 502 of The History of the Third Infantry Division in World War Two. The footnote symbol indicates that he was KIA. On Page 424 of the 3rd Division history he is listed as receiving the Bronze Star Medal on December 24, 1944. His rank and unit is listed as Sergeant, Co. K, 15th Inf. Simpkin’s article gives the date of December 27th, 1944 as the date of Paul’s first wound which was minor. This was three days after his heroics that earned the Bronze Star. Simpkin’s article gives April 14, 1945 as the date he was killed.
Paul earned his Bronze Star Medal during fierce fighting for Hill 351 and the village of Bennwihr, France. He was wounded three days later in attacks on Sigolsheim, France. Paul would have been killed in skirmishes between Bamberg and Nurnburg as we advanced southerly toward Nurnburg. The actual battle for Nurnburg was from April 17 through April 20, 1945. The above facts tell me that Paul Shimer was a capable, aggressive leader.

Consider the time line: On October 25, 1944, we know that he was a private leaving Southampton headed for his first taste of combat. It would have taken two to four weeks to move through the replacement system to reach the 15th Infantry in the St. Die - Colmar area. If we accept the shorter time of two weeks, he would have reached the 15th Regiment as a private around the middle of November during the fighting around St. Die. We know that he was a Sergeant by December 24, 1944, when he earned the Bronze Star. This means that in a span of barely six weeks he was promoted from private to Sergeant.
Staff Sgt. Albert S. Brown 30th. Regiment
Now, we know that the German soldier was very good at his job and as a result created a great number of opportunities for promotions on our side. However, these vacancies were filled by the men who were demonstrating their leadership and mettle. Promotions were not handed out based on how long one had been around. I can tell you with certainty that Paul S. Shimer was a very good soldier.
Al Albert S. Brown
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