WASHINGTON -- Retired Capt. Sidney Herbert Shears, who served in the Navy Chaplain Corps from 1942-1963, celebrated his 100th birthday Feb. 14 alongside friends and family in Lompoc, Calif. Rear Adm. Mark L. Tidd, chief of Navy Chaplains, presented Shears with his personal coin and a statue which symbolizes the pastoral leadership of senior chaplains in the Chaplain Corps.
During a telephone interview, when asked why he chose to join the military in 1942, Shears, recalled, "I wanted to serve my country during a time of war, and I thought the best way I could do that as a clergyman was to serve in the Chaplain Corps." Shears, a Methodist minister of a church in Scottsville, N.Y. at the time, did not have a specific connection to the military. His fellow classmate from Colgate Rochester Divinity School, the Rev. Walt Peck, however, had connections to several Navy line officers. During a summer trip, before the war, Shears met these naval officers who encouraged him to join the Navy Chaplain Corps.
Among his most memorable assignments, Shears commented on his time serving the Marines of 2nd Marine Division and 3rd Marine Division Marine Barracks saying, "They were a great bunch of guys. I believe I did a pretty good job [ministering to] the Marines." His sea tours included: the USS Tuscaloosa, USS President Adams and the USS Midway.
During his time aboard the Midway in 1952, he piloted a daily lessons series on character education with the deck plate leadership and crew, using articles and lectures he had gathered through research. Shears used the series to teach leaders how to lead discussions in a way that opened up a dialog and built trust with the crew. The series was so successful that it became a regular practice aboard the carrier. Daily, 30 to 40 men met in the ship's ready rooms to openly discuss issues of character and other challenges they faced. This allowed Shears to better tailor his pastoral care to meet an individual Sailor's needs. His work earned him the recognition of Vice Adm. H. M. Martin, then-commander of Air Forces Pacific Fleet, who later incorporated Shears' lessons into a course for all the carriers in the region. Establishing this new practice aboard the carrier prepared him when he assumed his duties as force chaplain for Commander of Naval Air Forces Pacific in 1954. He ended his service with a final tour at Naval Hospital San Diego, and retired Nov. 1, 1963. After his time in military ministry, he attended the Episcopal Divinity School in Berkeley, Calif., where he was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1964. He served in several Episcopal churches, before retiring from ministry in 1975 in Lompoc, Calif. When asked to share his advice to the current generation of Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, he replied, "Keep the faith. Keep in contact with the church; a spiritual life will help you through life's challenges." He encouraged his fellow chaplains to, "be accepting of the differences you're going to encounter in character, denomination and faith in the lives of those you serve. Be accepting of these differences and always loving towards them."
Shears and his wife, 94, have been married for nearly 40 years. They met at his first Episcopal assignment in Church of Our Savior in San Gabriel, Calif., where she was director of religious education.
Until last year, they were avid golfers; playing every day on their resident golf course. He attributes his quality of life to his regular exercise and time outdoors. At 100, he still frequents his local commissary on Vandenberg Air Force Base, and he is also still able to fit into his Service Dress Blue uniform. When asked his secret, he said, "Don't eat too much, get regular exercise and you'll still fit into your uniform!" As for the secret to his longevity, he quipped, "Say your prayers every night, go to church every Sunday, and marry a girl like I did and you're all set."