When most bored 16-year-olds look for something to do, their eventual choice doesn't often lead to the defining role of their career.

But for Gerald "Jerry" Shaner, that is exactly what happened. A case full of war medals and a wall full of honors later, he still thinks of all the opportunities he had thanks to that one decision.

In 1940, Shaner, now 93, was just a kid with no job who was watching his friends join the National Guard in Delphos, Ohio. He remembers tagging along, simply because it was something to do, he said.

"I didn't have anything to do," he said. "I was a 16-year-old who didn't have a job or anything. So I joined them."

The problem was that Shaner was just 16 at the time. But he said that didn't matter to the recruiter who allowed him to sign up.

"He said, 'You look 18 to me,' and I was in the National Guard," he said with a laugh.

Shaner thought he was signing up for "a year" of National Guard duty. But as World War II began to involve the United States, he was whisked away to the Pacific, beginning a long military career with the U.S. Army that would last from New Guinea to Korea and Vietnam.

During his service, Shaner would earn a Silver Star for Valor, two Bronze Star Medals, a Meritorious Service Medal, three Army Commendation Medals and the Air Medal, among a seemingly endless list of awards and recognitions that he even admits he can't always recall.

But it was his first major combat action that resulted in his most coveted award, the Silver Star.

In March 1944, Shaner was with his 37th Infantry unit in an important battle in Bougainville, New Guinea. The fight became known as Hill 700, and was a crucial push on the island.

During the battle, he was tasked with putting a charge in the final remaining foxhole. He and one other man charged it on their own, and took out the bunker.

His bravery earned him the Silver Star, the third-highest combat decoration.

But he was still young, and he was just beginning his military career.

He returned home in 1945, and met his wife, Freda, in 1947. But a few years later, he reenlisted and was called for service in the Korean War, where he helped clear mines.

His decision to reenlist was an important one. He and Freda were both sick of going back and forth between what his career would be, and they both agreed he needed to make a decision.

"All I said to him was, 'If you re-enlist now, you're staying. We're not doing this anymore,' " Mrs. Shaner recalled.

Mr. Shaner served from 1952-53 in Korea, before returning back home.

For the next 15 years, he and his wife -- later joined by four children -- spent time hopping around the globe. The family lived at various times in Illinois, Texas, Hawaii and Virginia.

Between 1957 and 1958, he was even sent to Iran, where he helped train soldiers.

In 1962, Mr. Shaner got his first "big raise" while the family was living in Hawaii.

"We could even get a meal out to eat with the kids for dinner," he said.

Mrs. Shaner said she adjusted well to the life, but admitted she found it difficult when her husband was gone from the family.

"The hardships were when he was gone," she said.

During the Korean DMZ Conflict, Mr. Shaner found his way back to Korea for a second time. He served two tours in quick succession, going to Korea from 1966-67 and to Vietnam for a tour from 1968-69.

He was assigned a role back with the 37th Infantry Division based in Columbus, the same group he had started his career with. His final rank was command sergeant major, one of the U.S. Army's highest ranks.

Now, the Blendon Township resident looks back fondly on his time in the army.

When asked about his fondest memories, he thought about a story in Vietnam where a fellow soldier accidentally shot his gun and a bullet went through a commander's tent.

"Nobody knew who shot it and nobody ever said anything," he said with a smile.

But that's how Mr. Shaner -- known as Uncle Mutt to his family, a nickname he earned as a young child -- prefers to remember his service.

He doesn't dwell on the horrors he saw, but instead likes to celebrate the friends he made and the good times.

Mrs. Shaner said that is how it's always been with him and his friends from the war.

"It was always the funny stuff," she said. "They'd get together and start talking and they always got to laughing."

aking@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekAndrew