I had the honor of having two sit-down, face-to-face interviews with retired Gen. Robert M. Shoemaker.
The first was in 2015, as part of a 10-part series on Vietnam I was in charge of for the Fort Hood Herald. We held the interview at the office of the Heart of Texas Defense Alliance in Killeen.
Shoemaker, who was 91 at the time, spoke about the U.S. incursion into Cambodia during the Vietnam War. I was impressed with how much Shoemaker recalled all of the details, which happened more than 45 years earlier when Shoemaker was a brigadier general with the 1st Cavalry Division in 1970. It was his third tour in Vietnam.
Shoemaker was appointed to be in charge of the task force that would launch the initial attack into Cambodia — a vast jungle, rural area where the enemy was stockpiling weapons, ammunition, rice and other supplies.
That attack came soon — known as Task Force Shoemaker — with the general leading about 35,000 to 40,000 troops into Cambodia shattering North Vietnamese supply lines.
“It was one of the few times we scooped the Viet Cong or the (North) Vietnamese,” Shoemaker said.
My interview with Shoemaker lasted a little more than an hour, and I knew I had good content when I started listening to the conversation on my phone on the way back to the office.
Listening to it all, I found that Shoemaker was a very thoughtful leader. That’s something others have said about him, too, including Army colleagues, Bell County residents and his family members.
Later in 2015, I interviewed Shoemaker again, This time at his home west of Killeen near Nolanville.
Shoemaker was very welcoming, offering me a glass of water as we sat down in his roomy kitchen — an add-on room he said he had built years before.
This time we talked about Maj. Gen. George William Casey Sr., a former 1st Cavalry Division commander.
Casey, along with six members of his staff, died when the Army Huey helicopter he was in crashed while en route to visit wounded troops on July 7, 1970. Casey was 48.
Shoemaker had just said goodbye to Casey a few days earlier, right after Casey took over the division.
“I heard the news flash ... American general killed in Vietnam,” said Shoemaker, who had just completed his final tour in Vietnam.
Shoemaker spoke kindly of his old colleague.
“He was a skilled soldier,” Shoemaker said of Casey. “He was, in my judgment, going to be chief of staff for the Army.”
Now, another skilled, thoughtful soldier has passed away.
Rest in peace Gen. Robert Shoemaker.
Jacob Brooks is deputy managing editor-news for the Killeen Daily Herald. Reach him at email@example.com.