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General Shoemaker recalls Almont


July 12, 2017
In part two of the oral history conducted by Gen. Shoemaker in 1987 he talks more of his hometown, Almont, Michigan.

Athletics, band and

Boy Scouts

"There were 7 or 8 boys and 13 girls in my graduating class from high school. The superintendent was the agriculture teacher. The principal taught the sciences and alternated teaching chemistry or physics.

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"In athletics—I was really a runt—I like to tell people I got my growth after I got out of high school. I weighed about 110 pounds when I graduated from high school. I probably was 5'6", but I lettered in all three sports the last 2 years I was there —football, basketball, and baseball.

"I played in the high school band from 6th grade through the 12th grade. We started early in order for the school to have enough players. I played the snare drum.

"I played on the winning side of a 1 to 0 basketball game against Lake Orion. Dave Dabney made a free throw in the third period and he ended up being high point man of both teams.

"In baseball when our regular third baseman broke his leg, the coach asked me to played third base. When I reminded the coach that I had a sore arm and couldn't throw to first, Coach responded, 'Well, I don't have anyone else. If they hit one to you relay through the pitcher.'

"Each inning when a team takes the field, while the pitcher is warming up with the catcher, the first baseman takes an old ball and rolls it out in turn to the second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman.

"One of the first real crises of my life occurred when I saw that ball rolling over to me and realized that I couldn't throw to the pitcher, and if the Romeo team knew I couldn't throw to first base they'd bunt us to death and win the game and our local restaurant wouldn't give our team a free chicken dinner.

"The first time that I ever knew I had a razor sharp mind, that would fit me for a career as an officer in the Army was when I had an inspiration when that ball hit my glove and I tossed it underhanded to the shortstop and yelled, 'Let's get two,' and let him throw it back to first base.

"I was a Boy Scout for about 3 years. We had one troop in town, but not too many of the boys had a complete uniform. I think that I did and it was passed on."

To be a pharmacist?

"I graduated in June, 1941. This was before Pearl Harbor. I didn't have enough money to go to college. My father had a bad leg and it really got bad that year so I decided to stay home and help him.

As I looked around town, I guess I must have at least had a little ambition and I soon figured out that the druggist was the real wheel. I mean just about all the other merchants and town leaders dropped in to talk with the druggist and get a fountain Coke sometime during the day.

"This was the typical old country drug store with a marble topped fountain, Coca-Colas, sodas, in addition to the medicinal items. Goods for sale were on shelves on the side walls or in drawers and customers came to the counter and asked the druggist or a clerk for the item they wanted. Customers didn't, as we do now, pick it out and go to a cash register. So I got a job with him.

"I worked on the farm until about 11:30, then I walked to town, worked in the drug store all afternoon, walked home for the evening milking, walked back downtown, worked every night until the store closed—usually between nine and ten. On Sunday afternoons I ran the store by myself. The druggist stayed home. He only lived a couple of blocks away. I had to call him if someone came in with a prescription that had to be mixed up.

"For my work, I don't know how many hours it might have been, I got $6 for the week. That was my pay. I did this for a year and about half way through I began to think, 'This is really a good life.' So I said, 'I think I'll go to pharmacy school and be a pharmacist.'"

Beginning of military career

"I entered Pharmacy College with the full knowledge, I think when I went in, that it probably would be no more than a year. In December of 1942, I enlisted in the Navy Reserves in the V-12 program that allowed you to finish the college year and then go to Navy Officer Training School.

"After I had enlisted in the Naval Reserve my mother and dad suggested I seek a congressional appointment to Annapolis or West Point. On the appointed day I drove 35 miles to Port Huron where Congressman Wolcott's staff gave the competitive exams for appointments. I remember going in and talking with the receptionist and she said, 'Which one do you want? West Point or Annapolis?' And I said, 'I don't really care, but give me Annapolis.' She said 'if you don't care, there are only 3 applicants for West Point and more than a dozen for Annapolis you will have a better chance taking the exam for West Point.' So that's what I did."

Serving in Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War, he rose to the highest rank, Four-Star General and became commander of the United States Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) among many other assignments. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star Medal and Air Medal.

The General was also an inductee into the Aviation Hall of Fame. There is a school named for him in his adopted hometown, Killeen, Texas.

Gen. Shoemaker made Almont and all of Michigan proud with his years of honorable service. I don't think a bad word was ever uttered about him. He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Tuke.

Rest in peace, General, and thank you for your service.

Email Rick at rick.liblong@cox.net.

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